old no. 38
Hello everyone and welcome to my latest column for, CanalsOnline Magazine. I hope you’ll indulge me just this once. When I started writing for the magazine some months back now I promised that we take a look together at what was just beyond the normal ‘canal-scape’ - which I hope that in some small measure we have managed to do.
This quarter’s column however is a rather second hand account. Let me explain. My brother Steve is, as I type, walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support. As part of that effort he asked me to write up the journey in what I have called - The Jogle Blogle - and treated with my usual serious journalistic eye.
We join this edited account as he follows the route of The Caledonian Canal from the somewhat higher vantage point of The Great Glen Way.
WARNING: This Blogle is not for the faint of heart.
Yes my friends, this is where the Jogle starts to get tough, so fasten your seatbelts and make sure that you’re well strapped in for this immersive account of Day 8 of my brothers walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End.
Steve up until this point has mainly been puttering about down by the coast. Now however he and wife Sue, who joined him yesterday and will accompany him to Glasgow, are about to tack west along The Great Glen Way. And that means - going uphill. A lot! Yes, they’re now on the trail to the first of the three peaks - Ben Nevis which, all being well, they’ll be climbing - ominously - on Day 13. So as you sit there reading this rather marvellous account, even if I do modestly say so myself, imagine if you can getting into a lift (elevator for our American readers) and going up for nearly 1/4 mile. Yes on this leg of the journey they’ll be ascending to 1243 feet which is more or less the height of the roof of the Empire State Building- and yes, I do know the antenna on the top makes it a couple of hundred feet higher, but you try doing it after a stale granola bar and a cup of weak tea for brekkie!
The Great Glen Way begins at Inverness Castle, so of course the intrepid pair had to pause for the obligatory photos.
The trail is now mainly off road, so from this point there will mainly be interesting scenic shots and something that we haven’t had before - now that he has a companion there are some pictures of the Jogler actually Jogling, so you can tell that this is not some figment of my imagination.
You probably can’t tell from these mobile phone images but it rained constantly almost from the time they set out.
The blue marker poles incidentally are finger posts pointing the way along the trail. Miss one and you could be lost for years, foraging to survive and living off mountain spring water and wild haggis.
Raging torrents had to be forded and all the time the path was up and up and up... Blimey, I think my ears just popped. Dear me! I’m now so hot and sweaty just writing this and this incessant driving rain! Will it never end!?
Finally, signs of life! At the highest inhabited Croft in Scotland they found the Abriachan eco-campsite and cafe. Blimey, that’s a rare old slice of cake, isn’t it?
Our intrepid explorers are now just north of Loch Ness, so careful folks just in case you bump into... Too late!
At Nessieland in Drumnadrochit, their final destination Sue bumped into the fabled monster. At least we now know why William Wallace painted his face blue before he cried, ‘Freedom!’ Or was that Mel Gibson, I’ve never been sure?
Day 9 of The Jogle Blogle. Will it never end? Bro and his missus set out just after 09:30 to continue their walk from Drumndrochit to the nights stop at Invermoriston.
Given a choice of ‘you tek the high road and I’ll tek the low road,’ they opted for the more difficult option of the route which was opened in 2014 at a cost of 1 million pounds to offer spectacular views above the tree line of the famous Loch and surrounding countryside. Given that the Jogler had spent a sleepless night worrying that his back was about to give up the ghost, this doesn’t sound like the most sound of tactics to me. But who am I to judge, lying here, typing on my iPad, recumbent on the chaise lounge, sipping Carling Black Label from a cut glass crystal flute.
They called in at the Loch Ness pottery and cafe right on top of the escarpment there. I guess they may have bought some pottery too, if they hadn’t had to lug it all the way down to Cornwall, so they settled for banana cake and tea instead.
Back on the trail they paused only to get the obligatory selfie - notice my brother hogging all the limelight and Sue playing silly buggers in the middle of the ‘viewcatcher’ which frames the Munros some 25 miles north of Loch Cluanie and playing Pooh sticks on a bridge inspired by the drawings of local schoolchildren.
Day 10 of The Jogle. Uphill, down glen. A fairly leisurely start for our dynamic duo as they conserve energy for their big climb on Day 13 and indeed for their marathon walk on Day 11. They did catch their first glimpse of Ben Nevis in the distance, worryingly capped with snow. But today was the day that they bade farewell to Loch Ness as they continued on to Invergarry. They dropped down from the high trail they’d been following into Fort Augustus.
Out then onto the wide flat towpaths of the Caledonian Canal, for lunch at The Bothy by the locks leading to the Loch which may or may not be the home of a certain monster.
Back on the trail, passing Cullocky Loch where apparently the royal family disembarked in 1958, such a momentous event that they put up a plaque. Perhaps this was the origin of the term ‘the royal wee,’ as they all obviously stopped for a trip behind the bushes. (Well there’s not much else there!)
Finally they passed the suspension bridge at Oich, built over the river of the same name in 1849 and designed by the appropriately named James Dredge, on their way to their overnight stop.
Well I hope you’re all prepared for this. Today’s going to be a grueller! The Jogler and Jogleress are about to embark on their longest leg of their journey.
Day 11 was going to be tough - and they knew it! Steve had planned to walk 26 miles on their journey to Fort William and so they set out earlier than normal at 08:20 via pathways alongside the River Oich, Loch Oich and the Caledonian Canal. Due to not staying where they planned the night previously however this meant the trek was nearly 30 miles instead.
Our intrepid pair though are still prepared to fire off some photos as they breathlessly traverse the countryside, each step after endless step getting them agonisingly slowly toward their long, interminable day’s goal of collapsing exhausted into bed and not caring if that bed were a bed of nails!
Gairlochy and the surrounding area was where Commandos trained during World War II, hence the memorial at Spean Bridge just up the road.
How are you holding up? Yes, me too - I’ll be glad when we can take a rest, my calf muscles are cramping up just reading this. My breathing’s getting a little ragged and I think my pulse is racing, but don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.
In the distance, Ben Nevis, taunting them, so near and yet so far as they strain sinew and muscle toward their base camp for the assault on its summit in two days time. Will they recover in time?
We’re now passing exhaustion point and heading out along the Glen of Despair, mile upon mile, yard upon yard, inch upon torturous inch
Neptune’s staircase at Banavie is home to two swing bridges across the Caledonian Canal. The rail bridge opened in 1901 and carries locomotives from the West Highland Line and is operated by hand from the south side.
The road bridge allows traffic from the A830 to cross the waterway, unless vessels are passing through as they were today. Hang on, do you think we could thumb a lift?
How you doing? Could I just have a sip from your water bottle please? Thanks! Hang on while I just roll my socks down to my ankles.
Finally they reach the end of The Great Glenn Way and although it’s not the final destination it is a chance to rest up under the sign. If you recall the start point of that pathway was at the photogenic Inverness Castle. This end is marked by McDonalds, Morrison’s and a badly parked mini digger, a sure sign we’re getting toward civilisation. Nice hanging baskets though. My word, that hard wooden bench looks comfortable!
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our trek alongside The Caledonian Canal – we shall have to leave it there as our intrepid duo leave to climb Ben Nevis.
As I write, Steve is still walking despite a nasty infection in his leg, caused by an insect bite and has just scaled Scafell Pike, England’s highest point. For good measure he has also passed the five hundred mile and one million steps mark as well as raising £7000 to date.