Cannich to Drumnadrochit
Monday 12th May
Start 10:50, finish 4:00, 21.5km
I had a decent night’s sleep. I knew that today would be comparatively easy. The route was a combination of road and forest tracks with only modest ascent. I had booked a hotel in Drumnadrochit, so there was no point in arriving too early.
I didn’t bother to pack my gear before breakfast. Nevertheless, I was in the cafe as soon as it opened at 7:30, half an hour earlier than usual. It was a treat to have a real breakfast of an egg and bacon roll with toast and tea.
Shap joined me and we had a chin wag about gear. Sorry Shap! Later Jean came in. She had bad news. She was going to have to retire from the Challenge because of a family matter. I commiserated with her, understanding how difficult it was to pull out.
Most of the Challengers in the cafe were leaving now. As one was about to leave, he called my name. It was Alan Rayner. I had met Alan briefly in the Lake District a few years ago. It was good to see him. We had a brief chat and I had a quick shufty at his prototype waterproof smock. Nice!
I wandered back to my tent. By now, the previously crowded grass area was almost devoid of tents. I’m not sure how I managed to waste so much time but I wasn’t packed until 10:40! I went inside the cafe to say goodbye to Jean and wish her all the best. I had really enjoyed walking with her on the previous day.
At 10:50, I finally left the camp site. Walking up the road I passed a large banner draped over a garden fence protesting at wind farm developments. Good to see! The walk up the main road out of Cannich is a laborious climb. At least there was a grass verge to hop onto to avoid the traffic.
Nearing the top of the hill I spotted an orange rucksack in the distance. Just after a pretty lochan (Lochan Dubh), my senses were assaulted by the devastation wrought by the building of the Beauly Denny power line. It was as if I’d entered Mordor. Thankfully the road turned a corner and the scenes of carnage were left behind.
I was now gaining rapidly on the orange rucksack. Just past Millness, the owner of the orange rucksack (Charles Halberstadt) was sitting down in a gateway with his two Challenge compadres, his son, David and their friend Hendrik Arends. After a brief chat, I plunged on.
I felt I had walked myself into fitness and was feeling good. I consider myself to be quite a slow walker, but I was feeling like a rocket. All that cadence training seemed to be paying off!
My original route envisaged going via Bearnock. However, I was blasting along the road and decided that it might be better to go to the Corrimony turn off and then follow the forest tracks. I turned onto the minor road, over the bridge and turned left into the forest. At the junction was a sign for the Affric Kintail Way, pointing to Drumnadrochit. These signs made navigation a doddle.
The forest track was well maintained but like most forest tracks a bit dull. It was a change though for the path to be dry and my boots had completely dried out. Just past Shenval, in a clearing, a small herd of cattle were loose on the path. I managed to sidle round them without any trouble.
A little further on, a group of four Challengers (Chris Hoskinsson & co?) were sitting on the ground taking a rest. They had started the Challenge from Dornie and seemed to have had a rough time, suffering some foot problems. I was a little surprised to be catching and overtaking other Challengers, but I pressed on.
It was not long before I spotted two more Challengers in the distance. I soon caught up with them. It was Denis Pidgeon and John Jocys. We had a brief conversation, but they were going too slowly, so I made my excuses and left them behind.
By this time the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining. The forest provided some pleasant shade and from time to time there was a cooling breeze. It could hardly be better. Near Lochletter, I passed some more Challengers having lunch at a picnic table.
Instead of stopping for lunch, I continued, fuelling up on Tracker bars on the march. The track began to climb and the forest thinned. By the side of the path, there were yellow blooms of Broom. In the distance, I spotted yet another figure, Dave Hale. When I caught up with him, I decided to slow my pace to be social.
Dave and I had a pleasant chat along the way. We were so engrossed that we missed the turn off point and had to backtrack. We located the path down to Drumnadochit using my iPhone GPS. It led us into a field of sheep. There was no clear path in the field so we headed diagonally for the gate at the corner of the field.
There were some confusing way-marks that led through a delightful wood carpeted in Bluebells. The confusion over the paths was solved by a quick chat with a local runner. We descended to the southern end of Drumnadrochit and walked north to locate the Co-op. It was only 3:30, and I felt pleased that I’d made such good progress.
I was rather unprepared for the acute lack of choice in the shop. In the end, I just grabbed what I could for the next three days. I knew there would be a better choice in the Tesco at Aviemore. Dave kindly donated a couple of apples to me. Outside we bumped into Jonathan Smith and Ray Disson. Ray was pigging himself on an ice cream.
I had booked a room in the Drumnadrochit Hotel for the night, so I wandered up the road. I popped into the chemist to buy some hand wipes but, unbelievably, they didn’t have any! I checked into the hotel and arranged an early checkout for the next day. The room was pleasant. The only drawback was no phone signal.
After a wonderful bath, I set about doing a bit of sock and clothes washing. The heated towel rail was a boon for drying. I decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. I was rather unadventurous in going for Cullen skink and a burger, but both were good and filling.
The edge was taken off the experience by having to listen to a rather loud American teacher pontificating to his students about life, the universe and everything. There was only so much I could stand, so I repaired to bed early.
Despite a relatively mundane walk, I enjoyed day four. I felt my fitness level was good. I was pleased that I could walk at a good pace along tracks and roads. It gave me a lot of confidence. Barring injury or illness, I felt sure that I could complete the Challenge. For the first time, I didn’t have any real doubts. I could look forward to the rest of the walk. In particular, I was looking forward to the next three days, when I would be walking through the Monadhliath and the delights of Glen Mazeran.