The Great Glen is a 400 million year old fault-line across Scotland where a trail runner can face tests and find the deepest peace.
Jog an easy trail in the company of the bluebells of Glencoe Lochan; slip your way along the 18th century Wade Road to absorb the mighty Inchree Waterfalls of Glen Righ; pick up your pace past the shaggy, solid Highland Cattle of Glen Nevis until you look down the length of Loch Linnhe; compete with our old foes the mountain bikers in Leanachan; join the red squirrels and wood ants as you breathe in the pine scents of the ancient Caledonia forest of Glengarry; push your quads up Torr Dhuin; gaze amazed at the giant redwoods of Craigmonie… but when you’re halfway along the south side of Loch Ness, do not make the mistake of rushing past the most delightful corner of all - Farragaig Forest. For it is here that the monster might be met.
Inverfarigaig lies between Whitefield and Foyers. It’s not a lot if you don’t stop to look – just a visitors’ centre with parking lot and the old Forester’s Lodge that flash by on the narrow road. If you want a pint and a tatie you’ll have to head a few miles up to Dores where the Inn, balanced on the bank, does a good plate that’ll stick to your ribs. And there they’ll regale you with recorded sightings of the Beastie, who is want to wander from her watery crib. But, oh, if you do happen to stop and enter the Farragaig Forest, you could return different. For the trails here are like no other, and it is here that the monster might be met.
Without knowing of its mysterious surrounds I booked the old Forester's Lodge as the base for our family Christmas break. The rambling house has evolved over the last 110 years from a simple forester’s cottage and animal byre into a fabulous five bed roomed pad with a huge Aga stove in the eat-in kitchen where you can dry your kit and warm your cheeks after a run in the crisp early mornings. You can also sit quietly in the conservatory and drink a large single malt while you calm your heart, which is what I did after I met the monster.
The morning of Christmas eve was crisp and clear with snow covering every surrounding Glen. The first part of my run took me past the little graveyard perched on the bank between the road and the cold loch. I stopped to catch my breath back from the icy wind and honour my grandfather, Hamish, who could drink a pint with four swift swallows, his ample Adam’s apple keeping count; and my father, Ray, who was avoidance avoidant and taught me the joys of the loneliness of the long distance runner; and my brother, Raymond, who died bravely, so I’m told, in a senseless war (aren’t they all).
Turning up into the trees, dusted white, I climbed steadily up the winding tracks into some of nature’s best wild, free space. Here a boy, of whatever age, can explore for many miles without a fear of hurting himself. Or a girl, without fear for her safety. So, I peeled off my thin Merrells and continued my run barefoot up the muddy trail.
Although the going was soft with decaying leaves strewn thick over the surface, the cold crept up through every step. So cold that after about three kays, I could take it no more and sat on a mossy log to pop my flats back on. And it was there, while I was sliding my muddy feet back into my shoes, that the monster slipped up beside me.
I cannot say I was surprised, for this monster and I have seen one another on painful occasion throughout my life. Always morphing itself into the shape of a trusted friend, this beast has taken advantage of my kindness with insatiable selfishness and interrupted celebrations with reminders of my faults and failings. Through the past year, I’d grown increasingly wary of its torment. So with my shoes back on, as I ran up the hill, I took my gloves off. “Come on, then,” I said, “let’s have it out at last!”
It’s a good thing so few stop by the Farragaig Forest on the south side of Loch Ness, for ours was a noisy clash. As I crashed my way through sore memories of sibling rivalry and friendships lost, the creature tried to outpace me, always ready with another belittling putdown. With burning quads I drove myself through the inner enmity and refused to give up my heart. At the view site overlooking the famous Loch, with heaving chest, I saw the monster for what it really is – a frightened, lonely boy, and sometimes a girl, who needs to learn about love.
Hours later, after the black pudding, haggis and roast, as I sat beside the spitting log fire, sipping a simple Speyside single malt, I realised that there is no escape from these things that follow us. They would eat or be eaten.
If you’re really ready to stop and fight, and maybe even slay your beast, the Highlands is a fine place to do battle.