Tag Archives: Hike

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 9 & 10.
Back to days 7 & 8.

Day 9 – La Peuty to Tré la Champ – Switzerland to France – 12km

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After the storm overnight, the morning was fresh but everything outside was wet. This means I’ll be carrying at least an extra kilogram or more of rainwater as I won’t be able to dry the tent. After breakfast, and with a heavy feeling pack, I set out from the campground and following the sign, began the climb up the hill. My legs feel fine, even after the hard downhill yesterday. The trail soon cut up into the forest with steep switchbacks and the occasional view back to La Peuty.

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After more than 20 switchbacks, I emerged from the forest to see Chalet du Col de Balme above me marking the border with France and the return of my phone coverage. I slogged on up the hill towards the 2200m height that would be the ceiling for today’s climbs. I came over the crest to the chalet and the brilliant views. Switzerland has plenty of views, but it’s not until you see the massif that you remember what you’ve been missing.

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At the chalet, I took the opportunity to drop the pack and ordered a crepe and a soft drink. The only way to dry things after a stormy night is to hang it from my pack. So, I took out my still sopping tent and slung part of it over my pack before setting out again.

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In the sun, I walked down the hill on grassy switchbacks to Col des Posettes then climbed again the 200m of elevation to Aiguillette des Posettes.

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The second peak was made of layered ridges of rock and jagged outcrops, a different kind of rock to that seen anywhere else on this trip. The wind picked up, and I climbed carefully, not wanting the breeze to catch my tent and drag me off. When I reached the top I found a large flat grassy area and 360º views. I dropped my pack and took some photos.

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I then unpacked my tent and lay it out in the sun to fully dry. I also took the opportunity to get out of my boots. When everything was dry, I packed and began my descent.

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I followed the trail to the end of the flat area before the climb down grew steeper with several switchbacks and wooden stairs. I stopped at a large rock for a view down into the valley and a small hamlet under a glacier.

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The rest of the descent was in the forest. An hour later, I emerged then a short walk to Tré le Champ and the campground. The 2 Dutch couples were there, along with the Dutch guy and Dutch girl, although we had separate sittings for dinner, so didn’t hang out. After dinner, the rain continued and I dove into my tent to sleep.

Day 10 – Tré le Champ to Chamonix – France – 12km

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The forecast for today was not good and when I awoke the clouds were down to near ground level.

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Climbing in the mountains is not advised in the rain, or even a deep cloud cover such as this. I decided to have breakfast and wait to see if any changes were coming. But when more rain came, I decided not to risk the mountain and instead walk the 12km low route direct to my hostel in Chamonix. The route I mapped had very minimal climbing, indeed, a 350m descent over the course of the walk. When the rain stopped, I headed out, following a dirt trail beside a stream.

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I followed it for a couple of kilometres until it came to the township of Argentiere where I stopped for a morning snack. I pushed on at a march alongside the river with cyclists and day walkers enjoying the walk before the rain.

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After about 9km I walked alongside a golf course, crossing through it at one point to a Les Praz de Chamonix. But with 2km to go, it began to pour. I found a tree and stood under it waiting for the rain to pass, but it just kept on falling. After 30 minutes, I set out again and thirty minutes later, dry inside my waterproof jacket, I arrived at the hostel. I showered and set out my tent to dry in the dining room before heading down into town for a drink and some lunch. Later I would have dinner and drinks with many of the people I’d met over the last few days, The British couple, the 2 American couples, the 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl. Even the Polish girl from the 2nd day of the hike made an appearance. It was a fitting end to a great hike which turned out to be more than just a walk in some rather tall mountains.

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Overall Impression on the Tour du Mont Blanc
While I’ve had harder days on other hikes, overall, the TMB was the most difficult hike I’ve completed. It started out as just one of my hikes for the year and became something I’ll always remember. The landscape and the massif itself is up there in the most beautiful regions on earth I’ve experienced. As I walked this hike during Coronavirus infested 2020 there were far fewer people than normal, but it still turned out for the best. Maybe better because of less crowds.

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And, while I began alone as always, I didn’t finish that way. Part of the hike was the people I met and shared this experience with, thanks to those people for being part of this experience. And, as always, this hike wasn’t just an external experience, but an internal one. During the long meditative days, great insights into my life were had. I hope to see them come to fruition in the future.

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Would I suggest others do this walk? Definitely, but it will take courage, good health and a certain level of fitness.

Next, my adventures take me to another part of Europe I’ve yet to visit – Portugal and Spain, for a partial Camino de Santiago.

Until then,
The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 7 & 8.
Back to days 5 & 6.

Day 7 – La Fouly to Champex – Switzerland – 14km

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After a conversation with yet another Dutch couple at the campground, I discovered the last part of today’s leg will be a bit of a slog. The wife walked it alone last year, and so they are planning to skip the last half of the day by catching the bus from Issert. I certainly wasn’t going to take the bus, but I took note. I walked out of the campground and headed along an open field towards the woods where I would follow an easy slowly descending trail. It was still warm, even early in the day, so I was glad for the shade for the first few kilometres.

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While the views from the Swiss portion are not as good as the other sides, the mountains are still beautiful.

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After a brief climb, the trail hugged the lower slopes of the mountain on a thin path, and one section even had a chain to hold onto, just in case. The trail then headed through the forest, and it felt as if I was walking along a long thin tree-lined avenue – a 1.5km long section of very straight trail with only two bends.

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When I came out, the trail headed onto grassy fields past a Swiss hamlet. It then worked its way towards the village of Praz-de-Fort where I went looking for a cafe and a cold drink. I found the Dutch guy at one also having a drink, so I stopped for a chat.

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I headed off a few minutes after him and came around onto another road with a quaint village ahead where I stopped to retrieve my lunch from my pack. I was preparing to leave when the Dutch girl came along after me. We walked together for a bit, but she stopped in the next village for a break, while I pushed on to Issert.

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A hundred metres after the village the trail cut up a hill made more difficult by the summer heat. Issert sits at 1040m above sea level and my target Champex is at 1500m, not a huge climb compared to other days. The trail went into the forest for shade, but forests have their own humidity, so it is warm either way. As I had been warned, the climb was a slog, with little along the way to see. Someone, however, had carved various animals into tree stumps to give us something to see. There’s a viewpoint along the route, and well worth the wait.

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And another 20m further on there is a water fountain, something common along the trail, with potable water and another view.

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Four kilometres after Issert, I came out of the forest and climbed around the streets of Champex until I found myself above Lac de Champex. I walked to and along it for a kilometre until I reached my campground.

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After pitching my tent, I headed back to the lake, where I ran into the Dutch guy. We found the English couple and the young Dutch couple from the night before, along with (yet) another Dutch couple, the girls from each Dutch couple being sisters. Yes, the Dutch invaded my TMB, but no complaints from me. A large portion of walkers are French who speak various levels of English. The few Italians along the way were similar. The Dutch I met, to a person, were fluent in English, which made it easy to connect with them. Later, after eating with the Dutch guy, everyone got together to play cards, along with an American couple — all good company.

Day 8 – Champex to La Peuty – Switzerland – 14.5km

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The official route today via Alp Bovine is supposed to be a forest walk with some spectacular views. However, there’s a variant, more challenging and with a climb above 2600m, the highest point of my TMB, with unmatched views. Leaving the campground, I followed a path away from the road then turned sharply and followed an irrigation channel. The trail climbed into the forest-covered valley for 1.5km until it came out at the chalets of Relain d’Arpette where I ran into the British couple from the past two evenings. I walked with them for a short time as we slowly climbed through wildflower meadows. They were faster walkers that I, so I wished them well and set my own pace into the grand view ahead.

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After 2km, the trail grew flatter, and I followed the line of mountains up the valley. I eventually saw the point I would be climbing to, the lowest point of the mountainscape to the right of the photo’s centre.

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The trail turned steeper and rockier, and I clicked back into the pace I had perfected over the past 8 days. With my legs used to the effort, the steep climb seemed fairly easy, although the sweat continued to drip from me. Looking back the way I’d come…

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The climb is quite varied, and after a time the trail cut through a massive boulder field. Bouldering is fun, trying to balance while skipping from one to the next. Some find it hard, but it didn’t take me long to work my way past it. There were some snow patches on the mountain and one right on the trail. On the far side a very steep zigzagging path to the crossing point – Fenêtre d’Arpette.

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This last part of the climb was the most difficult, and I stopped after each short zigzag to catch my breath. But still, it didn’t take me long to make it to the top and cast my eye back.

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And of course, the sight you wait for while climbing… the other side. At 2665m, I sat to eat lunch and enjoy the view.

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The greatest problem with climbing something tall is climbing back down again. The trail was quite thin, and after my break, I headed down, slowly. While my legs seemed used to climbing up, they still hadn’t gotten used to the down part. I descended beside the Glacier du Trient, the slick rock below it having once been covered by the glacier. As I continued down, my knees starting letting me know how much fun they were having. And, again annoying to see trail runners bounding down these slopes like they’re running down a short hill.

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The trail hugged the edge of the mountain for a time on a thin trail before zig-zagging down the centre. I continued down for an hour before reaching an old hut where some people had stopped. The person before me was trying the water fountain, but it was only running warm, so I pushed on. Thankfully I found a glacial stream and drank my fill of the sweet cool water. I continued my descent for some time before the trail cut into the forest where I got a good view back up the mountain to the glacier.

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Another hour and I came out at a cafe where several trails met and ran into the American couple from last night. As I’d just run out of my water, I bought a couple of soft drinks and sat with them for a chat. Then with dark clouds looming I headed off. The trail was now flat and had been purposely cut around the side of the mountain as a tourist walk. After 1.5km, I came to a downslope and to the annoyance of my legs, followed it down a zigzag path. Halfway down, I heard thunder and it began to rain lightly. I made it to the campground at La Peuty, not too wet, and ran into some of the others. In the gentle rain, I put up my tent with their help. After a shower, I booked dinner and ended up with the whole group again – British couple, 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl sitting around the table in a large teepee, eating burgers and drinking whiskey.

Tomorrow I head back into France where I will finish this epic trek. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 3 & 4.
Back to days 1 & 2.

Day 3 – Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta – France to Italy – 13.5km

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Today I cross the mountain border into Italy, and the bonjours will change to Buongiornos. From Les Chapieux there’s a bus that cuts out the first 1.5 hours flat walk to La Ville des Glaciers, a small hamlet just before the first climb. My companions from yesterday afternoon went with this option, and that was the last I saw of them. I decided to walk, but before I left, I ran into someone who seemed familiar… the Dutch girl from the beginning of the first day. She was walking with a Polish girl and invited me to tag along.

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The initial part of the trail was only flat for some of the way, but it was fresh walking in the shade of the mountains. From time to time as we walked, we watched a bus running along the road above as it carried people to La Ville des Glaciers.

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About a kilometre past the hamlet the climbing began with many steep switchbacks. We were part way up when we heard an orchestra of bells on the slopes opposite. We watched a herd of cows trotting along the road to the farm as a bus tried to get past. Our climb continued, not as steep as before, but hot under the beating sun. The three of us took several breaks, stopping to drink from glacial springs whenever they appeared. It’s best to drink at higher altitudes, where it hasn’t been polluted by cow dung. The water was fresh, cool and rather moreish.

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We crossed the border at Col de la Seigne (2515m), taking but a short break in the cool breeze, before setting off down the other side, where small patches of snow still clung to the ground.

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The trail down was not painful or strenuous, and we took our time. We passed what appeared to be a museum of sorts, but didn’t stop.

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The gentle slope continued for another hour down to 2165m, where the valley flattened out with tall peaks to either side. The beauty and magnificence is everywhere, all to the soundtrack from the Sound of Music. After a kilometre and a half, we walked past a ruin to see Refugio Elisabetta hung on the mountain above and climbed to it. While this was my stop for the night, the girls stopped for refreshments, but were continuing on.

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Once they’d departed, I showering and hung out in the common room where I got talking to a Dutch guy….

Day 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur – Italy – 18km

TMB Stage 4

With no huge climb today, I was hopeful of an easier day. After breakfast and coffee with the Dutch guy, the entire Refugio packed up and cleared out like an exodus. We picked our way down the path to the dirt road that would lead us out of the valley. While it was early, the beating sun caused a sweat even though it was a slow descent along the 2.5km of the valley.

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At the end of the valley, we found the path to the first and only climb of the day. Refugio Elisabetta is around 2200mm, with a dip down to 1950m at the end of the valley. The climb would take us up to about 2400m. The trail began steeply but became steadily more gentle as we went. After days of climbing, the muscles in the legs had grown used to the effort. This, along with muscle memory from years of hiking, and the climb didn’t seem so difficult.

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My Dutch companion and I climbed on before taking a rest at a hut. While we were there, I noted a lone figure climbing along the trail behind us and recognised her walk… the Dutch girl. Little did I know, but this was the beginning of the Dutch invasion of my TMB, not that I minded. We had a brief chat before heading off. It didn’t take us long to reach the high point of the trail and standing on the top of the small peak the view along the valley was amazing.

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After a brief rest, we again headed off. For the first hour, the trail followed an easy slope along the side of the mountains. We came to a green area overlooking a small lake and stopped for lunch. From here I thought it would be an easy descent into Courmayeur for the rest of the day. But I was wrong, very wrong.

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After lunch, our little group split, with the Dutch guy taking a different route, and the Dutch girl catching a ski lift. I climbed around past a pair of rifugios, before beginning my descent down the grassy ski fields. With the first sign of rain threatening since I began four days ago, I cut past the top of a ski lift with views of the town below.

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With the mountain behind me blocking the slight wind, the temperature went up, and as I cut into the forest, it grew muggy. I zigzagged down through the trees for the next 2 hours on a steep, dry and dusty path. When the rain finally came, it was glorious, for all of the minute it lasted. With aching knees, I finally reached the bottom a minute or two after the Dutch guy and stopped for a quick drink with him before heading off across Courmayeur to my Airbnb.

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I was thankful to arrive and chatted to my host’s son who could speak English. After the hot day, I drank buckets of water and was able to take a soaking bath. In the evening, I went down into the town for dinner – pizza, of course – and a beer.

Next, after one more day in Italy, I head into Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France – Days 1 & 2

Mont Blanc, nestled on the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland, is the tallest mountain in Western Europe. The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a 10-day hike circumnavigating the Mont Blanc Massif on a trail 168km long.

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On a slightly rainy day, I flew into Geneva and caught a bus for over an hour to Chamonix, the site of the first Winter Olympics. It would be from this township on the eastern border of France that I would start and finish the hike.

For the next 10 days, I plan to camp in established locations wherever I can, but with a lack of legal camping spots in Italy, I’ve opted for two Refugios and an Airbnb. My pack weight, including 2 litres of water, is around 20kg, while heavy, I’ve been known to carry more. And, as always, I’m hiking solo, however, from what I’d read, I’d likely meet other walkers along the way. It’s high season, but in the time of Coronavirus with many people unable to enter Europe, there should be a lot fewer people. My intended route…

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Day 1 – Les Houches to Les Contamines – France – 14km

TMB Stage 1

After last night’s rain, today began sunny. After a good breakfast, I made my way across Chamonix to the south bus station where I’d been dropped off the day before. The ski town of Chamonix is lively this morning with tourists and locals out and about.

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While there are other walkers on the bus, when it stopped at the arch, the official start point, only two of us got off, a Dutch girl and me. We walked the few minutes through the small village of Les Houches towards the cablecar where everyone else had gotten off. While I headed off with a group of French-speaking guys into the forest for the first climb, the Dutch girl took the cablecar. Over the next handful of kilometres, the steep climb zigzagged up the mountain before opening out with a great view back down the valley. It was a tough climb for the first day, made more difficult by the heat, the rain now a thing of the past.

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The trail continued climbing steeply towards the peak, Col De Voza, 600m above my starting point, passing the cablecar stops for another view.

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From Col de Voza, the trail descended on a wide trail through the forest, then out across rolling green meadows, weaving through several small hamlets on its way towards Le Champel. After midday, and with the heat rising steadily, I found a grassy meadow with a shade tree partway along the valley and took off my boots.

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A little sore from my first day’s rigorous climb, I continued down to Le Champel only to find a steep climb up the hill. I spied a sign to Les Contamines and followed the trail for several kilometres until it came out at the main road, which I followed around to the adventure village of Les Contamines. With my campsite a further 30 minutes along the road, I stopped at a cafe/bar for a couple of cold beers served by a lovely French girl. After my break and in the heat, I followed the path beside a river, through a large activity park for campers, to a massive campground full of holidaying families. I paid and located the TMB camping area which soon filled up. That evening, I walked back to Les Contamines for dinner and another beer.

Day 2 – Les Contamines to La Chapieux – France – 17km

The next morning I headed back to the village for breakfast and some last supplies before heading out from the campground. Little did I know, today would be one of the hardest days of the entire circuit.

TMB Stage 2

From the campground, I walked along the road to a full car park and plenty of day walkers. I passed a church – Notre dame de la Gorge – before following an old Roman road as it climbed into the forest. After yesterday’s hard climb, my legs weren’t happy with me, so I pulled out my walking poles and used them for the rest of the tour. After a moderate climb, I crossed a Roman bridge, peered down into a thin gorge before continuing. After another climb, the forest opened up, giving a brief respite with great views.

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But the respite was indeed short and after Chalet La Balme, began a long, arduous climb. As the days are long, and the weather warm, I took regular opportunities to rest my aching legs. There are plenty of walkers on the trail, and the usual greeting is a warm bonjour, with French being the most common language. But today, through all the French voices, I occasionally heard English spoken. Halfway up the steep valley, the day walkers split off, following a trail to Lacs Jovet, a mountain lake. I climbed on steadily to Col du Bonhomme at the height of 2300m and was hit by a blustery cold wind. I took a break tucked behind a hut with a view of the peak above, one of the Col des Fours.

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Les Contamines is at 1170m, meaning I’d climbed 1100m in elevation so far today, but it wasn’t over. While direct sunlight can drain you, I found the icy wind energising and easily continued the climb around a rocky ridge. I took a moment to peer back at the hut I’d huddled behind.

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I continued around the rocky path, only to see a Marmot scuttle across a rock. It was one of three I saw here.

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Then, after a climb up the side of a small waterfall, I reached Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, the highpoint of the day at 2479m, a total of 1300m climb today. As expected, the views were immense, this one down to the Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. I climbed down to the refuge for a well-deserved rest and ended up chatting with a group – a British guy, a Canadian couple and a German girl.

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But the worst was yet to come. Climbing can be hard work, but our legs are more designed for climbing than descending. The five of us began the long steady climb down the mountain towards Les Chapieux, a descent of around 1550m over 5km. Even with hiking poles, it was knee jarring, but the conversation helped take away some of the pain.

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The endless down was causing us all issues, especially when trail runners came galloping past like it was flat terrain. Trail runners often do the full trail over 3 days, and there are plenty of them. We stopped for a break to enjoy the afternoon and rest our knees.

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We finally reached Les Chapieux, and while I was camping, I stopped off at the group’s refuge for a beer but stayed for a four-course meal with them.

In France, it’s common for cows, sheep and goats to have bells that ring at the mere thought of movement. Throughout the night in my tent, my sleep was accompanied by an orchestra of farm animals in the hills.

Next, I head into Italy, Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Arran Coastal Way, Scotland – Part 3

In late June 2019, I undertook a 6-day coastal hike around the Isle of Arran, my namesake island. This 65 mile / 105 km hike is a circuit of the island starting from the northernmost village and heading inland on several occasions. The weather was scheduled to be amazing with little rain.

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Back to Part 2

Day 5 – Brodick to Corrie – 7 mi / 11.5 km

While today is the shortest day distance-wise, I will be climbing Goatfell with my pack, so it will be one of the more difficult days of the walk. Although as it is just under 900 metres, it should not take too much of the day. After my first full Scottish breakfast for this trip, I set out from the bunkhouse and through Brodick. As I walked, more people came out and began the long slow walk to the Fell.

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The path led around the beach with some sand walking as I went. The Brodick castle standing prominent in the trees off to one side.

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The trail around the bay and up into the trees with a mix of short steep areas and slow gliding climbs. With my march on, I passed several slower climbers. While the trees offered respite from the sun, it also stopped the breeze, so the sweat came heavy. When I finally broke out of the tree line, the cool breeze in itself was worth the climb. I looked back for a view of Brodick.

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As people took breaks, I climbed on as the trail grew rockier and steeper. I crossed a wooden bridge and through a deer gate. I pushed on up the mountain, stopping for the occasional 10-second break before pushing on again. 10 seconds is enough to get the breath back before continuing on. I finally took a longer break where the trail reached a ridge that offered great views back the way I’d come, into the valley beyond and up the final 250 metres to the summit.

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After 10 min I pushed on up the very steep trail with more 10 second breaks, one every 20m until I reached the summit in the glorious sunshine. The views in every direction were amazing and all who had reached the top relaxed and enjoyed the sun.

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After about 30 minutes, I packed up and began the climb down. It didn’t take long to get to the junction, and I continued down the Corrie route. The way down was rockier, but I continued my charge down onto the plateau and across a stream.

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At the edge of the valley, it descended again on rocky steps eventually to a forest…

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…along a dirt track…

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…to a road and down steeply to the main road. I found the first seat I could,  got off my feet and out of my boots. After 10 minutes I headed a further few minutes to the local pub for a cider or three in the sun. I then headed on to Sannox where I would be staying the night, or so I thought. The hotel there was closed, and there were no other food options. I decided to walk the 2km back to Corrie for another cider and to wait for the hotel’s kitchen to open for dinner. After dinner, I headed along to the town hall and pitched my tent, where I had seen a bunch of people doing days earlier. It turns out I couldn’t camp there, so I headed back towards Sannox to a large boulder beside the road where I pitched a wild camp.

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Day 6 – Corrie to Lochranza – 10 mi / 16.5 km

After my night of wild camping, I packed up and headed back to Corrie for breakfast. Today was the shortest day with little to see, but it is expected to be the hottest day of the year also. This is Scotland, so we’re talking 24ºC. I headed out of Corrie and back along the road to Sannox, past the site of my wild camp and on to the beach. I then walked at the top of the beach, along a trail of sand and then dry earth.

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I walked on as the heat increased along with the wind, through a wooded area until I came to the Sannox Burn flowing out to sea. I didn’t see the point of walking a 400m inland and a 300m back when I could just cross on stepping stones. On the other side, I followed a sandy trail past some cliffs.

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On the other side, I followed two women for more than 2km along a rocky trail until it reached a place called quite descriptively “fallen rocks”. Giant rocks had fallen from the ridge a few years back.

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I passed the girls as the trail became more defined, and for the next 3 km, I followed it until it came to Laggan cottage where I popped inside to have a brief look around.

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The trail became more rocky and rugged for much of the rest of the trail except for a 500m stretch of beach called Fairy Dell. It passed a rock formation known as the Cock of Arran. It, apparently, once looked like a male chicken until its head fell off a year or two ago. Now it’s just a rock.

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After a short time, I came around the coast, and Lochranza appeared. Then it was only 30 minutes across the tarmac road around the bay to the ruins of the Lochranza Castle and then on to the Sandwich Shack where I began the walk.

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Overall

The Arran Coastal Way was a great six-day walk. Each day had its special elements all different from previous days. It worked out well for the weather, which likely added to the enjoyment.

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I would definitely recommend this walk, while fairly easy, is still enjoyable.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Arran Coastal Way, Scotland – Part 2

In late June 2019, I undertook a 6-day coastal hike around the Isle of Arran, my namesake island. This 65 miles/ 105 km hike is a circuit of the island starting from the northernmost village and heading inland on several occasions. The weather was scheduled to be amazing with little rain.

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Back to Part 1

Day 3 – Pien via Blackwaterfoot to Kildonan – 14.5 mi / 23.5 km

I set out from my campsite and walked the 3.5 km back to Blackwaterfoot, where I stopped for a coffee and a breakfast cheeseburger with haggis. When in Scotland… I headed out along the beach on a mixed track of pebble beach dirt running through long grass. Scotland is tick central, so I made sure to stop every few minutes to check my legs. I still walk on shorts, it’s too hot otherwise, so it’s best to monitor my legs. Nettle sting goes away, so I tend to ignore it, but I’m vigilant with checking for ticks.

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For the next 8 km, I followed the trail around with more of the same. The weather, while supposedly cloudy all day became more sunny and warm along with a nice breeze.

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The trail then split, the easy route heading up to the road while the alternative continued along a more difficult beach track. I, of course, took the more difficult route as it hasn’t really been that strenuous so far. The trail was harder, to find that is, and I found myself crossing a farm and chatting to some quite vocal cows on the way.

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After a while, I came to a driveway that led me up off the beach to the main road. I followed this road for 4 km to Lagg, where I stopped at the cafe for lunch, a coffee, then next door to the hotel for a cider. Then on down to the beach past a 5000-year-old burial mound.

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My next target was Bennan Head, which I had to pass before high tide else I would be stuck. I had monitored the tide times and had aimed to get there with at least an hour to spare. As I came along the beach, it turned into rock hopping, with the seas slowly closing in.

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On the way, Pladda Isle appeared with its lighthouse as did the more distant Ailsa Craig, a volcanic plug poking out from the ocean.

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It was almost two kilometres of rock hopping, but about midway, I came to Bennan Head and Black cave, the largest cave on Arran. With time running out, I decided to climb up the back of the cave to see where it went. Out through the gap and around to a viewpoint. I didn’t stay long, climbing down again and getting on with the walk.

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I rock hopped around the head to the beach before working my way along the beach to Kildonan, my stop for the night where I enjoyed a sunny view from a pub out past the lighthouse to the volcanic island. And, of course, a cider.

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Day 4 – Kildonan to Brodick – 16.5 mi / 27.5 km

Today will be the longest day if the hike. The day started cloudy, and the wind from the night before was still there. This kept the morning cool and more importantly, the midges away. I packed up and headed out of the caravan park along the beach. My first goal today was to get around Dippin head. As I walked, I passed the Kildonan Castle, although it was technically only a watchtower.

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Thankfully the tide was on the way out, but with the boulder field twice as long as Bennan Head yesterday, I soon got fed up with rock hopping. Finally, I came out the other side onto a thistle packed, nettle studded tall grassy trail and headed along the beach to Largybeg.

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Not long after I arrived at Whiting Bay and found a cafe for coffee and brunch. I ran into two ladies who had camped near me overnight and chatted to them about my next leg as they’d come a different way. The view on the way into Whiting Bay with the Holy Island at the end (the mountains to the right).

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I then headed out up into the hills on a steep set of roads that turned into a dirt trail through the woods. I followed this through a section of felled trees to Glenashdale Falls and around to a viewing platform.

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The sky cleared almost completely and stayed that way for the rest of the day. I followed the road first up to a high point with amazing views.

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The road continued on for another 4 km, but I enjoyed the few times when trees offered shade, and I got some respite from the sun. I eventually arrived at the bottom of the road and decided to push on into Lamlash for a cider and a break from the heat. I found a bar and sat out the front with my drink looking out to Holy Island in the bay.

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After the drink, I headed on to Clauchlands Point, 2.5 km from Lamlash and the easternmost tip of the island.

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I rounded the point to be presented with 2 options, the standard trail along the coast all the way to Brodick or the alternative ‘high’ route. Of course, I took the high route. At the top of the first climb, I saw the trail meandered up over the cliff tops working its way higher and higher. This, of course, gave amazing views in all directions.

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I eventually headed downhill come out at a road the would lead me down into Brodick. It would have been another three km to the wild camping spot, and after my long walk and climbs in the sun, I found a bunkhouse and booked. My first bed in 4 days.

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Next days 5 and 6 of the Arran Coastal Way.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Arran Coastal Way, Scotland – Part 1

In late June 2019, I undertook a 6-day coastal hike around the Isle of Arran, my namesake island. This 65 mile / 105 km hike is a circuit of the island starting from the northernmost village and heading inland on several occasions. The weather was scheduled to be amazing with little rain.

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Day 1 – Lochranza to Imachar – 11 mi / 18.2 km

The first day of the walk is not scheduled to be a long one, but there is s sidewalk added for a bit of variety. Lochranza is the northernmost village on the island and even has a ruined castle on the bay.

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I walked out of the hostel and along to the Sandwich Shack for breakfast and a coffee. Then I headed up the hill on a steep farmers driveway past the ruins of the island’s oldest house.

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While I was only 60 metres or so above sea level, the views were still enjoyable out across to the Mull of Kintyre, reminding me of the old song of the same name.

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I rounded the hill with the trail descending a little before it ran behind the long row of houses at Catacol. I climbed down to the road and onto the pebble beach where I picked my way along for the next 4.5km.

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About two-thirds of the way through the day is the side trail, which climbs up the hill to Coire Fhionn Lochan, a small lake nestled in the bowl beneath small peaks. The climb was pretty straightforward to 340m, and I passed several families on my way up. When I got to the small lake, I dropped my pack for a rest and chatted to some other climbers.

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The wind was blustery but not cold. I was told the lake can be a mirror but for the wind, a shame but a good view anyway. After my break, I climbed back down, passing a family that had still not made it to the top. The view back the other way was wonderful.

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When I got back to the road, I continued on along the beach. I arrived at Pirnmill with enough time for a light lunch at the restaurant before they closed until dinner. I hung out in the sunshine and topped up supplies at the shop next door before setting off again along the beach.

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For the next 3.5 km, I picked my way along the beach until I eventually arrived at where my map said was Imacher. But instead of what I thought might be a village, was absolutely nothing. The road went up over the hill, so I took a walk up it and found a small handful of houses, most of them abandoned and overgrown. But when I rounded the corner on one abandoned house, I ran into this male peacock showing his stuff.

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There was an ostentation of peacocks, with several males (peafowl), 3 females and some chicks
. After the show, I headed down to a wild camping spot I’d walked past, pitched my tent and settled in for the rest of the day.

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Day 2 – Inachar to Pien via Blackwaterfoot – 11 mi / 18 km

It had rained overnight but and I had no wild visitors overnight. I had a breakfast of oat biscuits before breaking camp. The sky was dark, and the wind gusty as I set out onto the road.

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Today, walking along the beach was not such an option. It would have been possible but I was racing to avoid the forecasted rain, so I took the quicker alternative along the road. Today is the only day forecast for rain, let’s hope the sun stays for the rest of the week. My first port of call is Cafe Thyme 5km along from my wild camp. The walk was fairly straightforward, and along the way, I even spied seals chilling on some rocks.

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When I arrived at the cafe, they were just opening. They did not serve breakfast, but the waitress organised some scrambled eggs for me anyway. We chatted about life in general and getting out of London, which she had done 10 months earlier. After coffee, I set off and noted a standing stone in a paddock. So, I crossed to get a better look.

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Two kilometres on and I came past Dunedin (the name of a house) to the Machrie Bay Golf Club tea rooms where I bought some water. Then another kilometre further on to car park for the Machrie Moors Standing Stones. I walked the mile to the moors and the several groups of standing stones there…

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…not to mention rock
circles.

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Then, as I made my way back to the road, it began to rain. A mile further along and I came to the Torr Righ Beag, a small wooded National Park. I walked around the outskirts looking back along the coast to where I had started the day (at the furthermost edge of the coast).

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I continued around the path to the coast and before heading down a steep trail to the beach. I walked past the King’s cave, which is caged off, and a pair of natural arches.

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I then set my sights on the Doon Fort, a rock formation where an iron aged fort had once stood.

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I walked around the back and up to the top, getting great views across the bay. After a look around I climbed down the Tor to a golf club where I walked to the beach and along to Blackwaterfoot. I found a bar to wait for the restaurant to open, allowing me to have cider and get my feet out of my sodden boots.

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After dinner a walked the 3 km along roads to the campground where I would encounter plentiful midges but a hot shower!

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Next, days 3 and 4 of the Arran Coastal Way.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Great Glen Way, Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Part 3

In June 2019, I decided to walk the 6-day Great Glen Way, a 79 mile / 126 km walk from one side of Scotland to the other along The Great Glen fault which separates Scotland roughly in two.

534px-great_glen_way_map-en.svg-2019-06-10-14-02.png
By Ayack – fr:Ayack – Own work :Topography: NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) data (public domain);Reference used for confirmation for the additional data: ViaMichelin;Locator map: File:Saint Kilda archipelago topographic map-fr.SVG (modified) created by Sting., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860318

Back to Part 2

Day 5 – Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit – 13.5 miles / 23.5 km
This morning I left behind the father and son walkers I’d run into on most days so far. The father’s foot had packed it in, and they were finishing the walk there. It had rained overnight, again, and I packed a wet tent as I had several times before. I walked out of the camping ground back up to the low route. I walked the mile back to the junction I’d come down off the moors on yesterday. I continued walking, the rain taking a break and I came down to the bridge across to Invermoriston. I took a quick photo down the river…

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I walked 100m down the road to the cafe and a full Scottish Breakfast and coffee. After breakfast, I headed out and up several hairpins on an old country road to the top of the ridge and then higher along a trail beside a fence.

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For the next few kilometres, the trail followed the fence or dipped down into the forest only to return again. The rain came and went, but it was not heavy. During the hours I spend atop the ridge line, I saw no one else. I was hidden away from Loch Ness for much of it but came past the ViewRanger, a piece of art built on the side of the hill. 

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I continued across the moors for several more kilometres, clouds hanging low at times.

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Then I came to the Troll Bridge and crossed it furtively but without assault, into the forest again where I continued.

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On several occasions, I came to parts where there should have been a view, but the clouds were too low over Loch Ness. Then, as if it knew I wanted to see the loch, the clouds lifted slightly and finally…

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At the end of the 11km, I headed across some fields on a trail to a farm road as it again began to pour with rain. I found a little shelter someone had put out with things for sale for walkers.

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I put on the pace along the sealed road averaging about a km every 10 min along the 4km stretch of road.

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The road dove steeply downhill, and Drumnadrochit came into view. The trail them cut through a forest as it headed down towards the river before coming out onto the camping ground I’d be staying in for that night.

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After pitching my tent, showering and washing my clothes, the sun came out, and I headed across to the local pub for dinner and a well-deserved cider.

Day 6 – Drumnadrochit to Inverness – 18 miles / 28.8 km
It didn’t rain overnight and when I woke there was s thin mist over the camping ground. And, by the time I had packed the sky was blue and the sun was out. After 5 days in the rain, the final longest day was to be spent in the sun. But I was not so lucky that my tent wasn’t wet, the dew and mist had ensured I would still be packing a wet tent.

Once packed, I headed to a cafe for a big Scottish breakfast but was disappointed there was no haggis, I’ve become quite fond of it on this trip. After breakfast, I headed out through Drumnadrochit along the main highway past Drambuie farm and up a hill that gave good views back across Loch Ness…

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…and the ruins of Urquhart castle.

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I continued on along the trail and into the forest with continuing good views.

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The trail climbed for the next 2km, sometimes steeply until it eventually came out into the moors only to cut into the forest again shortly after. After the hard climb up the ridge, the trail flattened out and remained that way for much the rest of the day.

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I passed a farm and stopped to tend to blister forming when I noted the farmer struggling to get a trolley onto a trailer. So I put my boot back on and gave him a hand. After my good deed for the day, I set out again along the farm road, across a highway and onto a thin track. Along the side of the track, I started to see signs of an eco cafe, so stopped off for an expensive coffee and cake in the middle of nowhere. After the break, I arrived at another road…

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…and quick marched the 4 km until it merged with a dirt trail. Dark clouds seemed to come, but no rain eventuated.

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The dirt trail ran for a mile before diving into a forest and on a slow descent over 5km until I saw Beauty Firth, a stretch of sea off the coast of Inverness.
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Then I rounded a hill and Inverness itself came into view. I followed a fairly steep hill down towards it.

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I crossed near a golf course to the canal where I walked for 3 km, crossing the Ness Islands and eventually ending the trail at Inverness Castle, near the centre of the city.

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I discovered my hostel 50 metres from the castle and checked in for a well-deserved shower. Once clean and in fresh clothes I located a Wetherspoons for dinner and, of course, a cider or three.

Day A – Inverness

I found it cheaper to stay in Inverness the night on Saturday before flying out on Sunday. I wandered around the town a little but decided against doing the tourist thing. Instead, I rested my feet and body after the hike. Saturday night, however, there was a music festival in town, so all of the pubs and restaurants were very busy. I hung out about the hostel and read a lot relaxing and watching a movie with a few people in the common room.

Overall
The Great Glen Way is a good hike, but not a great hike. The first three days a spent on the flat walking beside the canal or lake. But it is the last three days where the real hiking begins. While the climbs were not high, it gave plenty of views when they were available.

The major issue with the hike was the amount of rain, but it is Scotland in June, so you just have to go with it. It was nice to have the sun on the final day. The other issue is the general lack of food options along the way, which is likely something I should have planned better for. I survived and enjoyed my time.

In a couple of weeks, I head back up to Scotland for another six-day hike, The Isle of Arran.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Great Glen Way, Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Part 2

In June 2019, I decided to walk the 6-day Great Glen Way, a 79 mile / 126 km walk from one side of Scotland to the other along The Great Glen fault which separates Scotland roughly in two.

534px-great_glen_way_map-en.svg-2019-06-10-14-02.png
By Ayack – fr:Ayack – Own work :Topography: NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) data (public domain);Reference used for confirmation for the additional data: ViaMichelin;Locator map: File:Saint Kilda archipelago topographic map-fr.svg (modified) created by Sting., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860318

Back to Part 1

Day 3 – Laggan to Fort Augustus – 15 miles / 24 km
After a night in the softest bed ever, a great relief after 2 days of hiking, I set out from the hostel and ran into the two ladies I’d been chatting to most of the night before. We then walked to a local cafe a few hundred metres off the trail for breakfast and coffee. On the way, we stopped to take a photo of Loch Oich as we crossed on a swing bridge.

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After eating, we headed back to the trail and began climbing the hill. As we walked and chatted we all but reached the top without noticing the climb, heading around a curve of the hill and heading back down. At the base of the path, the pair continued north while I split off to the east where I ran into the group of older walkers from the day before. I chatted with them as we crossed into Invergarry, where I stopped to look for lunch options. I didn’t find anything suitable after a quarter of an hour, so continued on.

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I climbed the path, a set of hairpin lanes that led up the to a forest road which I followed as it curved around above the loch. It wound its way through forest trails for some time as it slowly descended back towards loch level before climbing again into the forest. It was here I ran into the groups of older walkers and chatted to one of the group leaders until the path was wide enough for me to pass.

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I came down to the A82 highway and followed it around to the swing bridge across the canal. Off to my left was the Oich bridge, an old now-closed bridge. On the swing bridge, I noted a sign for a cafe half a mile off along the A82. It was off the trail, but I was hungry, so I made the walk up the hill. After passing several signs over the 15-minute walk, I arrived to find it was closed Tuesday – Thursday. So I walked back to the swing bridge and took a break without eating. It was here I noticed a couple of what I thought were ticks on my leg. With tweezers, I removed them even though they had not dug in; I didn’t see any other the entire hike.

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After the break, I marched on alongside Loch Oich as the skies began to clear. It was six kilometres to Fort Augustus. As I walked, I noticed I was on a path between the Caledonia Canal and the River Oich. They came very close on several occasions, and I even crossed a weir that allowed water to run off from the Canal into the river if it was too high.

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After an hours march, I arrived in Fort Augustus and located my camping ground. I set up my tent beside the father and son walkers I’d met on the first day and once done headed into town with them to a pub for dinner and a cider or three.

Day 4 – Fort Augustus to Invermoriston high route – 8.5 miles / 13.5km
After enjoying five ciders last night, I slept very well, somehow managing about 10 hours. But when I did wake in the night, it was raining, heavily at times. It continued into the morning. Today is the shortest leg of the six days; I held out until it stopped raining for as long as I could before packing up and heading out into town for breakfast. At the locks, I looked down the canal towards Loch Ness.
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After breakfast, I headed out through town along a stretch of road still under construction until I found the trail and followed it up a hill into the forest.

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The climb was short and one of the first real climbs of the hike. I came out into a new forest road and followed this for about a kilometre until the high route began. The trail cut up the hill with switchbacks and steep climbs. It finally felt like I was hiking after so much loch and canal-side walking. After about five hundred metres, I came out of the forest and onto open ground. While the rain had stopped, the clouds hung low over the moors.

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After about a kilometre the trail disappeared into the low clouds, and I came across the older walking group again. I stopped for a brief chat before pushing on. The low hanging clouds over the loch and the moors gave only the occasional view.

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The trail continued for another 4 kilometres through open ground before dropping down into the forest again. After several switchbacks, the trail descended very steeply. With shaking legs under the weight, I contemplated taking out my walking poles. This was, after all, why I’d brought them, but I decided to suck it up and just did it.

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At the bottom, the trail met with the lower route, but instead of following it to Invermoriston I headed the other way, back towards Fort Augustus. I walked along the low route for two kilometres as it again started to rain. The low route is simply a fairly flat forest road with no views and is very boring. It would be good for cyclists, but hikers would find little of interest here.

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I soon found the side trail leading down to the camping site where I arranged to hand my tent in the drying room. While I waited for the rain to stop and my tent to dry, I showered. When I pitched my tent, I noted across the grassy camping area, the father and son walkers I’d met several times through the walk. With little in the way of food options nearby, I bought some noodles and a can of peaches from the camping ground shop and nestled into the tent with my Kindle to read for the evening.

Next, days 5 and 6 of The Great Glen Way.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

The Great Glen Way, Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Part 1

In June 2019, I decided to walk the 6-day Great Glen Way, a 79 mile / 126 km walk from one side of Scotland to the other along The Great Glen fault which separates Scotland roughly in two.

534px-great_glen_way_map-en.svg-2019-06-10-13-40.png
By Ayack – fr:Ayack – Own work :Topography: NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) data (public domain);Reference used for confirmation for the additional data: ViaMichelin;Locator map: File:Saint Kilda archipelago topographic map-fr.svg (modified) created by Sting., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860318

Day 0 – London to Fort William

To get to the beginning of the hike, I took a 75-minute EasyJet flight to Glasgow and a 4-hour Scot Train to Fort William. It was an easy and relaxing journey with great views across the western side of Scotland including a leg through Loch Lommonds & The Trossachs National Park.

Fort William is a small township nestled beneath Ben Nevis, UK’s largest mountain. It’s a friendly place with several stores focused on adventures and hiking, along with several whisky stores. I also managed to stay at the Fort William Hostel on its 10th anniversary weekend, so got a free dinner and several beers.

Day 1 – Fort William to Gairlochy – 10 miles / 16 km
I headed out from the hostel in the rain and down to get some last supplies and have some lunch before beginning the walk. From the centre of town, I followed the trail past an underwater centre and along a canal, crossing at a train bridge.

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The path followed the bay around, through Inverlochy, Lochyside and Caol. If these are suburbs or villages absorbed into the larger town, I’m not sure. I looked back across the harbour back at Fort William with the cloud covered Ben Nevis to one side.

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I rounded a football field and came to the beginning of the Caledonian Canal, the canal that connected the three lochs across Scotland, allowing boat travel from one side to the other. I passed Neptune’s staircase, a series of nine locks climbing up the canal. The trail followed beside the canal for 11 kilometres. It was rainy and a little boring, so I just put my head down and just marched. There were pretty points along the canal, very green because of the regular rains.

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Towards the end, I stopped for a chat with a couple of guys – father and son – who were wild camping near the canal. I then headed a kilometre and a half along a road to my campsite, where I pitched my tent next to a couple of ladies. In the UK, when hiking, I’ve usually ‘glamped’ – staying in hostels, BNBs, pubs or hotels. This time I decided to pull out my tent and camp four nights of this 6-day hike. This meant I was carrying a full pack at 20 kg, including drinking water. I’ve carried heavier many times, so it wasn’t a problem. As I walked, I passed Meall Bhanbhaidh, a peak that was easier to walk past than to pronounce…

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On most other UK hikes there is a pub every 5km, so I figured I’d pick up food along the trail. I soon discovered the error in this. After leaving Fort William, there were no shops, cafes or restaurants. I got to my campsite with only a packet of breakfast biscuits. Thankfully, I’d found a restaurant a mile further along the road, so after showering, I began the walk. It turned out to be fairly expensive, but I had to eat. No doubt this would not be the last food issue I’d have. On the way back, 100m from the campsite it poured with rain. Yay, Scotland!

Day 2 – Gairlochy to Laggan – 13 miles / 21 km
It rained for much of the night and continued for most of the morning. Thankfully, it stopped long enough for me to take down my sopping tent. I walked the mile back to the loch, crossed to the other side and followed the logical route alongside only to walk a couple of hundred metres to a dead end where a sign conveniently told me as much. I headed back to the bridge and continued up a road. The rain came, and I knuckled down with my waterproof jacket’s hood up. The trail headed off the road and up through a light Conifer forest for a while before again crossing the road and headed down near Loch Lochy.

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After a long walk through the forest, the trail came back to the road and continued for some time. I passed the small villages of Achnacarry, Bunarkaig and eventually Clunes, but there were no shops in any of these locales. For breakfast, all I’d eaten was three breakfast biscuits and no coffee. At Clunes, with no other options, I ate the last 2 breakfast biscuits before heading up onto a dirt forest road. On the long walk alongside the loch I passed the carving of a falcon on a wooden stump.

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For more than 10 km, the dirt road continued just above the loch covered with dark clouds. I finally stopped for a break near the end of the dirt road, and as I sat on my pack, a group of old walkers came past.

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After the break I marched on, easily passing the older walkers before heading onto a road and around to the Laggan Locks. I followed a trail on the other side for a mile to the road, then back 300m to the Great Glen Hostel, where I ran into the two ladies I’d camped beside at Gairlochy. Since we were 2 hours early for the hostel, we sat in the common room and chatted, something that went on well into the night.

Next, Days 3 and 4 of The Great Glen Way.

The Lone Trail Wanderer