My trip to Scotland is ending. I only have two days left and I feel like it is over already. I have decided to go for a day trip along Loch Ness on the Great Glen Way and then a day in Inverness. So I leave Ratagan Inn in the Kintail area under cloudy skies to reach Invergarry by bus. I wait for a long time before a couple of Swiss finally take me hitchhiking. They drop me off at Fort Augustus, a small village at the beginning of Loch Ness. In the city passes the Caledonial Canal, a large canal linking Fort William to Inverness built in the 19th century. This region of Scotland is quite special since a large geological fault running from the east coast to the west coast has led to the creation of a gigantic valley punctuated by several lakes including Loch Ness. The canal follows the fault and I distinguish sailboats behind the locks.
The Great Glen Glen Way also follows the fault. Opened in 2002, it is one of the Great Scottish hikes trails. Continuity of the West Highland Way, it runs on 117km, connecting Fort William to Inverness. Having only one day available, I choose to follow the fourth stage along Loch Ness. The path climbs severely above Fort Augustus in a pretty forest whit pines, ferns, mosses and blueberries. Above it is the peaty hills and I finally see the famous lake. I see only one end but its size is impressive. The Great Glen Way, well marked, follows the rolling hills and I walk for several quiet hours enjoying the view. Despite the intermittent drizzle and the weight of the bag on the shoulders, the walk is pleasant. With the exception of a group of English-French a bit noisy that I have trouble losing, there are not too many people. I squint and scan the surface of the lake, no Nessie on the horizon. The monster is sleeping or has abandoned the place since long ago, probably tired of being the prey to thirsty tourism. Appeared in the 1930s, the legend still fascinates and continues to fuel Scottish tales and myths.
The descent is hard to Invermoriston, my left knee having decided that after four weeks of hiking it had enough. I only walked 12km but I feel tired. I reach a small hostel, Lochside Hostel, stuck between the road and the lake. The clientele is much more “touristy” than before with many Chinese, Germans and Spanish traveling by organized bus. Nevertheless the evening is quiet and I fall asleep after taking a last look on the lake.
Along the Loch Ness.
The next day I visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the edge of the lake. The castle was built from the 13th to the 16th century and changed hands regularly following the wars of independence of Scotland and the many clan wars. It was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by the Jacobite forces. Today the place is a real tourist circus. The entrance is very expensive and with the exception of the remains of the tower and some walls there is not much to see. This is not entirely true. There are many things to see (with a little imagination) and to learn but the crowd of noisy tourists prevents to plunge into the amposhère of the place. I watch people walking around, walking on the stones, taking selfies and exchanging platitudes, and I decide that Urquhart will be my last “tourist” visit. From now on during my travels, I will not go to all these disappointing tourist catches. I learn, anyway, more during my hikes or bike travels. The discovery of a country, the true discovery, of its atmosphere, of its history, of its environment, is learn, I think, by walking and cycling. It is necessary to be soak up in the atmosphere of a place, it is necessary to look at it, it is necessary to spend time there, it is necessary to detail it in silence in order to understand it. And it’s not in the middle of a crowd of tourists that I will likely succeed.
I join Inverness, “capital of the Highlands” and spend a bizarre afternoon in a bookstore and walking in the center. There is nothing special here. I do not know why I wanted to see Inverness so much. Apart from a non-visitable castle and some pretty houses, the city is like all the others. I feel pissed off, tired and without much motivation. Maybe it is because it is the end of the trip. Maybe it is because I am back in a city. Maybe it is because of disappointment. I dine with one last fish & chips (very good and the second only of my trip) and go back to the hostel. The next day I leave Inverness very early to reach Edinburgh and fly to Marseille.
These five weeks in Scotland were rich in lessons. Despite the disappointments of the moment, I greatly enjoyed my stay in the land of Scots. This is the first country I leave being satisfied with my trip. I also liked it so much that I intend to return there to go back to some places (Skye, Kintail) and discover the northern part. I also learned a lot about my relationship to travel, the type of trip I want to travel and my limits. When I started my first day on the West Highland Way crumbling under the weight of my bag, I had doubts wondering if I was really able to walk for more than a month. Five weeks later, I accomplished what I had planned and except for some pain in the hips, knee and blisters, everything is fine. Although I did not always realize it at the moment, I really enjoyed walking and being outdoors in constant contact with nature. I also enjoyed the return to a simple lifestyle and the calm that results from it. I also faced my (current) physical limitations like the difficulty of carrying a 15kg bag or doing more than 17-18km a day on foot (carrying a loaded bag). And that a travel mixing bike and hike is probably the sort of trip that suit me the best.
From this trip to Scotland, my two-week visit to the Outer Hebrides is, in the end, the one that strucked me the most. Probably because I stayed there the longest. And also because of the special charm of the Hebrides. Skye is perhaps prettier (though Harris is quite grandiose), but the isolated, desolate, sparsely populated, less touristy, Gaelic language and the somewhat “old times” aura of the Hebridean side have really impressed me. So here it is. I think I finally found the kind of trip that really suits me. A trip mixing cycling and hiking, in isolated places, not too touristy, in contact with nature and locals.
The beginning of the Loch Ness.
On the left, Urquhart Castle and on the right, Inverness Castle.