I made for a hostel as soon as the bus let me off in Inverness and then out along the eastern end of the Great Glen Way. It ran beside the Ness River, then out onto it. A string of small islands split the river in two, and their miniature forests provided a beautiful escape from civilisation for a short time before I was dumped onto the opposite bank near a sports centre. I'd have liked to see the locals out playing on the fields, but it was still work and school hours so it was no surprise to find it deserted, and I guess they wouldn't be acting any differently to Aussies anyway. A little further along, the track took me over a bridge designed to let boats past. The cars were stopped stop while its great metal bulk swung round parallel to the river and canal boats chugged by. On the other side, I started to follow the GGW along the river again, but spotted a manor on a hill behind me. I abandoned the path in favour of a chance to see such a grand building up close. Back on the highway, I found that every turn took me further from the manor. A side road seemed to go more in the direction I wanted, so I took that, but soon it too was heading away. I then took a dirt track which headed up the hill almost directly towards it, but then found myself wandering along below it, with a barbed fence announcing my unwelcome. Finally, I came to what looked like the end of the track, with a boulder in the middle of the road at the top of the
I'd planned to catch the bus straight through to Inverness, but the ride up to Fort William was so enchanting that I decided to stop there for the night. That bus ride took me past Glen Coe and numerous other lochs and castles - all with mountainous backdrops. Those mountains were covered in a fatigue motley of greens, red-browns and yellows, and bordered by black stone walls. Sheep and goats clambered over the patchwork inside their walls. Small villages, like something out of the Wheel of Time, lay nestled at the foot of these mountains. I'd loved to have stayed at one of the villages, and walked between the blacksmith and the inn up into the hills, but I didn't yet know enough about this country to risk stopping in a 3 building village out of season. I might end up sleeping with the sheep and waiting for the next bus 24 hours later. So Fort William it was, and a friendly local getting off the bus invited me to join him for a traditional Scottish lunch in the pub. I passed up the haggis and went for bangers and mash. Matt explained that he wasn't really a local, but was currently living further down the river in a training camp for adventure guides. He'd been asleep when we'd passed his stop and now had to wait a couple of hours for the return bus. He pointed out a couple of 'toy stores' (outdoors stores) where I could buy some more clothes to deal with the rain if I needed to. Fort William is the wettest place in Scotland, he told me, and that was saying something. I didn't really think it was necessary though.
I arrived in Glasgow via Prestwick airport. My hopes to get far north were shattered in the first hour when the train that took me into town lost an engine. That delayed my arrival in town until after the train to Inverness had departed. The other options didn't seem any better. I could get a bus to either Inverness or Fort William, but I'd be travelling in the dark and then looking for a place to stay in the middle of the night. After a quick stop at the tourist office, I headed for one of the backbacker places. It was only 2pm, but the light was already fading, despite the clear skies. I hadn't realised how far north Scotland was. Certainly it was the closest to the Arctic that I'd been, but the difference in latitude from Brussels seemed only to be the same as between Sydney and Melbourne and I'd never noticed a difference in the length of the day there. Two hours later, it was dark and I still hadn't found a place to stay. The Lonely Planet was glued to my hand now - the sweat from holding it open at the map for so long had frozen in the Scottish winter cold. Three backpackers seemed to be closed for the season or missing entirely. The Youth Hostel was being renovated after a fire, I later learned. I checked into a Bed & Breakfast that cost a bit more than I wanted and seemed to cater for a higher class of clientele. I laughed again at my new ideas of class. When packing for the trip, I'd pulled out all my hiking gear and found myself panicking that I couldn't be