Stage 166, 3rd September: Embo to Tarbat Ness
After an evening comparing travelling notes on a large Parkdean campsite with a group of master drummers touring Scotland from Ghana – ‘Kakatsitsi’, I set out for a lovely beach and links walk edging Royal Dornoch Golf Course and into the pretty, quaint and affluent Dornoch with it’s quintessentially British – oops Scottish – craft fair in the cathedral grounds. My pleasures were soon drained by seventeen miles of tarmac featuring a pretty dreary lane, a short stretch of the A9 over the Dornoch Firth, a fly by of the Glenmorangie distillery and a stroll through Tain. I then took to more lanes, ducking inland to avoid a very active bombing range with Typhoon jets circling endlessly and playing their little war games.
Eventually, I arrived in the very pretty harbour village of Portmahomack and spotted a sign-post for a coast path to Tarbat Ness. It was a rather lonely sign-post and I never saw another as the path was poorly marked and crossed another maze of barbed-wire and electrified fences with inquisitive cattle chasing me along the field boundaries. It might have been a fairly dull day but I felt so much better than yesterday as I met up with Kate and Mike at the red and white hooped lighthouse. Some things on this walk I have yet to understand and why I should feel drained one day and fine the next when I have no clear excuse, illness or injury still baffle me. I seem to have to accept that sometimes I just have off days.
Stage 167, 4th September: Tarbat Ness to Cromarty
From the “Where’s Wally” lighthouse at Tarbat Ness I dropped quickly down to walk under the cliffs along a low undulating grassy bank of a path topping a rocky foreshore. An utterly deserted stretch of coastline with nobody around at all, not a soul. Even the wildlife was strangely absent. The path lifted up over the cliff as Ballone Castle brought a sign of life, if rather a spooky one. On the cliff edge and restored to a private dwelling, it had tall off-white towers, tiny windows and a feel to it that suggested bats would be circling at night.
From Ballone the now track dropped me back down to the scruffy little fishing village of Rockfield, tucked neatly beneath the headland cliff. For the first time the often seen but barely used tall poles had fishing nets draped from them and a man creosoting his fence warned me of tripping over rocks in the next field. I don’t think he was aware of just how sharp his wit was, but his lack of interest in my venture didn’t tempt me in to a bantering exchange.
I continued under the cliffs for a few peaceful miles till the villages of Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick came and went in quick succession. They flew by so quickly that I barely had time to consider whether they actually had their own harbours and beaches or shared one between them. The cliffs then became inaccessible and topped with arable farmland busy with the sounds of harvesting. Thus I took to the lanes to discover that I now had to master dodging tractors as opposed to courier vans. Their tyres were much larger and for self-preservation, deserved the respect of standing well clear.
My only half-serious climb of the day took me to Castlecraig and a brief chat with a lovely woman from Northumberland who came rushing from her garden with two spaniels and an offering of flapjacks. I then dropped down to the Cromarty Firth complete with a plethora of jack-up and semi-submersible drilling rigs either sitting at anchor awaiting their next job or in dock at Nigg undergoing maintenance. A small turntable ferry took me over to Cromarty where Kate sat on the rocks to greet me on the slipway.
Stage 168. 5th September: Cromarty to North Kessock
I suspected today wouldn’t be one of my favourites and sure enough it wasn’t. Things started pleasantly enough as I watched three tugs pulling a large semi-submersible drilling rig out of dry dock and into the bay, but from there it was road….all the way. I hadn’t planned it that way as I had hoped to walk along under the cliffs towards Rosemarkie and Chanonry Ness. However, as I left the road and ventured down the hill through a farmyard and towards an OS marked pathway to the foreshore, I found no way through. The cliffs were steep and tangled with trees and overgrown gorse bushes. I had no option than to back-track and if there is one thing I dislike more than anything it is having to retrace my steps. With mood now glum the mile back to the road was in sulk mode and I gave myself one last lift by finding a path following the trickling waterfalls down the Fairy Glen into Rosemarkie.
From Fortrose I had the pleasure of a new ‘A’ road and the A832 would prove to be a nasty one. Much busier than expected, it also gave me little room to manoeuvre with high walls abutting the road surface. A cut away towards the coast brought brief respite and I soon returned for more of the A832’s pleasures till I reached Munlochy and my first glimpse of the coast for a while with an expansive view over Munlochy Bay. Lanes slowly filling with Inverness rush-hour traffic took me up and over to North Kessock and the end of another six days which had seen me cover 138 miles. Though it had not been all road, it certainly felt as if most of it had been and for that reason alone I was glad of a rest.
Rest Day, 6th September: Inverness
A decent rest day was sorely needed and was thankfully delivered. Kate did the food shopping whilst Mike gave himself time off from me with a bike ride down the Caledonian Canal and a bit of Inverness culture. A brief visit to Go Outdoors allowed me to replace my now shredded gaiters, though I resisted the urge to linger for fear of damaging my bank balance. A take-away pizza was a perfect end to the day as Kate shared stories from her mum’s week of hell house sitting for us back in Leicestershire. It appears that many of our electrical appliances no longer work and that the dogs have a penchant for eating art materials. I suspect that my bank balance may be due another hit.
Distance to Date: 3,387 miles Ascent to Date: 441,741 ft