Monday, 19 November 2012

The Great Glen Way Pt 10 (The last part)

Back on the road, this was our last day, walking the final seven miles from Blackfold Cottage to the finish point at Inverness Castle. There would be no cooked breakfasts for us, after dropping the group off, we returned to Inverness and parked our cars by the Islands in the River Ness (about a mile short of the finishing point) and started to walk back towards the rest of the group. This was the way I’d started the previous year, walking from the Castle up out of Inverness via the sports complex, over the Tomnahurich Bridge and past the old Craig Dunain Mental Hospital. It’s a gentle climb through housing estates then into forest after the hospital, you need to keep an eye on the sign posts in the sports complex, I didn’t get lost exactly, I temporarily became unknowledgeable about my exact location relative to where I wanted to be, that is my story and I am sticking to it. There is also a camp site in the area, I say ‘is’ when I mean ‘was’ because it seems to be closed, no doubt a hulking great big Asda or Tesco will appear on the site and another nail will be driven into the town centre’s coffin.

Even since last year the area around the old Hospital has been developed further, the hospital building itself seems to still be in a state of change (flats I presume, they’ll probably be haunted) and houses have also been built.

Next door to the old hospital is Great Glen House, inside you can find the HQ of Scottish National Heritage and the attractively named Paths For All partnership, because as you know, everyone should have a path of there own. I like to think people regularly go forth from Great Glen House and sneak up on unsuspecting members of the public and award them a path, it is after all, called Paths For All.

I probably sound a bit daft, which is handy because Craig Dunain hospital when it was open was a Mental Health Unit (which is what we call them nowadays) back then, it was a plain old mental hospital, not a lot of stories remain about what went on there except to say, it was a harsh place to be, with Electro-convulsive therapy used with what can only be described as whimsical enthusiasm. Disturbingly, stories of mothers giving birth out of wedlock being sent to Craig Dunain exist, even people convicted of drink driving spent time there.

It closed in 1999, a fire was set by some young folk some time later, although the story goes they had no idea a ghost hunting film crew had left cameras filming over night, all their antics were recorded.

Just as we were about to turn off the road and head into the forest above the hospital, we spied a group of youths emerging from the hospital, our youths as it turns out. It was just as well, how far would we have got before realising we’d missed them?

It was a tearful reunion; emotions were high due to the end being so close. Actually that isn’t really true, it wasn’t tears of elation on our faces it was rain. We about turned and headed down the final couple of damp miles into Inverness. This happened last year on the West Highland Way, we pretty much got away with decent weather, we had some rain earlier in the week during the night but on this our last day it was a steady down pour, not torrential, just steady but no less soaking for it.

From Craig Dunain and the Paths For All World HQ the Great Glen Way snakes down between farm lands, sports fields and some housing then along the edge of a golf course until eventually you are reunited with the canal. A short walk up the canal (walking the opposite way from the rest of the week) brings you to the Tomnahurich Swing Bridge and the main A82 road. From there, it’s into the sports centre car park and onwards to the Island in the River Ness. Across the swollen river and into town approaching the castle grounds, watched by hundreds of Inverness townspeople, I can’t lie, there was no bunting or flags being waved nor was any one cheering us on but we could all see it in the faces of the people of Inverness as we passed, they knew, oh they knew alright.

With the castle in sight and tears (or was it rain) welling in our eyes, on we walked and then we were there, no fanfare no celebration. We were just there.

Obviously for us drivers it was a bit of an anticlimax, we hadn’t walked much of it, but for those who had, it must have meant something, even if only they wouldn’t have to walk any more for a wee while… Except that wasn’t strictly true.

You see, we hadn’t told them we passed the cars a mile and half back, when we did, they weren’t very happy.

The end is marked by an obelisk with information about the route; it’s just inside the grounds of Inverness Castle which now houses the Sherriff Courts, which might have been handy given how unhappy the group were about having to walk away back to the cars.

Before we left for our trip I’d contacted the local news paper to ask if they’d like to do a short story, they said they would. When I got home, I put a short email together with the details and attached a couple of photos. I also thought it would be a good idea to include a couple of quotes from the young folk, I suppose I could’ve have asked them to provide one but if I’m being honest, it was much more fun to just make them up myself.

See if you can spot it.

Thanks for reading.

Go back to part 1

For reference, although in the report above I am described as a 'Scout Leader', this is lazyness on the part of the newspaper reporter, I am involved (have been for years) but don't own a uniform, mostly because they are deeply unfashionable and the idea of an adult (or anyone over the age of say, 10) wearing one; is a bit strange.

That really is all now.

The Great Glen Way Pt 9

Staying in hostels with shared areas like showers, well, especially showers invokes a code of practice, for example, if you’re staying in a hotel you can sleep naked (for example) and wander to the shower in the morning with your dignity intact (assuming you’ve closed the curtains.) In a hostel, you can’t. Equally, you might not be bothered by such things and enjoy a spot of shameless exhibitionism, which is fine I suppose, but generally, you never know what kind of reaction you’re going to get if you walk around bollock naked in what is a fairly public place. I was up early and down for a shower before everyone else, I got dressed although will admit, I didn’t put shoes on so was showing a little bit of ankle. I bumped into a young man exiting the showers with nothing except a small flannel protecting what I think we’ll call his cachet, there was also a cheerful drawing on the wall near by suggesting you could save water by showering with someone else, I felt this would constitute a fairly serious infraction of the Scout’s code of conduct, specifically what we call the Yellow Card. This is a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ when dealing with young folk, don’t, for example, shower with them. There is an old story about a line of advice that went; ‘If you begin to feel any sort of attraction toward a young person in your care, you should withdraw immediately.’ I have no idea if it ever was on the card and if I’m being honest, if it’s a case of having to withdraw, the situation has already progressed too far.

It’s called the Yellow Card because it’s printed on a bit of Yellow Card, it also means that when ever, by which I mean ‘if ever’ (because we would never violate the directives on the yellow card,) but if we did, other leaders and if I’m being honest, young folk too will say in grave referee-like tones; ‘YELLOW CARD!’

No yellow card was required for me that morning although Michael (he who can’t get on a boat with any aplomb) decided to go up to the showers with only a towel and the cycling shorts he’d been wearing all week in lieu of underwear. I think with the older group it probably doesn’t warrant a yellow card but it definitely violates the unwritten code of hostel-showering-conduct. I’m the last person to comment negatively on the merits (or lack-there-of) of other peoples bodies, but then, I have not, do not and will never wear lycra cycling shorts, even if they do stop chaffing. The effect it had on Michael’s body was a bit like filling a bin bag with yoghurt then putting a big elastic band round the middle of it, I mean, I think in a woman an hour glass figure is a good thing, Michael on the other hand looked like a string of sausages gone wrong.

In any case, off he went to the sound of shrieks from other guests while we packed up and continued to tidy up the room.

We booked out and handed our keys back to a different man, an Indian man. It turns out this was the hostel about which I’d read the not so positive online comments. Internet commentary is a funny thing though, if you have a fine time you tend not to go on tripadvisor and rave about it, it’s just what you expect. However, if you have a terrible time, you’re far more likely to moan about it, so it is that when you look for reviews, even if a place is actually ok, there will be enough fusspots and jobsworths with internet access to skew the reviews to the negative. In terms of the Eastgate Backpackers Hostel, the reviews are all crap because it actually is a bit crap. I could see as I was getting my key deposit back photos and messages pinned to the wall thanking the management for a great time, smiling faces and positive messages promising a return visit.
All I can say if you’re thinking about using the Eastgate Backpackers Hostel is; be careful, lol.

Go to Pt 10

The Great Glen Way Pt 8

After consulting various electronic GPS devices we found it just outside the town centre, from the outside it looked ok, well, so long as you didn’t look too closely. We all piled up the stairs to the second floor reception to find the door locked, a sign however invited us to press the bell which we did. Some time later a man appeared, I say appeared, I think its fair to say (and its hard for me to actually pull my punches here) we were all alerted to his impending arrival by the smell that preceded him, when he came past us, the odour that assailed our noses has to be experienced to be believed; he was the smelliest man, well, ever.  I mean, I think we all tried to cover up our revulsion, but it was really hard to do. As you can imagine, having a significant body odour problem (and this wasn’t cooking smells or old clothes, this was an out-and-out case of not having washed at all for quite some time) is not a trait suited to a person whose work involves greeting the public in a place where they are going to sleep and possibly prepare food.
Booking in was interesting, I know some hotels insist on taking your passport but generally, if you haven’t actually left your own country, its not really necessary, he was quite confused about that. He then became more confused about the group; he wanted home & email addresses, phone numbers and since we had no passports, driving licence numbers from everyone. I explained that only four of us had driving licences and none of us were keen to part with the information, he became confused again. I thought we were booking into a hostel in Inverness, not applying for access to official state secrets. I suggested since I was paying, I give him my details, he agreed. For the purposes of veracity, my name isn’t Barry Soap nor do I live in or any where near Chipping Norton and my driving licence number looks nothing like what I provided on his booking in slip, apart from the truly awful smell the idea of identity theft was also going through my head.

With booking in sorted, we followed him back down to the first floor (breathing as shallowly as possible) to where our room was and declined his offer of being shown were the common sitting room and kitchen was, he also offered to show us where the showers were, we nearly took him up on that, we could have pushed him into one but we spotted them ourselves on our way in.

Once we’d opened all the windows we took the time to have a good look at our surroundings, something about the place looked familiar, small shelves in random places, overly elaborate Asian looking light fittings, then on each window a flamboyant Z with other wording half heartedly removed.

The place used to be an Indian Restaurant. In fact, the only reason it was no longer an Indian restaurant is because someone had removed the chairs and tables and replaced them with children’s bunk beds. The reception desk was still outside our room, the kitchen was also still there although it looked like they were replacing the heavy duty restaurant equipment with more domestic looking appliances.

Even the carpet looked like the kind you find in an Indian restaurant; I have no idea what it’s called, ‘Tiled Taj Mahal Dome’ perhaps? But there it was, in burgundy and black.

The room had four bunk beds so Finlay opted for the floor, which was probably only marginally less clean than the beds themselves. We did venture up the stairs to the communal areas, the delightfully fragrant receptionist was cooking his dinner (having a bath might be more useful chum) and the communal sitting-cum-dining room was empty. We hadn’t seen any other inmates around.

We decided to have a look around town and by a weird form of mutual mind reading, we all bought presents for each other, this probably sounds more grand than it actually was, the presents mostly came from the many pound shops on Eastgate High Street, Michael got some children’s underwear (he works with young children and often tells stories involving toilet based failures with the kids, not him obviously, he’s 23.) Lewis got a lovely new case for his phone, I think it had a pink pony on it, I got a charming T shirt with a message about Scottish Independence with the word freedom emblazoned under a picture of William Wallace or Mel Gibson, (the two are now interchangeable.) Ross (not a leader per se but an ex-member who is now a doctor - we turn out quality people you know…) was given a toy doctor’s set, useful in this age of NHS cuts. There were also red horns and a tail kicking around, I assume they were available for purchase because Halloween would soon be upon us and Inverness must have its fair share of drunken slappers prepared to don such attire. Equally they may have been left in the room by the previous incumbents, something tells me the hostel’s chambermaids aren’t as conscientious as they could be, or that they even exist.

When ever we see a pound shop we can’t walk by with out seeing who can buy the most useless artefact for a quid, it’s become a bit of a habit, so this is what we did, I managed to find some arm tattoos, like tights with a pattern on and about as convincing as Jimmy Saville claiming he actually was in Mothercare for some baby powder. Michael went one better and bought an East 17 CD (I know…) Lewis on the other hand bought a pack of tin foil containers of the kind Chinese and indeed, Indian Takeaways use for food. I like to think we left them at the hostel, if ever it reverts back to an Indian Restaurant, they can hit the ground running.

While the younger crowd returned to the hostel we went to the pub, Hootenanny’s has live music on every night, this evening a three piece band was in residence playing mostly rock, last time I was here it was the Rooty-ma-toot Big Band which if I’m being honest, I preferred. The main guy in the three-piece could certainly play his guitar but after a while it got a bit samey and overly loud, he really put his heart into it although the bass player looked on the brink of suicide, which I understand is normal for them. By far though, it was the drummer who seemed to be having the most fun.

We came away from there and had a drink in a Karaoke bar called ‘Gun Smiths’ which was rubbish, at that we decided to return to the Hostel, we were all feeling peckish and wondered if they could still rustle up a curry.

Go to Pt 9

The Great Glen Way Pt 7

We sat for a while then got a wee bit bored so drove a wee bit further towards the walkers, it was still a wee bit damp at this higher altitude, I say that as if we were thousands of feet up, we weren’t really but the cloud base was still quite low. This part of the route is on a minor road that forks of the A82 near to Dochgarroch lock and circles back to the main road a bit further along via Abriachan so there is easy vehicle access.

We stopped again at a place called Ladyscairn (only 6 miles past Drum) and waited some more, then got bored again, we ended up going all the way to Abriachan which meant the walking group would have a 6 mile day, which was fine really, the weather was crap any way.

The route leaves the minor road at Abriachan and cuts through some forestry where you can find the Abriachan Eco Camp, rough-made signs advertising hot chocolate and Ovaltine can be seen on either side of the route. Coming from the Inverness side, the path disappears into the woods, about a quarter of a mile in you’ll hear it all before you see it, wolves barking (yes wolves), pigs snorting and chicken squawking, (do chickens squawk?) The path continues to another minor road near Loch Lade (stop sniggering at the back), it was from that side I approached, an arduous walk of about three quarters of a mile, well, I felt since the others had done some walking I should probably do some too.

Abriachan Campsite is a bit of a mysterious place, it has a facebook page but no main website, there is no obvious vehicular access and you don’t find leaflets in any tourist centres, you basically have to go there to see what it’s about, even when you do, its not immediately clear. There are a lot of animals, as mentioned; pigs, dogs (several of them) and chickens. It’s a real outdoor existence, Sandra the lady who, I don’t know if she lives there? She was wearing a bin liner as a jumper so it’s possible, was rustling up some hot chocolate and short bread for our team of walkers who had arrived some time before while some other folk were speaking to the coast-to-coast barge walkers whose boat we’d borrowed earlier in the week. It was very wet and very muddy; a large bear like man was cutting lengths of wood on a very serious looking machine that, well; cut big bits of wood. I’m sure there was someone else helping him but he was clad neck to toe in camouflage water proofs, if I’m being honest, he was really very hard to see in the trees. (I’m joking; I could clearly see his head floating among the lower tree branches.)

We chatted for a while, Sandra and her Husband were building a house and eco campsite in the woods (which is what the serious wood cutting was all about) but it was a slow process. She started to talk about the toilets they had fitted, one was an old Coca Cola bin and the other was branded with the Pepsi symbol, she told us that people thought they would stink but they didn’t, you just did your business then covered your leavings (how delicate) with some saw dust. It then got a bit weird, she went on to say one was called Elton and the other was called Mick (I think it was Mick,) the reason being that they’d been used (respectively) by each pop star. I thought, hold on a minute, is she trying to tell me Elton John and Mick Jagger had visited this muddy wood for a dump in a plastic soft drinks bin?

No, they hadn’t, she and her husband used to be roadies, for festivals, back stage these old advertising bins would be used as toilets (don’t ask for details, I didn’t, so don’t really know the genesis of this concept.) Normally they got thrown out, as you would expect, but they kept a couple for posterity, so to speak.

I admired what they were doing, trying to live a rustic existence in the woods with the animals being ecologically friendly recycling everything they could, to be honest though it looked like really hard work, winters must be hellish. The place is open 365 days a year although how that can be the case if they get a couple of feet of snow (which was why I didn’t venture in the previous year.) Suffice to say, I ‘liked’ there facebook page so occasionally get the odd picture popping up on my time line (yeah, I’m connected…) with bemused walkers cowering from some angry wolves or being chased by curious pigs.

I’d like to say it was a bucolic experience but I think it was too muddy for that, plus the wood cutting was extremely noisy. If I was asked to name noises I associated with the countryside, I hate to say the noise of a two stroke engine powering a strimmer or some other power tool would come to me before a woodpecker pecking or a cow mooing. It seems that every where in the Highlands of Scotland, some one is blowing leaves about their property with a leaf blower.

We left the eco-camp after Sandra insisted on taking some photos for her facebook page, I returned to my car kept company by some of the group while the rest walked on to where the other two cars were. I am ashamed to say, our walkers decided to duck as we passed the coast-to-coasters as they continued to slog their way toward Inverness.

With the days walking over, we headed for Inverness and our accommodation, this was a bit of a shock; we’d spent the week in fairly quiet surroundings, no traffic jams, jostling crowds or young people wearing skinny jeans. All of sudden in Inverness, which we’d hit at rush hour, we found ourselves hemmed in. Our hostel turned out to be on a pedestrian precinct, I’m not complaining about it, which would be daft given we’d spent the week walking, what’s another 300 metres in any case. We abandoned the cars in a charmingly provincial 1960’s multi-storey car park and hit the streets to look for the Eastgate Backpackers Hostel.

Go to Pt 8

The Great Glen Way Pt 6

Our penultimate day didn’t so much dawn as descend; looking up the Loch toward Inverness a bank of fog could be seen making its way toward us, it looked exceedingly damp. While the bacon sizzled in one pan and water heated in another on the picnic table set between two of our Microcabins I thought the thick fog would extinguish the gas burners such was the amount of moisture hanging in the air, the kind of sticky drizzly stuff that seems to find its way through zips and sticks to your skin like, well; like sticky water.

Ok, so my descriptive narrative is shit, not as shit as the weather I can tell you, it did eventually clear later on in the day but it just moved from the sky into the ground. We paid our bill; the owner of the site gave us a good discount for the second night and offered us a further discount if we ever returned, I think on balance given the keenly priced Microcabins and the location, we’ll definitely be going back to The Loch Ness Holiday Park, Easter Port Clair by Invermoriston 01320 351207 (if you’ve gone to Invermoriston you’ve gone to far,) and if hobbit Microcabins are a bit too effete for you, they have more traditional cabins to rent pictures of which can be seen at (great for walkers and campers alike...) Although business must be good because he had a Bugatti in his drive way, well I say a Bugatti, it wasn’t, it was a Bentley but they both begin with D and look sleek and expensive to me.

We dropped the walkers off at the coop car park in the damp mist and headed on toward Inverness in the cars, since we were on a budget and had already gone over it with having a second night in the Microcabins (despite the exceedingly useful discount) we thought we’d check out the last British Waterways campsite at Dochgarroch Lock, we dumped two of our three cars in the outskirts of Inverness and returned to look for this elusive site, at first we couldn’t find it but we noticed the now recognisable signage for the canal toilet & shower blocks, the camp site was, as we’d come to expect on the other side of the canal in the opposite corner. There was a picnic table but no fire pit, the weather was starting to clear up but it was really very cold indeed so we thought we’d go back to Inverness and check out a couple of hostels.

We wandered back to the car which I’d parked in front of a sign that said ‘no parking’; at that same moment a man appeared with a fishing rod and said, “You’ll get blocked in if you park there.” It’s a very unique kind of person who’d suggest such a thing, I mean, yes, I might get blocked in but such was the space available it would have to be a deliberately awkward move designed purely to annoy the person who’d parked in front of what was, lets be honest a fairly redundant sign given the profundity of space available.

We grabbed the fishing rod off him and proceeded to chase him up the canal tow path while playfully whipping the backs of his legs and shouting “this is for the all the fish you’ve tortured…” I’m lying, we didn’t do that; we just left.

So off we went to explore the world of hostels in Inverness, I can’t lie, cheapness was key here, I’d already programmed some numbers into my phone (I know, get me with the techno babble) most were booked up, but two seemed to have space, each for reasons that became obvious on further examination. Its important to remember while we were selflessly throwing ourselves into the world of shit hostels in Inverness the others were plodding along a boring path out of Drumnadrochit up into yet more forestry which ascends to the highest point on the route (an oxygen-starved 1210ft above see level) in cloying fog, so we were all struggling here albeit for different reasons and lets be honest to varying degrees, from basically not at all to probably a fair bit, I’ll let you decide which party was experiencing what sensation. Suffice to say, there is reason the hostels that had space, had space.

Hostel number one was a bit like a secure unit, only the other way round, it seemed impossible to get into, I phoned ahead and spoke to the guy who said he had bed space but not all in the same room, (cue alarm bells) he said he might be able to shuffle people around though. So it was Myself Lewis and Michael (the leader team) on the door step of a 1970 type building, square and imposing with lovely views over a retail outlet village. I pressed all the buttons on the elaborate looking door entry apparatus and just when I thought I might have to do so again a tinny voice came through, I have no idea what the person said and I don’t suppose he could  make me out either, the door opened anyway and we ascended some stairs to reception.

The hostel seemed ok, I had read some reviews the previous week and one that stuck in my mind was about a hostel that was ran by some Indian gentlemen, the review was less than flattering, this chap was a Kiwi though so I thought we were ok, we’re not at the really crap hostel, just the crap one.

He hummed and hawed over a ledger and finally said there was space but not in the same room, I thought fair enough, if we have a room of five and one of four that’s ok. But he said, no, it would be across rooms that already had people staying in them.

Ok, if I can convey one bit of advice and insist you pay attention to it and nothing else I say, it is this; do not under any circumstances stay in a hostel (branded or otherwise) unless you can book out the room entirely for your group. I know you’re thinking about the financial argument but listen, if you can’t get a room to yourselves, just bite the bullet and get rooms in a hotel or B&B. For, it is not until after you have paid the tariff and settled down in your odd smelling, unattractively coloured bunk in a room with half a dozen perfect strangers that you will realise the enormity of your mistake, despite the very obvious personal safety issues (do serial killers skimp on accommodation? I think they probably do) and the notion of sleeping inches away from someone who hasn’t washed for a month because they’re on a budget and can’t afford soap. It is one thing to have to listen to people you know snore, but to listen to people who you don’t know do it is frankly, unbearable.

Here’s a quick story, there is such a hostel in Corpach just outside Fort William (and at the other end of the Caledonian Canal as it happens.) A friend was staying there in a mixed room, he had to leave such was the volume of snoring coming from somewhere in the room. He slept down stairs on a sofa near the kitchen so was woken up by some annoyingly keen ice climbers or some other daft extreme sports-people. He staggered back upstairs to try and reclaim some of the night for the purposes of sleep and eventually fell into exhausted unconsciousness, for about ten minutes, at which time the man who had driven him from the room in the first place noisily roused himself (no, I said ‘roused’ himself) and proclaimed to all “What a shit night’s sleep that was, it was like sleeping on the back of a stegosaurus!”

I think I would have punched him and continued to punch him until he was dead or I ran out of puff, (I suspect the latter would happen before the former) but not before that guy would have got a bloody good biff on the nose.

And so it was that we left the Inverness Tourist Hostel, it was just too much of a risk, yes, you could end up sharing a room with a bunch sexually promiscuous Swedes but most probably you’d end up with a group of smelly Australians with dreadlocks and a serious lack of personal hygiene.

Next up was the Eastgate Backpackers Hostel, I phoned the number, a Scottish chap answered and said yes, they had a room with 8 beds, yes someone can sleep on the floor, yes its only £10 per head per night, so we booked it with out looking at it. Yes, those are alarm bells you can hear. We were happy in our innocence though, so we picked up the other two cars and head out to the pre-arranged meeting point at Blackfold, 11 miles from Drum and 7 miles short of the end point in the grounds of Inverness Castle.

Go to Pt 7

The Great Glen Way Pt 5

The following morning after showering and breakfasting communally, I mean to say, breakfasting together, not showering; we did that separately, (those of us who chose to shower that week…) We set of in cars for Alt Sigh, this is a wee bit past where we (sorry, they) finished the previous day, as I’ve already hinted, we’re not purists about our route, the three miles between Invermoriston and Alt Sigh (where there is a Scottish Youth Hostel that seems never to be open) is just forestry track, there isn’t anything to look at except trees and the back pack of the person in front of you.

It’s still ten miles to Drumnadrochit with some decent views over Loch Ness and up and down the Great Glen. This section of the route starts on forestry road, then changes to foot path then onto tarmac at a place called Grotaig, you can get a car along to here coming from Drum if you want. You climb up fairly steadily from Alt Sigh, up to 1000 feet in places but the reward is in the views, the route before Invermoriston only gets to about 200 feet and you’re constantly surrounded by trees. Don’t get excited about seeing the fabled Castle Urquhart from the Great Glen Way, you’re led to believe you can, unfortunately you can’t because there is a hill in the way. You can stop in Drum and walk back, it’s about £7 to get in; we decided not to bother.

I’ll be perfectly honest at this point, yesterday, we had a cooked breakfast in the Glen Café in Drum, I should have said, the results from our study on the merits of said meal were inconclusive; we had no choice but to have another one that day while the others walked towards us. I can reveal, the Glen Café’s cooked breakfast is up there with the best of them, I think what marks it out for special consideration is the inclusion of fried bread instead of toast, I mean to say; fried bread? I can’t think of any food stuff more satisfying than fried bread, especially when attached to a cooked breakfast, not since spending time in Northern Ireland have I witnessed the inclusion of fried dough-based food stuff (soda bread in this case) with a cooked breakfast, or ‘fry’ as it’s called in those parts.

I could lie and say we felt guilty about our second cooked breakfast, but to be honest, we didn’t. To atone for our excess today and the day before, we decided to walk back towards the rest of the group from Drum. You might think this doesn’t sound so bad, but you’d be wrong. I remember when I was here last time, walking from East to West on that occasion, I’d walked out of Drum, there is a choice, you can either take the longer route to Clunebeg House then dog leg back up the hill to Woodend and avoid the arduous climb or you can just walk up the road to Woodend Cottage. By taking the direct route you’re saving on distance (about a mile, if that) but the direct route is vertical.

Ok, vertical is an exaggeration, but not much of one, the road zigzags up to around 750 feet, in places, for every foot forward you’re also going a foot upwards, its relentless, it just goes on and on. Again, I’m exaggerating, it doesn’t, it’s only about a mile distance wise but you feel every inch of it (as the actress said to the bishop) and no less fucked for your efforts, I swear to underline the horror of it. Last time I did it with a full rucksack, this time I had nothing and I nearly expired, and I’m not exaggerating about that.

Karma also paid us back for our selfish breakfast ways; we knew this would happen as well. No sooner had we got to Woodend Cottage, we sighted the rest of our group. We basically walked up a ball-breaking hill just to walk back down it again.

We all arrived back in Drumnadrochit, in various states of disrepair, I had to go and have a lie down while the others visited the Coop for some badly needed victuals (mostly wine, for those of an appropriate age of course…)

We’d already broken the good news about not camping that evening so we returned to the Loch Ness Holiday Park and our quaint little barrels by the loch, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, it was colder and while it wasn’t raining as such, a light mist hung in the air. During that day, Michael, (my colleague who whistles like a gibbon) visited the shops in Drum; he’d bought two novelty condoms so he could play a joke on his cabin mates (one of whom was Paul with the girl friend in St Andrew’s the other was 17 year old Finlay.) He was going to put one on each of their pillows with a note saying; ‘be careful, lol’.

These were novelty Loch Ness monster condoms with some pithy one liner on the packaging, you can probably imagine, although I totally understand if you choose not to bother. While paying for them, the lady behind the shop counter was heard to mutter something along the lines of; ‘Pshaw! You’re optimistic aren’t ya?’

Suffice to say, he was a bit miffed at the inference but then, you simply can’t buy that sort of thing and not have judgement passed, especially in a place as small as Drumnadrochit, they’re probably still talking about it now in the Glen Café over their cooked breakfasts.

That night (condoms not-with-standing) was a bit more subdued, the previous night had been a late one and the day had been tough, not in terms of distance but walking from the West, it was the first properly hilly section. We sat up for a while chatting in another micro cabin but soon dispersed for the evening, I have no idea if they used the Nessy condoms Michael so selflessly purchased, if they did, I do hope they were careful.

- lol.

Go to Pt 6 or have a rest and go here instead because I imagine you're fed up reading by now.

The Great Glen Way Pt 4

People are often confused about land rights in Scotland, England has a fairly healthy trespass law, Scotland on the other hand is different, this is why wheel clamping is illegal in Scotland and parking tickets issued by private companies can be ignored (yes, if you get a ticket and its not from a council warden, police warden of council representative, you can put it in the bin.) In Scotland, you can have reasonable access to land for camping and walking, so long as you’re not pitching your tent on someone’s patio of course, arguably for us, the fire we had at this campsite could be an aggravating factor, but by just being there, as long as you’re not causing anyone what could reasonably be called ‘alarm’, its fine for you to spend the night.

Several lorries, cars and other vehicles trundled past, refreshingly; no one came to shoe us away, we had a healthy warming fire and a slightly creepy night having as we did in the backs of our minds the fairy glen. With the weather taking a turn for the worse, this was to be the last night we’d spend out in the open, earlier that day we’d booked ourselves into these hobbit micro cabins on the banks of Loch Ness for the fourth night, because the weather was definitely getting worse.

That day was also going to be a short one, from the camp site to Invermoriston, a distance of eight miles, although you can cut a mile and a half off by not doing the annoying final dog leg into Invermoriston. While they walked we left cars in the car park and went on to Drumnadrochit to check a campsite at Borlum Bridge, it’s on the foot print map, in all the tourist brochures and signposted off the road. It is a little frustrating though when you have these so-called campsites advertising tent pitches when what they actually have is an open field (a sloping one at that,) no fire pits or indoor space to keep warm, I don’t know what people did in the countryside before the arrival of things like electricity and heat, after you’ve had your tea you can either stand around a freezing windswept field, stand in the toilets or just go to bed. Since the temperature was dropping and the general direction of Weatherly travel was toward rain, we decided not to camp out at Borlum but go into Drum and find out if there was another site in the area, ideally one in which we could set a fire or have some access to warmth.

If you like horses and have a motor home though, Borlum campsite is just the ticket.

We decided some might say selfishly, to conflate an enquiry about potential campsites with the consumption of a cooked breakfast, I can say where the Glen Café in Drumnadrochit fails in terms of info about local campsites; it makes up for with its fine all day breakfasts.

Eventually, with distended bellies we went back to Invermoriston, it was only midday. We were expecting to walk back towards the walking group but they’d already arrived in the village. It was still too early to check in to our Hobbit Microcabins, so we went back to Drum for some shopping.

The Hobbit Microcabins sit in their own ‘village’ in the Loch Ness Holiday Park, we were given keys by the elderly site steward, thoughtfully they’d given us three cabins furthest away from any other customers, obviously knowing in advance the Scout Movement’s weakness for indulging wild late night parties.

All the cabins were named after characters or places from the Hobbit books, I haven’t seen any of the films so I have no idea what it all meant, they’re just random words to me that may or may not have meaning in the real world, I think some might have been from the Harry Potter series of books, I didn’t care, the sun was out it was early afternoon, the tents were drying nicely and we had somewhere warm to sit, albeit inside a ten foot diameter keg but it was a warm keg.

I can’t recommend these cabins highly enough, we used them on the West Highland Way in Kinlochleven, they’re cheap (£16 per head) and comfortable, these cabins on Loch Ness had fridges but no flat screen TV’s or microwaves as sported by the Kinlochleven variety, I remember watching From Russia With Love in my cabin, on the TV obviously, not the microwave.

Which is essentially how I’ve come to be sitting in a Hobbit Microcabin typing this while overly warm air wafts toward me from the fan heater attached to the inside of what, as I said, looks like a cross between a sauna and a Wendy house.

We sat up that night chatting and drinking, (those of us of an appropriate age of course.) When you spend time with young people the topic of conversation is usually far ranging, we’d spoken about this before, but one of our group; a seventeen year old who we’ll call Paul because that is name; told us a story. His girlfriend is a student at St Andrew’s University, he was up visiting one weekend and decided to stay over, he sent a text to his Dad asking if this was ok, his Dad, not being entirely unplugged from reality knew the potential out come of this replied with the following sage advice: Aye, be careful, lol.

As you might imagine this became an oft visited topic and unfortunately we’re still talking about it now, a rash of pictures have appeared across face book featuring famous moments of peril (one including the Titanic setting sale from Cork) captioned: Be careful, lol. There are many others, not limited to a depiction of Adam and Eve picking an apple from the tree of temptation in the Garden of Eden, (I’m quite proud of that one…)

As you might imagine, walking is a fairly mundane activity, most of us do it most days. When you’re walking a lot miles in a day it can get a bit boring, the group get along well though and fill the time with all sorts of chat, sometimes they sing, the most prevalent song being the theme from the newly released Bond film ‘Skyfall’. That was quickly changed in honour of Michael (a fellow leader) falling in to the barge at Kytra to ‘Mikefall’ with new words to suit. Another thing we realised was that when Michael whistled, he looked like a gibbon, obviously you had to be there but he did, it was actually a bit uncanny, every time he whistles it is now accompanied (if we’re there) with gusts of laughter, I suppose its just one of those things.

We sat up till fairly late talking about this and that but eventually retired.

Go to Pt 5

The Great Glen Way Pt 3

The walk between Laggan and Fort Augustus is a pleasant one, it’s completely flat following as it does the canal for a spell then the banks of Loch Oich then a bit more canal into Fort Augustus, the total distance is about ten miles.

I and another leader had driven on to find a camp site for the third night (opting to be indoors later in the week due to colder weather being forecast.) We managed to find a wild campsite about a mile and half beyond Fort Augustus, no picnic table or ducks but enough flat ground to pitch tents and an old fire circle, we weren’t the first to camp here it seemed. The ground was soft and mossy, although if it rained we’d probably all end up needing a life boat but there wasn’t much choice, it did turn out to be a decent camp site, if a little noise due to forestry trucks thundering by 15 metres away on the forestry road.

The days walk however was good, I walked this section last year from Fort Augustus to Laggan and found it to be very nice indeed, the canal tow path was still quite novel coming from Inverness (you don’t use any canal tow path between the outskirts of Inverness and Fort Augustus.) If you’re walking from Fort William though, it gets a bit boring. With that in mind we decided to chance our arm a little, we met up with the rest of the group just past Kytra Lock about two miles West of Fort Augustus and had some lunch. While sitting there we were joined by the Fingal of Caledonia, the 39 metre 190 ton barge-cum-hotel (and one of the other purveyors of booze on the canal if you happened to be a paying customer.)

I suppose it was actually bad timing, although not for us. Davey, the barge skipper seemed friendly and possibly amiable enough to let us onboard for a wee boat trip along the last two miles to Fort Augustus. I sent up one of our more attractive members to enquire but he wasn’t assertive enough, this is the problem with the youth of today, so easily fobbed off. Not so with me however, not being overly concerned with walking every inch of the Great Glen Way, I begged & simpered for us to be let aboard, I said it would add to our experience and in any case, we’re scouts… After securing agreement from the guy who was leading the coast-to-coasters, who’d just arrived, Davey invited us all aboard. I think this is where the timing was an issue, as we climbed aboard (Michael, one of the leader team fairly threw himself aboard landing on his face) the people who were actually paying to have the boat shadow them along the route got a bit voluble about this new arrangement, I don’t really blame them, basically there they were walking while we pinched their (probably quite expensive) ride.

We were told not to go downstairs into the body of the boat which seemed fair enough, the sun was out so the conditions were perfect for a short cruise on deck. Davey invited us into the wheel house and allowed me to take the wheel which was as interesting as it was disconcerting. He said not even the paying customers got to do this, I know some folk buy fast cars to make up for other imagined (or real) short comings, what you really want is a 100mtr barge and a slender canal in which to insert it. We didn’t crash and Davey said my skills were not inconsiderable, even although we were only doing about 5mph, you’d have to be spectacularly slow witted to crash, not even I fill that criteria. That said, with no way of knowing if the wheel was centred it took constant concentration and small corrections to keep the boat in the middle of the canal.

It’s for this type of thing we do these daft walking trips, last year on the West highland Way, we hired two random guys who were sitting the Rowerdennan Hotel bar (who may have been slightly inebriated) to transport some of us down Loch Lomond to Inversnaid. They claimed to have boats, what we got was a tiny wee speed boat; you could have had a moderately spacious bath in it. They crammed bags and bodies on board (I forget who all went on the boat) I sent my pal Sheridan with them because I know he’s a strong swimmer and could take the blame if things went wrong, (I’m joking, I take these things very seriously indeed, your honour…) We watched as this tiny overloaded craft nosed its way out onto Loch Lomond and wondered if we’d ever see them alive again, we did of course, after the other guy had to go out in his considerably larger speed boat to rescue the bathtub because it ran out of fuel.

Anyway the point I’m trying to make (with out incriminating myself on grounds of negligence) is that we like to mix things up a wee bit, it’s more about the journey than some purist walking experience. With that in mind, we can’t thank Davey and the Fingal Cruise crowd enough for giving us a new experience and added quirk to our week.

So it was that we hove to (oh the nautical banter) at Fort Augustus with the eminently more capable Davey at the wheel, we said our good byes, although we bumped into each other several times over the next few days, and wandered into FA to get some fish and chips.

FA is handy; it’s about bang in the middle distance wise and a good place to resupply if you’re walking unaided. We reloaded our water supply and bought food as required for the next couple of days. We’d been living on a mixture of boil in the bag and dried foods (the dreaded pot or super noodle options.) If you are walking unaided or with a youth group as we were, its important to know that there are no shops between Neptune’s Ladder (4 miles in) and FA (34 miles in,) there is the floating pub at Laggan which is fine for beer and a burger (and not overly expensive either) but if you are cooking your own, you need to carry it in from the start point. Like us, if you have no shame, you can just leave your young charges outside in the cold while you sit inside and push food and beer into your face as we did, (and horrible it was too…)

There are hotels, B&B’s and plenty pubs to choose from, the chip shop is good as well, everything is cooked from fresh, the wait is well worth it and if your order is big enough, he won’t charge for the sauce sachets, (it’s the little things.)

If you elected to purchase a key to the canal toilets, they are at the top of the lock complex outside of town, there is no campsite here though, I can understand the local hostelries and B&B’s would prefer walkers were directed to their establishments, but it would be helpful if they were actually open. Last year I stayed in a B&B called the Abbey, ran by a gay couple (there’s a sitcom in there somewhere.) In the morning I had a Dutch Bouncer for breakfast which was nice, and then I had some thing to eat. I’m joking, the Dutch Bouncer was my breakfast, no really, it’s a Dutch thing obviously, not a brawny nightclub doorman from the Netherlands on his holidays. (I don’t think there was any brawny Dutchmen there at all, there were some brawny looking shinty players in the pub the night before right enough, but they weren’t on the breakfast menu at the B&B.)

I digress, basically this is (or was) a dish served at chucking out time in Dutch pubs and nightclubs, essentially a couple of slices of white bread with a slice of ham and cheese toped with fried eggs. I have to say, this is much more agreeable way to be informed of the impending closure of the pub or club you’re awarding your custom to rather than being told by a thick-necked twat in a puffa jacket to fuck off.

Alas, no Bouncers this time round, we were camping out this evening. I took my car and the gear to the campsite we’d found while the others walked the short distance from FA, I was going to have a wee nap in the car but decided to put their tents up instead on account of them being a bit wet from the previous night. The site we’d found was just off the A82, there is a forestry car park with an unpronounceable Gaelic name (Allt Na Criche) through which the Great Glen Way passes, the site we found was about a quarter of mile further on. While exploring earlier in the day we got caught by a forestry worker, sometimes they don’t like folk driving their cars on forestry roads and there are signs posted saying not to, although I tend to ignore them. I drive a green four wheel drive (now with a bloody great big dent in the side) which looks like a forestry vehicle anyway; I managed to blag my way past him by behaving as if I belonged there. He gave us some directions to a forestry office so we could ask about camp sites but we didn’t bother, sometimes asking elicits a no.

Go to Pt 4

The Great Glen Way Pt 2

The following morning was ushered in by much quacking and other duck related activity. I don't know much about ducks or even what kind of ducks these were, but they were friendly and not at all bothered about being picked up, (a handy thing if you neglected to go to the shops before starting the walk.) As I lay in my new sleeping bag I could hear them waddling only inches away on the other side of the nylon, making pleasing little sooking noises as they did what ever ducks do in the morning. On rising, which is to say, crawling in a distinctly ungraceful manner out of my tent, the ducks had all gone. As soon as we started breakfast though, the noisy little freeloaders returned. Until that morning, I'd never been bitten by a duck, it was just as you'd expect, more amusing than sore. We gave them all we could, we even persuaded Craig (one of the young team) to lay down while we flicked bits of a left over roll at him, this he did willingly. The ducks clamoured over him pecking and jabbing with beaks, it was highly amusing, especially when a well aimed bit of roll landed on his crotch. While I wouldn't recommend doing this with, say; a swan, the ducks hardly troubled his ability to make more little Craig’s.

Our plan for the day was to walk from Gairlochy to Laggan Locks, a distance of 11 miles or so, this section wends its way round the southern shores of Loch Lochy passing an oddity known as The Fairy Glen. I visited this place last year with a friend; we both found it to be really very creepy, others invariably thought it was all rather sweet. Basically it’s a stuffed animal graveyard, in my eyes anyway. To others it’s a magical fairy land of mystical toys and magical tableaus, people passing through have added their own little touches. A tree has hanging from it several small smurfs, down by the water's edge a large doll (the kind you just couldn't sleep in the same room with) sits on a chair looking out over the loch. Meanwhile, over by, a huge teddy bear sits miserably drooping with moisture, one leg torn off while other bedraggled and abandoned toys look on with disdain. There are other things to look at, a tree with lots of kids shoes hanging from it, the visitor book (the twelfth) had mostly positive messages within which confused me, eventually a did see a note scrawled by young lad called Shaun, it said; 'this place is way creepy.' At least I'm not alone, if you're ever in the area, you should have a look, I'd be interested to know what you thought. (It’s on the road out of Gairlochy sign posted for the village of Clunes, about a mile and half after Gairlochy itself. Don't go in the dark.)

Onwards from the Creepy Glen the route takes you through the hamlet of Clunes (a row of houses) past the Clan Cameron museum. It follows forestry roads above the shores of Loch Lochy eventually descending toward Laggan Locks. About a mile before it does, there is an official wild camp site, if you're looking to do a short overnight hike, this would be ideal, the loch side location is very pleasant indeed, plenty space for camp fires and tents, we sat for a while and skimmed stones for a while more. There is no water supply here and the loch water is not safe due to a blue green algae bloom. It’s ideal for younger groups, a moderately challenging walk from Gairlochy (taking in the Fairy Glen) then a night camping in the woods, if your kids aren't disturbed already, they should be after that.

Laggan Lock sits on the main road between Fort William and Inverness so it’s a bit noisy, there are no ducks to entertain and crucially for us, no fire pit. Fortunately there is a pub on the canal at Laggan, which is to say, in the canal. The Eagle’s main boast is being the only floating pub on the Caledonian Canal, technically this is true although there are two other boats we know of (the Fingal and the Ros Crana) that also sell booze although only to those staying on board. It was very warm indoors and since I’d managed to drive my car over a massive boulder in the car park of where we were supposed to be staying the following night, I felt I needed a drink, and a burger, and another drink…

Later on when the young folk figured out where the leaders where and had plucked up the courage to come aboard (get me with the nautical terminology,) I have to say, they looked upon us with equal measures of reproach and general unhappiness. All I can say is this, the burger I had was horrid and the Scampi my fellow leaders had was of the poorest quality, while the young folk were outside in the cold preparing their dinner on the picnic table, we had this substandard faire forced upon us.

I’m not sure they bought that argument if I’m being honest. We had been sitting for quite some time watching the owner’s four year old daughter (an overly noisy child if I do say so) climbing around the bar and it hadn’t occurred to us that being under 18 years of age did not preclude lawful entry, so to speak.

That night was the coldest; with no fire pit it was impossible to keep warm. It didn’t seem to matter how much wine we drank (those of us of an age of course,) the beer jacket just never grew thick enough. Also, it had been a longer day so an early night was on the cards.

It was a damp night and because we couldn’t get the tent pegs properly into the ground, (to much rubble) our tents weren’t pitched well. Hike tents are finicky things, if you don’t pitch them just so; they leak. After we accept, generally they’re not practical for any long term living arrangement, for them to leak doesn’t add to their allure. And they don’t leak in an obvious way; the water seeps in. These tents slope away at the feet end, if the nylon isn’t tensioned just so, the inner tent tends to touch the outer fly sheet, (I know, bear with me and the camping terms.) As you sleep, the bottom of your sleeping bag pushes the inner material against the outer stuff and moisture slowly but inexorably begins to soak the bottom of your bag. Its even worse if you’re camping on a slope because unless you want to wake up with all the blood you possess in your head, you’ll elect to sleep with your feet pointing down hill, you invariably end up in an unhappy damp heap at the bottom of the tent.

I would challenge any one to say this is an acceptable arrangement. The alternative of course is to sleep in the canal toilet blocks but there are signs prohibiting this and to be honest, my reputation isn’t all that great to begin with, choosing to sleep in a toilet (even a warm one) I fear would erase the small sliver of integrity I have left.

Go to Pt 3

The Great Glen Way. Pt 1

(You can consider this a feature length blog post, recently a group of us walked the length of the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness, what happened is chronicled below. The usual caveats apply, if you choose to read it, you won't get the time back. Thanks and good luck.)

The Great Glen Way.

In terms of things to do, if you had choose, it would be quite reasonable not to pick as an activity walking from Fort William to Inverness, especially in October with young people who don't have credit cards allowing them access to hotels, quaint little B&B's and other civilising perks of modern day living (like pubs and restaurants.) Never-the-less here we are, sitting in a Hobbit Microcabin over-looking Loch Ness. The fan heater is on, it’s now uncomfortably warm, since the cabin is barrel shaped and of wooden construction its a bit like sitting in a sauna.

There are nine of us, four adults and five youths aged 16 and 17. We started the walk four days ago and have so far covered forty of the seventy five mile route. I say we, I mean they, I've only walked about twenty, I've driven about one hundred and twenty miles looking for wild campsites and cheap indoor accommodation, in my defence, I walked it last year in April in driving snow, I didn't camp out mind, I was on my own or at least, accompanied by my credit card which allowed me access to hotels and quaint little B&B's, at least the ones that were open out of season. I did carry a tent but only for emergencies, camping is a loathsome activity especially in winter, hiking tents are also loathsome. For me, they're a bit like swimming pools, which is to say, there is no gainly way to get out of either thing, be it arse or head first, getting out of a hike tent after having gotten dressed lying down is, as they say, for dicks.

Getting in to a mild claustrophobic panic because you're unknowingly trying to thrust your legs into the sleeves of a jumper and getting no where, you can't stand up and if you roll onto your stomach you're pretty much doomed because there isn't enough space to spread your arms out to right yourself, it really is deeply unpleasant. It goes without saying, its either too cold or too busy to get dressed outside, my body is not for public consumption and frankly, my fragile ego wouldn't withstand the disapproving looks from other walkers, resplendent in their multi-zipped activity trousers, walking poles and technical backpacks, I find these people, full of vim and energy, deeply suspicious, if you want my opinion (and I know you don't,) I think they're using performance enhancing Kendal Mint Cake, when I'm out in the country, I look like shit, while they always look fresh and ready for anything, even when exiting their prissy little tents.

The Great Glen Way follows the route of the Caledonian Canal for the most part, it’s actually a pretty good walk to do, although I'd recommend cycling the canal tow path sections as they become a wee bit boring after a while on foot. You can also buy keys to the British Waterways toilet blocks situated at the various locks along the canal, I never knew these things existed or one could gain access, I thought you had to be a yachting type to qualify. You can get keys from the Lock Master's Office at Fort William (in Corpach) or at the Inverness end. These really are a hidden gem, drying facilities, hot showers in really very clean and crucially for us, warm buildings. One tip, they have an odd charging regime, the lady in the lock master's office asked how many of us were walking, I told her nine. She said, normally, I'd have to buy nine keys at £5 a pop but on this occasion she'd cap it at three, which was nice of her. So, if you're going to go and there are lots of you; tell a wee fib and save some money.

When it comes to walking, we're not purists, we don't set out to walk every inch of the route we've chosen, last year we did the West Highland Way, 98 miles from Milngavie to Fort William, on the second day we used a bus, two taxis and two speed boats. We set out to do it all on foot but it just didn't work out that way, these things are supposed to be a fun challenge, we did carry full kit for that walk and it proved to be to much for some of the smaller group members, as far as I'm concerned, its not fair to send folk home because their shoulders aren't as broad or legs not so sturdy, basically we made do, the challenge became slightly different but no less of a challenging; getting everyone to the finish line at roughly the same time. No one walked less than 80 miles (and half of that with full kit) as far as I can see, that’s pretty good going for a novice group.

And so it has been for the Great Glen Way, the young folk have been walking with day bags while the three drivers have been darting hither and thither in cars filled with rucksacks and food. I won't even try to explain what we've done and will be doing with cars, I find it hard to understand myself, we've been trying to plan ahead, leaving vehicles where we can then walking back to meet the walkers.

Our first night was spent at Gairlochy on a British Waterways campsite, and I have to say, even although it was wet and cold, it was a lovely campsite. With a fire pit and picnic table plus extremely tame ducks for entertainment; all we needed for a pleasant time was some warmth. We tried to light a fire, I say we, I mean me and failed miserably, the wood was wet and we had no petrol. I know, I'm a scout leader type so should know how to light fires, I do; just not when the fuel is soaking wet, you don't think Bear Grills mucks about with wet wood do you? No, he goes to a hotel with his film crew. We had no hotel so basically huddled together round the picnic table for heat. This campsite as mentioned, had toilets, showers and drying facilities, we were far to proud to go and huddled round the tumble dryer and no one had a pound coin anyway, but it was handy to have it, even if it was about as far away as it could get and still remain in the canal lock area, a theme that was to repeat at the other British Waterway sites.

Go to Pt 2