Walk Day 105 – Helmsdale to Berriedale

Saturday 6th October 2018

9.7 miles today. 1138.54 miles total.

Today was the Triumph Round Britain Reliability Run and several vintage/veteran cars passed me before someone stopped to take photographs and I was able to find out more.

They started from Knebworth yesterday, spent the night in John O’Groats and will be breakfasting in Land’s End tomorrow. I was reminded of my Triumph Dolomite Sprint that I so enjoyed driving in the early 1980s.

It was A9 road walking for me today, with a couple of diversions.

The first was a nugatory exploration of a field boundary while looking for a link path to the JOG Trail.

I found another kind of mushroom but not much else.

Then…

The second was a diversion to Badbea to see the remains of a Highland Clearances settlement. I wasn’t surprised to read that at least one family emigrated to the New World.

While there I rerouted down the hill to join the JOG Trail, only to discover I would have to fight my way through high bracken to make the path for myself.

The accompanying sign on the fence warning that the cliff edge was dangerous made up my mind to climb back up the hill and return to the road.

This is meant to be enjoyable and the next three miles looked as if they would be an endurance test, and possibly dangerous.

In reality on a day which was mainly sunny and cool, and on the A9 where the traffic arrives in bunches with clear gaps, it was a pleasant walk. The rain was intermittent and light. At times I could see my breath forming steam, but mostly the sun shone.

When I reached Berriedale I stopped at the River Bothy tea room and found myself chatting to a local resident who has walked this JOG section and some others. He recommended the road instead, for safety and access reasons.

He knew about the background to the work being done to create the trail, and said that part of the difficulty has been that not all stakeholders are committed to the idea, and that the ‘better’ route for the path clashes with set-aside land. Apparently there are 160 croft owners on the Dunbeath estate alone, and it’s not just the major land owners whose co-operation is needed (and is not always granted) to make the path passable.

The wind was much lower than in recent days and the clouds were reflected in the still surface of the sea.

It was a lovely day and I spent a lot of time singing.

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Walk Day 104 – Brora to Helmsdale

Friday 5th October 2018

12.2 miles today. 1128.84 miles total.

Yesterday was a rest day, so as well as doing lots of stretching and resting I posted my tent, sleeping bag, mat and liner back home.

Even with added food my pack was noticeably lighter this morning.

My starting point was on the A9 on the ‘wrong’ side of the railway line for the coastal John O’Groats Trail. Handy for the distillery for anyone so inclined. I didn’t spend the time visiting it.

High tide at 10am, and the advice of locals meant I decided to start walking on the A9, and then try to join the trail when I could.

One diversionary circle took me to the Caravan site at Dalchalm, then to the Caravan and Camping Club certificated site (flat clean pitches, worth remembering) where I met Kimberley and Cheryl who are exploring the area on fat wheeled bikes, carrying everything with them.

The man who lived next to this sign didn’t think the route was accessible until lower tide.

I’d previously been told that the rivers were probably too deep to cross.

Having explored different options, I eventually walked the whole day on the A9, admiring the views but separated from the beach by tracks, walls, barbed wire, rocks and of course, the sea itself.

Sun and rain were out in equal measure with a strong westerly/ south westerly wind that was sometimes quite helpful at pushing me up the hills.

For the second day running I wore gloves.

The wind that was helping me was hindering John and PegLeg, two men from the surfing community in Cornwall who are travelling the other way. They were pedalling downhill and finding the effort quite draining. But they managed a smile.

It was another day for rainbows. This is a double. The lower rainbow is in front of the hill.

Below is Helmsdale harbour. I’m just up the road in the newly renovated hostel, with lovely warm showers.

Walk Day 103 – Golspie to Brora

Wednesday 3rd October 2018.

8.93 miles today. 1116.64 miles total.

Yesterday’s wind gusts were strong enough to stop the ferries to Orkney and between the islands. This morning the wind had died down, to be replaced by steady light rain as I walked into Golspie centre.

The shortest route to Brora would have been 6 miles on the A9.

Instead, after food shopping I took the John O’Groats Trail

through the woods

to Dunrobin Castle, home of the Earl of Sutherland.

After a cup of coffee I followed the coastal path round to Brora. It isn’t waymarked and the beach is not accessible at high tide.

The variety of sandy beach,

dunes, fields and stones (what is this one?)

made a pleasant change to road walking.

A man called Dave stopped me at the harbour to say he admired what I’m doing. People are so encouraging 🙂

Along the coast I saw lots of seals and sea birds.

The weather, although mostly overcast, did have occasional clear spells.

After visiting the estuary,

I walked further into Brora following signs for ‘Information’ and ‘Hub’ hoping to find a list of places to stay. Instead I found a place offering lots of activity and other classes, a welcome for a dripping traveller and a cup of tea.

While there I found an AirBnB for tonight, passing this front garden display on the way.

Tomorrow is a rest day. I don’t need to camp in the cold any more. I’m going soft 😉

Walk Day 102 – Dornoch to Golspie

Tuesday 2nd October 2018.

11.7 miles today. 1107.71 miles total.

In contrast to the last few days I’ve really enjoyed today’s walking, mainly because I wasn’t in pain. Maybe yesterday’s lower mileage was a good thing.

The sun has been visible for most of the day, with just occasional showers, but it has been very windy.

At 8am the Dornoch Bridge was closed to high sided vehicles, and during the day there are times when the wind gusted so fiercly that staying upright and moving forwards was very challenging.

It was so windy that I even had to take my Tilley hat off for the first time in 102 days of walking.

My choice of route was largely governed by the weather. I reasoned that negotiating cliff tops and sea breezes might not be wise if if I was already struggling to stay upright on an inland road.

So I walked north out of Dornoch, through Fourpenny.

After admiring the various farm animals (these sheep came running towards me bleating for food) I walked, west, north and then east around Loch Fleet, designated as a nature reserve. It is filled with birds of all sorts.

That’s where I saw my first seals of this trip. They are the lumps on the otherwise smooth sandbank.

The combination of rain and sun led to a vibrant rainbow.

I’ve walked past the statue of the Duke of Sutherland that dominates the hill overlooking the town

and I’ve admired the Links.

A bit of luck led me to a hidden path between the A9 and the western part of Loch Fleet.

The bracken was quite high in places but it made a nice change from road walking.

I’ve now reached Golspie and have taken the easy option of Bed and Breakfast for tonight.

Walk Day 101 – Dornoch Firth to Dornoch

Monday 1st October 2018

6 miles today. 1096.01miles total.

My original plan saw me walking to a campsite north of Dornoch today but that extra mileage will have to be walked tomorrow.

For tonight I’m booked into a warm bed and breakfast, which is good news because the weather is quite cold and wet outside now.

I was lucky enough to spend a warm dry night in my tent at Dornoch Firth, and to pack a dry tent this morning. The trains were not very frequent and I got used to the noise very quickly. The site is well equipped for campers and the facilities were clean and modern. I’d be happy to go back there.

Just before the Dornoch Firth bridge I saw my first John O’Groats sign.

Later I found my first John O’Groats Trail marker.

The views as I crossed the Dornoch Firth bridge were wonderful.

The route this morning was again on road surfaces, but the minor road that ran parallel to Dornoch Firth was quiet and peaceful.

Once in Dornoch I walked around the town, visited Cocoa Mountain for hot chocolate, and met Michael and Judy Gordon. They’ve walked many of the long distance trails and were encouraging for the rest of the walk. Thank you for your contribution to PCRF.

At their suggestion I paid a visit to the small 13th century cathedral, which is very beautiful. I then did some food shopping before checking into the B&B to get warm.

Walk Day 100 – Alness to Dornoch Firth

Sunday 30th September 2018

15.2 miles today. 1090.01 miles total.

Sun and rain alternated today, and there are fewer photographs as a result of trying to keep my phone dry for most of the day.

My route today followed the Cycle Network path 1, parallel to Cromarty Firth, above the A9, on a quiet road with good views.

The road went east and turned north and eventually rejoined the A9.

At one point I realised that I have less than 100 miles left to walk, so took a rare selfie.

Before returning the focus to the scenery.

I walked on the grass verge, past the closed-on-Sunday Glenmorangie distillery, over the brow of the hill on the outskirts of Tain, to see Dornoch Forth bathed in sunshine in the distance.

The rain reclaimed the view before I could get my phone out of its plastic bag.

My tent is pitched at the campsite on the south side of the bridge and I’m sitting in the warm laundry room to write this blog. Apparently the train tracks are just the other side of the hedge from my tent. (Update – there’s a whoosh of air and the wheels sound, and are, very close. Quite nerve-wracking!)

There are requests to keep all doors closed because of midges, but I think the wind would have to drop significantly for them to be around in the numbers that met me at Glencoe.

Update at 7pm. While taking advantage of the laundry to provide my self with clean dry clothes tomorrow I met Beatrice, who was wearing a shirt with a Guide logo, and we struck up a conversation (I used to be a ‘Brown Owl’) hat then ranged over many topics.

It’s another example of the kind of chance encounter with someone delightful and interesting that has seasoned this journey and I’m still smiling.

Walk Day 99 – Dingwall to Alness

Saturday 29th September 2018

10.3 miles today. 1074.81 miles total.

The sun shone gently this morning as I left Dingwall, following the main road along the estuary towards the Cromarty Bridge.

The tide was out and the light played across the mud flats and made the tree leaves look almost transparent

Passing Cromarty Bridge I stayed on the A9 because the verge was soft grass and easier to walk on than the tarmac of the alternative route, Cycle Path 1.

As I walked the tide came in and I was able to watch the gulls, waders and dippers, most of which took flight as I went past. I also startled pheasants in the harvested fields. Unfortunately it wasn’t something I could photograph with a mobile phone.

The day became overcast and chilly with occasional bursts of sunshine through dark skies. I enjoyed the way the light caught this house.

Walking was mostly flat today so I made good progress and arrived early afternoon.

Tomorrow night will be in my tent and I’m aware that the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping.

Camping in Scotland in October could be ‘interesting.’

Walk Day 98 – Inverness to Dingwall

Friday 28th September 2018

14.7 miles today. 1064.51 miles total.

Highs and lows are a normal part of every day of walking. This morning was the nadir of the whole walk.

The plan for today had been to follow the John O’Groats Way to Culbokie, but my accommodation was cancelled and the nearest available room was in Dingwall, so I had to find another route..

A long road hike starting on the A9 was on the cards for today, and I wasn’t too concerned because yesterday was a rest day. With lots of stretching and gentle massage my legs should have been less painful and more relaxed. They weren’t.

The weather was overcast.

My pack was a bit heavier because I’d bought food yesterday, but I think the real issue was my brain telling me that the end of the journey is near, but so far away. The brain is the hardest body part to train.

By the end of the mizzly morning I felt quite low and wasn’t sure I’d be able and/or willing to complete today’s walk in my own company, so decided to take a proper break, which I did at the cafe at Tore.

While there I met Amanda who was interested and encouraging, and when I restarted my walk it was with a positive mindset and slightly rested legs.

The weather improved and there was enough sunshine to enable photographs as the landscape opened up.

I also managed to use National Cycle Network Path 1.

It added a short distance to the journey but it took me away from traffic noise for a while.

On the way into Dingwall I passed a herd of pedigree Limousin cattle.

I’m still looking for herds of long horns for a cutesy photograph. I wonder if they are all in theme parks?

By the time I arrived at Dingwall I was feeling very very tired and my legs were hardly moving, even with walking poles. Thank you to George Maldonado who stopped me in Dingwall to make a contribution to PCRF and was also encouraging and cheerful.

After using all the mental tricks I knew I finally arrived at the Waverley Inn where I have been well treated, given a comfortable room, and can finally rest.

The only way is up, and my hope now is that I can recover the enjoyment of this walk and really celebrate the last two weeks.

Walk Day 97 – Drumnadrochit to Inverness

Wednesday 26th September 2018.

16 miles today. 1049.81 miles total.

Autumn is here with falling leaves, and chestnuts, and trees laden with fruit..

Sharp eyed walking enthusiasts may spot that today’s mileage is around 5 miles shorter than the route of the Great Glen Way.*

You will therefore deduce, dear reader that I followed the lowest pedestrian route, along the shore of Loch Ness.

Otherwise known as the A82.

While not my planned or preferred route it was the pragmatic choice given various twinges and grumbles from my lower limbs, and one developing muscle hot spot.

Add in an overcast and rainy day that would have hidden the spectacular views from ‘up the hill’ to the incentive to stay uninjured, and the decision was easy.

The journey was reminiscent of the A39 to Wadebridge, and the A5 out of Telford. The vast majority of drivers were aware of my presence and gave me room. In return I made it as easy as possible for them to avoid running me over.

My legs have still had to cope with 16 miles of road walking, and my brain has worked considerably harder to stay alert and alive, but it all worked out.

I crossed my last swing bridge over the Caledonian Canal just before it opened.

And then spotted these two characters set into the front wall of a cottage. Wallace and Nelson. The connection isn’t obvious to me.

I’m now booked into the youth hostel in a comfortable room. It’s a rest day tomorrow to celebrate the turn northwards for the final stretch along the east coast.

* I’ve ‘saved’ around ten miles overall on this section compared to the highest official routes. Less than 150 miles to go.

Walk Day 96 – Altsigh to Drumnadrochit

Tuesday 25th September 2018

9.73 miles today. 1033.81 miles total.

Altsigh or Alltsigh, the spelling varies between the roadsign and the bus timetable.

My route from the Lochside hostel went in a series of switchbacks up the hill

through the forest to a windswept track where enough trees had been cleared to give good views over the surrounding landscape.

It was sunny and very windy, with a chill bite. I was able to walk in short sleeves for much of the morning by keeping a steady pace, and the distance passed quite easily.

With around 5 miles still to go I diverted to a pottery and tea room just off the track and spent an enjoyable break chatting to Janet and Jeff from Harlow who are cycling the Great Glen Way from North to South. The wind was so strong that it was acting as a brake even when they were cycling downhill.

The tea room is lovely and their cake was delicious. As was the hot chocolate. Just what I needed to fuel the last part of the walk. I also liked the pottery.

The weather changed and it was quite cold by the time I arrived at tonight’s hostel, in Lewiston, just outside Drumnadrochit.