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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Scotland Day 24 - Fort William to Spean Bridge

A day with no rain! It makes everything so much easier, and also gives more freedom to look at things that might not have been on the original plan. Thus a day that was due to be 13 miles ended up being 16, but it was worth it.

I started by dropping my tiny bag of additional luggage off again at the Nevis Centre, ready for a different transportation service to start moving it up the Great Glen Way. I was so grateful to Claire and Linsey for their help, and then discovered later that they'd sponsored me too. Thanks girls, that meant such a lot.

The start of the Great Glen Way is near the remains of the old fort of Fort William. There's not much left of it, as much was demolished to build the large roundabout that dominates this part of the town. But the outer walls remain in part, demonstrating what an excellent vantage point it would have been.

The route after the fort was not immediately obvious, until I started to look up, where the new logo of a thistle was found perched high on the road signs, in amongst the other more familiar logos.

Today's route is very much about water, aiming for the Caledonian canal, but also crossing the river Nevis, following the river Lochy, and initially following Loch Linnhe too.

But there are other things to see as well, and the first was Inverlochy Castle, that seemed eminently worth a short detour. It was built in 1280, seemed well preserved, and according to my guidebook is always open with no entrance charge. Sadly not today. Like the Abbey in Jedburgh, the castle has been deemed unsafe because of falling masonry, and so I had to content myself with admiring the outside. I was very taken with the arrow slits that were still intact.

Over the Soldiers' Bridge towards the village of Caol . This was originally built in the 1960s by the army as a good will gesture. It's not clear for what reason the good will was needed. It was rebuilt in 2018, running alongside the railway bridge. I've had a few moments today noticing the sorts of things I often take for granted, and walking across this bridge was one - the work, money and skill that goes into building something like this long footbridge that links a village with a small town is remarkable.

When I planned this route I could see a very obvious shortcut through Caol that would drop the walk by a mile. But as I approached I felt increasingly reluctant to do that. As I've said before, I don't need to step on every mile of the individual Ways to get to John O Groats. But it seemed a shame to cut some out at the beginning of the very first day. There was no rush, this walk is not a race. So instead of cutting through a housing estate, I skirted round the side, heading for the edge of Loch Linnhe. I was rewarded many times over. Firstly by the smell of the sea, as the Loch leads out to the ocean and there was seaweed on the beach as well as a shipwreck.


Then also a great view over to Fort William. But until I paused and turned round I'd been unaware of the fantastically magisterial sight of Ben Nevis towering over it all. And brilliantly, the clouds were high enough to see the summit. I continued to progress along the shore, wishing I could do it walking backwards, so that I could just continue gazing at it.

I was interested to walk past a school in Caol that seemed, from its name, to be a Gaelic speaking one. This led me to discover that it was the second purpose built Gaelic school in the Highlands, and that the number of children in Gaelic medium education has risen from 24 in 1985 to 5066 in 2021. And then there's additionallythe children who are learning Gaelic in an English medium school. All the signs round here are in both languages, leading to me spending a lot of time wondering how the very complex looking words are pronounced. My friend Alison has been studying the language, I'm hoping she can demonstrate it to me?

On past a shinty field, the second I saw today. Shinty is a bit like hockey, and is mainly played in the Highlands. It's clearly popular round here, my restaurant tonight had many framed shinty shirts and team photos, and the fields take up prominent positions in the towns.

And another benefit in taking the longer route, in that I found a cafe in Corpach. A coffee mid morning is a lovely luxury, and I don't often find it.

Then the GGW started its 73 mile route up the remarkable geographical feature of the Great Glen, which runs completely straight from coast to coast through the Highlands. It started at the Corpach sea lock, in front of which there were a couple of boats waiting, presumably for the tide.

I then started up the Caledonian Canal. This took 21 years to construct, and yet again was overseen by engineering genius Thomas Telford. He was a busy man.

I love a canal lock, and Neptune's Staircase is a fantastic series of 8 of them crammed together. It takes 90 minutes for a boat to pass from top to bottom, more if there are boats coming in the opposite direction. It's not a speedy form of transport, but observing a large group of tourists watching fascinated as they followed the journey of a yacht upwards, I looked with new interest. What an extraordinary device it is, to make water go uphill.

Once the elevation had been gained, the canal pottered along, running alongside and considerably higher than the river Lochy. At one point I was walking on a very narrow island between the two, though the river was hardly visible through the trees. The canal and towpath are well used with boats and cyclists. I particularly enjoyed watching a pair on a tandem, with the man pedalling keenly in the front, the woman relaxing at the back texting. The line of the Glen is obviously a handy navigational aid for the RAF, with fighter jets hurtling overhead too.

However, this Way is so far not nearly as busy with hikers as is the West Highland Way. So it was good to meet Simon and Andrew walking it together. Andrew is an American doing a big chunk of the Lands End to John O Groats journey, with different companions on different sections. Simon is his English cousin. I had noticed them at the beginning of the day, walking alongside a young Scottish man with particularly fruity language who was on a bike. They'd attracted my attention as they seemed such an incongruous group. I had heard Simon tell the young man that something on his hand was a ganglion, and then reassured him that he'd be fine to continue with his boxing. The young man had cycled away, and I'd later seen him swearing at someone outside McDonalds. It had stayed with me as a vignette of unexpected interchange. Simon later told me that the younger man had earlier approached him in a rather aggressive way, and later asked what he did. In telling him he was a doctor, this led to him having an ad hoc consultation in the Fort William underpass.

It was good to chat to them, and as the conversation developed we realised to our astonishment that we knew people in common. Not the first time this has happened on the trip. I saw them a couple of times during the day, and hope that I'll bump into them again before Inverness.

Their accommodation, together with an M and S ready meal specially bought by their landlady, was in the other direction to mine. I headed four miles or so off the path to Spean Bridge. I could have had a lift from my B and B, to cut out the extra miles, but wanted to call in at the Commando memorial on the way. This was a pretty dull bit of road walking, so I cued up todays sponsored music, with a bit of 9 to 5 from Gill and Sid, and Dire Straits from Lisa, James, Danny, Oliver and Zeus the puppy. I've not listened to Walk of Life for such a long time, it brought back lots of memories. And both songs have such brilliant intros.

The Commando memorial is impressive and moving, with the large statues facing towards Ben Nevis. The site was chosen because it lies between Spean Bridge station and the former Commando training centre in Achnacarry castle. According to Wikipedia:

Arriving prospective Commandos would disembark after a 14-hour journey, load their kit bags onto waiting trucks and then speed-march the seven miles (eleven kilometres) to the training centre in full kit with weapon, weighing a total of 36 pounds (16 kilograms). Anyone not completing it within 60 minutes was immediately RTU'd (returned to unit).

That's a rucksack 5 kg heavier than mine is at its fullest, and my fastest walking (and I'm fast) is about 3.4 miles an hour. I'd have dragged myself in a good hour after the cut off time. Good job I'm not a commando.

The statues were impressive, but overrun with tourists having the allotted ten minutes to look at the monument, photograph Ben Nevis and jump back in the coach. Quieter, and more reflective was the memorial garden where personal tributes were paid both to old soldiers and sadly to many youngsters. The one that got me though was to a commando in his 40s, whose young son wrote the tribute, starting with 'You'd just learned to play Fortnite'.

On into Spean Bridge, still dry, where excellent whisky perfumed soap again was used for my washing. I FaceTimed my lovely book group last night who were concerned about my laundry situation. I'd described how I'd had to go to the cinema in my black walking trousers and my black base layer top, as everything else was drying. I'd looked like I was a deranged fan of Tom Cruise dressing up suitably for a Mission Impossibile manoeuvre. I'm sure bookgroup will be relieved that my pants and t shirt will be alcoholically wafting along the Loch tomorrow. I have the prospect of whisky and cream porridge for breakfast too.


Distance travelled:16 miles

Total ascent: 563 feet

Calories burned: 2024

Local tipple Snowgoose lager from Glen Spean. Third time it's been a Glen Spean, I wonder when there'll be a new brewery?!

Dinner at The Old Station - good. And the surroundings were great, in the old station building.

Fried camembert with cranberry sauce

Roasted salmon with hollandaise, asparagus and mash

Sponsors' songs, thanks to Gill and Sid, Lisa, James, Danny, Oliver and Zeus

Dolly Parton - 9 to 5

Dire Straits - Walk of Life

Video of the day

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2 Komentar

Lisa Allan
Lisa Allan
20 Jul 2023

What a blessing those journey is for you, your pictures and wonderful and the stories are so interesting. I hope one day to do even a little of what you have. Yiu certainly are an inspiration.

Two great songs for today.

I'm up on the baby feeds and the puppy toilet time. Hope you sleep better than me tonight x


Robert Ash
Robert Ash
19 Jul 2023


Stunning photos of the skies during your day, without rain! Makes me think that, going forward, a subset of your combined journey photographs just might be entitled 'Skies'.


Go with tomorrow's breakfast prospect - big time! Cheers.


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