Scotland Day 29 - Abriachan to Drumnadrochit
Those who read yesterday's blog might be confused by the title for today, in that it states I am arriving in Drumnadrochit, which is the same place as yesterday. That is indeed what has happened. The conventional last day of the GGW goes from Drumnadrochit to Inverness. This is a 20 mile walk, with a lot of ascent. My plan had been to do that, and then to have a rest day in Inverness. However, a month or so before I left, I was told of another option. Instead I get transportation to Abriachan, which is just under half way to Inverness, and walk back to Drum (as the locals call it). Then tomorrow I'm dropped at the same place, but walk to Inverness instead. This took a bit of weighing up, as a rest day is important. But I decided that I'd prefer not to have a monster long day, and therefore I have foregone the rest day for the sake of two more manageable distances. I'd thought that today would be about 6.5 miles, which felt like a rest anyway. As always, the walk was longer than expected, at around 9 miles, and I have been walking South. Maybe that's why it's been such a very difficult day today.
I spent a portion of breakfast time quietly observing one of the other guests, who looks like an actor that even I recognise. I've not got to the bottom of whether he is or he isn't yet, but I'm sure he's fed up of my sideways glances.
I was picked up by Russell of Loch Ness Travel and driven to Abriachan in the company of the lovely Californian family from yesterday. They made an extremely generous further donation to the fund, and spent time considering what their songs would be. I look forward to listening to them tomorrow. As he was driving, Russell was telling us about Abriachan. It is a community of crofters whose cottages and lands have been in their families for generations. They mainly have to have second jobs in Inverness to make a living. Remarkably, in 1998 the community acquired the 534 hectare woodland next to their hamlet. According to the woodland trust:
They have transformed a former pine and spruce plantation into a thriving centre for recreation and education. A network of paths, easy access trails and mountain biking routes has been created. To improve biodiversity, the Trust has planted well over 200,000 native trees, and has increased black grouse populations by providing suitable habitats, and restored wet areas beside streams.
What an astonishing achievement for a very small group. One of the education initiatives is to run a nursery Forest school for the urban children of Inverness. I walked through the forest for a lot of today, and it's a very special place.
Russell told us that a pair of eagles had been spotted here recently, which reminded me that sadly my big bird of prey from a couple of days ago has been identified as a buzzard, not an eagle. Thanks very much to Fi's cousin for confirming it. Although it would have been nice to know I'd seen one, I still will hold watching that extraordinary bird as a top memory. Eagle or buzzard, he was magnificent.
Although I'd been walking for less than half a mile, I thought I'd stop at the Abriachan eco-cafe, as I'd heard good things about it and I was keen to support a local business. The route off the path was quirky, and the table I chose was occupied by a robin. My coffee came with a massive slice of cake, which I generally avoid at the beginning of a walk, but it was delicious. And breathtakingly expensive.
Going on through the forest, it was like being in an exhibition of natural rock gardens, together with some bravura funghi, heather looking all sculptural against some bone like branches, and some very bold young pine trees thrusting upward with remarkably vibrant greenness.
I had a great selection of songs this morning. It started with Henrietta's suggestion of The Cure's song The Forest, which couldn't have been more appropriate. And Francesca has been the first person to suggest Bach, who never fails me. Helen asked for any Stevie Wonder, and I chose 'As' which is one of my favourites. Finally, my special friend Janet suggested a song by a band that is new to both of us: 'I heard' by Young Fathers. I really enjoyed this. It's great getting to know new music.
But this morning, although I enjoyed listening, nothing really lifted my mood. I was feeling very flat, and very far away from all the people I care about. Coming out of the forest the views were wonderful, looking over the moorland to the hills, and although it gave me happiness at the time, as the path descended into trees again I felt more inward and reduced.
I considered putting music on again to push me out of this mood, but then thought I'd stick with the silence of the forest and just walk with the feelings for a bit. Just like the joy of yesterday was unexpected in a less than exciting walk, this flatness in relation to a beautiful one was also surprising. I wondered whether it was a sugar crash after the cake earlier, whether I was just tired. Or perhaps it's that this endeavour is a lot. I'm away from everyone, I'm constantly in unfamiliar places, not sleeping brilliantly and putting my body through many miles a day on challenging terrain. Maybe it's a combination of all of these things.
I gave myself time to sit and have a cup of tea and something to eat, observing the view and the lovely moss against the birch trees, but it didn't really go in. What did go in was that I noticed that both my boots have holes in. They're not uncomfortable, and they were leaking anyway, but it's a good job that the last section of the walk will probably be in trainers on the road.
I carried on descending through the forest, passing the German family who I have met repeatedly this week. They advised me quite sternly that the next section was very steep. I wasn't sure what to do with that information, as I couldn't make a diversion, but bore it in mind. They weren't wrong. The path was soft and slippery, and one part in particular was very tricky. Probably because I was feeling miserable, I let it unnerve me. The last time I went skiing, years ago, I froze on the side of an icy run, unable to push myself off. I felt like that, but this time I didn't have Tasha with me encouraging me to 'just go mum!' I had to encourage myself, but there wasn't much of that in the tank.
As I emerged from the forest, I thought I'd probably had enough of the quiet reflection, and that maybe I needed the boost of music again. However, the songs that have recently been my go to cheerer-uppers just made me sadder, and 'Sunshine on Leith' that filled me with joy yesterday led to lonely tears.
Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago how I was really feeling, after reading this blog. I could honestly say then that the blog has been truthful about my state of mind. I really have been generally happy and had many joy filled days since setting off a month ago. I really have been finding this trip an adventure that has been life affirming and exciting. But that truthfulness in this blog applies to the converse feelings too. This is not a sanitised account, and today has been psychologically tough.
But however I was feeling, I had to continue onward. Urquhart castle was now in front of me, and it was good to see it from across the bay.
There was also an account of the tragic attempt in this place at the World Water Speed record by John Cobb in 1952. His vessel, Crusader, was the first water-borne craft to be designed and built for jet propulsion. Although in the first mile he managed to go faster than 200 miles an hour, during the second mile the boat bounced and then plunged into the loch. John Cobb died, and because he didn't complete the second mile his speed doesn't count as the world record.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my lovely choir members, Russell, messaged me about mood on long distance efforts like this. He is a far more experienced athlete than me, having done the most extraordinary running feats. He said that I might well feel depressed and tearful at times, and if so I must make sure that I eat. I remembered this, and therefore bought up lots of nutritious food from the Drum co-op, to see if I could turn my mood around through food. Not really. I ate a big lunch, and then the afternoon was mainly spent holed up in my bright green little hostel room, checking and rechecking maps and routes, and offloading on the phone to my wonderful support crew, feeling tired and that everything was a bit beyond me. I certainly wouldn't have been up for the Drumnadrochit tug of war team.
But then.... Tasha asked if she could FaceTime me after I'd eaten my ready meal in the hostel this evening. She told me that she is going to fly to Inverness the day after tomorrow, and is going to stay with me for a couple of days, walking with me and moving my heavy bag on too. She didn't know I'd had a bad day today, she and David have been planning it for weeks. This brilliant surprise couldn't have come at a better time.
Inverness tomorrow, the end of the Great Glen Way and the beginning of the very different final stage of my journey.
Distance travelled: 9 miles
Total ascent: 619 feet
Calories burned: 1187
Local tipple - half of Tennants lager
Dinner in the hostel - ready meal from the Drum Co-op. Not bad considering.
Pasta with tomato and mozzarella with a green salad
Lemon curd yogurt and a chocolate and peanut protein bar
Sponsors' music, thanks to Henrietta, Francesca, Helen and Janet
The Forest - The Cure
Jesu meine Freunde - Bach
As - Stevie Wonder
I heard - Young Fathers
Video of the day