Scotland Day 27 - Fort Augustus to Altsigh
Today couldn't have been a bigger contrast to yesterday. It has been filled with incident, wonder and exertion. My hostel this evening had a rather unfriendly 5pm check in, and having done a lot of hanging around waiting for accommodation to open over this last month, I decided to aim to arrive later than usual. So that meant a later departure, as I had only 10 or 11 miles to go today.
I had another convivial meal with Andrew and Simon at Morag's lodge at breakfast. This is such a lovely hostel, the staff are engaging and friendly, I was made to feel very welcome, the public spaces are comfortable. Bear this in mind for later.
I thought I could probably afford to leave around 11 or 11.30 this morning. Which meant that I had time to go on a boat. Fort Augustus is at the end of Loch Ness, and there is a boat trip regularly running out for an hour's trip. David and I have taken a rib out from here before, but this is a much bigger boat. I approached it thinking it would be rather touristy and Nessie specific. I was wrong. The guide was really interesting, with some fantastic facts. The entire population of the world would fit in Loch Ness, if somebody could round them all up. At its deepest, it is 192 metres, and more people have been to the moon than to the bottom of the Loch. The boat had screens up which showed its sonar, which meant that we could see the loch depth in real time, and also if there were large creatures below us. Which there were, we passed over something that was at least 6 feet long.
He was also fascinating about what animals might be living at the bottom, far away from where man can reach. A New Zealand university project studied samples of water to see what DNA was prevalent. They discovered 480 codes of DNA that have never been identified, who knows what strange things might be down there. But there was huge amounts of the DNA of European eel, that's probably what Nessie is.
I came away feeling I'd learnt all sorts, but also had seen some great aspects of the loch on the water.
I bought extra supplies, as tonight's hostel does not do food and there's nowhere nearby to buy it, therefore it had to come along in my rucksack.
The choice today was whether to take the high or low route of the GGW. The low is easier, shorter, much less steep. But it also doesn't have views. So the high route was always going to be my choice.
The initial section was definitely steep, but it was everything that a forest path should be. Gentle underfoot, mossy pines, interesting funghi, waterfalls. Absolutely idyllic.
The path climbed 700 feet in the first mile, but I'm really noticing how fit I am now, it was no problem. But even so, it was wonderful when it evened out as I emerged from the forest into the moor.
Very soon the benefits of this route became obvious. The increasing height meant that I could see a lot of the loch, and also back towards the mountains from where I had walked. It was exhilarating.
As I strode up the path I passed Peter, a priest from Enniskillen. He was kind enough to generously sponsor me, and we had a really good chat. We shared similar experiences of being inward facing people who work in outward facing jobs, and shared thoughts on the skill of listening without giving advice. Over this trek, this year and last, I have met a number of religious leaders. I have always found them really interesting, and Peter was no exception. He blessed me as we parted, it felt comforting.
At the highest point there was a stone windbreak with a bench. It was almost indescribably beautiful to sit there with my lunch. The landscapes ahead of me couldn't be matched, and above me a buzzard was soaring and calling. Thanks to the excellent bird identifier app again for helping me work out that's what it was.
I watched it wheel off over the loch, and then above me I saw a much bigger bird of prey. It was silent, and circled over me for a while before heading down the length of the water. I'm hoping someone reading this might identify it from the shape of the wings, which were quite distinctive. I really hope it was an eagle.
I could have stayed in that magical place all afternoon. It was in my top 5 moments since leaving Lands End. To be lucky enough to be there felt like such a privilege, I was so grateful to all the people who've supported me personally to get there, but also the unknown people who've built such an amazing path in what can be such an inhospitable place.
I also felt so very grateful that my leg had healed so well that I was strong enough to get there.
The path wound its way over the moor for a couple of miles, and eventually started to wind down through a dense forest. I listened to the sound of the trees creaking, and stopped to make note of that for this blog. I then thought that maybe standing next to noisily creaking trees might not be such a good idea, and moved swiftly down the slope.
The path descended even more steeply than this morning's climb. There was a sheer drop to the side too, which I kept away from. It used switch backs to moderate the gradient, but it was very hard going on my knees. It becomes a full body workout, as my upper body is taking so much of my weight through my poles to protect my 60 year old joints. I had to concentrate hard, which has been a feature of today, which has meant I've not listened to any songs. I've got some great ones sponsored though, I'll catch them up tomorrow!
I was extraordinarily impressed at three women pushing heavy mountain bikes up the slope. They asked me if they were nearly at the top. Sadly I couldn't say yes, but didn't want to break their hearts, so made a non-committal noise.
Eventually Invermoriston came into view, with a bizarrely huge manicured lawn in front of what looked like a castle. It seemed unnecessary.
The village had a great bridge, another excellent piece of work by Thomas Telford. It also had some waterfalls and a special well.
But the main thing was that it had a shop with cold drinks. I had foolishly not checked the levels of my hydration system before setting off today, and had run out of water. And I'm definitely not complaining, but it was quite warm today!
Coming out of Invermoriston, I had to choose again between the high and low path. This was more problematic, as my accommodation was on the lochside before the end of the trail, and so if I did take the high path I'd have to get myself down to the bottom before the end somehow. But my map implied that might be possible, and I couldn't bear the idea of missing out on more of those views.
It was another properly steep climb, this time through a mixture of felled trees, new plantation, moorland and heather. I couldn't see the loch as much, instead the mountain ranges in the distance.
Then ahead of me was a wooden and stone sculpture that I had been keen to see. It's described the Viewfinder, with the idea of it being to highlight the stunning view. A perfect place to finish the tea in my thermos.
The path started to descend a little, and I started to look out keenly for the side route down to Altsigh. I was relieved to see it as a clear track, with a sign to the hostel. Then followed a mile and a half of descent which seemed to go very slowly. I was very pleased to see the hostel, and to be arriving a minute before 5pm.
When describing where I'm staying, I want to make it clear that there are some good things. The sofas in the lounge are comfortable, and my sheets are clean. My room is hilariously tiny (I can touch the walls on both sides with my hands flat on the wall) and shabby, and there's no soap of any sort anywhere. But the mattress feels just about ok. However, when I came into the communal areas to cook my lightweight dinner, I looked into the lounge/dining room. In there were four girls silently folding sheets. They didn't look at me as I came in, just continued with their large pile of laundry. I retreated and made my dinner, and then brought it back into the lounge. The girls were now silently on their phones, and still didn't acknowledge me, despite my eager smile. I felt like a ghost. There was Tori Amos playing very loudly. I ate my dinner rapidly, and then as I was considering locking myself in my bedroom, wondering if I'd stumbled on a cult, another girl came into the lounge and announced that there'd be a quiz to discover 'how well do you know your fellow volunteers!' Yay, was the reaction.
It turns out that this hostel is run entirely by volunteers, almost all girls in their very early twenties. They paid no attention to me or any of the other paying guests who also cautiously came into the lounge and stayed at the periphery. It was like being in a youth club to which I hadn't been invited. I'd love to see what the owner's business model is.
Distance travelled: 12.5 miles
Total ascent: 2652 feet
Calories burned: 2115
Local tipple - Cairngorm gold from Cairngorm brewery
Dinner cooked by me at the hostel - mushroom tortellini with cheese
Tunnock's tea cake
Sponsors' music - none today, loads lined up for tomorrow!
Video of the day