Castle On The Hill

LETJOG – Day 48: Sunday 4 July – FORT WILLIAM to CLUNES (14 miles)

Ben Nevis, at 8.00 am this morning!

How best to spend a scheduled ‘Rest Day’? Well, having booked into my B&B in Fort William for two nights, my plan was not to rest, but to rise early and to walk the two miles to Achintee House, the starting point for the climb up Ben Nevis. And from there to the top! Sandwiches, snacks and drinks all purchased last night in anticipation, and with the prospect of a lighter pack I was all set to go. But the weather forecast had deteriorated significantly overnight, with weather warnings of thunderbolts and lightning (very, very fright’ning!) on the mountain, so the only sensible thing to do was to abandon my attempt at summiting.

An hour later, and the top still obscured by cloud

Instead, sticking with the lower ground and still starting out early, my Plan B came into play: I set off a day earlier than planned, out of Fort William and through Inverlochy and Caol, following my proposed LETJOG route north-eastwards up the Great Glen Way. As the morning progressed, and whilst the weather in the Glen stayed mild and dry, my views of Nevis indicated a very different story on the mountain, with its top masked in thick grey cloud.

It was rather brighter down here in the Great Glen, . . .
. . . although, just for a minute, the Ben did offer a fleeting view of her peak!

And actually, this turned out to be a very good, rather shorter, day of walking. On reaching the Caledonian Canal, just past Caol, the path passed over the swing-bridge level crossing and the road bridge at Banavie and ascended Neptune’s Staircase, an impressive flight of eight huge locks built in the early part of the 19th century under the guidance of Thomas Telford. This vast project, comprising 22 miles of canal cuttings linking the natural lochs of the Great Glen across this natural fault line, enabled access for sea-going vessels right across Scotland, so avoiding the long and treacherous journey around the north of Great Britain. From the top of the locks the Way then followed a straight course over a level surface, for about eight miles, alongside the waterway. Those of us who walk the canal through Berkhamsted are familiar with a smaller-scale of canal construction, and with narrow boats to suit: this canal is rather larger and accommodates large sea-going vessels of various types, mostly, these days, linked to recreational trips.

Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal, at Banavie . . .
. . . and traffic on the Caledonian Canal . . .
. . . enjoying the Sunday morning calm

At Gairlochy my path diverted from the canal-side, taking a single-track minor road and then footpaths, as Loch Lochy started to appear on my right. This section, of around four miles to Clunes, provided some most wonderful views across the Loch, enjoyed by some beautiful houses dotted around the shoreline at Bunarkaig. The contrast of the lime greens in the new leaf growth, the ferns and the cut lawns and verges against the slate greys and blues of the Loch, the distant mountains and the rain clouds created a quite unique and sensational aura to the landscape that will remain with me. The weather too stayed compliant and bright for my snack lunch, taken by the Loch whilst I awaited my taxi back to Fort William and an afternoon exploring the town.

A view north-eastwards up Loch Lochy . . .
. . . and another, of this beautiful landscape

Quite aside from the weather, my plans were also thwarted somewhat by the effects of the pandemic restrictions, as both the Fort William Distillery and the Glen Spean Brewery remain closed. I did manage though to sample another of the latter’s brews, ‘Dark Mile’, an interesting ‘Scottish blackcurrant and vanilla porter’. In addition there is the interesting Cameron Museum and Castle at Achnacarry, on the slopes above Bunarkaig, well worth visiting according to my taxi driver, but alas also closed to the public currently. This delightful setting certainly deserves a future visit.

And some words of warning at Clunes, where my LETJOG walk up the Great Glen Way continues tomorrow

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