Graham's End to End - Part 3
Graham’s Great British Jaunt Part 3
THE LONGEST DAY
I was glad to get away from Fort Augustus at 8.15 am. As I had covered only just over 100 miles for the previous three days I knew that I was in for a long haul. This ended up as 78 miles so I decided to eschew the planned route along the Great Glen Way in favour of the main road south, having white van men for company. It was not raining and the ten miles to Laggan were soon covered. Here I rejoined the Great Glen Way on the west of Loch Lochy and after crossing Thomas Telford’s canal by a lock gate the rain came down along with a head wind. The track was rideable with care and I had great satisfaction in passing two mountain bikers before I returned to tarmac at Clunes where The Dark Mile starts. This is an avenue of very tall conifers, perhaps not so grand now due to the ravages over the years. The sun came out and The Grey Corries covered in snow could be seen in the east – these hills along with the Ben Nevis range form one of the highest hill groups in the land, only matched by the Cairngorm plateau. The Ben stayed in cloud so only the lower slopes up to 2,500 feet were visible. Still many sheep and lambs plus the ever present sight of primroses and bluebells to raise my spirits. Bluebells in Scotland are called wild hyacinths and bluebells here are the English harebells which flower in the summer.
By keeping to the road above Telford’s canal I avoided Fort William and sought refuge in The Moorings at Banavie which has Neptune’s Staircase. This is a series of nine locks at the start of the canal to give passage to Loch Linnhe, the canal eventually reaching Inverness. Read the biography of Telford to discover the achievements of this great engineer of waterways, roads and bridges, Thomas Telford by L. T. C. Rolt is recommended.
The circuit of Loch Eil, the sea loch at the start of the Road to the Isles, gave a bonus as I had the rare experience of a tail wind on the northern and southern shores. The village hall at Trislaig opposite Fort William provided two bowls of soup before pressing on to Corran Ferry for a pot of tea – seize every opportunity for food and drink as the next refreshment spot may be a long way ahead.
Telford had built the original road and the way westward from Loch Linnhe at sea level climbs up Glen Tarbert by a modern well engineered road, but the elements were not finished with me. The sun had gone, the rain had come back and the wind was determined to get me off the road. It was blowing off the hills, notably Garbh Bheinn one of the great climbing hills in this part of the world. In gaelic this means the rough hill and it was certainly rough on the road as wind sweeping off the hills blew me to a halt several times, but every hill has a summit and a descent.
I headed down to my overnight stop near Strontian. Lead was mined here and later the new element of strontium 90 was discovered, but all mining ceased 80 years ago. The village is at the head of Loch Sunart reaching far inland from the open sea. It was really wet now and I had three more uphill and cruel miles to find my overnight bed and breakfast which took three enquiries to track down. I was accorded a warm welcome: a hot bath, clothes drying, a fireside and a bonus supper, as I was not going out again in search of supper. Next morning my host, Jeanie, would take only £27 which was the price agreed on booking, but gradually I edged her upwards to accept £40 which was still small reward for making a bedraggled cyclist feel so at home.