Day 4 – Glen Garry Forest to Spean Bridge : 24 km
Another night, another wet night to be precise. But today the sun would finally break through and with it came laughter, a wedding photo bomb and a decaying cuddly Bart Simpson.
After sleep being broken all night by a ravenous slug beneath my air matt, the sound of it’s chomping teeth echoing through the matt like a hyena crunching through the bones of a wildebeest, I awoke to find a large slimy specimen perched an inch or so from my face as it crawled up the inner net.
I packed up in the drizzling rain, leaving Paddy having a leisurely breakfast still tucked up in his sleeping bag, and set off back into the final stretch of forest towards open country again.
I got lost in amongst the trees, and it wouldn’t be the last time on the TGO. As a graduate in forestry, and having worked in the industry for 26 years it comes as a bit of an embarrassment to say that I can’t find my way from one tree to the next. Maybe it’s just too much of a busman’s holiday…..I just switch off.
After trudging across endless bog and taking a couple of dead-end paths I eventually ‘broke on through to the other side’ and emerged from the spruce sweating and swearing after only a mile of walking. I’d only been walking for a half hour and the taste of the morning brew was still fresh on my palette, but I jumped down into the nearest stream bed and guzzled the peaty water like T.E Lawrence after a bad day at the office.
Turning my back on the trees to face the way ahead was quite frankly an uplifting experience after an hour of tree claustrophobia. The vista ahead opened out like a Caledonian version of the Big Country. I just love the feeling of wandering away from something man made into an endless view where it just seems you’re leaving everything behind. Perhaps I should seek a psychologist’s view on what this means.
By now the sun was having a sneaky peak through the morning cloud, banishing the morning’s drizzle. There was a faint path leading ahead towards Lochan Fhudair and a little ruin at Fedden some 3 miles distant. The map suggested a path which took an arc around a lochan in the centre of the plain to Fedden Ruin, but that soon decided to vanish and a large gate in a deer fence invited me through towards the lochan itself. Probably not an ideal plan considering the previous day’s rain and the flat shape of the valley, but heck…the sun was out and all was well with the world.
That would probably be why I then spent the best part of an hour using the deer fence as a cargo net, using it to climb sideways over seemingly unassailable swamp.
Still, it’s all worth it when you eventually reach Fedden and get the distinct feeling that the worst is behind you. Here in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by endless miles of heather, bog and unforgiving hills, it looks like somebody at sometime in history tried to eke out an existence. I could only sit there and marvel at the grit and determination of our ancestors, and the pathetic specimen of a human my particular blood line has produced, feeling hard done by if we have a power cut and I miss Masterchef.
I sat there and tried to imagine what it would have been like sat in front of that fireplace, meanwhile dissolving some electrolyte drink powder into an uber light foldable water bottle and popping a Kellogs Rice Cripsy bar down my throat. Then I slung my rucksack of high tech gear over my shoulder and set off again…muttering to myself how uncomfortable it was to have damp feet. I’m such a wimp.
The stretch from Fedden along the Abhainn Chai-aig had in fact been ploughed up very badly by what appeared to have been a cross country trials bike event recently. For the next three miles a piece of land the width of a dual carriageway had been cut through very badly by motorbikes, and it wouldn’t be the last time I encountered it. I’d find the same damage over the Lairig Leacach the following day.
It was still a wonderful walk through that area, mud excepting. I had the place all to myself. To descend down to Loch Arkaig I’d need to leave all that behind and drop down through another spruce forest. Somehow or other I missed a high stile over the deer fence at the forest edge and ended up having to scale it a few hundred yards further on, dropping onto what at first looked like a decent path through the plantation.
It was short lived however, the path rapidly deteriorating into an assault course of fallen and uprooted trees. At first I thought it must be a bad case of wind-blow until I emerged into a scene of utter destruction. A small river hydro scheme on the Chai-aig meant that a huge area of the forest had been cleared, taking with it any sign of the path through.
I tried in vein to force a way through all the ruts and stumps but eventually gave in and ascended a brash track up to a forest road. This eventually lead down to a village of project huts which had sprung up for the civil engineers.
I asked the foreman there about what was going on and he explained that the trees had been cleared over two years ago and admitted that the path was now in his words ‘a disaster’. He advised a diversion to avoid the worst of it. and eventually I found a way through down to the waterfalls at the bottom at the head of Loch Arkaig.
What greets you at the waterfalls is a wonderful little picnic spot, shaded by trees, complete with picnic tables and benches. Three other challengers, John and Sue Plume, and Jane Asell had already settled themselves around one picnic table enjoying a sunny lunch, so I parked my carcass by one nearby.
No sooner had I hung my rather odorous socks on a nearby tree, and strewn my sorry looking damp muddy kit all over the table, than a smart looking young lady appeared with a white table cloth, a gazebo and a box of champagne flutes. Was this a prearranged glamping picnic for a couple of TGO Toffs ?
I watched for a while as she started to assemble the gazebo and then intrigue got the better of me…so I asked. It turned out a wedding was about to take place there in 45 minutes, and the picnic table I’d sat at was to be used for signing the register.
As John, Sue and Jane set off again I decamped to a lovely looking stone bench overlooking the waterfalls. This was me being a gentleman, giving them full use of the desired picnic table, and hoping I’d get a glass of champers out of it for my trouble. None of it ! Two minutes before the wedding ceremony was about to commence, and with a small crowd of guests looking at me with the sort of expression you have when you’ve stepped in something, the registrar appeared and informed me I was now sat at what they use as the equivalent of a registry altar. I would have to move again. I thought for a minute about claiming my rights in a public picnic spot, and then moved.
Still, I had the last laugh, though I’ll never get to hear it. If the Bride and Groom happen to take a look at all their wedding photo’s taken on that most memorable day of their lives in that idyllic spot by a Scottish waterfall, and squint at the tree in the background, they may catch glimpse of a pair of four day unwashed socks hanging from a branch behind their heads.
I left sober and with not so much as a vol-au-vent and set off to walk around the end of Loch Arkaig and Loch Lochy to Spean Bridge. The picnic spot had ben my intended camp for the night but it was early and I didn’t fancy having to listen to the best man’s speech.
It’s a very easy walk to Spean Bridge from here, mostly along a stretch of the Great Glen Way, at one point passing a site used for WWII landing craft training on the shore of Loch Lochy. You seem to find many such training sites around the shores and coast of Scotland.
What you don’t see that often is Bart Simpson stuck up a tree with his legs straddled over a branch stump. Neither do you see rotting teddy bears up pines, or families of leopards enjoying a nap in makeshift forest shelters. But at one point along the shore of Loch Lochy you’re suddenly thrust into the world of Fairy Glen. It’s like entering a slightly surreal grotto; makes you wonder what they put in the tea around here.
I caught up with John. Sue and Jane a bit further on as the rain began to fall again and walked the last mile or so to Spean Bridge with them. They had a B&B booked. I decided to stay at the campsite and get a much needed shower and use the washing machine.
Paddy arrived a couple of hours later, followed by Graham Weaver and Steve Miller who’d walked past the day before as Paddy and I had been sitting in the hut in Glen Garry Forest having a brew. Steve looked exhausted and would decide by the next morning that his TGO was over for this year, he seemed to be suffering from the rain and road walking. Steve’s retirement would be an ironic stroke of luck for me as he’d no longer need his re-supply parcel and he gratefuly passed over his spare gas canister.
That evening was memorable for four us sat in the pouring rain under the canopy of the toilet block, drinking Paddy’s flask of brandy and eating the contents of Steve food parcel.
We’d been joined by a young german lad who was walking the Great Glen Way with a 20kg pack. As we sat there mildly inebriated he proceeded to produce a Hobbit pipe from a titanium tube, and sat there like Gandalph cooking a large pan of pasta over an esbit stove. I laughed so much it hurt. I guess you had to be there.