DAY OFF – Sunday 3rd November

Breakfast with Holly & Simon, church and lunch with Marc & Sue Bridson, then Katy & Peter Ferguson for the evening and night!

Inverness

After a leisurely start with Holly & Simon over breakfast we took Holly’s recommendation and went along to Culloden-Balloch Baptist Church

We didn’t mention the Battle… 16th April 1746, which lasted an hour, but caused many Jacobite casualties, to very few of the British forces. It was the end of the Jacobite uprising, and apparently the last pitched battle (planned, not a chance encounter…) fought on British soil. This I’m sure did not enamour the Highlanders to the British….

We were warmly welcomed and enjoyed their service, it’s amazing to go all over the country, meeting Christians each week, being so warmly welcomed and feeling at home. Great to have Sue & Marc with us too, then on to lunch at Velocity, a social enterprise Cafe, encouraging people to get outside on their bikes – another of Holly’s good recommendations.

Marc & Sue headed home through Glencoe – we have converted them to the beautiful Highlands, and we spent a relaxing afternoon with Peter, then Katy after her days jaunt up Sron a Corrie Garbh, one of our favourite mountains.

This is where John was on the Great Glen Way and couldn’t photograph as he had no camera – very handy!

Katy and I (Fiona) did our teacher training in Outdoor Pursuits together in Leeds a long time ago, so good to catch up on the past few years and their amazing adventures.

Lovely meal at Sheilin Tor with Katy and Peter

One of Katy’s adventures – a 16 day relay, climbing all 130 of the 1,000 metre Munroes in one go … temping!

Maybe this is the next challenge… see Katy on the bottom right picture!

Day 40 – Drumnadrochit to Inverness

Saturday 2nd November – with Simon Grey

17.8 miles … 1,650′ ascent … 2,280 calories … 37,582 steps … 5 hours 33 minutes

A great surprise at the end of the Great Glen Way…

Another lie in, this time to watch the Rugby World Cup Final, which started on the day I started this walk …. 20th September …. 40 walking days ago … over 900 miles ago … and by the way we have now raised enough money for a fourth rescue … over £20,000, nearly £21,000… I am sure we can make it to £25,000 and a 5th rescue!

Disappointing start to the day England…

Well, I am afraid the Rugby didn’t go according to plan … unless you are South African, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and most other nationalities apart from English… by the way, just saying, but my mother was born in Johannesburg!!

Simon, Lilo and I started walking at 11.30am. Simon has just joined the Kintail Mountain Rescue Team and he may be using the dog for search and rescue, if she trains well, so this was a good training walk – and I felt in safe hands. We soon got away from the busy A82 by the shores of Loch Ness and climbed through the forest on a very good path, making good time to make up for the late start.

John working out the intricacies of his fancy new phone!

Did you know that 2,000 Canadian lumberjacks came over to Scotland to help with the war effort in 1941… and many married Scots girls?

Canadian Lumberjacks story

The weather did get wetter … could be described as ‘dreich’ again … but not as cold as yesterday and it wasn’t long before we had followed the old drove road into the outskirts of Inverness, the fastest growing city in Britain apparently (apart from Peel that is!)

Great new App Simon showed us, with lots of our favourite hills – ‘Peak Finder’. We didn’t walk these today!

Fiona was waiting with Bablu by the Cathedral along with the Brido’s – what a wonderful treat to see two of our favourites by the riverside, in disguise of course. It seems like years since we saw them, not 2 months. We are looking forward to having the day off with them tomorrow.

Aah, our Manx buddies, straight from an ‘Aha’ concert in Glasgow, Marc & Sue Bridson
Meeting at the Inverness Cathedral; Sue, Simon, Lilo, John and Marc

Back for a lovely evening with Simon and Holly again in their lovely house on the Upper Bog! Check out their AirBnB site https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/29355147?adults=1&source_impression_id=p3_1572797577_koYC2cFUd%2F%2Fn6TMA. One of the best things about this trip is reconnecting with old friends, what a treat!

Simon and Holly Grey
Their lovely B&B Rowantree
This is just a treat pic, taken near our cottage in Tomdoun – one of our favourite places, not taken today…

Day 39 – A Dreich day…

Invermoriston – Drumnadrochit – alone

Friday 1st November

14.17 miles … 34,447 steps … 2,451′ ascent … 2,128 calories … 4 hours 19 minutes

Proper oatmeal porridge to start the day

There was little chance of an early start this morning with Wales playing New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup 3rd and 4th place match. I dutifully assisted my two Welsh walking colleagues to give a rendition of the Welsh National Anthem (I know the tune, if not the words, but am more likely to disguise my inadequacies than if I tried the Haka!)

I thought we would use the photo not video!

The All Blacks were in no mood to lose two consecutive matches so John and Richard had no hesitation in leaving before the end of the game! It was such a treat to have them both walk with me for these last 3 days, catch up on our lives and hopefully encourage each other for the next phase of our lives. I was insistent they did not walk with me before their long drive south, back to Wales.

Lovely to be with Libby ❤️

Fiona went to Church with Libby (our wonderful hostess from last night), on All Saints day, so the boys drove me back to Invermoriston for an 11am start. A steep ascent, on a good path, amidst tall Caledonian Pines led me to see a red squirrel, two grouse and a beautiful fox in the first 30 minutes of the walk … sadly I didn’t have my photographer of the last three days with me to record these sitings, but believe me I have never been so close to any of these creatures before. The fox didn’t realise I was walking on the path behind him (we don’t have foxes on the Isle of Man … or red squirrels … or many grouse for that matter!). I only met one human in the 4 hour walk, a Belgian girl who had been doing a forestry course for a week in Scotland before heading back to her homeland later today.

Today’s weather was not the best, light drizzle became more persistent rain (‘dreich’ is probably how the Scots would describe it… voted by Scots as the nations favourite word, according to a government poll!). Before long I reverted to Tom’s warmer waterproof to try and warm up, along with jogging on the downhill bits. There were some dramatic views over Loch Ness, with the cloud below me covering most of the hills.

The last hour of the walk was not so impressive, with a single track tarmac road leading most of the way through mixed wood and small farms to the village of Drumnadrochit (what a great name!).

This is the home of the Loch Ness Exhibition and I concluded my day there, before retracing my steps to ‘Cafe 82’ for a hot chocolate and a delightful welcome from Bonny, who originates from Edmonton in Canada.

Fiona and Bablu caught up with me, prior to heading home to Simon and Holly Grey, for a log fire, hot bath and a very warm welcome. (PS- please don’t tell Nurse Shimmin that I am beginning to enjoy the pattern of hot baths rather than cold ones… especially after a cold, wet day!)

Sorry for the lack of photographs today … this may be a common theme as I walk alone in the final days of the walk, just one more day of the Great Glen Way, before starting the final 147 miles up the east coast of Scotland on the John O Groats Trail.

Day 38 – Laggan Locks to Invermoriston

Thursday 31st October – Great Glen Way, with John & Richard

18.72 miles … 1,188′ ascent … 40,347 steps … 5 hours 58 minutes

We were very impressed with the accommodation at the Great Glen Hostel. John, Richard and I left Fiona to have a rare lie in and drove to our starting point for the day at Laggan Locks. Although it was dry and the forecast was good for the day, there was very poor visibility and thick mist over the canal and river.

Misty morning

Initially we walked through forest, where it was quite warm, but once out in the open it was gloves weather – very cold but still. Again the going underfoot was excellent along the canal and then we continued along the dismantled railway line (which was hardly ever used), and the line of General Wade’s Military Road.

We met nobody for 3 hours, until approaching Fort Augustus when we came across a barge eerily chugging along in the mist and a delightful family of 4 from Leeds, cycling along the same route.

It was almost eerie…

John & Richard were pleased to reach Fort Augustus for a coffee stop after 4 hours plus of walking. The locks for the canal leading to Loch Ness were having some work done to them so they didn’t look as spectacular as usual.

John and Richard stayed in Fort Augustus until Fiona collected them, while I pushed on through the forest above Loch Ness for a couple more hours to Invermoriston (Strava shows my walk today in two halves, am and pm… ). John and Richard picked me up in Invermoriston in the car. After excellent service and coffee at the Invermoriston Cafe we returned to our accommodation for the night with Libby Grey. Fiona has known Libby all her life and spent every summer staying with Libby’s family at Garry Gualach – one of Fiona’s life defining places and people. I was treated to a hot bath tonight, as opposed to a cold one, I must be getting soft!

Fiona and I slept in Libby’s lovely cottage, while the boys appreciated Bablu. Fiona has been doing some research about the life of John Anderson my Jo, subject of one of Robbie Burns best known poems, who was buried in Ft Augustus. No doubt the Editor will add her own little twist on it!

Finally the sun arrived

(All I found out was that he was a carpenter, who died in 1832 in Invergarry, built his own coffin and was a great friend of Burns. He is buried here in Kilchuimen Burial Ground… wikipedia did also mention there was an earlier, more mildly bawdy version of the poem, where the wife is berating her husband… we will stick to Burns’ final beautiful version I think!- Ed)

Day 37 – Ft William to Laggan Locks

Wednesday 30th October – with John and Richard

21.47 miles … 45,810 steps … 1,070′ ascent … 6 hours 39 minutes

The Start of the Great Glen way

I had an unusual start to the day because of yesterday evening! I left John and Mary Ducker’s at 6.45am to drive Bablu to the Belford Hospital. I checked that Fiona was going to be discharged today and OK to drive the camper van… It is amazing to see the extremes we go to to try out alternative accommodation. Fiona was very well looked after by the friendly staff but they probably don’t want us to advertise it too much or everyone will want to stay…(being brought tea and biscuits, warm bed, meals on a list, moderate WiFi, friendly people… what more could I need? Ed)

I need you Zoe, to sort the technology again!

I walked through Ft William to Wetherspoons where John and Richard were having breakfast. I joined them and after a considerable amount of ‘faffing’, we set off on the Great Glen way at 9.20am… (they need me you see… today they were off at 7.35am, facilitator back in action! – Ed)

Walking along the Caledonian Canal
Beautiful reflections
What an amazing world we live in

We negotiated our route through Ft William, very cold and misty to start, but the sun soon broke through and we had ideal conditions to walk on the footpath between the river and Caledonian Canal. Those old enough to remember episodes of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ – the three of us must have looked very similar to passers by…

Not sure how to caption this … Ed!

We enjoyed the history tour along Loch Lochy, especially hearing about the ‘Battle of the Shirts’ in July 1544 on the northern end of the Loch. The Clan MacDonald with friends Clan Cameron (492 men) fought the men from Clans Fraser and Grant (295 men). Of the men fighting only 8 MacDonalds and 5 Frasers survived and it was so hot they all took off their heavy plaids and chain mail and fought in their shirts!

Another significant engineering feat of Thomas Telford, connecting the west and east coasts of Scotland (he was a busy and clever man).

The autumn colours were again spectacular and we made good progress to Gairlochy, then to Clunes before Fiona was discharged and caught us up in the camper for coffee and snacks in the beech woods by Loch Lochy.

Coffee in the beech and pine woods

John and Richard doubled back with Fiona to collect John’s car, while I completed the next 7 miles to Laggan Locks to finish the day. Huge straight pine trees on either side of the path, provided a dramatic corridor. This part of Scotland is very familiar, as we have enjoyed many wonderful family holidays near here at our family cottage (http://www.highlands-cottage.co.uk/). Memories of long walks with Fiona and her Dad, our family and the Harrington’s, Andrew Savage and his dog Zac, all flooded back… with our ascents of nearby Munroes and Corbetts.

John was very conveniently waiting for me at Laggan Locks to take me to our overnight accommodation in the Great Glen Hostel, and then out for an amazing meal at the recently opened and refurbished ‘Whispering Pines’ Black Sheep Hotel.

One of the most delicious meals we have had, in a spectacular setting… thank you John 😇. (I had a great chat with Clem in the hostel about running a hostel, so new ideas for our hostel, thanks Clem. I would thoroughly recommend staying here – Ed)

Greta Glen Hostel (www.greatglenhostel.com 01809 501430)

(This trip has been amazing. One of the tensions has been holding the wonderful positive experiences alongside extreme pain of losing friends and seeing our girls losing friends, both in car accidents. Zoe sent us a beautiful piece she had written for today, including the words to this old hymn, which sums up our need for those everlasting arms when life is too hard. Ed)

I have a sure and certain hope of those everlasting arms always being there

Day 36 – The end of the West Highland way

Tuesday 29th October – with Zoe, Andy, Alex, John and Richard!

16.45 miles … 2,287′ ascent … 38,173 steps … 6 hours 30 minutes

We had breakfast in the boys pod after showers in the campsite facilities and a cosy night in Bablu, with Zoe taking her allotted space on the shelf above Fiona and me.

Another cold but stunningly beautiful morning awaited and Fiona joined us for the first half hour again on the old droving road. The IJM team of Zoe, Alex and Andy were joined by my two great school friends John and Richard for the day. What a privilege to have time walking together and sharing life’s stories, with sensational views of a snow capped Ben Nevis.

Loch Leven with Ben Bheithir in the background
Fiona’s walk with John and Mary
360 views from Glencoe up Loch Lhinnie

This day sadly for me will be remembered for the wrong reasons. My sister Jenny phoned with very painful news. Her closest friends Peter and Miranda Harris have been involved in a terrible traffic accident in South Africa. Miranda and two of their friends were killed and at the time of me writing Peter is on life support. Please pray for Peter and their wonderful family at this time. Such sad news puts everything that we worry about into perspective. We must always remember to be so thankful for the time we have with friends and to never regret not having told people the things we sometimes hesitate to share and how we love them. It is very hard to share this but I try to be as honest and open as I can on this blog.

People continue to be so generous in their giving and we are now just £500 short of raising enough for a fourth rescue. I really appreciate the support of my walking companions today, both emotionally and physically.

THIS is why we are doing it all….

Fiona had a good morning with the Duckers, who had been very significant in her career choice many years ago, when she worked with them at Carnoch Outdoor Centre in Glencoe. Two of her most life changing people.

Zoe, Andy & Alex took the train back east while John and Richard will be walking with me on the start of the Great Glen way tomorrow. Fiona made us a super meal in the camper van tonight, but then unfortunately tripped and slammed her head on the back of the van. She was detained in A&E in Ft William’s Belford Hospital overnight after 6 stitches…

Wow, Ben Nevis looking spectacular

Thankfully our good friends John and Mary Ducker have had me to stay overnight and I will bring Bablu back to Ft William to check on Fiona’s progress in the morning (I am fine, having had wonderful care in the Belford – amazing NHS we have here – Ed). Thank you for your prayers at this time.

Amazing vista

Day 35 – IJM arrive in force & 2 school friends

Monday 28th October – Inveroran – Kinlochleven, with Zoe, Andy & Alex

18.64 miles … 42,480 steps … 2,523′ ascent …. 6 hours 19 minutes

We had a VERY cold night ion Bablu last night, 2mm of ice on the inside of the windscreen… We went to bed before 8pm, so it seemed a very long night! We woke up to a hard frost, but nothing that a cup of coffee with a bowl of Weetabix, oats, raisins and muesli can’t sort out.

What a great show the Lord puts on for us early in the morning!

Fiona walked with me for the first half hour, then returned to the camper van. There were spectacular views on an excellent path, the old drove road. It was improved by Thomas Telford in the early 1800’s (Fiona’s father was awarded the Telford Gold medal for his role in engineering!)

I didn’t see a soul all morning, this is a very remote part of Scotland. The mountains echoed with the sound of rutting stags and the main wild life I saw was grouse. I’ve never seen so many grouse in one morning. It took me just two and a half hours to walk to Kingshouse, after passing the Glencoe ski resort.

I waited at the very luxurious Kingshouse Hotel for Fiona plus three IJM reinforcements to arrive. Zoe, Andy and Alex enjoyed coffee and scones in front of the log fire, admiring the deer, before setting off for our afternoon walk over the pass to Kinlochleven.

There were spectacular views of snow capped mountains, great conversations, perfect weather and visibility made for a perfect day.

We found accommodation in a pod for the 4 lads. John and Richard had driven up from North Wales to join us and left their car in Ft William, then travelled with Fiona to join us with the camper van. Fiona had found me the smallest phone in the world to replace my wet one temporarily… (Not greeted with enough enthusiasm I feel – Ed)

We enjoyed a drink in the pub while Fiona and Zoe cooked up an amazing meal, which we ate in the pod the boys were staying in. Another cold night in Bablu coming up, though Zoe will provide extra body heat!

Day 34 – My sister, Jo’s birthday

Crianlarich to Inveroran

Sunday 27th October – on my own

16 miles … 1,539′ ascent … 5 hours 6 minutes

After an extra hours sleep, a warm shower and change of clothes I was ready to go again – minus my phone … so no photos from yesterdays amazing but tiring day and none today. I took the minor road, then A82 for the first 2 miles and made good progress while the road was quiet. I wondered whether I should stay on the main road all the way to Tyndrum, but was glad I didn’t.

After a wet footpath for 200 metres I discovered lots of interesting gems on my short journey cross country, including an excellent view of the Crianlarich hills (including 3 Munroes!) and came across the remains of St Fillan’s Priory. St Fillan walked these paths in the 13th Century, travelling from Ireland to tell the Scots and Picts about Jesus Christ as he walked. This was around the same time as Robert the Bruce (who gave some support to the Priory). After passing through Strathfillan Farm, which has a range of Wigwams, some like ours at Knockaloe Beg! I discovered they have a rainfall of 250cm here, 4x that of Edinburgh and it rains approx 280 days a year!! So no wonder I got a soaking yesterday…

The farm has 1,300 sheep, Scotch Black Face and Lleyn and 20 cattle. A little further on was the field where the Battle of Dalrigh took place, where Robert the Bruce lost to the MacDougalls on his way back from a defeat in Perth. It is thought that he and his followers threw their weapons (including his sword)into a nearby lochan… I would have taken a photo if I could…

I decided to have a coffee with Fiona in Tyndrum before my onward journey – there is so much to see and learn just off the A82 which I have travelled up and down dozens of times at 60-70mph for years! It was just a shame we were not allowed to watch the rugby semi-final second half, the bar opened at 11am as the match finished! Maybe due to Scotland being out of the competition…

There was a very good path from Tyndrum, home of the Green Welly Shop, to Bridge of Orchy; blue skies, amazing views of snow capped mountains as I walked parallel to the busy A82 and not so busy railway line. Fiona was able to cycle to meet me from Bridge of Orchy and have a picnic lunch.

We met a couple of Munro baggers at Bridge of Orchy, one of whom has a friend aiming to beat the record cycling from Land’s End to John O Groats (she missed it by minutes last time). I think she takes approx one hour cycling to my one day of walking. She is a Mackenzie, from the Isle of Lewis.

I took the scenic route over the hill to Inveroran and met a family of four walking the opposite direction, who are walking the West Highland Way with their two children 10 and a bit older, and camping as they go – the real McCoy!

My pot of gold – Ed!

Fiona met me again and had found not only a place for Bablu to park overnight, but a swimming spot under the bridge… Carole Staples would be proud of her! I bathed my feet in the ice-melt… my toes are gradually defrosting! We had a couple of hours in the Inveroran Hotel, chatting to Nadia and Ewen and watched a bit of their TV, but no WiFi til 2021!

Day 33 – Boots, Roots and Rocks…

Saturday 26th October – on my own

Rowardennan to Crianlarich

22.98 miles … 52,405 steps … 3,330′ ascent … 9 hours 49 minutes

Alone! Ended with a broken phone…

Pretty indyllic

I left the campervan at 8am, after a good night’s sleep in Bablu right on the shore of Loch Lomond. It was a big sacrifice to miss the rugby.

Beautiful start to the day

For much of the morning I thought I was walking in Lord of the Rings country; while the west side of Loch Lomond was seething with traffic, the east had me and four other people walking alone. I was wearing walking boots today, because of the uneven terrain, so progress was slower and my feet are sorer, particularly my left ankle. There was some great scenery, with snow capped Munroes (3,000′ mountains, John has climbed all 284! Ed), stunning rainbows and sunshine frequent during the morning.

Meanwhile Fiona had a good day, with coffee with Isabel in Luss, then meeting with Rene from Strathfillan Wigwams, just north of Crianlarich. Good to swop ideas and see such a great Glamping set up.

I stopped for coffee at Inversnaid Hotel, where I had to take most of my kit off as it was so posh… no rucksacks, boots or sticks! I continued with my solitary journey as far as Doune Byre Bothy, where the door was open, so I could escape the rain and put on ann extra layer. Heavy showers punctuated this afternoon, before more substantial rain concluded a long day.

Result – saturated and dead phone, cold and wet body!

I was glad to reach Crianlarich and to find Fiona had booked us into the Crianlarich Hotel to avoid hypothermia. No cold bath today and an extra hour to recover tonight.

Well done England! My challenge for next week is to find a Scotsman who will permit me to watch the final… there will be little communication for a few days and no photos… there were some great ones today – maybe they will be in the ether or clouds somewhere?

Day 32 – Drymen to Rowardennan

Friday 25th October – with Dick & Isabel Quinby & Karen Garrett

15.6 miles … 2,329′ ascent … 2,128 calories … 35,563 steps … 6 hours 5 minutes

We woke up to our first frost this morning and a beautiful view. Bablu got us to Drymen where we met up with Karen (from the Isle of Man … we were at school together!), and Dick and Isabel, great friends from Northumbria (Fiona lived with Isabel at St Andrews University)

It was a very picturesque morning walk, seasonal and included some great conversation, included some magnificent climbs, particularly Conic Hill, a popular walk from Balmaha, where Fiona had ‘bagged’ a cosy table for lunch next to a roaring log fire.

Oak Inn, Blamaha

Karen and Isabel travelled back to Drymen in the camper van, while Dick and I continued along the shores of Loch Lomond to Rowardennan. Karen is now heading to Mull, then Iona.

By the time we reached Rowardennan Fiona and Isabel had the kettle on and supper almost ready. We ate in Bablu, after Fiona had a swim in the loch and I bathed my feet (sissy… Ed!). By the way, there is now snow on the surrounding mountains!

We are sleeping idyllically in the campervan, on the shores of Loch Lomond tonight before a full on day tomorrow, walking to Crianlarich (and missing the Rugby semi-final… 😟)

PS Read 1 Kings 2:2-4 today… thought for the day – what would your last words be?

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

PPS We have now raised over £19,000 … nearly enough for 4 rescues…