Scotland Day 30 - Abriachan to Inverness
It almost always happens that a less good day is followed by a better one, and so it was today. Yesterday felt low and lonely, today felt energetic and filled with people.
I was taken back to Abriachan this morning by minibus, and was delighted to see that Peter, the priest from Enniskillen was on board. And then the lovely Californian family joined us, followed by Andrea, a Mexican woman travelling alone whom I have bumped into a few times since starting the Great Glen Way. Although Andrea was the only one starting at the same place as me, it was great to catch up with them all before we started our day.
The first section after Abriachan is newly tarmacked, so that the road can cope with the weight of the timber lorries that run down here. Consequently some people choose not to walk this section, but to stay on the minibus until the more picturesque bit starts. I'm sure everyone can guess what I thought about that idea.
So tarmac it was, and initially Andrea and I walked together. She was reflecting on how sad it is that her country is too unsafe for her to walk like this on her own, and how even driving she would ensure that she was safely at her destination well before nightfall because of the danger from the drug cartels. It puts our UK problems into perspective.
I really appreciated the messages of support that people posted both on the blog and privately yesterday and today. I always consider whether it's an appropriate thing to publicly say that things are tough, but think there is less value in an account if it's not truthful. In the end, although I'm delighted that others are reading and enjoying what I'm writing, I'm recording what I'm doing for me as much as anyone else, and when I look back on it I need it to be as it really was. I've spent a bit of time thinking about whether knowing that I'll write about the day later means I'm focusing more on that act than being in the moment. But the converse is that maybe knowing I need things to write about makes me pay more attention to my environment and my internal world than if I was 'just' walking. Whatever, the act of putting one foot in front of the other this morning felt immediately settling, that this is what I'm meant to be doing.
The route today felt a long way from Loch Ness, with no sight of it today. Instead, we were treated to some lovely heather and gorse moorland, as we looked back to where we had come from over the last week. This section is really not far from Inverness, but it felt much more remote. The greens and the purples in juxtaposition were intense.
After a little while, Andrea said that she couldn't maintain my pace, and we parted ways for a bit. I don't deliberately try to walk fast, it's just the way my legs go, but I almost always end up miles ahead. So, being on my own again, I caught up with my sponsors' songs for today. Firstly Andrew and Simon's suggestions. I loved the folky feel of Mumford and Sons' 'I will wait'. I don't know what's going on with my increasing enjoyment of folky music, David is going to be both astonished and delighted. I also really enjoyed a bit of Northern Soul with 'Open the door to your heart' , especially the horn section. I'll be looking up more of Darrell Banks. Monica had suggested 'Bring it all Back', which made me laugh at its bouncy chirpiness, as well as remembering our girls when they were younger.
Then in contrast I had three suggestions from my Californian friends. Kate suggested a track by SZA, an R & B artist that I hadn't heard of. A lovely voice, and a very relaxed vibe to the song. This was followed by her brother Alec's choice of 'Take it Easy'. In loading my Spotify list last night I inadvertently clicked on an instrumental instead of the original. It was actually rather lovely, but I prefer the Eagles' version. And then their parents, Helena and Matt, chose 'California Dreamin'. I have so many memories associated with this song, connected with my choirs, most particularly members of Village Voices doing an ad hoc flashmob of the song in the Channel tunnel terminal. I sang along into the forest, with all the extra harmonies. All three choices were very chilled, reflecting this lovely family. All the best with your onward Scottish adventures.
My final song for today was 'Mountain' by Sam Ryder, chosen by my friend Philip. He knows me so very well, and this had been chosen with such care. The lyrics are motivating without resorting to crazy exhortation, which he knows would drive me mad. It was just right for getting on with it all after a tricky day yesterday. 'I am a mountain and down in the valley is all that I've overcome' .
The moorland section moved into forest, and a junction with yet another drovers road. I started with these in the Borders, and knowing that those woollen clad, hob nailed booted tough Highlanders had come from so far north with their cattle was wondrous. The board quoted Sir Walter Scott as saying that the journey 'affords exercise for all their habits of patient endurance and active exertion'.
All felt a bit familiar. The map on the information board also showed how far I've come too.
I stopped for a sandwich, and Andrea caught up with me. We walked together again for a bit, with her braving the tartness of the wild blueberries, and both of us loving the view over to water again. This time instead of a loch it was the beginning of the sea. Beauly Firth is the outlet for both the river Beauly and the river Ness. I didn't know what 'Firth' meant - it's a word that has come from the Norwegian 'fjord', and is an arm of the sea, a little like an estuary except being salt water. Whatever it's made of, it was great seeing it glinting through the trees.
Onward on the gradual descent to Inverness, the views opened up over the most northerly city in the UK.
I stopped at a picnic bench where four people were chatting, only to be greeted as an old friend, with cries of 'Jane's Big Walk!' I recognised Ron and Gina who come from Huntsville Alabama, after chatting to them very briefly in Fort Augustus, but I hadn't met Canadians Kathy and Don before. However they all knew me. It seems Simon and Andrew had been spreading the word. Then Andrea caught up with us, and we had quite the party, sharing stories of walk completed, and walks still to do with the view of the old Creag Dunain hospital before us, and the end of our Great Glen adventure in sight.
The others set off a little before Andrea and I, but I caught them up fairly soon, as they said 'we heard you were fast!' I wonder what else Andrew and Simon have been telling people?
The path went confidently downhill, leading through a couple of new housing estate developments, until eventually reaching the Caledonian canal for a short while.
After a few vividly decorated underpasses, the rest of the journey runs through the green heart of the city, moving from the botanic gardens, through Whin park and then finally onto a series of islands in the centre of the river Ness, linked by footbridges.
On one of these a couple greeted me with a smile, saying 'we've heard about you!'. Yopi and Leo are from the Netherlands, and have also been on the GGW., though I'd not bumped into them before this last couple of miles of the journey. All these encounters had been quite entertaining. David later said 'you're a celebrity!' I agreed I was, amongst a tiny niche group of about 10 dedicated walkers.
The finish of the walk is even more anti climactic than that of the West Highland Way. It ends at Inverness Castle, which sounds suitable for a 79 mile hike finale. But the castle is being redeveloped, and the area was closed with workmen busy around the plinth marking the end. But that didn't matter to me, as I had the wonderful sight of my godfather Laurence standing at the end. He lives 17 miles from Inverness, and had driven over to wave me in as I finished. We got one of the workmen to record the moment and then retired to a cafe for a cup of tea. As we were leaving one of the groups there spotted my rucksack poster, and got very excited about what I'm doing and burst into spontaneous applause. I was a bit nonplussed, but Laurence was sweetly proud and enjoying basking in reflected glory, as he put it. Such a lovely and very unexpected interlude.
Inverness is a cracking city, with impressive public buildings and a very lively centre. It has an excellent suspension footbridge onto Greig Street that can flow like a wave if people jump on it simultaneously, which the young of Inverness like to do, it seems. Even walking firmly across it can feel uncertain under foot. It is known locally as the bouncy bridge.
A final surprise before dinner. I had a few minutes to kill, and was walking through the city centre when I saw some young musicians playing in a pub. I popped in and listened for twenty minutes with a beer in the company of an Australian man who had just cycled the GGW. We enjoyed a chat about how we're too old for hostels now, and routes we might take one day, whilst listening to the fabulously talented youngsters playing Scottish folk music. An experience that lasted only a short time but that will remain with me for much longer.
Distance travelled: 12 miles
Total ascent: 282 feet
Calories burned: 1513
Local tipple - half of Blonde from Black Isle brewing company
Dinner at Mangrove - excellent
Poppadums and pickles
Vegetable thali with rice and naan
Sponsors' music, thanks to Andrew, Simon, Kate, Alec, Helena & Matt, Monica and Philip
I will wait - Mumford and Sons
Open the door to your heart - Darrell Banks
Good Days - SZA
Take it Easy - The Eagles
California Dreamin' - The Mamas and the Papas
Bring it all back - S Club
Mountain - Sam Ryder