Loch Ness 360: Day 5; Inverfarigaig to Inverness (19 miles)

The owls had eventually run out of things to talk about and I had managed a long and heavy sleep which ran onto a lazy morning. Up in a part of the forest a way away from any paths I wasn’t in a massive rush in order to maintain discretion and set off just before eight.

I crunched down eventually into Inverfarigaig and crossed the bridge to start climbing up the lane known locally as the ‘corkscrew road’. Whilst the twists and turns of the ascent were likely far more perilous for cars; it was not absurdly strenuous for a walker and the sudden switchbacks were far more likely to induce dizziness than exhaustion. Nevertheless, once I had reached the top, through a bustle of trees that peeked to the Loch which soon disappeared, it felt very far away. The long green pastures of this elevated farmland nestled between the hilltops. The Loch was far hidden down below and the dividing peaks made it seem more distant still.

There is always some sort of unsettling hyperawareness for me when going through valleys or up on plateaus where there is no one else to be seen and hills and mountains loom all around. Like I am incredibly visible to anything watching from above and I would never know they’re there. An eagle soaring let out a cry that mournfully pierced the sombre and threatening sky. Otherwise, all was incredibly quiet.

I passed a lone farmhouse, the sheep grazing scattered all over the slopes and gathering on the path. They would startle and shuffle each other into a run when I came close. It must be a very anxious life living with the panic settings of a sheep, there appears to be no way to let them know you don’t intend to harm them and they’ll flee en masse at anything. The blood pressure of your average sheep must constantly be through the roof.

Another trail joined on here; the Trail of the Seven Lochs. This would also eventually lead to Inverness through a far more winding and rural route; if I had had the foresight to consider it, I might have chosen to take this trail back to Inverness from this point. As it was I expected it would add another night to my journey and it seemed likely to be fairly rough going, but I would encourage others looking at this for research to give it a look and see if its an alternative worth a shot.

I left the open pasture up onto a forestry track. The trees here were completely uniform; big and bushy and neatly planted, the odd timber stack piled up with signs pleading walkers not to go climbing on them. A hare watched me from a higher rock. He sat, unflinching, with the sort of confidence a sheep could benefit from. His long ears barely twitched as I passed, and only when I was a couple metres further on did I hear him leap away and turned to see him disappearing quickly in huge bounds down the track.

The forestry track went gently upwards, eventually casting a view up over the moors to beyond the further hills and to the mountains that scattered beyond. The light would occasionally glint where it fell on a loch nestled somewhere between them. The track curved to a turning area, where it ended, and a sign pointed the way to the Fair Haired Lad’s Pass.

Why did the pass have such a strange name? I can’t quite find a reason, though past experience has shown a common thread in features named this way; that a person of that description died or came to noteworthy harm within it. They’re rarely named for glory, more as sort of warnings. I can only deduce that a blonde chap had a miserable experience in the pass and that everyone should know from the name that this happened and to therefore take care themselves. I guess its far more seemly than calling it ‘Starving Timmy’s Pass’ or ‘Tree-Squashed Nigel’s Pass’. Anyway, it was closed.

A handwritten sign was up and a flapping piece of tape pulled between two trees at the start of the path that lead to the pass. No reason was given. I suppose it’s thought that if no reason is given then people won’t be able to rationalise stupid reasons to ignore the sign, but historically to my mind, if there aren’t reasons given then it can’t be all that important. I should note that the last time I ignored a path closed sign that didn’t give reasons, it turned out that it was shut for hunting.

This sign would have been far more useful to me if it had shown up two miles back. Detouring seemed annoying. I stepped over the tape and wandered a few metres down the path. Instantly the wind and storm damage was apparent; trees had fallen everywhere and the the path itself was now a gauntlet of trunks. Not only that, but remaining, weakened trees creaked and cracked all about, threatening to at least throw a bunch of torn branches down at any given moment. OK, I could see the reason now. I was very happy to leave now. Thank you. There’ll be no need to rename it to ‘Really Short Lass’s Pass’ I promise.

A Modern Monster Hunt

Image from the BBC

Gary Campbell, an accountant from Inverness, is the keeper of the official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register and has been for 25 years. There are only 1,000 entries in the entire register, mainly, Gary says, because all the others could be easily explained. Despite taking on the task of evaluating and documenting all the reports of Ness, Gary himself is not a believer. He thinks a large eel is behind it all.

Steve Feltham has much more faith. Thirty years ago he sold all his earthly belongings and moved from Dorset to Dores to find undeniable evidence of the monster that had captured his childhood imagination and never let go. He initially thought that it would only take three years of dedication to find her, but three decades on he now figures he may have only just passed the halfway mark of his search.

The Guinness Book of Records already acknowledges Steve’s vigil as the lengthiest search for the Loch Ness Monster. In all that time he has lived out of a mobile library, making money by selling Nessie figurines made out of clay and he has been completely kitted out with cameras and batteries by the BBC, who ran a documentary on him in the early days.

For the first ten years, the van was mobile, but after failing an MOT he decided it was time to be static and now resides in the carpark of the Dores Inn. He was honoured for his work in 2016 as an Ambassabor for the Highlands and Islands.

Steve can’t tell you whether or not Nessie exists but he has never regretted the impulsive choice he made to escape an ordinary life to live a simple and untraditional one by the banks of Loch Ness. He met his partner, Hilary, twenty years ago and there is nothing more he needs to be happy. Hilary does not share Steve’s curiosity, and he has never been able to convince her that something incredible may lurk under the Loch. Ultimately, over the years the true meaning of his mission has changed; he came up here determined to find a monster and, though she remains absent. now believes the riches he found far exceed that .“If you have a dream, no matter how harebrained others think it is, then it is worth trying to make it come true.”

I got out the map. There was no other nice, pretty, convenient footpathed path down for a long, long way; longer than what would be sensible. There wasn’t an inconvenient or unpretty footpath through the hills either. The only real alternative at this point was to do down to follow the lane all the way to Dores. Fine. Sounds boring. But fine.

It was pretty boring. The Fair Haired Lad’s Pass would have lead to absolutely stunning views over the whole of the loch after what should have been a perfectly picturesque forest walk that continued to an ambling descent to the shoreline. My trek along the lane took me right by the banks of Loch Ceo Glais and turning by the large and lovely Loch Dun Seilcheig, but unfortunately was scattered everywhere with pylons. Cars weren’t too much of a concern; one only came down perhaps every fifteen minutes, and I chose to put on a podcast and listen to that rather than take in my surroundings. In no small part because I was sulking.

Eventually I broke out of the mountain barrier and saw the shore far down in front of me. I began the slow descent to Dores, winding down the hillsides until I eventually arrived at the village. It was lunchtime, and the added couple miles of my detour had left me very hungry. Thankfully The Dores Inn came highly recommended, and I’ll recommend it further for its macaroni cheese.

I was now at a quandary. It hadn’t taken me as long as I had anticipated, even with the later morning and the detour, to reach Dores, and I had only initially planned to go a couple miles further before camping and finishing the last short burst into Inverness tomorrow. But I couldn’t imagine how I was going to stretch those planned couple miles to fill the rest of my day with the luxury I now had of so much daylight. I decided to just go for it and finish the last ten or so miles. I’d probably be back in Inverness before it was dark.

It was the right call to make as the onward path was incredibly easy. Initially following the cycle path before briefly visiting more woods and a couple more small moors before joining the cycle route again. I saw more cows, once again safely contained behind fences, and the silence of the morning gave way to a busier afternoon as I started to frequently pass cyclists and walkers and exchanged many hellos. As the woods and the moors started to give way to more and more houses, and then proper streets into the suburbs and the amount of traffic increased, I started to become sad that this path was nearly over. It had been my first Scottish path since Skye back in September, and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed the distinctive purple mountains, the grey crags and heavy forests; the eagle calls, the red deer and all the mythology and folklore that clusters around absolutely everything.

Loch Ness might be known, above all things, for being the home of a monster, but its magic extends far past one story. I had a feeling it was the beginning of a very Scottish year.

  • Distance:  19 miles
  • Total Elevation: 2,090ft
  • Terrain: Gravel tracks, rough paths, forest tracks, cycle paths
  • Toughness: 4/10
  • 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 (Foyers to Dores & Dores to Torbeck) downloaded to Garmin

6 thoughts on “Loch Ness 360: Day 5; Inverfarigaig to Inverness (19 miles)

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