Scotland Day 41 Melvich to Forss
I was tired this morning. Although the B and B was good in many ways, the hot tub being a notable plus, there hadn't been much money spent on sound insulation. The young couple above us were noisy. Not for the first time I was very grateful for my super brilliant ear plugs, but my sleep was still a bit disturbed. I really enjoy writing this blog, and it's a source of great happiness that others enjoy reading it, but writing it, sorting out the photos and uploading everything takes two or three hours at night. Normally I've got started before dinner, but yesterday, what with the attempted whale watching and the hot tubbing I didn't start writing until about 8. I need more sleep than that.
However, the day was dry, if not fair, and the first little section was not on the road. And I was given a massive packed lunch, big enough for David too. But for those on tenterhooks about the content of my sandwich, it was cheese again, with the exciting addition of tomato. The B and B owner confusingly suggested that I might have tomato in one half of the sandwich and cheese in the other. I appeared to confuse him back by saying I'd like them combined. He was French, I think.
The footpath cut down towards the sea, and I passed firstly a number of sheep who were extremely perturbed by my presence, and then a number of bleary people waking up in their campers. It was lovely to be walking on grass again, through the dunes. These serve as a barrier between the sea and the river Halladale. There was a rickety footbridge that appeared rather high and rather long for its rickety nature, and then I was on the other side of the river.
I am used to sheep being a bit annoyed at me, and also cows. However, I wasn't expecting the reaction of the birds. There were a number of sea birds wheeling in the sky, calling loudly. My excellent bird song app identified them as arctic terns. They were beautiful, soaring above my head. Until they weren't soaring, and instead doing divebombing. One in particular was extremely annoyed at my presence, and particularly that I was standing still trying to photograph them. He plunged towards me like a missile. This was another scenario of 'why I had to stop the big walk' that I hadn't anticipated, to be attacked by furious birds. So I apologised for my inconsiderate papping and beat a hasty retreat. I didn't even get a good photo.
I passed a really big house. The area around it, with typically laconic Scottish nomenclature, is described as Bighouse. You can't fault their accuracy.
And then up onto the moor, on a quiet path. I thought it would be a good time to listen to today's music, and started with Nora's suggestion of 'Westlin' Winds' by Dick Gaughan. She described it as one of her favourite songs. It was new to me, but couldn't have been more appropriate - 'the savage and the tender' 'some solitary wander'. As I listened, a great sob erupted at how much I'm going to miss this. The emptiness, the dourness, the simplicity and the beauty. I wanted to hold it all in my arms and keep it with me forever. That sob was a long time coming, and Nora, your song choice provoked just what was needed today.
Out onto the road again, but it was quiet and so I continued to listen. Jenny and Grant had suggested 'One more step'. This reminded me so much of school, as it would often be included in the Year 6 leavers' assembly. I would often finish that final assembly moist eyed, looking at those young humans that I had taught for seven years, ready to launch themselves. As I finished listening, I stopped to make a note about the songs. Immediately I was attacked in force by midges. They had got the memo from the arctic terns.
Hastily moving on away from the bracken at the side of the road, applying Smidge at speed, I listened to 'Tell it like it is' by Aaron Neville, suggested by my Samaritans colleague Noreen, together with the Beatles' 'Here, there and everywhere'. It was good to get to know a new song, together with enjoying a very old favourite. Those minor/major shifts. And then two with lots of memories attached. 'Sing' by Pentatonix is a great song by a great group, and I really enjoyed seeing them in concert earlier this year. Thanks to Gilly for the suggestion, I did indeed join in. And another classic from Justine. She sent me such a lovely encouraging message this morning, and suggested 'Proud Mary'. A number of my friends will remember a particular dance routine to this song. I tried to re-enact it, but I'm not sure I quite pulled it off today. I'm looking forward to hearing the choirs sing it in the autumn though.
For much of the day I was walking towards Dounreay, the now decommissioned nuclear site. It is a dominant force on the landscape.
Before I got there, I walked through Reay. This is quite a big village, yet had almost no services. It had a strange antiques shop, a primary school, and MOT centre and a place to hire containers that could be used as 'welfare cabins'. Are they as exciting as the adventure shed I passed a couple of days ago? But there was no shop, no pub, no cafe. However, there was a sign to the beach, and seasonally opened toilets. Always good to take advantage of those. I thought I'd sit on the beach and have a snack, and maybe walk along the beach for a bit, instead of the road. Then I saw the sign that told me that radioactive particles had been found on the beach, that they were not identifiable by eye, and that no sand should be taken away. As it's hard to walk on the sand without some of it attaching itself, I thought I should best retreat. And there was the second 'why I had to stop' scenario of the day that I hadn't previously considered, to get radioactive poisoning. I retired up the road a little, and sat on the grass behind a fence that obscured the view of the beach. But at least no radioactive particles there.
Later I walked past Reay golf course, which was humming with people on a Saturday morning. It describes itself as the most northerly 18 hole links course. I feel I'm going to get more and more 'most northerly' this and that. Because I am most northerly.
Just past the golf course was the much less busy church and graveyard, where it was interesting to see that there were still a lot of MacKays buried, even though I was now out of Sunderland and into Caithness. There were a couple of commemorative benches outside the graveyard, and I was very intrigued by one that was in memory of Donald MacKay, also known as Jenny Horne. It was erected by Henry Henderson, the 'Bard of Reay' and 'a few discerning friends'. All of that felt like a story to me, and so I spent some time researching it. I couldn't get to the bottom of who they all were, and why he had two names. But in investigating it, I discovered the very excellent website: www.open benches.org On this, you can look up 29,057 benches across the UK that have been 'added by people like you'.
Continuing up the road, the walking was straightforward and not too busy today. There wasn't much in the verges to look at today in the lacy knicker line, though there were some excellent mushrooms.
Dounreay was soon in front of me, with herds of moody cows right next to the perimeter, and then on the other side of the road a wind farm behind the newly baled grass.
I didn't know much about the facility as I arrived, but reading about it I discovered that the whole site is in the process of being demolished. But this is not an easy task, as it appears that at the beginning of its life as a nuclear reactor some of the waste was disposed of down a large chute with no proper records being made. So those who are in charge of the demolition have that headache to deal with. That might account for the rather annoyed strap line 'dealing with the past, protecting the future'.
Various things caught my attention around this rather weird place. There was a visitors area, to which pedestrians were not allowed. There was a police firing range, apparently just in a field next to the road. I walked past a radiation control point, that I only knew about through Google maps, there was nothing obvious on the ground. And at the entrance there was an intriguing arch that looked like the frame for a giant volley ball net. Anyone got any ideas?
Although only a couple of miles from the end, I was hungry and tired, and so took another break in a bus stop. Bright purple, in the middle of nowhere, but with a bench. I was grateful. This previous hour or two had felt a bit of a slog, my feet were hurting a bit, and although I had kept up my pace I was deeply weary.
However tired, there is no option but to keep going, and I find that observing what's near me helps to change my focus. All around this area the fencing is made of stone slabs. This sort of thing is so interesting, seeing how in a tiny shift in miles there is a difference in the way that people look after their land.
Looking back past Dounreay down the coast I could see where I'd come from today and the days before. Walking is slow, but if one persists, then progress is made. A camper van passed me today with a sign saying 'not all who wander are lost'. I've not been lost for ages. I had thought a lot about what the Australian man had asked me yesterday. I think I'm not really changed, just more me than I was.
Tonight we are staying in a hilariously posh hotel, mainly because it was the only hotel for miles. It was originally a hunting lodge, converted to a hotel in the 1930s, and has dead animals and fish on the walls, together with examples of fishing flies and a whole wall full of clocks. There's a lovely waterfall too.
I arrived feeling pretty exhausted, and the receptionist could read the situation as I walked in the door, and brought me tea and home made shortbreads, and checked me in to our room an hour early. A fantastic bath and a comfortable bed, and I had the second nap of the trek. A good job, as it meant I was refreshed enough to do justice to an excellent meal. Which should help the energy levels for tomorrow, as it's a long one. There are now fewer than 40 miles till I finish.
Distance travelled: 13 miles
Total ascent: 580 feet
Calories burned: 1636
Local tipple - Tanqueray zero
Dinner at Forss House Hotel - fantastic and very fancy
Brie and grape, trout tartare canapés
Scallops with bacon and pea shoots
Sea trout with mussels in broth with chips
Vanilla panna cotta with pistachio cake
Sponsors' music - thanks to Nora, Jenny & Grant, Noreen, Justine and Gilly
Now Westlin' Winds - Dick Gaughan
One more step along the world I go - Sydney Carter
Tell it like it is - Aaron Neville
Here, There and Everywhere - The Beatles
Sing - Pentatonix
Proud Mary - Tina Turner
Video of the day