Trails and trials of the writer who walks
A magical day of snow and sunshine with wondrous views over slate grey lochs and powdered mountains. The wind is rising again, however, and I’m constantly fearful that the towering pines have already been weakened at the roots by last Thursday night’s great storm. Every creak and groan has me scurrying past. No wonder I made such good time today.
The next natural stop, if you’re doing west to east (and most people do it the other way round), would be Gairlochy. I decided to divert some three miles uphill from the trail to Spean Bridge and was rewarded by some of the best mountain range views of the whole trip from the Commando war memorial. They all trained in the area and were marched seven miles, with pipers, from the railway station at Spean Bridge. Many have chosen this memorial as their final resting place. Comrades together once more.
My plan was to take the 4 o’clock train into Fort William where there would be a good choice of hostels and pubs. Then I would return to Gairlochy to complete the last 12 miles of the walk. If I missed this train, the next one was not until gone 11 pm so that was another reason for making brisk time today. I arrived an hour earlier but nothing in Spean Bridge was open – it looked as though I might have to spend the hour enduring a bitter wind on the open station platform. There was a hotel nearby so I enquired if they had a public bar. Yes, but it closed at 3 pm. However, the lovely smiling receptionist offered me a pot of tea and waved me to an armchair in the lobby. It came with biscuits as well. I think she charged me £1.50 (having to make up a figure on the spot as she didn’t know the bar prices). I wish I knew her name.
There’s a Wetherspoons in Fort William. I know that’s not the most highland of experiences, but they are so-oo-oo useful. A meal is cheap, wi-fi is free, you can sit there as long as you like (with free coffee top-ups until 2 pm) and plan your next move: checking rail or bus travel, booking a hostel, emailing family. I regard Wetherspoons as a refuge for travellers. In Scotland, by the way, youth hostels charge for wi-fi and it’s not cheap.