Saturday, May 30, 2009

from the Great Glen Way Trail in Scotland: at the side of Ness

It’s almost 10 p.m. and still fairly light. If I lift the flap of the tent, I come face to face with heather. Not in bloom, not this early, but still, I can imagine the purple hue. Springtime, I make do with bluebells and buttercups and a host of other flowers.


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The smell is of fir. Like sleeping underneath the Christmas tree. It’s morning now. Saturday. The sun is breaking up a few early misty clouds. Stepping out of the tent, I look toward Loch Ness – the southern tip, where we began our hike on Friday. So different now, in the morning light!


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I start the rituals of a stream bath. It’s not really a big stream – we’d passed more gushing ones earlier, but it doesn’t really matter. Gone are the days where you could bathe in a mountain brook. Now, it’s all about porting water and sudsing away from the banks. So it takes time. Instead of a mirror, I stare at the face of the primrose, clinging to the stone by the trickling stream.


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The water is cold, but that’s the only thing that’s cold. We have hit (finally!) a warm spell in Great Britain and suddenly, with that blast of sunshine, life is easy, life is good.




Our morning yesterday (Friday) was quite different (and equally pleasurable): our sweet, sweet b&b hosts (a mother daughter team) let us sleep in and dry out from the previous day’s rains before feeding us a wholesome breakfast of eggs from the back field, where the dozen chickens roam (see that one? -- I’m asked, she’s a regular hen pecker – never leaves him alone!)


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… cooked tomatoes, mushrooms, Scottish pancakes, toast. We pass on the sausages and hams because I track the eating habits of my traveling companion. It’s funny how easily that happens: one day I cannot have enough of prosciutto for lunch, the next, my plate is empty of meats.

Filled with the b&b’s wholesome foods, we hike down to the village of St Augustus (at the southern tip of Loch Ness) to stock of on essentials and to watch the boats work their way up the docks.


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And still, we aren’t in a hurry to set out. The day could not be more different than the rain drenched previous one. Brilliant sunshine! And my legs are moving again, without pain! But when a sense of leisure enters the soul it’s hard to throw a heavy pack on the back and get going.

So we play with the b&b dog for the rest of the Friday morning.


But eventually, just after noon, we get going. Up, through the forest, to a ridge from which we begin to appreciate (now that it's not lost in a misty rain) the stunning beauty of the area...


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and especially -- of the extraordinary Loch Ness.


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They say that if you combined all the lakes of England and Wales, you still would not have the water that Loch Ness has. She is deep, she is narrow, she is long. The books tell us it takes more than two days to hike her northern coastline.

Walking along her side is sublime. You’re in the forest, she is hidden behind the tall pines and then you come to a series of clearings and there she is again!


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At one point, we sit down, there, high above her and then we take off our packs…


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..and eventually we lie down on the soft moss and grasses of the Glen and we doze. I think then how these moments are so rare – of complete tranquility. At a cafĂ© over an espresso, looking out at a beautiful square or street; at a morning breakfast outdoors surrounded by potted flowers; or now -- stretched out on a bed of moss, looking out over Loch Ness on a warm, clear day. They are what we work for, right? They are what gets us through the tedious stuff and dark February days.

Half an hour later, we’re up and hiking again.


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Past timber operations. There’s a lot to be said about forestry in Scotland. I’ll just note here that there are signs explaining the attempt now to promote diverse growth in places where timber operations made the land barren (and I don’t just mean recently: cutting down Scottish timber during the period of industrial growth depleted the forests so much that in the construction of the Caledonian Canal, needed timber had to be imported from across the Baltic).


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We reach the end of the day’s segment at 4:30. We’re in the village of Invermoriston. Where the bridge from 1805 provides a vital link between Inverness and Fort William.


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The plan is to grab some refreshment here, but the restaurant is still closed. We settle in at the pub...


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... and this time, without hesitation, we each order a pint. One dark, one light.


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I ask if by chance they have WiFi. They do! But you need your own computer.
I have my own computer…
The guy with the knickers shakes his head in total disbelief. When I get away for vacation, I don’t want contact with anything or anyone!
I like checking in to see if my daughters are okay… (I skip mentioning checking work and blogging – no hope for sympathy there at all).
The couple at my other side are listening. The guy agrees. We’re on vacation (from England) and my wife and daughter are texting nonstop!

I think – how nice that we all have available the tools and we can use them or not use them, but they are there. I log on. All’s well back home. I’m at peace.

At 5:45 we begin what is regarded as the next day’s hike. We didn’t get the meal in the village that we wanted, but between nuts and ale and an ice cream bar from the local grocer, we feel fortified.


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Up the hills again, up past ferns and firs, up toward the ridge, where the views of Ness are so magnificent…


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We want to make progress and we do. Our legs are stronger. We are used to the packs.

A few hours into the hike we begin to search for a spot to pitch a tent. It’s so easy here. The trail is empty, so finding a quiet spot is only a matter of taste: forest, or grass? Proximate to stream? Or view?

We find our piece of heaven. We eat our bread and cheese and tomatoes, I take one last look outside – the glen is still, in the shades of dusk.

And now, Saturday, cleaned, refreshed, I’m ready. I’m looking forward to the next village of Drumnadrochit. Only 10 miles away. I’m hoping they have coffee there.

IMPORTANT NOTE: for the next nine days (until June 9th), my Internet access is going to be very uncertain. Over my years of blogging, I can think of only a handful of times where I could not post because of a connection problem. This may well be another such time. I will try – I’ll be hiking and kayaking with my computer in my pack (scary thought that it is). But we’re not sure if we’ll find places to stay (we have our sleeping bags) let alone places to hook up. So, stay patient please!