After Tasha's very expensive taxi ride yesterday, our kind host Olly offered to help with car movement this morning. So, following a brilliant breakfast with home made potato cakes amongst other things, they drove off to Bonar Bridge to leave Tasha's car, and to check in at the garage for Olly's tyres, whilst I stayed at home with Spike the sprocker. He was generally unimpressed with my company, and cried quietly for Olly for a lot of the time.
Tasha returned saying that the drive had been spectacular. It was the route we were going to walk shortly, and the sun was shining.
The Struie road used to be the main route to the north, but now appears to be more used by tourist vehicles and local drivers. It's still busy, but manageably so for a walker, and I think it's probably one of the most beautiful roads I've ever walked along.
We started along the edge of the forest, with views of pines, streams, heather and distant hills. It was lovely, and something I have become used to over the last month. Seeing Tasha's excited and wondering face at the beauty around us meant I looked at it anew. She compared it to the landscapes of New Zealand, and not for the first time we wondered why we have not explored this part of the UK before.
Generally this first part of the walk was quiet. There are a lot of cyclists, either out for the day or some perhaps aiming for John O'Groats. The traffic we particularly enjoyed though was two farmers who appeared to be racing their tractors. They passed us in one direction going as speedily as tractors go, then passed us again going more slowly. We saw the two men with their vehicles chatting at the bottom of a slope, and then up the hill they roared again, waving cheerfully.
We crossed the Strathroty bridge, and observed Tasha's first buzzard who was soaring overhead. Walking with someone with perfect pitch is often entertaining. She was keen to establish at what pitches the buzzard was calling - I could hear her repeating the song back to him as he was singing. Not sure we ever got to the bottom of what key he was in.
Soon after we could leave the road for a little while. It was lovely to be off the hard road surface for a bit. Often if I'm walking in company I lose my concentration on the route, but fortunately Tasha was on the case, and we avoided a lengthy detour. We shortly saw glimmerings of water to our right, and decided to follow a little path in its direction. We got to the brilliantly named Loch Sheilah, where we stopped and took a break. Utterly quiet and feeling miles from anywhere, it was one of the magical interludes that has been a feature of my trek. I was so happy to share it with her.
We retraced our steps back to the path. Now we were in a young forest, with the combination of baby chlorophyll crazed trees and the bones of the ancient felled pines, bleached by the sun. It reminded Tasha of the elephant graveyard in the Lion King.
Our other wildlife encounter was with many tiny frogs, and then more unnervingly some very big ones. Excellent photography from my younger daughter.
By the end of the forestry track, we stopped to tape our feet. I had a minor hot spot, Tasha had been walking with a big blister all day, and we taped over her Compeed and the other places on her feet to try to protect her from further trouble. We also swapped out her socks. Going into dry socks is a good way to protect feet during a long walk, and I always carry them with me.
Walking down the road, the views got better and better. We could see the Struie hill over to our left, and the Dornoch Firth opening out in front of us. At the viewpoint, the information board showed us all the hills and other scenery that were possible to observe if the weather is clear. We could see everything.
As the road started to descend, we passed the Struie, and again the views opened up. This time we could see over the Firth, to the mountains behind Ardgay and Bonar Bridge, where we were heading. It was extraordinary. Some cyclists stopped, along with their support vehicle carrying snacks and drinks for them. They agreed that it was worth the effort of the ride. One hundred percent. We sat on the wall, drank the rest of the tea from my thermos, ate our lunch and all was well with the world.
Tasha is extremely fit. She is an excellent footballer who trains hard and plays an intense 90 minute game every week. However, she's not an experienced walker, and her muscles are not used to doing many miles a day like this. Almost twenty years ago, I did the London Marathon. I trained very hard for it, and although I wouldn't choose to do another marathon it was a great experience. About 6 weeks later, I joined some friends to do the Moonwalk, which is a marathon length overnight walk. I did almost no walking training, as I'd been so busy with the running. Consequently, when I came to do the moonwalk, I discovered that my running muscles were not the same as walking ones. I had so much discomfort, and the only way to relieve it was to jog alongside my walking friends. However, the rules of Moonwalk were that you had to walk it, not run it. At 3 in the morning, this rule felt less important to me than the pain in my legs. But it was very important to the most famously self-important person I've ever met, who saw my tragic shuffling jogging next to the other walkers, and hissed 'you are RUINING this for everybody'. It has always been my go-to memory as a ridiculous reaction.
However, the experience taught me that running is not the same as walking. So when Tasha said that she thought maybe she should run instead of walk I strongly encouraged it. This meant that for three miles or so she would run ahead, stop and wait for me to catch up, and then leg it off again. We must have looked an unusual pair.
We listened to music for distraction, realising that we could have one AirPod each and therefore properly listen simultaneously.
Lucie Treacher is the daughter of Liz and Martin who we met yesterday. We enjoyed 'Kite', especially the combination of cello and typewriter! In complete contrast was Caroline's suggestion of 'My love is like a red red rose', which she chose in memory of her parents. What an amazing voice on such a beautiful song. My dear friend Carly chose one I didn't know, Ward Thomas' 'Carry you home'. Thanks, Carly, those lyrics are lovely.
We crossed the bridge over Easter Fearn Burn, which had lights set up to control the traffic. Olly had told Tasha about the bridge this morning. Tragically, there was an accident here four years ago. The damage caused to the bridge has not yet been repaired. This is because there are no stonemasons in the Highlands, and therefore nobody has been found to fix it. This follows on from Olly telling us this morning that she can't find people to help her at the B and B, and that also it's very hard to find electricians and plumbers in the area. I've noticed many villages and towns with shops and restaurants closed down, and Laurence told me that food poverty is a major problem in the area. It's a beautiful place, but being so remote is not without its difficulties.
A short interlude as we encountered cows with what appeared to be full Claire's Accessories' earrings. And also we saw one of the very last of the old AA telephone boxes that used to be used to call for assistance pre-mobile phones.
The road merged with the A9, and I was immediately very glad that I am not following it for much longer. It was busy, with big lorries, camper and and motorbikes, and they didn't always give us much room. We crossed into Sutherland county, out of Ross and Cromarty. That made me guiltily aware of my lack of Scottish county knowledge.
We were getting tired, and had the cafe in Ardgay in our sights. Disappointingly, it was closed. We considered just getting a drink and sitting on a bench, but we felt that we might not get up again. So we trudged onward, listening to the final song of the day, our landlady Olly's choice of Bannerman. It was perfect trudging music, and gave us a bit of a spring in our step. We ignored the benches tempting us on the side of the road.
Before getting to our accommodation, we stopped briefly at the eponymous Bonar Bridge. Originally this was a fording place for the cattle drovers, but then in 1812 Thomas Telford designed the first bridge. This was washed away by a great flood in 1892 which it seems had been predicted by a local seer. A replacement was built in 1893, and that lasted till the current version was built in 1973. It's an elegant piece of architecture, and heralds a village that doesn't quite live up to its expectations. It feels a bit closed down and sad, even though it's in the most extraordinarily beautiful place.
An AirBnB tonight, with our feet up and a takeaway pizza. It has been a delight to spend time together, and I am unsurprised, but very proud of the grit and determination that Tasha has shown on two long days, whilst being cheerful and great company throughout. I'll miss her tomorrow.
Distance travelled: 15 miles
Total ascent: 596 feet
Calories burned: 2015
Local tipple - Pina colada from a can, followed by Blonde from Black Isle brewery
Dinner from Crannog takeaway - excellent, but sadly we were their only customers tonight.
Veggie pizza with extra chilli
Haggis and onion pizza. Yes, you read that right.
Sponsors' songs - thanks to Liz & Martin, Caroline, Carly and Olly
Kite - Lucie Treacher
My love is like a red, red rose - Kenneth McKellar
Carry you home - Ward Thomas
The Banner Man - Blue Mink
Video of the day