Thursday, 8 November 2018


Dry weather, and thus dry tents, greeted us in the morning on the side of the canal at Inverness, to begin our return journey toward Fort William.

However, because of rail engineering works the approaching weekend, we knew we would be unable to get our bikes on the train home, delaying our return, so there was little point in heading straight back to Fort William, as we'd be there in about three days, even if we dawdled.

So a side trip was needed.

We left Inverness along the canal for a short stretch, before following the Great Glen Way up a steep path into forest above Inverness to the north west. Once it leveled out the track was a good two metres wide, through dense, autumnal forest toward Arbriachan.

Eventually we were back on single track road for a short distance before the route passed back into a native woodland, some 12 miles after leaving Inverness. On the gate at the start of the narrow path was information on an eco-campsite and cafe.

In the middle of the woods.

Pauline had been here before, and was keen for me to experience it. As we wound our way along the narrow path, through pine and birch trees, I wasn't sure quite what to expect. Then, suddenly, a small clearing appeared, with signs beckoning you up a small side path for, what else, but coffee and cake!

It needed say no more.

Just a few yards in was an eclectic mix of tables and benches, and an area to one side for camping. A sign informed you to order at the house, and as I approached a small bell, that I surmised you should ring, a tall gentleman with scraggly greying beard appeared. He politely but enthusiastically took our order for a cafetiere of coffee and lemon cake.

Whilst he was away preparing we were kept company by free roaming chickens. A noisy cockerel turned up to add to the entertainment, by which time coffee and cake arrived.

And the bill.

£4 for a cup of cafetiere coffee, £5 for a slice of cake!

My own fault. I hadn't asked the price in advance, but to be fair it was almost quarter of a whole cake. And homemade. It was a quirky treat and a unique experience, and so well worth it.

After he had taken our photograph for his Facebook page, we bid him and his chickens farewell, as two other walkers arrived. Even in chilly autumn he seemed to be doing a brisk trade.

We now left the Great Glen Way and headed directly west toward Glen Strathfarrar. The entrance to the glen at Struy, is restricted to a restricted quota of motorised vehicles per day, but cyclists and walkers can come and go as they please.

Since the rebellion of 1745, when land usage in Scotland started to change, Glen Strathfarrar has been used predominantly for rearing sheep. And so it would seem it is today. Keen to get away from the sheep and find uncontaminated water, we pushed on 9 miles up into the glen before we found our camp spot for the night, a cattle grid beyond the sheep grazing area. Glen Strathfarrar is part of the Affric-Beauly hydro power scheme, and we passed two on the way, both underground with subterranean tunnels leading off the track.

Our campsite was one that Pauline had used previously, and as rutting stags bellowed on the other side of the river from us as the sun set, we fell asleep looking forward to the next leg tomorrow.

Our next day was very short and would see us double back on ourselves. Leaving the Glen at Struy we turned south west and headed along a beautifully quiet single track road to Cannich, a favourite place of Pauline's, and we pitched our tents at the village's campground, spending a lazy afternoon shopping for groceries, showering, drinking coffee, eating cake and planning.

We decided to stay at Cannich a second night. The following morning was very wet, so we sat it out with bacon rolls and tea at the campgrounds cafe, until in the afternoon, leaving all our kit behind, we headed off to the second waterfall of the adventure, Plodda Falls, just 7 miles away.

The falls sit at the top of a beautiful forested hillside, populated by enormous Douglas Fir trees. Back in the late 1800s an arched footbridge was built right over the point where the water drops over the edge down the 46m cliff face. That bridge lasted 125 years, until, in 2009, it was replaced with a viewing platform that now juts out over the edge.

On the way back, in hunt of coffee and cake, we stopped at the Coach House coffee shop, within the old Post Office in Tomich, it's walls adorned with old GPO posters from the 1930s.

The following morning a massive climb took us east out of Cannich toward Drumnadrochit some 12 miles away. But just five miles on Pauline detoured off to Corrimony Chambered Cairn.

Surrounded by 11 standing stones, the 60ft cairn is a passage grave dating back some 4,000 years, and it was a fun wee historic treat.

But Pauline's main treat for the day was to come in Drumnadrochit, by way of a fantastic full breakfast! I would spend the next few miles burning it off, walking, not cycling, as I pushed my heavily laden bicycle up a narrow single track road heading toward Fort Augustus. Near the start of the push a very helpful chap asked; "shouldn't I be sat on the bike?", to which I replied; "do you really want me to answer that?".

Soon we were back into forest and the Great Glen Way, along undulating forest track following above the shore of Loch Ness. By the time we reached Invermoriston it was raining lightly, but persistently. Stopping for a coffee at a local cafe, we decided we were not going to make the proposed camp spot south of Fort Augustus on the shores of Loch Oich, and we would now have to keep a look out for a suitable place for the night on the next stretch of forest track.

If there's one thing Pauline is very good at, and that's finding a good camp spot.


With the light fading, and the rain never ending, halfway to Fort Augustus we stopped at a mossy grassy verge deep in the forest. We were happy just to have found a 'usable' spot, and with plentiful water nearby we settled down for a damp night.

The next day, having packed away sopping wet tents, we set off late around 10.30, and rejoined the route we had cycled north on a few days ago, at Fort Augustus. After a much needed coffee we were back on easy cycling now, following the canal to Loch Oich.

Here was the memorable stretch of the route from earlier in the adventure, that followed the old railway line, which was also the line of General Wade's military road, taking us some five miles to Invergarry along the shore of Loch Oich.

Halfway we reached the camp spot where we had intended to stay the night before. We stopped and took out the sopping wet tents and ate lunch while they dried in the sun and the breeze.

One more forest track to follow, along the shores of Loch Lochy, would bring us to Gairlochy, the site of our first camp, and now the last camp.

And there, on the ground for the past seven days, was the small cloth I used for wiping down my tent, which I thought I had lost forever right at the start.

A moon just a couple of days short of its full phase, rose over nearby hills, as a bat flitted about once again and we reflected on our adventure. As Pauline had said for the past few months, it had been a tough cycle at times, but the experiences and astonishing beauty of the countryside more than made up for that, and I was satisfied this had been a 'holiday' after all.

Ten miles on the next day, and we were loading our bikes onto the train for the journey home. It had seemed so much longer than eight days, our cycle in autumn of The Great Glen Way.

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