Fort William to Gairlochy – 9.9 miles (876.9 total)
For me, the 169 miles from Milngavie to Inverness is technically one very long Kerching. The Great Glen Way meets the West Highland Way at Fort William and heads north-eastwards, following the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness, to the River Ness and the city of Inverness, the largest city in the Scottish Highlands. Five of us walked the Great Glen Way in 2003 so this is my final individual link of LEJOG 2018, Kerching No.15.
I had an unsure start to my day. Because the railway line was between my hotel and my intended route, I had to take a path that would get me across it. There were few options on the map that didn’t involve me doubling back. Setting off at the start of the day is definitely not my strength. Today I selected a likely route, became unsure and ended up doubling back anyway.
I was the organiser when we last walked the GGW. The first day took us to Speanbridge, which is nearly 4 miles off route. This was dictated by the availability of accommodation. When I tried to book there this time I was faced with hotels fully booked or outrageously expensive. A little bit of luck landed me with a room at a B&B in Gairlochy which is directly on my path and saves me 8 miles walking – 4 each way. It wasn’t cheap, proving to be the dearest of the whole walk, but I was grateful to get a bed at all!
After crossing over the railway line I joined the Great Glen Way at Inverlochy. Where I met the River Lochy my route was upstream, crossing 2 footbridges to enter Caol. Ignoring the official path, I walked straight up the road to rejoin it at the Caledonian Canal. A slight detour around the small railway station brought me directly back to the canal and its towpath, which I followed for the remainder of the walk.
Right in front of me, at Banavie, was Neptune’s Staircase. This is the longest ‘ staircase lock ’ in Britain. It is comprised of 8 individual canal locks which in total can raise/lower boats 64 feet. The feature still looks very impressive considering it is nearly 200 years old. I climbed the 64 feet in a couple of minutes (maybe 3) – a boat would need 90 minutes!
Once up I enjoyed some of the most pleasant walking of the whole 2 months. The towpath was wide, well-maintained and excellent to walk on; the canal was also wide, clean and surprisingly quiet; the weather was dry, sunny, very hot (high twenties again) but with a cooling easterly breeze stopping me overheating. There were also plenty of trees offering shade as I walked along.
For the most part the GGW path was sandwiched between the Caledonian Canal and the River Lochy. The views to the far bank of the canal were picturesque with the trees and bright-yellow gorse bushes adding colour and depth to the hillside. Twice I sat fascinated watching lock keepers opening sizeable swing bridges, once to let a tractor across and once to let a boat through – the perfect stress-free career, if ever there was one.
On a happier note, it was nice, at last, to start passing and saying hello to fellow way-walkers. Not masses of people, like last week, just a smattering of like-minded souls. My destination for the day, Gairlochy, was the perfect backwater in which to slowly end a relaxing day’s walk.
The earliest check-in at my B&B was 4pm leaving me struggling to progress slowly enough on a short day. I set out late, tried walking slowly, sat down in the shade a number of times, chatted to people… yet still arrived far too early. So I stopped at a picnic bench at Gairlochy bridge for a good while and watched the world go by.