Coast to Coast in Scotland, June 2004
Anne Dhu McLucas, July 1 2005
One year ago I was just ending a wonderful walking trip in Scotland, which took me and my two hiking companions 116 miles, from Inverness, on the Northeast coast of Scotland, to Ardnamurchan, the farthest West point on the Scottish mainland, looking Westward toward the Inner Hebridean Isles of Mull and Rhum. My presence on the trip was the result of serendipity—a dinner table conversation overheard, my inquiry, and an invitation to join two delightful people for an intense twelve-day experience, which I will give here only in barest outline form.
We met in Inverness, hosted at the first of our many comfortable Bed and Breakfasts, with time to explore the city and lost some of the jet-lag before setting off on Monday, June 21 to the village of Dores, situated right on the East side of Loch Ness. Coinciding with solstice, we didn’t even last long enough to see the sun go down that first evening, as we adjusted to our long days of walking. The paths were generally easy to follow; we had good maps and directions—and we knew that our one piece of luggage would be awaiting us at the next B&B. (All of this was arranged by the travel company we used, “Bespoke Highland Tours”)
Upper Foyers was the next stop, after a stop at the lovely waterfall, and high tea, which seemed to coincide nicely with the end of each day’s walk. The vistas along Loch Ness, which included everything from elegant castle-like homes to humble farmhouses, kept us continually interested—but it was the continually changing moods of the long, long lake that were the most intriguing.
After an early morning crossing of the Loch with one of the captains who helps mount “monster hunts” (he says there is definitely something big down there, but declines to call it a monster), we approached Castle Urquhart from the water, thus missing most of the tourist tour traffic.
The weather was good for the most part, with occasional misty mornings, which only enhanced some of the scenery on the West side of Loch Ness—and of course there were animals to meet along the way.
Lush greenery and tumbling rivers reminded me of being home in Oregon—but the brogues and the local brews of single-malt Scotch soon reminded me of where I was!
Besides the many Douglas Firs (imported from the U.S.—although named by a Scot, David Douglas, they are indigenous to North America, but prized in Scotland now for their use as timber), there were the distinctive Caledonian pines trees with their reddish bark and tangled roots and branches.
We sometimes whiled away our hiking time by making up stories about the people we met. Curiously, most trekkers were hiking the other direction—so we met quite a few locals and some other foreigners, including two English people (yes, to Scots they are foreigners!) who had hiked from the southernmost point of England to Invermoriston, where we stopped for our fourth night before leaving Loch Ness and working our way westward along the locks that connect Loch Ness with the Irish Sea. The Great Glen Way is the main trekking thoroughfare leading through the West Highlands (my next hike in Scotland, I hope), but we continued on to Fort Augustus, a fascinating small city, with many amenities, where we took a much-needed bank and post office break before heading on to the Locks.
Our special indulgence was to stay at a real castle, the Glengarry Castle Hotel in Invergarry, which is a rather modern castle, but located next to a wonderful ruin, on the banks of Loch Oich.
By Saturday the 26th, we had reached the town of Spean Bridge, where I had the best room and meal of the entire trip—at the Smiddy House—to say nothing of a chance to do laundry in house for only 1 pound 50!
We reached the end of the locks at Fort William, where we met with the only true downpour of the entire trip. Soaked to the skin, we gratefully boarded a train to reach our next destination at Glenfinnan, at a hotel situated in a truly spectacular setting on Loch Sheil, where we stayed for two nights, enjoying a day hike in the highlands while one of our number rested her twisted ankle.
With a little help from a bus (for which we waited over two hours!) we reached Acharacle in he West Highlands, from which we undertook our longest, most arduous hike to date—over the highlands, mostly without footpath (despite the sign to the contrary), to be met on a lonely road by a wonderful taxi/tour driver, who drove us the last ten miles to our final destination at Kilchoan, where we stayed for two nights, with our walk out to Ardnamurchan to finish up the coast-to-coast trip.
Once at Kilchoan, however, the only way to get back to Glasgow for our flight home without backtracking 100 miles, was to travel by ferry to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (the home of my ancestors), then by ferry to Oban, and by train to Glasgow.
A gloomy day, though, so no nice pictures of the highly picturesque town of Tobermory
We ended the trip most pleasantly on July 1st at the appropriately named Amadeus Guest House, and took our separate paths—the other two to do part of the coast to coast trek in England, and me to go back home to glorious Oregon, refreshed, well exercised, and full of great memories.