Home » Hiking » 2014 Scotland Trip » GGW Day 1 (Friday) – Fort William to Caol Lairig (28 km)

GGW Day 1 (Friday) – Fort William to Caol Lairig (28 km)

Thismorning I was still not feeling great, and went with a lighter breakfast. I set off at about 9am and immediately had trouble finding the start of the Great Glen Walk. I hadn’t found out where the official start was and signage in town was lacking (or frustrating). After having to backtrack through town I got annoyed and decided just to cross the main road . . . including climbing over the barrier along the edge of it!

After that I found signs and was on my way. The path was well enough signposted and a nicely packed dirt path, winding through fields, woods and some suburban areas plus past (I think) the home of the steam train that makes the run up to Mallaig (from yesterday’s story).

Steam train outside of Fort William

Steam train outside of Fort William

I was actually only following the GGW for a short distance thismorning before heading away from the canal to the east to get to Glen Roy. Fortuitously, this detour led me past the Ben Nevis distillery, so I dropped in! It was only 10 minutes until the next tour (10am) so I hung around for it.

The Ben Nevis Distillery

The Ben Nevis Distillery

Our guide was quite knowledgeable and very friendly. I was surprised that they don’t malt their own barley, but apparently most distilleries don’t these days (I’ve only been to Highland Park who do all their own stuff, mostly by hand). Also, they can’t produce in winter because their water supply is two lochans up on Ben Nevis which freeze over in winter! Most distilleries (them included) stop for a month or so in summer as there is no barley. Other interesting things: Ben Nevis Distillery used to produce double all the other distilleries combined, but now they are just a small producer. Wow. They generally use US bourbon barrels (cheaper) and make a lot of blends (rather than single malt). They try not to work on Sundays, in honour of the religious beliefs of their founder . . . except when they are catching up after the winter or summer months off!! We got to taste one whisky, which I was not too big a fan of, then I headed back out on my walk.

I walked along the main road for a short stretch, then headed onto some quite roads through the woods. I decided to take a minor side path to test my navigation and ended up following it well past the end of the track (so I guess that was a fail!). A cross country slog through some bog ensued but I did get back to the main track safely. It was good practice and learning (started compiling my “rules for traversing bogs” at this point) but probably not such a good idea!

After this I was on proper tracks . . . or at least that is what my map said!

A "track". Ummmm which way am I supposed to go??? I think I went right.

A “track”. Ummmm which way am I supposed to go??? I think I went right.

They were still very muddy and some bits were very slow going, with occasional patches of prickle bushes (gorse I decided). I saw some very skittish sheep and a field full of the noisiest cows ever! I also had two jets do a very low fly by (not going to fast though so not loud).

A bit more proper (but still muddy) track . . . the noisiest herd of cows I've met.

A bit more proper (but still muddy) track . . . the noisiest herd of cows I’ve met.

It was pretty much just a muddy long slog through fields to get to Highbridge but at least the rest of my navigation was fine! Also, obviously, I was in Scotland, so the scenery was pretty.

Now, there was an interesting marking on my map near Highbridge which looked like half a bridge symbol. I wanted to cross the river somewhere near here so thought I should check it out. Maybe it was a pedestrian bridge? Maybe the ink hadn’t set properly and there was a bridge there?

Nope, turns out the Ordnance Survey was completely right: there is half a bridge there!! Well, 3 pillars anyway! And my thoughts of possibly being able to cross anyway were dashed by how extremely deep and inaccessible the river was (I hadn’t picked this up when reading the map). It turns out that whoever named the town “Highbridge” wasn’t being sarcastic. The remains of the bridge, and this particular spot in general, were pretty special. A highlight of today.

Half a bridge! The remains of the High Bridge over the River Spean.

Half a bridge! The remains of the High Bridge over the River Spean.

So, back out for a long road walk to Spean Bridge. I had ANOTHER navigational mistake where I thought I was already on the A82 (and was amazed at how small and quiet an A-road was in Scotland . . . amazed, yet I believed it) when actually I was still only on a minor road leading up to it. There was no lost time, just some disappointment when I realised I had further to go!

I stopped in Spean Bridge at about 3:30 for ‘lunch’, which consisted of soup. I’d had some muesli bars earlier but thanks to my “not feeling well” I didn’t feel like I could stomach much food so was barely eating.

I continued on and had a long road walk on the A86 up to Inverroy. It was quite a busy road (especially at this time of day) with very narrow shoulders. I could’ve taken some parallel back roads but the A86 had signs for “children walking on the road” so I figured if they did, I’d be OK. Nope.

A section of the A86 between Spean Bridge and Inverroy. Not fun for walking.

A section of the A86 between Spean Bridge and Inverroy. Not fun for walking.

Also with my track record of navigation today I thought it best to stay on the main road! For that reason I also went up the main road to Inverroy, rather than cutting through an earlier path like I’d planned. Pretty sure this was a good choice!

I walked up through town (a couple of houses) and into the pine forest. I’d been planning on following the pine forest track up to the ‘parallel roads’ (geological feature – see here or google Glen Roy parallel roads) the walking around them into the Caol Lairig (valley). Unfortunately I walked straight past the parallel roads without actually finding them (an ongoing problem which I’ll complain about tomorrow!). Fortunately, the pine forest was being logged so the track was actually a beautiful big road, built all the way through to where I wanted to go! As I had to cross a river ahead, I thought this was fantastic, as surely the road would have a bridge across it?!! Nope . . . it just stopped!

My beautiful pine forest road . . . that simply stops! Also, Beinn a Mhonicag (Bohuntine Hill), which I'm going up tomorrow, in the background.

My beautiful pine forest road . . . that simply stops! Also, Beinn a Mhonicag (Bohuntine Hill), which I’m going up tomorrow, in the background.

So, my first real ‘wild’ river crossing! It wasn’t really a big river (Allt Coire Ceirsle for those who want to look it up), and there were stones I could use as stepping stones, but I picked up a nice big pine staff from nearby (about 6’ tall and 4” across!) and used this as a walking pole to assist me. I was very proud of myself!

My first wild river crossing, with my trusty staff in the bottom left of the photo. Also, you can just see where the pine forest road ends, on the top left.

My first wild river crossing, with my trusty staff in the bottom left of the photo (yes, the huge log!). Also, you can just see where the pine forest road ends, on the top left.

I then followed the main river in the valley (Allt Coire Ionndrainn), planning to walk up to the footbridge further up. It was quite boggy and the river was very windy (wind-y, not breezy) and when my side got too steep to walk along I decided to do my second wild river crossing! This time I took my shoes off, tied them to the side of my pack, put my sandals on and walked across. Yay! The other side of the river was a beautiful flat grassy clearing which looked like a good campsite so I didn’t mind getting my feet wet and it was a good chance to test this out (the “shoes off creek crossing method”).

My second wild river crossing.

My second wild river crossing.

It was a lovely place to camp, and no signs of other people so my first real ‘wild’ camp. On the way here I’d startled a deer here, and there was lots of poo around so it was obviously a popular spot for them. I made camp at about 6pm and did a very thorough check for ticks since I’d been walking around in sandals (but didn’t find any). The map distance for today was ~24.5km which didn’t seem like much, but I guess was OK considering I’d only been walking for ~7hrs. My GPS says 28km . . . so that is a bit better.

My campsite, looking north. The river is to the left, this side of the hill.

My campsite, looking north. The river is to the left, this side of the hill.

GGW1

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