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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Scotland Day 36 - Crask Inn to Altnaharra

It's remarkable how tough roads are on feet. By the end of yesterday's hard walking I had small blisters on the ends of both of my big toes. That's annoying, but I have Compeed and all the tape and toe caps that I'll need to hopefully continue without too much pain. Definitely trainers all day today though, but that means carrying my boots, which adds a noticeable difference to the pack weight.

I've been hearing how awful the weather is back home, but yet here it's been dry and sunny again. Seems upside down, but an absolutely delightful anomaly. A latish breakfast, and a discussion about midges with Shane, the landlord. He and his assistant were out in their full midge suits last night enjoying the late evening sunshine. I sent my suit home to save weight, as I'd hardly seen any midges, only keeping the helmet with me. He was saying that this is a particularly bad (or good, depending whether you're human or midge) place for them. The vast empty space around the Crask Inn is peat bog, and that sort of damp environment is what the midges like best. He pointed out that if the Highlands hadn't been felled so thoroughly back in the day then these perfect breeding grounds would not exist. August is the worst month for them round here, and today is the last day of July.

I was sorry to leave the pub, and am full of admiration for Shane and his family living and working in such a remote spot. They are off grid, with solar panels and generators providing pretty reliable power - though guests can't have kettles in their bedrooms as it would blow it all. They also can't have a tumble dryer, but there's not really any need, yesterday afternoon the wind blew my hand washed clothes dry in about half an hour.

Talking of wind (love a segue!) just over the brow of the hill from the pub was a 22 turbine wind farm. I know that there is division on these, and it's easy for me to say this as I don't live near them, but I find these turbines elegant. Yes, they change the horizon, and they remove some of the wildness of our wild places, but as a way of generating power I find them some of the least bad. I haven't often been up very close to one, like I did today, and they are strangely impressive.

Today is a short day, only 8 miles. This is because there are only two places to stay between Lairg, where I was a couple of days ago, and Tongue, which is on the north coast. One is the Crask, the other is Altnaharra. So my distances for yesterday and today were unequivocally fixed, as is the very long day for tomorrow. It felt luxurious to take it easy this morning, and then by the time I felt I'd got properly walking I wasn't far off half way. So I stopped with my back against a rare bit of stone wall and had something to eat and a cup of tea whilst admiring the imposing presence of Ben Klibreck in front of me and listening to the thrum of the turbines behind. It was sunny, I could stretch out, take my socks off to give my feet some air. All was good.

Going on I noticed a ruined sheep fold, which was again atypical of this empty place. My map also referred to Old Shielings. That was a new word for me. A shieling is a hut on a seasonal pasture, often constructed of dry stone or turf. I couldn't see them, but as a B and B to come has the same name I was pleased to discover what the word meant. I'm presuming my accommodation won't be constructed of turf though.

Today's walk was mainly following the Strath Vagastie, which sounded like something from Game of Thrones. A strath is a broad river valley, and Vagastie is the brilliant name for the energetic little river that ran alongside me today.

Because I could, I took another short break looking down over the beginnings of Loch Naver. The road has been a little busier today, mainly with camper vans. It's a reflection of the large number of German tourists to Scotland that one of the signs, warning about lambs crossing the road, was in German. Why do all the Germans come to Scotland, and the English don't appear to?

My listening today was wonderfully diverse. Jackie had suggested 'You are not alone' by Alison Russell. I was expecting a cover of the familiar Michael Jackson song, but this was quite different. I thought the cello line was especially good. And then another surprise was Sinead O'Connor's version of 'Make me a channel of your peace'. Mel asked that her sponsorship of this song was in her memory. This song was one I sang regularly with the children at school, and so listening to it give me a mixture of happy nostalgia for my time teaching coupled with the sadness of Sinead O'Connor's death. Fliss suggested the perfect 'Perfect Day', one of my goto favourites, and also the B-52s Love Shack. That song is linked to such a lot of parties, particularly in our village. I could have unleashed some cool moves, but I was concerned that the camper vans would drive off the road due to excessive admiration. Finally there was Kate's excellent suggestion of John Rutter's 'For the Beauty of the Earth'. I love Rutter's music, and Village Voices have sung many of his songs over the years. As I was singing the descant line along with the Cambridge Singers I turned a corner to see a little waterfall. Couldn't have been better timing.

A final note on the sponsored songs for today was that our friend Simon pointed out that it was not possible to find Kirsty McColl's version of 'The first time ever I saw her face' on any music streaming services. It's actually listed as Ewan MacColl - but it's definitely not him singing, so I'd made a guess at Kirsty. We think it might in fact be Peggy Seeger. Sorry for any confusion there, but I'm loving the fact that people are listening along to the music.

On the approach to Altnaharra I stopped to take a picture of the striking skyline, and a woman drew up and did the same thing. We started to chat, and I discovered that she is supporting her brother Tim who is cycling LEJOG. He is going to do it in 12 days, and since Edinburgh his three children have been cycling with him. And, because this seems to happen all the time, I was almost unsurprised to hear that he lives less half an hour away from me. 12 days to do all that distance is incredibly quick. 12 days ago he was in Lands End and I was in Fort William.

I checked in to the Altnaharra hotel around 1.30, which gave me a luxurious afternoon of doing nothing. I read the paper, and was delighted to see that the wild camping ban on Dartmoor has been overturned. Seeing how well wild camping works in Scotland has made me even more sad that it's not a general right in England. I even had a nap this afternoon, which is extremely unusual. The hotel is an old drovers inn, but rather posher than the decrepit and hilarious Drovers in Inverarnan. It's been a centre for hunting and fishing enthusiasts since the 1800s and has a feeling of old fashioned solidity. I met Graeme and Deborah in the bar, and he was telling me that he's been coming here angling for over 60 years. He was sadly reflecting on the diminishing number of fish in the rivers though, and Deborah was saying how reduced the numbers are in the hotel. It was good to talk to them, and meet their lovely dog too.

It's a long day tomorrow, but by the end of it I will have reached the sea. I can't quite believe it.


Distance travelled: 8 miles

Total ascent: 176 feet

Calories burned: 967

Local tipple - Caledonia best from Wellpark brewery

Dinner at the Altnaharra hotel - very good

Scallops with black pudding

Salmon with lemon and dill sauce, new potatoes and vegetables

Sponsors' songs, thanks to Mel, Jackie, Fliss and Kate

Make me a channel of your peace - Sinead O'Connor

You're not alone - Allison Russell, Brandi Carlisle

Love Shack - B52s

Perfect Day - Lou Reed

For the beauty of the earth - John Rutter

Video of the day

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