Hello, lads and lassies, I'm back! Well, I have been ever since last Tuesday, but it has taken me a while to adjust to what they call 'real life' again after such an amazing trip to Scotland. That, and of course carefully picking out and editing only a bunch of favourite photos out of gazillions taken, has led to a rather late report on our travels. It really was amazing, though, so I'll try to describe it as well as I possibly can, for that Highland air is not something I would likely ever forget. Here goes!
DAY 1: LIFT-OFF & THE LONG WAY TO INVERMORISTON
Let me start by admitting to something quite embarrassing here: I shed a couple of tears after I pulled the door closed behind me and left my cats to a couple of great caretakers. In my defence: my dad, who was driving my brother and me to the airport, was early for the whole of five minutes. Yes, five minutes. I wasn't ready, let's just keep it at that. That tiny bit of reluctance was lessened the minute we boarded the plane, however, as it was my first flight ever (and a very bumpy one at that) and afterwards completely obliterated once the long train rides finally took us into the Highlands. The beauty was just instant, and I had my first goosebumps when we passed Stirling and saw the Wallace Monument in the distance. I immediately promised myself to visit again one day, because our travel schedule towards the starting point of our hike and the return home was set in stone and didn't leave any room for this particular item on my bucket list.
A couple of hours, two trains and a long bus ride later we were finally in Invermoriston, just in time for a quick dinner and a first, short walk to warm up. That walk took us to the ancient Telford Bridge and the Invermoriston Falls, just 15 minutes from our B & B, and provided us with our first awe-worthy views.
Since we were planning on an early start the day after (thank heavens we did) we walked back to Bracarina House for a good night's sleep. Our first B&B was just perfect, by the way, with awfully nice hosts and a killer breakfast that should send you right on your way. They were even kind enough to provide us with a packed lunch filled with sandwiches, juice, berries, cake and other yumminess that lasted for more than one day.
DAY 2: INVERMORISTON TO DRUMNADROCHIT AND A DETOUR TO URQUHART CASTLE, 26 kilometres.
Our first immediately left us with a choice: the High Route or the Low Route. We'd already read that the high one made for better views, and although it was labelled rather tough for first-time walkers we picked that one anyway. 22 kilometres, the route said, so we figured our youth-organisation-legs would do just fine. They did, of course, but they pretty much went through a very hard time while doing so. You see, 22 kilometres is indeed not that far, but what should also be mentioned except for the distance is the height difference. This first walk consisted largely of climbing, and that, my friends, is what gets those muscles going. The weather was great, as well, which ultimately lead to a too warm hike and a burned face when it came to yours truly, but the views! Those views... They make all of that so worth it and even make you forget about them altogether.
After we made our way through the vast country and impressive forests, we made the climb towards the highest point of our Great Glen Way hike and stumbled upon the most beautiful view I have ever seen. Loch Ness was spread out before us with no civilisation anywhere in sight. Just mountains, forests, the Loch and two tiny people standing on top of a mountain. It was a view that wouldn't find its equal for the entire trip, and we made sure we really took our time to enjoy it. And those ripples on the Loch in the picture under ours? That's not from a boat, people, definitely Nessie.
After this sort of view, you almost feel reluctant to start your descent again. But what are you going to do when you know how much there's still to be seen? Down we went, with still a long while to go to Drumnadrochit, the village on the west shore of Loch Ness and the location of our next B&B.
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived there, and although our feet were already pretty tired, we decided to walk a bit further around to Urquhart Castle. It was a bit of a shock when we arrived there, to be honest, coming from the quiet Highlands because it was packed with tourists. And with tourists I mean cliché, shouty people with little to no sympathy towards Scottish history, which may sound harsh but that's how it looked and sounded like to an exhausted hiker who's always been just a liiiiittle bit in love with Scotland. We decided to have a drink first and wait until the majority of people were leaving the castle before we went to discover its history. You can even walk up to the very shores of Loch Ness and try to spot Nessie from there if you manage to find a good spot between all the kids throwing rocks into the loch. It is a must-see, though, and makes for impressive views and photographs (if you manage to cut as many people out as possible, haha!), but I would definitely recommend visiting it close to closing time.
Finally, we made our way to Greenlea B&B, where we would be staying for two nights as our hike tomorrow would lead us from Blackfold back to Drumnadrochit. This was my favourite B&B from the entire trip, with its lovely (and funny!) hosts with amazing breakfast pancakes skills and a helpfulness that had no boundaries. They recommended a couple of dinner places for us, including Fiddler's ( a great pub/ restaurant already mentioned by our previous B&B as well, because of its huge collection of whiskies) so that is where we went. We ended our tiring, yet unforgettable day with a whisky tasting. Because we just had to, didn't we?
DAY 3: BLACKFOLD TO DRUMNADROCHIT, 18 KILOMETRES.
After gobbling down another amazing breakfast we were picked up by George of Loch Ness Travel, a terrific Scotsman with loads of entertaining stories, who dropped us off near Blackfold to start today's hike. It was a rather difficult walk for me today, as my ankle was hurting pretty badly possibly because I was wearing low-cut shoes, but I pushed on anyway, with the biggest motivation still being those impressive views. It was a very rocky road as well, which isn't exactly easy on your feet as well. Luckily, there's this quirky coffee/lunch spot you pass about two hours into the route called Abriachan Eco-Campsite and Cafe. If you're lucky, you'll be greeted by a cute pig and some very determined lunch-stealing chickens, but otherwise, you're guaranteed a warm welcome by the owners themselves. It's completely outdoors and they have to walk down with your order (which Sandra calls through with her walkie-talkie) all the way from their house, and it was absolutely wonderful to see. We stopped there for an entire hour, had some coffee (in a very pretty mug) and delicious homemade soup for lunch and simply had a lovely time there. A must-stop when you walk the Great Glen Way, yourselves!
After that, we carried on through the Highlands with newly-found energy and some impressive horizons ahead. We did stop a couple of times along the way to rest our feet and eat some banana bread our B&B hosts packed for us, but in the end we made it back to Drumnadrochit with only just a bit of rain along the way.
Highlights from this walk? The tiny forest paths leading all the way down from the mountain, the bed of clovers that ran about a mile long and an encounter with this very talkative Scottish wee lamb.
DAY 4: BLACKFOLD TO INVERNESS, 12 KILOMETRES.
On to our very last day of hiking through the Highlands! Picked up once again to be dropped off at the same point as the day before, only to walk on instead of back now. The hike towards Inverness was short (definitely the easiest, which is good at this point) but as pretty as the day before, with nothing but quiet paths and forest-y roads to travel down. On our way, we put William Wallace down on his homeland for one last time (yes, he travelled with us) and continued on towards Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands.
A large part of the walk takes you through the city and 'over' the Ness Islands, all the way up to Inverness castle where you reach the end (or starting point, of course) of the Great Glen Way. After giving ourselves a pat on the back in the form of one large cider, we made our way to our B&B in Inverness (their whole floor was covered in one big tartan carpet. Nice.), where they conveniently had the heavenliest shower ever to be found in Scotland. We exchanged our time in the wild Highlands for strolling around the big(ger) cities of Inverness and - later - Glasgow instead. But more about that some other time. ;)
It's pretty clear that I am absolutely over the moon about this trip and Scotland in general, isn't it? The people are the nicest, the views are to die for and your feet, well... after a first shock they'll be dying to go down those trails again and again. You can take my word for it!
Q: have you walked the Scottish Highlands or would you like to? What's the most impressive view you've ever seen?