Scotland Day 38 - Rest day in Tongue
Increasingly, I'm regarding last year's walk as joined to this. I'm obviously aware of the ten month hiatus in between the end of one and the beginning of the other, but mentally I'm seeing them as one enterprise. I see connections in the landscapes, and am having strong memories of aspects of last year that had receded during the interval when I wasn't walking. The joy of the walking and the discovery of new places, but also the tougher times. I've also been thinking about how different I am now to then. Last year I was fighting anxiety in the first half of the walk, with self doubt a big factor. And then I was additionally dealing with pain for the second half. My leg problem started on day 30, and then it hurt as a constant backdrop for the next 34 days, until the backdrop acutely took over the foreground. The difference this year of not being in pain and not feeling excessively anxious is fantastic. I can account for the lack of pain - lots of physio, assiduous rehab exercising and lots of strength training. I can't really account for the lack of anxiety. Maybe having been through so much last year has taken away the fear.
So with all the connections, it felt very appropriate to visit a castle on this, my last rest day, as it's what I did on my first rest day in Tintagel. That castle was dramatically built onto a cliff face with history and legend intertwined. Castle Varrich is not dissimilar. There are no crashing Atlantic breakers, but it is imposingly perched looking towards the Atlantic. Historians seem a bit hazy about it, maybe it was an 11th century fort, or perhaps a bishop's palace, or a rebuilding of some more ancient dwelling. They are sure that the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and certainly it would be an excellent place for a stronghold, as it's a dominant site.
The walk was just over a mile from Tongue village, which felt like a good way to stretch my legs and keep the blood pumping as part of active recovery from the last fortnight of intense walking. The forecast was iffy, so I thought I'd seize a bit of dry weather and go straight after breakfast. It wasn't a rapid start though, as I was chatting to Nicolette and Michel, a Dutch couple of bikers. We ended up sharing music videos and translating love song lyrics, talking about suicide, discussing walking and biking injuries, all in their perfect English. I know that might not sound like conventional breakfast conversation, but there's something about representing the Samaritans that seems to give a quick 'in' to more worthwhile conversations than just about the weather. Though I'm sure we talked about that too.
It was a gentle walk over the Tongue river, and then a quite rapid climb up the rocky promontory to the castle. It was lovely to have my boots back on, they are like old friends, a bit worn out and battered, but reliable and very well loved.
Although yesterday I could see the Kyle of Tongue, I couldn't properly see the Atlantic. But having climbed to the top of the castle, there it was. I've seen the sea many times since leaving Lands End, but this is the sea at the very top of the UK, and I've walked all the distance between here and the very bottom. I was a bit overwhelmed, almost incredulous. It seems like a very big thing to have done.
I sat looking over the Kyle for a while, before the lure of coffee drew me back to the village.
There are four places to eat and drink in Tongue, and my mission was to go to all of them during my two night stay. So I had coffee at the post office and village shop, where I enjoyed following my route on a map of the Highlands.
I had a great message yesterday from my friend Pete about his time staying outside Tongue in a tent for ten weeks as part of his geology studies. He talked of sneaking a shower at the campsite, and so I thought I should head that way for lunch in tribute. It's just over a mile from the village, but worth it, as it took me closer to the causeway. I'd also been told the food was good. I could see no information board recounting the presence of Pete in the 1970s, but the broth and cheese scone were excellent. And weirdly, the first three songs played in the cafe after I entered were on my sponsors' playlist.
As I arrived, the rain did too. But also, so did Sillke, my delightful landlady. She told me about the experience of living here in the pandemic. The nearest click and collect for groceries was Thurso, which is an hour and a half's drive away, and therefore in order to eat they had to break the Covid rules for travel away from home. Other than that, there was the village shop over the causeway in Talmine, and that was it. We also talked about how difficult it can be for women to carve out time for themselves, but how important it is, how the German health system works on preventative care and how she'd like to go on holiday on a lighthouse. She then very kindly gave me a lift back, to save my legs. If we weren't living almost 12 hours drive away from each other I think we would be friends.
The afternoon has been spent making the most of very wet weather by resting, looking at alternate routes for the next six days, and finalising the planning for our trip to the Edinburgh Fringe next week with our friends Janet, Paul, Helen and Rob. I'm very much looking forward to it, but also know that by then my big walk will be finished.
I was very pleased to meet up again with Michel and Nicolette at dinner. He told me a bit more about his sister Rina, who died by suicide, and he was kind enough to give me permission to mention her here. He and Nicolette generously sponsored me too. I was pleased to hear that there is a similar organisation to the Samaritans in the Netherlands. Amazingly, my fund is very nearly at £4000, and therefore I'm debating putting the target up to a stretch £5000, which would be quite fantastic.
This is the last night on my own. David is meeting me in Bettyhill tomorrow night, and the final push to John O'Groats starts in the morning.
Local tipple - Orkney Gold from Sinclair breweries
Dinner at Ben Loyal hotel - unpretentious and well cooked
Scampi with chips and salad
Sticky toffee pudding and ice cream (how come I have an appetite for pudding on a day when I've only walked 10,700 steps?!)