With the hiking portion of the trip complete all that was left to do was relax and celebrate. After getting our pictures at the finish line, I checked into my overpriced hotel and proceeded to demolish the room. I hung my stuff from everywhere to dry and readdressed the blisters
I had a beer at the Grog and Gruel then met with Alasdair, Stu, Matt and Elenore as they decided to introduce me to proper Indian Food. I guess since India was a part of the British Empire for so long, and there are many Indians in the UK, they have a different level of quality then we get in the US.
I mistakenly let Stu order for me and the heat index got dialed up way too far. But it actually was better than any food I had in the US.
After dinner we went back to the Grog and Gruel to listen to the live band. It was packed and we ran into Johannes and Dorieke. They had a table right in front of the band with chaos all around them.
They were taking some Harry Potter train the next day, so I told them I would meet up around noon. This sounded much better than the hiking that Stu and Alasdair had planned; Matt and Elenore were taking the morning train back to Manchester.
We called it a night fairly early. I got up and walked around town the next morning before meeting Johannes and Dorieke at the Jacobite train bound for Mallaige and back. I had to get a ticket for Inverness the following day on the bus and also sort out how to get tested for COVID 24hrs before US return flight.
I usually try to bring back some unique memento from each trip. I had not determined what that would be for the WHW yet. Outside a store I saw a replica of the trail markers
I decided, when I return to Michigan I will make one and plant it in the yard. I also picked up this shirt with all the stops on the hike.
I have enough Tshirts and normally don’t buy them, but I had been recycling the same shirt for too many days and needed a fresh one.
It was finally time to meet my friends for the train ride.
We were able to switch seats around and all sit together for the 2 hour ride. The weather was actually clear and finally got a good look at the countryside that was covered by fog and clouds during the entire trip.
I don’t know much about Harry Potter but I guess this is the train that goes to Hogwarts and this viaduct is a popular scene. There are people hanging out the train, as well as on the ground trying to get the perfect shot.
I had not gotten to spend much time with Johannes and Dorieke so it was a nice afternoon. When we got to Mallaig, we were told to eat mussels. So we walked a bit till we found a good spot
They were fantastic, and over lunch Johannes said that we should go swimming in the Ocean. I thought he was joking, but it turned out he was not. So I drank a whisky to get my courage up and we went back to the train to grab my towel. We could not find a beach so we basically climbed down an embankment along the main road. I took off my clothes and put my swimsuit on, while Johannes just opted to swim in his underwear. The water was not warm, but I am always up for a challenge.
We boarded the train a bit wet and I tried to dry swimsuit and towel out the window of the train. We had a few more whiskys and separated to our lodgings for a quick change and meet Al and Stu for dinner at a steak restaurant. I had venison. Everyone ate like true carnivores.
After that we went to another tavern for more music
Eventually the night came to an end and we all said our goodbyes during either an Oasis song or the Loch Lomond Song, I cant remember. I would miss my new friends even before we went our separate ways. I was proud of myself for breaking out of my shell and meeting all this incredible people. I am normally focused on solo travel, but I truly appreciated this version better. We came together under times of duress and all persevered with the help of each other and that made our bond even stronger. It is hard to stay in touch with people you meet while traveling, but I truly do hope we can continue our friendship and meet up again one day for another hike.
I am reminded of a quote from Azar Nafisi:
“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
The next morning I caught a bus to Inverness
There I checked into lodging above a brewery, the Black Isle Bar. I walked along the Ness river (next to the overly commercialized Loch Ness) and stopped at a pub for fish and chips
I walked back towards town and by Inverness Castle
Had a beer at some outdoor spot and walked back to the lodging
This town was crowded and it being a weekend, everyone was partying pretty hard. I did not want to spend much time in public because if I tested positive for COVID before my flight I would not be able to travel for 10 days. And even though there are worse places to be stuck, it would be a large financial hit to rebook everything as insurance would not cover it.
The next day I walked along the river again and watched some field hockey matches
I even stopped for a traditional Scottish breakfast. And then again for a traditional Sunday roast lunch
I tested negative for Covid and connected through Amsterdam for my flight home. Due to technical difficulties I missed my connection to US and had to overnight in Amsterdam. That was a pain, as the lines to get into Amsterdam airport were tremendous. I got to the airport 4 hours before my flight the following morning. Fortunately the club lounges let me in and made it more tolerable.
I will let you in on a little secret. If you walk in the lounge and pretend to be on phone and act like you were already there, no one stops to check your credentials, or lack thereof.
My trip was complete. The weather was shit, but the experience was priceless. I look forward to returning to the UK or Ireland for another pub-to-pub trek with all my new mates.
Until Next Time.
Here is the trail marker I finished for my yard
Through A friend I was even able to source Scotch from the Distillery (Glengoyne) along the start of the trail. I did not stop in on day 1 of hiking but the other guys did and we were sampling it along the way.