Saturday 14 May 2022: Allt na Criche to Loch Monar, 15 miles
Kate and I looked at the river. It was not quite so angry, but still strong. I was meant to be in Cannich that night, Kate in Struy; for either of us, a long day. Maybe accept we would both be a day behind and look to pick it up later, so we set about planning a Plan B. My big issue was not having a spare evening meal for the extra wild camp, but Kate gallantly had sufficient to share.
That meant heading down the glen to where we could find a phone signal, or a land line. Both of us were due to phone Challenge Control that day, and we didn’t want them panicking.
The first two houses we tried were almost certainly holiday homes with no one in, but the third brought us luck. The most efficient way of dealing with things was for me to phone home with a portmanteau message, for not only did Challenge Control need to know, so did the Cannich campsite, the Loch Ness ferryman, and Ault-na-Goire.
Probably the sensible thing to do would have been to backtrack a little and head up Coire Mhòraigein, but I didn’t want to turn round, so we went on to Inverchoran and took Gleann Chorainn instead – a few miles longer, but not hard going, and the weather was much quieter with a few bits of sun peeping through. Both routes would have converged at Loch na Caoidhe, from where we found the path by the River Orrin, and over the Sgairdean na Caoidhe, surprisingly rough.
Kate in Gleann Chorainn
Things were better down Coire Domhain to Loch Monar. The only issue was to find a pitch. We hummed and hahed until we found the place that I’d identified from Geograph during my planning, and settled in.
Sunday 15 May 2022: Loch Monar to Cannich, 17 miles
Blue skies greeted us, and we looked forward to a clear day on the trail, Kate straight down Glen Strathfarrar to Struy, me to Cannich, with a few off-piste miles to link into Glen Cannich.
A glorious morning above Loch Monar
The bridge over the River Farrar
Challengers at Bealach a’Bhaca
My only worry was whether the bridge shown at NH 262 383 was still extant. It was, and will be for some time, a sturdy pedestrian suspension bridge high above the river. The map shows no link path through Bealach a’Bhaca, so I was rather surprised to see a very obvious land-rover track heading up the west side of the glen heading south. Far too good to miss I thought, even if I might have to leave it later.
As I climbed, it was obvious that there was a footpath on the east side as well, and when the LRT tracked too far west, realised I would have been better off over there. (I later found, from Challenger Scott, that I was not the only one to do this.) But it was only a few hundred yards across the rough stuff from track to path, not far up which I met a group of three Challengers resting.
I didn’t stay with them long. If there was a path up to the bealach I soon lost it, but on the descent could see an unmapped hydro track, again to the west. Quick decision: stay, as I had planned, across the untracked moor to Loch Carrie, or take the new track, which surely must lead firmly to the road in Glen Cannich?
I took the hydro track. They’re not nice things, far too heavily engineered for their surroundings, but it was downhill, and when I reached the road took a good long break. Soon after I set off I saw the three Challengers ahead, having taken the moorland route. But it was all road walking from here and I caught them up before Cannich.
The camp site at Cannich
The camp site in the village felt like positive civilisation. Plenty of other Challengers here of course, and I got talking. Challenger Kevin advised me to book in at the pub if I wanted to eat there. They said they couldn’t take just one, but could I join another Challenger’s table? Kevin’s I said, and that’s how it happens on the Challenge.
Monday 16 May 2022: Cannich to Ault-na-Goire, 18 miles (plus four boat miles across Loch Ness)
Guaranteed straightforward walking on the Affric-Kintail Way to Drumnadrochit, then road / boat/ road thereafter. Alas it started raining soon after leaving camp – nice big breakfast in the café though! – and didn’t stop till Drum.
This part of the Way is mostly through forestry, one two-mile road section (soon to be bypassed, at the cost of a mile detour – hmm), but it doesn’t get too high and is mostly well signposted. I’d expected to meet a few other Challengers as most of the dozen-plus camped at Cannich were heading this way, but met only one. It is, frankly, nothing to write home about.
On the Affric-Kintail Way above Cannich
But in Drum I met up with Jonas, a Challenger from Norway, and we staggered into the Ness Deli together, finding another couple of Challengers already there. We lingered a couple of hours over soup etc, during which Kate and her new companion Paul came in from Struy, and most sadly, two minutes after the deli closed at four, two others whose look as they were turned away was one of hearts being broken.
Gordon knows Loch Ness backwards
Jonas and I were ‘booked’ on the 5 o’clock ferry and we left in good time. This is run for the Challenge by Gordon, who has been taking Challengers across Loch Ness from Temple Pier to Inverfarigaig for many years. It’s a touch disconcerting to adapt to his ‘look no hands’ means of steering, but he’s good value, with plenty of tales that he must never tire of telling, pointing out his short-trousers childhood in an archive photograph of John Cobb’s ill-fated water speed record on the loch in 1952.
Once across, it’s a simple walk on quiet roads to Ault-na-Goire, where Janet Sutherland has also been welcoming Challengers for many years. That evening, two big tables share tales of Challenges past.