Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Day 1 - Crossing midges and rivers

I am sitting under a lone tree in the middle of a field plastered with cow dung. There's a light breeze keeping the midges away, so it's a perfect place to have a picnic (I am so glad I bought that picnic blanket at Poundland).

It's the first day of my East Highland Way tour. The East Highland Way is a fairly new trail, leading from Fort William to Aviemore in the Cairngorms; there is no waymarking, but I have the guidebook, a compass and some printed maps. So what could go wrong...

After a fairly short night (the couch was small and someone was snoring), I set off to find the beginning of the trail. Using tiny streets, a very rusty railway bridge and a footpath with an "entry forbidden" sign at its end, I make my way to the Alcan Aluminium Works on the edge of Fort William. Using some broad tracks I pass the works and end up on a lovely path ascending quietly into the forest. I don't see anyone until I come close to a car park a bit further on. Only afterwards do I notice that I was on a path that could have taken me up to Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. Maybe next time.

From then on, the path becomes a boring forest road, which only after some time merges into a narrow path that zigzags up a hill. Each time I stop for some water, an army of midges descends on me, using me as a cheap (well, free) fast-food restaurant (fly-in). Midges seem to have a very malicious intelligence when high in numbers.

After some time on a boring forest track, a gate leads me onto farm land, and a more beautiful path with fine views over the Ardgour hills.
Poor Highland Cows - they must be so sweaty under all that hair.

When I arrive in the village of Spean Bridge, I get some badly needed water at the village shop, and then go on the hunt for some ice cream - without success. What would I give for a nice Italian-style ice cream parlour now...

Soon I'm on the road again, this time on a little forest path starting behind Spean Bridge station. But far too soon, I'm on a tarmac forest track again. I pass a bridge where there is - according to my guide book - an ideal spot for swimming. But the heat of the last few days has taken its toll on the rivers, and there is only a rusty-brown sauce flowing under the bridge. No thanks. Instead, my feet get a bath further down the river.
I am not sure how much further it is to Roy Bridge, so I'm always on the lookout for houses on the other side of the river. Finally, I come to Insh Farm, where I'm suddenly standing in front of a locked gate. There is no other way, I have to climb over it - which is kind of fun (although the sheep are looking at me in a very accusing way).

After some time, I finally get to a spot near the river where I can see people on the other side. After some shouting ("Is this Roy Bridge" etc.), it's now just a question of getting there. There are supposed to be some stepping stones to get to the other side (the next bridge is a few miles away), but I lack the energy to look for it. So - to the entertainment of a family sunbathing on the other side - I try to cross the river without getting anything else than my feet wet - which I eventually succeed at.
On the camping site, I have a log pod for the night - a wooden cabin, which contains not only two hammocks, some blankets and mattresses, but also a microwave and electric kettle. After some time on one of the hammocks, I eventually decide to sleep the old-fashioned way - on a mattress.

Read more about my East Highland Way trip here.

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