Loch Ness 360: Day 3, Ruskich Wood to Fort Augustus (16 miles)

I woke to a text from my dad – 24 people rescued on Ben Nevis yesterday. One death. My dad is my biggest support, but I’m not sure he looks up the trails I tell him I’m doing until I’m actually on them, and then expresses his concerns through ‘breaking news’ style texts. This approach is chosen since he knows saying things like ‘I am worried about you being out in the cold and possible snow’ will have me regress to the indignation level of a fourteen year old. The news reports only have me regressing to the indignation levels of a seventeen year old instead.

There had, indeed, sadly been a large rescue on Ben Nevis the day before, which had included a number of soldiers, and one man had unfortunately lost his life. However, Scotland’s largest mountain was fifty miles away and the summit was a thousand metres higher than I would be all trip; I reassured him that I wasn’t going to be anywhere near Ben Nevis.

Once I had broken camp, I made my way on through the trees. The path widened to a clearing where a decision had to made. Here the trail split in two – into a low route and a high route. Not that there was much between the two; the low route made it up to 350 metres and the high route was only 70 metres higher, however this made all the difference.

If I had given spring a bit more time to develop, the floors of these woods would be covered in pale yellow primroses, clustered in the shadows of the firs. Lower down, on the banks of the canal out of Inverness, there had been banks of snowdrops creating a carpet of white petals promising warmer days soon.

If I had given spring a bit more time to develop, I’m sure I would have seen many achingly brilliant things. But this morning made me absolutely sure I had chosen the right time of year for me.

I took the right hand path leading upwards; a slow and gentle ascent looked up towards snow covered summits and left over the loch. In the end hours of a golden early morning, an inversion hung low, hiding the water completely, with only the heights of the hills visible above like backs of silver whales leaping out of a cloudy sea. An orange tinged sky isolated me above the movement below, and the path soon started to crunch as thick frost and the last banks of snow gripped these higher metres.

It was all so amazingly beautiful that I could barely finish one out loud exclamation before another started, ending up with bizarre turns of phrase like “HolyfucxtraordinaryWOWbatman”. It was a good thing I was so alone because I’m pretty sure that any company would soon have become concerned.

The gentle path stopped being gentle, and turned off curtly at a stone shelter to climb up steep switchbacks into the scots pines and silver birches; both hardy trees preferring the drier soil higher up. Scots pine is our only native pine and has stubbornly been around for over 9,000 years. It was the dominant tree in the ancient Caledonian Forest; the post-glacial rainforest that covered the land before humans settled here, and before the weather started becoming wetter 7,000 years ago. The much damper climate caused much of the forest to start to die, and the agricultural era doomed the rest as trees were cleared for grazing.

Only 35 remnants of the forest still exist throughout Scotland, in stubborn groves of trees that clung on and adapted in areas too rocky or remote for human interference. Large rewilding attempts have begin, as these last remnants are full of old trees reaching the ends of their lives, sadly, without much regrowth. I had passed close to the Dundreggan Conservation Estate yesterday; where half a million native and ancient species of trees have already been planted and where rich lost world of biodiversity is coming back into being.

The switchbacks took me higher, the snow became thicker and the edges of all the grasses, mosses and leaves glistened with frost. It was magical. Only now on the edge of the seasons could it be so vibrantly green and full of the start of spring growth on the shoreline, but still enchanted with the quiet, still luxury of winter embellishments up high.

It was silent and sparkling, the sharp pull of the incline well worth the journey through the patchworked woods; half in a sleepy winter, and half impatiently pushing for spring. From a clearing, I started to go down again, crossing a bridge into amber moorland, the last of the frost just starting to melt away.

Eventually I arrived at the Viewcatcher sculpture. This circular wreath of pine on a pedestal of local stone captures the Munros in the distance in its spherical eye. Many people that walk the Great Glen Way manage to get a ponderous shot of them sitting in it taken by their walking partner or a keen stranger. I awkwardly tried to take one of myself, then sat around for a while seeing if any keen strangers would pass, and eventually decided that the view of the Munros was better than one of my gormless mug.

Eventually I made my way out and down from the moors and the forests to a long steep road that took me down to Invermoriston. The morning’s climbs and clambers had, at times, been rough, but never strenuous and the multitude and magnificence of the views could easily have deserved an approach several times more challenging. The descent into Invermoriston, however, stuck on steep, hard tarmac, going slowly down the switchbacks seemed to take forever and was just really annoying.

I was drawn immediately into a small purple café behind a small queue of forestry workers also ready for a big, early lunch. The owner was running all roles, going back and forth to the kitchen to put on trays of bacon and toast buns.

“You need a monster roll” one of the loggers informed me “It’s the size of your face”

“Nah” said another logger “she has a tiny face, it’s the size of your face”

He did have a big face. This must be a big roll.

It was a very big roll. I needed an extra hand really to hold it and started severing it in twain with my tiny penknife.

“That knife all you got against the boars?”

“Look, are the boars really as big a deal as I keep being told or do you all just like winding up tourists?”

Turns out that the wild boar population has gone up tenfold in fifteen years, aided in no small part by farmers and owners illegally releasing them. Their natural digging habits means they have ravaged fields and pastures, and they have caused many near-accidents (and the occasional real accident) when groups of them venture onto roads. Campsites have had to replace their boundary fences as the boars come in in search of food. Each boar can weigh up to 16 stone, which is more than twice what I weigh, and they are hefty, grumpy and easily insulted without much respect for anything else around them.

That being said, the loggers seemed quite fond of them and told me tales of families they saw regularly and then got all mushy describing how tiny and funny the piglets were. On the other side of Invermoriston, where the path ascended again, any further doubts I had about the proliferation of wild boars were quashed when the men pointed out the warning signs.

The Human History of Loch Ness

Image from Dig It! Scotland

When St. Colombo came to Loch Ness to befriend, and then covert, the Picts, it was the sixth century. Most of the small, Pictish settlements lined the south side of the loch, but two large barrows from the era sit almost opposite each other across the banks – one at Garbeg, near where I had slept the previous night, and one over at Whitebridge, where I would pass through tomorrow.

These burial sites are large and impressive, with many stones still upstanding, and these date far earlier than the saint’s arrival – around 800 years earlier. Carved images on rocks, caves and stones from the era often depict snakes, which has sent overly-enthusiastic cryptozoologists into a tailspin that these are the earliest pictures of Nessie. They’re not. They’re snakes. Snakes are a common theme among Pictish symbols and believed to represent fertility, wisdom, and immortality. Depictions of large snakes are also likely to be depictions of dragons, a common feature of all Celtic myth and folklore. Up until the middle ages the accepted image of a dragon was serpentine. The two words in many languages have a root that is one and the same.

However, the Picts were not the first to settle on the banks of Loch Ness. Another burial site was uncovered near Drumnadrochit that dates back to the Bronze Age – a thousand years before the Picts ever set foot here. Before that even, there are 35 even earlier Neolithic pits that have been excavated.

These pits contained coarse tools and were able to be carbon dated from the remains of hazelnut shells (much like I discussed before on the Isle of Skye) and various cereal remains. However, it doesn’t seem that the group that settled here hung about as everything within it dates to within a forty year span. Why they chose to settle here and why they then left are anyone’s guess; it could easily have been the isolation, or the weather, or perhaps they found themselves prone to attack. Or, it could have been the appearance of a great big monster.

Finally having accepted that the wild boars were an actual thing, I crossed the river on the road, looking over at another of Telford’s creations; the small stone bridge with its arches across the frothing rapids, and started to climb out of the village along the forestry paths.

The morning mists were long gone, and the day was clear and bright. I lumbered along, the monster roll had been so monstrous all my energy seemed to be going to digesting it. I would have quite liked a nap. Food-induced fatigue caused me to decide to take the next low route which I thoroughly regret.

The high route from Invermoriston to Fort Augustus swans up to 330 metres and gives a view of the entire loch. The low route that I went on. It was fine, but I’d been spoiled by the morning and therefore, well, it was quite boring. Pretty flat and only 50 metres above the water. Apparently its a better route for those that enjoy the wee-est of beasties; the dragonflies and butterflies start gathering in numbers as the weather gets warmer, swarming around these lower banks.

It was just over six more miles along the gravel path to Fort Augustus. Apart from the occasional cyclist it was very quiet. The loch stretched out to one side, and to the other the slope sharply pushed the trees upwards into a huge bank of conifers.

I’ve explained all about kelpies, and their various regional equivalents, in previous trip reports (basically, avoid really handsome horses). Kelpies are said to exist in streams and rivers, but they have cousins that live in lakes and lochs and large bodies of water and these cousins make the reputations of the Kelpies look mild.

Kelpies would simply drop you from a height or drown you. Their cousins, the Each-Uisge would do that too, but then also devour you all apart from your liver. Unlike Kelpies, the Each-Uisge could also take the form of an exquisitely handsome man to venture inland and seduce human women for whom they had a particular affection. After seduction though, they were just as likely to eat the woman as they would a male victim.

I’m not sure why they avoid the liver. Picky eaters are never fun.

Looking as I currently did after three days in the same clothes without a shower, I felt I was pretty safe from the amorous advances of any man; human or not. I had had several enthusiastic recommendations for Morag’s Hostel in Fort Augustus and, as I approached the town, figured the opportunity for a shower would definitely not go amiss. I booked a bed at the hostel and lucked out; with it being early in the season I got a room to myself which I promptly covered in all manner of things I wished to dry out.

I had also been recommended a local chippy. Frankly though, that monster roll at lunch had well and truly done me in.

  • Distance:  16 miles
  • Total Elevation: 2182ft
  • Terrain: Gravel tracks, forest paths, grassy footpaths, lanes
  • Toughness: 6/10
  • Maps Used: Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 416: Inverness, Loch Ness & Culloden Map | Fort Augustus & Drumnadrochit. Hiiker Map; The Loch Ness 360 downloaded to phone, Walkhighlands; Loch Ness 360 (Drumnadrochit to Invermoriston & Invermoriston to Fort Augustus) downloaded to Garmin

6 thoughts on “Loch Ness 360: Day 3, Ruskich Wood to Fort Augustus (16 miles)

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