HARP’s HEART Walk Day 6

Post date: May 18, 2019 10:22:28 AM

Friday started off a bit cooler than previous days, which gave us a nice start on our final day of walking on the Great Glen Way. We had camped just short of the highest point of the way, and were thankful that the rest of the journey would be mostly downhill, particularly after yesterday’s climbs. The first stretch of the day took us through forestry until we hit an eco campsite and cafe at Abriachan. We stopped in for some real tea and coffee, and a huge slice of delicious, homemade lemon cake, which gave us the required boost for our walk towards Inverness.

After our tea break, the walk took us across high moorland, with stunning views towards the mountains in the north, and back towards the west. The Great Glen Way swept slightly north, taking us away from Loch Ness, before we started the descent into Inverness. We made great progress, clocking in 8 miles before lunch, and on the way we passed evidence of old settlement remains, with the stone foundations of a long abandoned house. In the fields beyond there are records of even olde settlement, dating back to the Iron Age, however the fields here were very overgrown with Heather and bracken, and it wasn’t possible to get in to have a good look for any of the remains.Much of the route in the afternoon followed sections of old drove roads, the main routes in the Highlands prior to the construction of the military roads. Drovers would drive herds of hundreds of cattle from the Islands and Highlands, down to the lowland markets in Crieff, Falkirk and Edinburgh. After the Disarming Acts following the Jacobite Uprisings, the drovers were the only civilians in the Highlands who were legally allowed to be armed; a necessity to protect themselves and their cattle from thieves. The drovers travelled light, and at low cost, often sleeping outdoors on their journey, and carrying a bag of oats for simple porridge, or black pudding (sometimes they would cut and drain a small amount of blood from their cattle on the move to make their black pudding).

The military roads created actual, formal route ways across the Highlands, and whilst the drove roads were still in use, they had developed in a very different way over a long period of time.

We continued along towards Craig Dunain and the Dunain Community Woodland, where we got our first views down to Inverness, a welcome sight! The route took us down towards a golf course, and an imposingly gothic structure that was under renovation. The former Inverness and District Lunatic Asylum, later named the Craig Dunain Hospital, opened its doors in 1864, and was designed by James Matthews of Aberdeen. The hospital closed in 2000, and is now being converted into residential property.

We were now very near to the end as we came back along a short stretch of the Caledonian Canal, before following the River Ness to our destination at Inverness Castle, originally the location of the Old Fort George, and the finishing line for us on the Great Glen Way! Interestingly enough, Inverness is said to be the site of the Pictish King Brude’s fortress, which St Columba had travelled through the Great Glen to visit! Moving into the medieval period, Inverness Castle was one of the castles captured and slighted by Robert the Bruce during his guerrilla campaign across the country. If you have seen Outlaw King the depictions of how Bruce was able to take castles then slight them to render them useless to the English is fairly accurate. The medieval castle was rebuilt in 1412 by the Earl of Mar who was keen to defend his territories from the marauding Donald, Lord of the Isles. The castle was fought over for the next century by the Lords of the Isles and the Scottish Crown. It was at Inverness Castle that Alexander Macdonald was captured by James I, however, upon his release he would return to burn Inverness to the ground in 1429. His successor John MacDonald, would go on to take and destroy the castle a further three times! Another famous and intriguing figure of Scottish history to get the ‘Holywood treatment’ recently was Mary Queen of Scots, who was refused entry to the castle in 1562 by George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. As a result the castle was stormed by The Fraser and Munro clans who were loyal to Mary.

Inverness was also home to a Cromwellian fortification built from 1653-54 with material gleaned from the demolition of episcopal religious sites in the area. This fortification was made up of a square shaped three story building that housed a powder magazine, church and stores, which was flanked by two barrack buildings that could house up to 1,000 men, The complex was bounded by ramparts furnished with bastions. The building was torn down under the orders of Highland chiefs in 1692. A section of rampart and bastion are still visible, along with a clocktower which is said to belong to Cromwell’s fortification. The new fortification that sits on the site of the current 19th century ‘castle’ was built under instruction of General Wade and incorporated the old castle. The old castle had been used as a garrison for 600 men after the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1719. The old castle was used as officers accommodation in the new complex, with a Governor’s house also being built within the ramparts and bastions of the new fort. This new fortification was named Fort George in honour of the King. However, when 1746 came round, just like Fort Augustus, Fort George fell rapidly. All along the Great Glen Way we have seen the effects of centuries, if not millennia, of militarisation and construction of defensive works, from hill forts, crannogs (if taken that way) to medieval castles, military roads, forts and such of the Cromwellian and Hanoverian actions in the Highlands, which all goes to show how much change has occurred over the years here.

It was a great feeling to get to the end of the Great Glen Way, along with a few detours along the old military road near Spean Bridge, and we were both ready for a shower, clean bed, and a couple of pints to celebrate how far we had come this week!