Scotland! (Part 7)

Day 7: Blackfold to Inverness, 17km (10½ miles)

[Continued from day six.]

Becky has slept poorly, dreaming of water-soluble zombies. We bid adieu to the Bridgend, the only place we’ve stayed two consecutive nights since we started this trip, and catch our ride to Blackfold again. After catching our last glimpses of Loch Ness, we are dropped at exactly the same place, but this time we head the other way.

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The first two miles of today are on tarmac, and we are pattered with the first rain of our hike.

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We reach the place where the trail breaks from the road. There’s a woman here with two dogs and a tennis racket. When we get close enough, we find that she isn’t hitting tennis balls; the dogs are just chasing rocks.

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We stop for a snack around 11, on the first bench we see. The rain has quit, but the sky is still full of drama.

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Very quickly after, we enter a quiet, misty wood. There are interesting mushrooms.

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The trail continues alongside a stone wall for what seems like miles. Well, actually, it is miles. We stop for lunch when we spot a log to set on, around 2pm. As soon as we stop moving, the midges swarm us. Our apples taste of DEET.

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Again with the crisps! I’m having a hard time imagining crisp flavors that don’t exist in the UK.

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In the distance, the Beauly Firth. That means we’re nearing Inverness.

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Mushrooms. Photographer for scale.

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Upon emerging from the woods, we find this gorgeous pond (which is apparently nameless), with a perfectly smooth surface.

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Just around the bend, we catch sight of Inverness! Of course, we also find a signpost that tells us we have 4 miles to go.

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Onward through cultivated woods, always downhill.

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We trek through a suburb, in the green space between apartments, along the edge of a golf course…

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…and finally reach the canal again. This is a very familiar sight by now.

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Then we walk straight through a car park (that’s parking lot to you Yankees).

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And through an amazing city park, set atop islands in the River Ness (yup, the one that Loch Ness drains through).

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We finally meet the monster face-to-face!

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By now we’re exhausted, nearly out of gas. We find a bench to sit on for 10 minutes, gathering strength for the home stretch.

We follow the river for about a mile.

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Then climb the hill to the castle, and there it is! The end of the trail! It’s a bit anticlimactic – the Hadrian’s Wall trail had a whole gazebo – but we’re glad nonetheless.

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The endpoint is in the front yard of Inverness Castle.

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We take a few breaths, then hie hence to find our lodgings, which are nearby and very comfortable. Also nearby and comfortable is the Castle Tavern, which feeds us well (cider-battered onion rings, bubble and squeak, Drambuie cranachan, and a local beer flight), and awards us a certificate of completion!

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We head back to our room, too exhausted to repack for a train trip, and fall asleep quickly. Today ends one adventure; tomorrow begins another.

[Continued with Part Eight.]

Scotland! (Part 2)

Day 2: Gairlochy to Spean Bridge, 22km (14 miles)

[Continued from day one.]

We begin our day, as always, with the Full English. Our host provides us with gigantic lunches, we pack up, and catch a ride to our starting point for the day.

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We soon reach the shores of Loch Lochy (which, as far as we can tell, is Gaelic for “Lake Lakey”). The scenery is very much like the pacific northwest. Out in the open, the wind tears at us; in the woods, we unzip all of our layers.

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This is the old foundations of a WW2-era amphibious assault training dummy. This is the first place we notice the midges (“if you kill one, a thousand more will come to its funeral”), and apply bug spray. Liberally.

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Here’s where we took our elevensies. I phoned our host to plan our pickup, but since we were ahead of schedule, he advised us to just take on a couple of extra miles. We agreed; this will make tomorrow easier, and we’ll avoid the awkward necessity of asking for a ride to dinner.

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Who doesn’t love pictures of people taking pictures? Nobody, that’s who.

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Hey, it was worth it.

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The scenery starts to look less like home. Those furry hills are called craigs on our map.

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Much of our path today is along logging roads, and there are areas of clear-cut periodically.

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Time for luncheon! This was the best spot for sitting and looking, but it was really windy. Our lunches are huge; we’re wondering if we’ll even need dinner.

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Not much further on, we walk pretty much straight through a sheep farm. It’s not lambing season now, but there are still some smallish ones. Becky is charmed.

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This farm is called Kilfinnan. I love the names around here.

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Civilization! This is Laggan Locks, which would normally be our stopping point for the day, but it’s only 3pm.

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…and this is The Eagle. The first boat you see is a pub, the second is a little hotel, and they’ve been converted from barges. We decided to stop for a couple of half-pints, and we’re glad we did. The place is a kitsch palace, and looks to be the work of a lifetime. Our table is made from reclaimed beams from a 1700’s mustard mill!

By the way, my favorite quote from their Facebook page:

With great regret I’ve got to cancel the Pirate Night set for Wed 21st due to the attacking Pirate’s ship having run into mechanical problems and will be unable to attend with it’s crew.

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Back on the trail. There are only a couple of miles left to go along the canal.

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We finally reach the Great Glen Water Park, which is not (as you’d expect as an American) one of these. It’s an adorable set of A-frame cabins on Loch Oich, and there’s a pub/restaurant here. We decide to eat an early dinner (it’s 4pm), rather than have our host drive us to the lodgings, back here, and back there again. There appears to be a family reunion going on, and we’re the two people of the twenty in the place that aren’t related.

After dinner, we call for our ride. The Craigard Guest House is so charming and adorable. We settle in with the wi-fi and the tea, and fall asleep around 9pm.

[Continued with Part Three]