Slip, heave, throw: The Great Glen Way

Slip is defined as the relative movement of geological features present on either side of a fault plane. A fault’s sense of slip is defined as the relative motion of the rock on each side of the fault with respect to the other side. In measuring the horizontal or vertical separation, the throw of the fault is the vertical component of the separation and the heave of the fault is the horizontal component, as in “Throw up and heave out”. – Wikipedia article on Geological Faults

Our aim now was to get as far north in two days using the Great Glen Way as possible, so that by Friday evening we could be collected by Dan and taken back to Ullapool for the night and at that point we could do the detailed planning needed to finish this journey in the seven days that would remain. All the other people we have met doing their End-to-End Trail have had an open-ended timeframe, which makes replanning a very different proposition. Our end date is fixed for 28th June, come what may (all the other End-to-Enders we know of, incidentally, are also shifting to the east coast). We planned to meet Dan as close to Beauly as we could get in two days, and secured a B&B for accommodation to break the two days, roughly half way between Invergarry and Drumnadrochit at a tiny hamlet called Alltsigh.

The Great Glen is formed by a gigantic geological fault which slices through the top of Scotland from one coast to the other. The fault continues out into northwestern Ireland and beyond, over the Atlantic Ocean and into Newfoundland (although the fault line was broken when the mid-Atlantic Ridge was formed and the fault lines no longer match up). The fault zone is still active and earth tremors are felt up here, sometimes causing damage, as in the tremor of 1901, and visible across the Loch in gigantic landslips. What had happened to our journey felt a bit like a fault line too, a seismic shift. It was going to take some to process.

There was also a shift in the kind of landscape we were walking through. Instead of expanding into the breadth of the remote Highland hillsides, we found ourselves starting the day with a short road walk

then a climb up into forestry plantation. It was beautiful, with ferns unfurling at their green tips,

and the first of the summer crop of mushrooms, like this edible bolete.

Beautiful – but we still felt a sense of mental dislocation. And everything was not well in the forest anyway: tree species such as the larches face a number of disease threats, and we were asked to disinfect our boots at one point.

The Great Glen Way drops down onto the Caledonian Canal, another engineering triumph of the prolific Thomas Telford. Once again we found ourselves on canal towpath, walking under scudding cloudscapes,

sometimes dropping showers on us

and sometimes breaking into sun.

When the sun did come out in patches, it lifted our mood noticeably, allowing us to appreciate our surroundings.

Fort Augustus boasts a series of stepped lochs which enable boats of some size to travel between Loch Lochy and Loch Ness. The draw of the über-famous Loch Ness ensures the economic stability of this little town, and we had lunch in a café in a happy, holiday atmosphere surrounded by tourists of all nationalities and then some.

After this brief dip into civilisation the Way took us back up into the plantations, now up high enough for some loch views to open up, and when they coincided with the patches of sun the effect on the water was to transform it into a gorgeous blue echo of the sky.

Those managing the Great Glen Way have listened to feedback and have tried to open up more views, since for long stretches the walking risked monotony (visible on the faces of the two teenage boys sitting dreary and disconsolate on a log while their more enthusiastic parents read an interpretation board).

Even in plantations there is variety, though, and especially when the sun was out, the patterns of light and shade were attractive.

Each departure from the standard was all the more noticeable for the contrast with the norm, so the tantalising full buds of the willowherbs, just not quite out,

or the first heathers fully in flower, tiny bright splashes of extraordinary colour standing out strikingly agains the palette of greens.

The hillside was full of tiny burns, some almost invisible tricklings through mounds of moss and grasses, and some much larger flows, cascading in the open over slabs of granitic rock, slow to weather.

At about tea-time we had reached the little crossroads settlement of Invermoriston where the river Moriston has its outflow into Loch Ness, and where Thomas Telford had been busy at his mission to improve Highland communications infrastructure, with special focus here on the bridge crossing.

Construction work was apparently delayed for some years by a ‘languid and inattentive contractor’ and ‘idle workers’, but the bridge was eventually completed eight years after it first began.

The power of the river to sculpt rock over time, forcing it under pressure through narrow crevices was impressively visible from the middle of the bridge.

Invermoriston was a good opportunity for a sit-down and a cream tea, a final dry in the sun to the damp washed socks that had been embarrassingly sticking out of my rucksack side pockets for most of the day, and a chance to watch the world go by.

Man v rucksack

We remembered, after sitting dozily in the sun and chatting pleasantly to a clay-pigeon shooter in Invermoriston for an international competition, that we had said we would be at our remote B&B for an evening meal 6 o’clock, so at about 4.45 with about 7km to walk we shot off our seats and up an extraordinarily steep zigzag hill with views back to the hamlet partially to make up for the violence we were doing to our undigested cream tea by setting a high pace.

We weren’t going so fast, though, that we couldn’t appreciate the cultural items of note on the way, a rock cave shelter and the bridge where the last she-wolf in Scotland was shot.

We made it to Briar Cottage B&B comfortably by 6pm, and were rewarded for our efforts with a gigantic shepherd’s pie cooked for us by Donald, who was also very generous with his whisky.

He and May were wonderfully kind hosts and we slept like logs, despite the fact that the road right outside was closed for noisy overnight roadworks.

Fly-through with photos and elevation

Invergarry to Alltsigh

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