Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Great Glen Way Day 1: Fort William to Gairlochy

Breakfast served in the dining room by the kilted manager of the B&B. Spoke to some walkers who had completed either the Great Glen Way or the West Highland Way. Fort William is connecting town for these routes. There is also a train journey which is used for a number of the train journey shots in the Harry Potter films. It's wet and foggy: Ben Nevis is still invisible to me. Slapped on some bug repellant before leaving. Very fortuitous as a cloud of midges descend on me moments after exiting the B&B. I learnt from my "you've been a wonderful host" experience with bugs in Belize that powerful repellant is a must. Mine has DEET (Diethyl toulamide) but more familiar to most as the opening phrase of a popular Jean Michel Jarre tune, in fact it probably makes an appearance some five dozen times...

Ducked into the Town Centre to get a map and luggage tags before my bag-courier picked up my backpack at 9:30am. Checked out of B&B and collected Bondi, and headed back to the High Street to get food and coffee. Passing us, one lady said to her husband: "There's that thing again!"

No sign of a promising coffee presence so I made do with nuts, fruit and water (Glasgow had been a coffee wasteland too: all hot milk, no flavour except the chocolate they sprinkle on every type of coffee).

The Great Glen Way starts at a funny little mound situated between a roundabout and an internationally known fast food outlet with a Scottish name. The mound looks like an ice-cream that's had half its outer coating nibbled off. The opening stages of the walk are not terribly auspicious, as it winds around behind shops and estates and over railway lines for several miles before turning inland at Neptune's Staircase, an amazing flight of 8 locks, raising boats nearly 20m up to the Caledonian Canal.

This canal is beside us for the remaining miles of the first leg of our journey. You can hear the sound of running water as well, but that is actually the River Lochy, running nearly unseen to those on the canal path, way down off the embankment to the right. Towards journey's end we pass over the Loy Aqueduct which allows a tributary of the Lochy to pass underneath the canal.

We see only one other walker heading in our direction,a gentleman of nearly 80yrs moving slowly but purposefully. I slowed to talk with him for 20 minutes or so. He had done this trail before, the Pennine Way 5 times (once in a week!) and a 9 week trail between Lake Geneva and Nice. Aiming to match his father's 96 years, he still had a good to-do list, including New Zealand. Perhaps he had a ring he needed to dispose of...

Gairlochy is barely a hamlet, and we have the choice of calling our B&B for a lift into Spean Bridge or walking the extra 3 miles. I made a bad call by electing to do the latter as the road looked interesting and our Easyways instructions said it was but 2 miles to the main road and downhill a mile to the village. Although we were on a dead-end spur road, some passing vehicles were not sensitive to walkers and we almost found ourselves crushed against the wall of a stone bridge when a 4WD's boat trailer swung in close to us. The way was all hard road and mainly uphill and actually about 3.25 miles to the man road, so we were quite weary by the time we got to our overnight accommodation. Bondi in particular finds these hard roads awkward and slows down markedly on them. I will pay special attention to this in future. A cheap pedometer that came with one of my map books indicated I had done about 27000 steps today.

There's really nothing to do in Spean Bridge but dry off, rest and have a hot shower and meal. It's 11pm as I write this and only just getting dark. TV is pretty poor. I glimpsed Celebrity Love Island, but it appeared to be populated by people I didn't recognise and didn't love. I let Bondi out for a pee, and the midges discover I've washed off my DEET and attack instantly.

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