Great Glen Way Day 0

The Great Glen Way
By Mark Walford
Fort William

Date: Saturday September 3rd 2011


Technically speaking it's not a fort and it doesn't belong to William ....

I was in the basement of a department store on Fort William’s high street. It was the stationary department, and I desperately needed luggage labels. The department was run single-handedly by a pleasant Scottish lady who looked a bit surprised at my request.
“Luggage labels?”
“Yes,” I replied and stated the blindingly obvious. “The sort you tie onto your luggage.”
She bustled off to search the shelves. “Not been asked about those for many a year, but we do have some left…”
She found what I asked for in an obscure corner of the store and, transaction complete, she asked me where I was going that needed luggage labels and I said I was walking to Inverness along the Great Glen Way.
She gave a polite “Oh aye?” and then announced proudly “Well I’m leaving for New Zealand tomorrow – for the rugby, y’know.”
Odd comparisons: She was about to travel 8,000 miles and I was intent on a mere 80 so I seemed to have the easier task. Of course she would be flying in air conditioned luxury and sitting down for all of her 24 hour journey whereas we would be walking, in various states of disarray, and would need a whole 6 days to reach our destination. She would be watching large Scottish men kick an oddly shaped ball around a field in the company of thousands and I’d be gazing at lochs and forests in the middle of nowhere with, at best, the company of two others.
GGW Day0 Pic 1

A bit of Fort William

Much as I would love to visit New Zealand, watch a rugby match (yes even a Scottish one) and fly in luxury halfway around the world I have to say that on balance, I preferred my choice, or perhaps more accurately my addiction. It’s the walking you see: I have walked enough long distant routes to be a veteran of blisters and embarrassing chafing, weariness and wobbly legs, but the memory of all that discomfort never remains as fixed as the recollection of freedom, fresh air, and amazing scenery. I keep returning for more, which is why I was in a basement stationary store in Fort William, on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, shopping for luggage labels. The travel company I had booked with had supplied three nicely printed labels in the welcome pack they had posted to me and which I had lost in the intervening six months. No labels; no baggage forwarding, so it was just as well this helpful lady had remembered where she had put her stock back in 1983.
I wished the lady a fantastic time and good luck to the Scottish team (as I felt they’d need it) and made my way back upstairs to meet the two fellow walkers who would be keeping me company for the week. My brother Colin and my old friend Bod, people I had shared a few hundred miles with over the years. We were a little older and creakier since the last excursion of course, and all cultivating largesse with various success, but we eagerly looked forward to the week ahead, a trio this year instead of a quartet as cousin Jo had excused himself very early on in the planning. Were we eager? Oh yes! Were we fit enough? No, probably not but that had never stopped us before.
Colin announced the need to register his new mobile phone and buy disposable cameras (a canoeing accident on the river Wye had drowned both phone and digital camera despite his heroic retrieval of them from the river bed). This started out as a simple exercise but grew exponentially. The phone card rejected his SIM, he needed to register the new number with Twitter, he needed internet access, he needed some cash, he needed ……..
Sensing that this would take a while I suggested to Bod that we let Colin get on with it, and so we found a seat on the grassy area at the top end of Fraser Square and watched Colin stride purposefully off along the parade and out of sight. We sat in the weak sunshine emerging sporadically from behind rain clouds and caught up on almost two years’ worth of news which, as is so often the case, didn’t amount to very much except that we were two years older. It did indeed take a while for Colin to re-appear but he did so with all his gadgets fully functional and so we pondered on what to do next. We still had most of the afternoon to while away, so we sauntered off to the Highland Centre where I managed to not buy a bottle of malt whisky (admirable restraint on my part) but still remembered to take advantage of the free samples at the tasting table. We spent a few moments wandering around tables and racks full of what I call Tourist Tack. Tins of shortbread, Tam O’Shants, tartan socks. It soon became wearisome and we jostled our way back out, past the mostly American clientèle, and into the fresh air. The end of the West Highland Way (a rather disappointing wooden affair which I have mentioned in previous journals) was adjacent to the centre, so we wandered over to see if anyone was making the final few yards along the road. Sure enough a couple of bearded and weary guys had just reached the way-point and asked Colin if he would take their photograph. As Colin framed the shot one of the guys unfurled a flag and they proudly displayed it at waist height for their picture.
“Who’s flag is that?” Colin asked me.
“Russia”, I replied confidently.
It was Texas.
Killing time in Fort William can be challenging. A couple of hours went by as meandered slowly back to the town centre, via a quick visit to the Great Glen Way start point so we knew where to head to come the morning, and eventually we decided to grab an early dinner at the Nevis Bar (last visited on our final celebratory night of the West Highland Way). Our new friends, the Texans, were already seated, and we chatted briefly about their walking experience. They had absolutely loved it; loved Scotland, loved the rain, wanted to know about the week we had in store. Nice guys: We wished them a safe journey home. Our Bed and Breakfast for the night was a large and busy establishment – a small hotel really – and we had already noticed the fact that it was licenced. Of course we somehow found ourselves seated in the lounge area just as the shutters went up and we immediately abandoned ideas of another visit to the high street in favour of the comfort and convenience of the bar.
GGW Day0 Pic 2

A lot more of Fort William

I studiously wrote out the details on our luggage labels as Colin and Bod ordered the first round of the week. The lounge had a great view of Fort William with the river Lochy in the distance. It was a pleasant autumn evening and the terrace beckoned as dusk fell so we sat outside, being reminded after just a few short minutes, of how insidious and annoying the Scottish midge can be. We headed back indoors, scratching our heads and raking our forearms much to the amusement of the girl tending the bar.
At some point Bod announced, apropos of nothing, that he believed his tummy trouble was under control, which was music to our ears considering the amount of personal space we would all be sharing. Every long distant walk we had taken together had started with Bod suffering from some malady or injury. A sore ankle, athlete’s foot, a chest infection – he never arrived in perfect nick so it was absolutely no surprise that his first words to us when we picked him up from Chorley services earlier that morning had been “I’ve got the squits.”
Bod’s theory is that he doesn’t like walking but is in denial and these are all psychosomatic ailments designed to make him face the truth.
We called it a night after just a couple of beers and I retired to my neat, clean, small and indisputably single room, for which I believe the travel company had charged us single room occupancy for a double room - twenty quid in fact. Hmmm. However I couldn’t complain, I had managed to win the coin-toss to determine who had the single room that night and I slept well, without fear of being afflicted by a snorer or worse, afflicting someone else by being a snoree.

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