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Day 1: Fort William to Gairlochy

Day 1, Fort William to Gairlochy
Approximately 10 miles. Or 12. But who’s counting?

The morning dawned bright and clear, sun shining through the windows of our B&B, birds conversing cheerfully outside our window.

Then, before we even got out of bed, the clouds rolled in, the rain started, and the birds went into hiding.

By the time we finished breakfast, though, the downpour had moderated to a cold drizzle, and I decided to forego my rainpants. Eugene bundled up in all available layers, then had to shed the extra-warm down vest when we stopped to pick up sandwiches for lunch, before we really even got underway.



The Great Glen Way trail starts just across from the train station (and the grocery story, and the last-minute-scramble outdoor supply store), with an unremarkable stone signpost. We started walking, and the first couple of miles just flew by. We went along the banks of Loch Linnhe, around Fort William and the outskirts of the little towns of Corpach and Caol. Eugene was especially taken with the Rio Tinto Alcan Aluminium Smelter, because he’s weird like that. Also, because it’s powered by hydro, and has long pipes running down the mountain. (Personally, I thought they would be way cooler if they were alpine sleds like the one in Steamboat. Now that would have been awesome!)



Then we found ourselves walking along the Caledonian Canal, where Neptune’s Staircase raises and lowers boats traveling between the lochs. We spent most of the afternoon walking along the canal, seeing only locals walking their dogs. And sheep.


Every field we passed was full of sheep. But strangely, there were really no other walkers. I expected more, but we saw only two, at the very end of the day. (The proprietor of the guest house where we stayed that night said that most walkers start on a Monday, while we started on a Tuesday. So they’d had four guests the night before, and will have more the night after–but just us for Tuesday night.)

The weather for most of the day was really quite perfect. Warm enough that I took off my raincoat, then my fleece. There was a bit of sun, but not so much that I worried about sunburns, and a bit of wind, but not so much that I was cold.

Me: You know, this weather’s just about perfect!
Me: I shouldn’t have said that. I bet I just jinxed us.
Eugene: Yeah, you shouldn’t have said that. You just jinxed us. This weather sucks.
Sheep: Baaa.
Eugene: Excuse you.

One of the neat features along the canal is a manual swing bridge that is primarily used to move livestock from one side of the bridge to the other. And by livestock I mean sheep, naturally. As were were approaching the bridge, it was half open and the operator was taking his little motor boat across the canal to crank open the other half.

This was way cool.

We had been playing leapfrog with a local for a couple of miles, and he stopped to chat with us. (Note that the local was totally booking it, and was probably older than Eugene and me combined. This may possibly give credence to Eugene’s complaint that I walk too slow. But don’t tell him that.) Anyway, the local had the strongest Scotch accent I’ve heard yet. I can’t be sure, but I think he told us that the swing bridge used to be closed most of the time, which was great because a lot of the locals like to walk up one side of the canal and down the other (what a great running route that would be!). But for the past few years it’s been left mainly open, despite complaints from Malcolm (who I think owned all those sheep we’d been passing and therefore right-of-way on the bridge), it’s mostly left open. And it’s no fun when you get to the bridge and it’s closed.

A few miles down the canal, just as we finished our official walk for the day, this same gentleman suggested that we continue another half mile so that we could check out the lighthouse. Which we did, and it was worth it.