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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Scotland Day 35 Lairg to Crask Inn

There are some days on this trek that I have been particularly looking forward to, and today was one of them. The road from Lairg to Tongue is very remote, with few buildings, let alone villages. 13 miles along it there is a pub that is described as one of the most remote in the UK. My whole trip was planned around the availability at the Crask Inn, which only has four rooms. Once I'd fixed that, everything else fell into place. I'd then heard in the spring that the pub was changing hands, and was really concerned that the house of cards would tumble, but no, was told that all would be well.

This was going to be a mainly road walking day, but I was hopeful that most of the heavy traffic would be going on the A9 if they were heading north.

Another glorious day today. The resolute wet of the West Highland Way seems far behind me. I had a substantial breakfast of porridge, haggis with eggs and a potato scone and toast. That should keep me going. I regretted not having the room in my rucksack for a handmade tweed suit that could be made at the shop next to the hotel.

I found a short detour from the road and climbed up the hill to the side of Loch Shin, where I could see the different levels of the water on either side of the dam, and the village in amongst the hills. As always, I was glad I made the effort of a climb. And then there was a short but appreciated section of grass path to descend back down to the road.


Maybe because it was a Sunday, but there was very little traffic going to or from Lairg. I walked not far from where I ate last night and remembered the interchange between a diner and the very patient waiter who was removing the man's plate that still had a lot of food on it. He asked if everything had been alright with the meal. The diner said it had, but pointed to the remnants on the plate and asked 'what are these things?' The waiter looked, paused (maybe taking a long breath), and said 'Vegetables?' The reply was 'oh yeah, I don't eat those'.

There were glimpses of views down to the Loch that would, in a less consistently beautiful country, be worthy of a viewpoint sign.


A few days ago my mum sent me a song suggestion that has been driving me mad. History doesn't relate who composed this song. I remember it being me, but maybe it was mum or even one of my brothers. Whoever, it is known as the Pom Pom song, and it is to be sung when nearing one's destination, probably from the back of a 1970s Ford Cortina. It is the most annoying ear worm, and just writing about it now has meant that it's got fixed back in my ear. This morning I dealt with it by cracking on with listening for the day to try to push the Pom Pom song out of my head.

As always I loved the variety. I started with Happier by Allie Sherlock, that had been recommended by Scott and Helen, the Australian couple from yesterday. She was new to me, but Scott was telling me that she's an Irish busker. Her voice is great, and when I looked her up I saw that she's had more than 1 billion views on YouTube. Shame on me for not having heard of her. Liz, whom I have worked with often over the years had suggested Fields of Gold. I decided to go with the Sting version, and then had a period of reminiscence of the very early days of Village Voices. By complete contrast, Jean had suggested the Malcolm Arnold shanties for wind quintet. David and I used to play in a wind quintet with Jean and our other friends Peter and Stuart. It's been a long time since I seriously played the flute, and listening to these great pieces reminded me of the happy evenings we would spend playing together. And another contrast, Willin' by Little Feat. This was requested by Russell, the endurance athlete who had sent me such supportive messages earlier in this trek. Great slide guitar, and I love the description on Wikipedia of their genre as 'swamp rock'.



After a mile or two, the road became single track. There were instructions to road users to use the passing places, and it felt like the adventure was really starting. This was road walking, true, but not as I've known it. Across the landscape maybe two houses were visible, otherwise it was moorland, heather, streams and hills. It is a truly remote place when all that can be seen of interest on the OS map was two cattle grids.


When I've told people that this is the route I'd chosen to take, a number of locals have said 'but there's nothing there'. That had given me the image of desolate flat moor. Which I quite like, so I wouldn't have minded. But that was not the case. The horizon had peaks which had periodically moving cloud shadows. There was the purple of the rosebay and the green of the grass and the pines. There was the water from the streams glinting in the sunlight There was space. There weren't any 'sights' as such, so yes there was nothing to see. Or there was everything to see.

I stopped at one of the few marked places on the map, Rhian bridge. This crossed one of the many streams feeding the loch. I pulled into a passing place so that I was off the road, and sat near the second house I'd seen for maybe seven miles. It was surrounded by trees to presumably shelter it from the blistering winds, and was invisible to me. What I could see was a small wind turbine which was going hell for leather. I wondered how much it would generate in a day. I always try to stop for lunch after half way, as it makes the afternoon seem easy, but it was inviting just to stay absorbed being in this landscape sitting on the spongy turf.


After my sandwich that had been acquired with some difficulty from the hotel today, I set off again. No music or other distractions, there was no signal. It became a meditative episode, beauty all around me, the sun out, just aware of the strike of my boots, the rhythm of the poles and the creak of my rucksack.


David sent me a message during the afternoon. He is on his way up to meet me on Thursday, so that we can spend a bit of time together before the finish, but en route he is taking in some of the NC500. He had driven along Loch Lomond and had been thinking of me walking it, and sent me some music to add to my list. Amazingly, I had enough signal for it to load, so I then had a bit of a matching moment, listening to Kirsty McColl's version of 'The first time ever I saw your face'. It will be lovely to see him on Thursday.

I stopped for another break at just over 10 miles. For any pace except walkers this marker would barely be noticed. Certainly a driver or a cyclist would not have felt the need to stretch their legs or stop to look at the view so early in their journey, and this was not a place that was noticeably more beautiful than the mile before or afterwards. So I’m probably one of few people who’ve sat here and really looked at it. I could hear the cars racing past behind me as I was safely off the road, and felt sorry for the people inside, for what they’re missing. Especially those who like cars that make a lot of noise. That might sound a bit preachy. I don’t mean it to be, I just appreciate that I’m incredibly lucky to have the space in my life to be able to do this walk slowly.


My life has become extremely simple: eat, sleep, walk, write, repeat. That isn’t saying it’s easy, it obviously takes effort to carry a heavy rucksack for hours. It’s also hard on the legs and feet to walk for 14 or so miles a day. There are regularly little niggles of discomfort that have to be monitored to see whether they can be safely ignored. But it’s amazing what the body becomes used to, and even looks forward to. With every day completed, every day nearer the finish, I am looking forward less and less to stopping. I know I can't live my life just walking and writing about walking, but...


The sun had been shining for a lot of the day. Even though it's not baking heat, it had made the bitumen of the road slightly spongy which was good for feet. Not so good for my poles, which at one point remained in the surface.

And then, over the brow of a hill and during a lovely phone conversation to my good friend Karen, I could see the pub. I was quite emotional, and this isn't even the end of the trek.


The Crask Inn is unusual in its isolation, but also because it is owned by the Scottish Episcopalian church. The new managers, Shane and Mac, are living there with their two small children and their enormous dog, cooking dinner for overnight guests, serving drinks and lunch to visitors, making breakfasts for campers as well as residents but also facilitating church services twice a month in the pub.

As with lovely Peter the priest, Shane and I had a really interesting conversation about the role of religion, and about how this place is welcoming to people of all faiths and none. He also kindly let me use the family washing line to dry my hand washed clothes. And, top marks for anywhere I stay, there was a bath. It is fed from water from the loch, and it was still quite lochy. But hot, even with bits in.

One of the important things about the way that the pub is run is that eating is done communally. Johnny and his daughter Nina were the only two others staying tonight. They cycled LEJOG last year, making Nina the second youngest girl to do so. This year they are doing the cycle version of the NC500. It's tough going, but they've got their last day tomorrow. We had a wide ranging interesting conversation, taking in music theory, motorbike riding, going on adventures, teaching and plans for the future. They were great company, I'll miss these chances to get to know new people. Why I framed a photo with them as tiny people behind a giant with a red hot face is anyone's guess.


Finally, for the midge helmet lovers, this is what you've been waiting for. The midges were fierce tonight, but the evening was beautiful. So I donned what Mel has described as my Chernobyl style helmet and smart matching gloves for a sunset selfie. Enjoy.

Stats

Distance travelled: 13.2 miles

Total ascent: 608 feet

Calories burned: 1779


Local tipple - Orkney Gold from the Orkney brewery

Dinner at the Crask Inn - very good

Vegetable soup

Cauliflower cheese with potatoes and vegetables

Sticky toffee pudding with ice cream


Sponsors' songs - thanks to Scott & Helen, Liz, Jean, Russell and David


Happier - Allie Sherlock

Fields of Gold - Sting

Three Shanties for Wind Quintet - Malcolm Arnold

Willin' - Little Feat

The first time ever I saw your face - Kirsty McColl


And no thanks to Mum for the worst ear worm

The Pom Pom song


Video of the day




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