My cabin with the best view ever was lovely and cosy last night, even when the rain was hammering the roof in the early hours. I was really weary yesterday after walking, and when having my breakfast today I realised that yesterday I'd only eaten an egg sandwich between breakfast and dinner, despite walking 16 miles. It wasn't at all surprising that I was tired. The nutrition thing is very hard to get right when you don't get hungry during exercise.
I was eating my recuperative porridge and banana when my phone rang. It was Tasha, telling me to look out of the window. There she was, waving at me, having recognised the cabin from the photos. It was so lovely to give her a hug and see her smiling face.
The forecast was very poor for today, but as has often been the case on this trek, things were better in real life, so I set off without rain gear initially. Tasha was fully equipped in three layers. Ready for anything. The first hurdle was to get off the Black Isle. The Cromarty Bridge is not nearly as intimidating looking as the Kessock Bridge yesterday, in that it's not as high. But it's longer, being a full mile as opposed to the long kilometre of the Kessock. And it was actually tougher walking, as the pedestrian lane wasn't separated from the traffic. Therefore when the high sided lorries went past at speed their tailwind would hit us, along with its accompanying spray. The views weren't as good as yesterday either.
Even though it was a bit sketchy yesterday, I had decided to follow the John O'Groats trail again today. This was to use a shortcut to side roads, thus avoiding a slog on the A9 which neither of us fancied. However, within minutes the path's sketchiness reappeared. The directions referred to a locked gate. We were met with that, but weren't expecting the very angry sign accompanying it. With bravado, we assumed the John O'Groats Trail priority and climbed over it. Shortly after the guide talked of a private level crossing. Again the signage was clear that they didn't want us there, but again we claimed Path ownership and climbed over. I'd love to say I vaulted.
Following this, things were much more straightforward. We followed a side road, past smallholders working in the field and being passed by the odd cyclist - this is Sustrans route 1, and I expect to see a lot of cyclists between now and the finish. We could see the big oil refinery in the distance, and there was rosebay lining most of the paths. And the perfect walking day scenario, a village with a cafe at coffee time.
We stopped at Evanton Cornerstone cafe, which is another community run enterprise, the like of which I've encountered often on this walk. The ladies working there were so friendly, and provided us with outstanding homemade fruit loaf and genuine Scotch pancakes. I loved the embroidery that represented the life of the village. It was not at all a big place, but obviously has a lot going on.
The cycle track bobbed backwards and forwards across the road, ducking away from houses that stood in its way, or places that clearly wouldn't grant access when it was being constructed. As often, I was impressed at the effort that has gone to create this very valued infrastructure. It is well used by cyclists. No walkers though.
The guide suggested we look out for the Fyrish monument that was clearly on our left. We were expecting possibly a war memorial, but guessed we must have missed it, until Tasha spotted a strange shape silhouetted on the top of the hill in the distance. It looked like partly felled trees from this far away. We aren't going to get the chance to see it properly, but this quotation from the Walk Highlands site gives an excellent explanation, plus an image of what it looks like close up.
It was built in 1783 by Sir Hector Munro - the local laird. He had been commander of British Forces in India, and defeated the Dutch at the Siege of Negapatam. On his return to the Highlands the Clearances were underway and many people were starving. After the fashion of the time famine relief was provided only in return for work - it being feared that feeding the starving would make them lazy - and the construction of the monument was one of the tasks given to the local destitute. It is a replica of the gates of Negapatam, to enhance Munro's glory.
Food for thought in so many ways.
For the first time the rain started to fall, so we decided to do the sponsors' listening. To make it more of a shared experience, we listened simultaneously, having a little silent walking disco. Sue's suggestion of 'I walk the line' produced the same guttural grunting as we both tried to sing at the same pitch as Johnny Cash. A complete contrast was Mum/Grannie's suggestion of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. A favourite of mine, it coincided with the traffic being quite heavy, thus drowning out the quiet organ playing. It didn't matter, my memory could superimpose it. Although we were trying to listen at the same time, it wasn't exactly simultaneous, so when we were separately singing along to Sian's excellent 'Midnight train to Georgia' our 'whoo, whoo!' were not entirely together. I'm sure the workmen we passed at this point enjoyed it. And the final one for today, Sophie's 'these boots are made for walking'. What a very appropriate song. I'm sticking with my broken boots for now, they seem like part of me.
Tasha was very privileged today in being party to a walk that not only had a coffee stop but also one for lunch. Alness is a busy little town with various lunch options, including the old Station that was very welcoming and able to take a party of 6. For, much to my surprise, I'd been rung earlier by Caroline from Village Voices, to say that she and her husband Simon were in the area staying with their friends Martin and Liz. She suggested that we meet up. A very pleasant hour was spent sharing stories, talking music, and reciting the ode to the Haggis. They also told us about their excellent business where Martin will play the bagpipes remotely to people for their birthday And they kindly sponsored me too. What an unexpected treat.
Tasha had hired a Fiat 500 at Inverness airport, but once she got to the hire company they upgraded her to an extremely fancy Mercedes. She had left that in Culbokie, and so needed a taxi to retrieve it once we'd got to our B and B tonight. We popped into the taxi company in Alness to book one. The woman doing the booking appeared livid at our request, as did all the other people in the office. She eventually grudgingly said it would be possible, and feeling hysterically intimidated we backed out of the building. I'm told it can be the Highlands way.
Anyway, a taxi was booked, which meant that we had a deadline. We headed out of Alness and walked up through Coulhill Wood, following the river Averon. This was a lovely bit of walking, with little beaches and some soft forest paths.
Eventually the route emerged into the B9176. This used to be the main route to the North, before the A9 was built, and is known as the Struie, presumably after the hill of the same name that adjouns it. It is said to be haunted on Strathy corner. I don't know where that is, but I'll be keeping my guard up on all the corners from now on.
We saw no ghosts, but we did have swarms of flying ants and a pretty long steep hill. We had to keep walking at a pace to be able to get to the B and B in time for the angry taxi. But we are both fit, and even though it was a 15 mile walk today we made short shrift of the incline.
Our bed and breakfast is in a remote hamlet, run by Olly with her dog Spike. They made us so welcome, there was a cup of tea, a hot bath and a fantastic three course meal.
We had commented today that Tasha had had a bit of everything today. Views, adventure, pancakes, rivers, beaches, climbs, music, dry weather and wet weather. She's been a brilliant companion and I'm so very pleased that she's made the long journey up to see me. Another long walk tomorrow!
Distance travelled: 15 miles
Total ascent: 1044 feet
Calories burned: 2046
Local tipple - glass of Silver Bay point wine
Dinner at Greenacres B and B - very good
Quiche with tomato salad
Salmon in mirin marinade with veg and mash
Mini milk ice cream!
Sponsors' music - thanks to Sue, Mum, Siân and Sophie
I walk the line - Johnny Cash
Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring - Bach
Midnight train to Georgia - Gladys Knight and the Pips
These boots are made for walking - Nancy Sinatra
Video of the day