16th May – Golspie to Brora

20190516 Dunrobin castle 2
Dunrobin Castle

Today has been a semi rest day.  I left my B&B and stayed at Golspie waiting for the Rock Shop to open at 10.00.  Last night I spied a rather attractive stone-carved bear in their shop window.  I really like Inuit carving but cannot justify the prices they command.  The bear was in my price range, and in the end I bought it and arranged that we would pick it up on our way to Inverness next week.

20190516 Looking back at the bridge at Golspie
Looking back at the bridge at Golspie

I left Golspie around 11.00 and made my way to Dunrobin Castle.  I had mixed feelings about whether to stop or not, for reasons I will explain later, but in the end I decided to break my journey there.

20190516 Dunrobin castle from the path
Dunrobin castle viewed from the trail

The house and grounds are magnificent, and my visit coincided with a falconry display which was most informative.  The falconer flew three birds, the last of which was a peregrine.  These birds stoop at over 200 miles an hour, and when they pull out of their dive they pull 24g.  This is remarkable when you consider that a fighter pilot in a special suit passes out at 9g.

20190516 Falconry at Dunrobin castle
Falconer with peregrine falcon

The reason I was hesitant about visiting Dunrobin was that I knew something of the darker side of the history of the house.  This is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland.  The first Duke and Duchess were responsible for some of the worst excesses of the Highland Clearances.  Whilst they spent much of their time socialising in London, their factors were busy evicting their tenants to make room for black faced sheep, which were more profitable.  Initially tenants were moved to poor land at the coast, to become fishermen, and when that proved unsustainable they were encouraged to emigrate so as not to be a burden on the landowner.  The profits from this paid for the house.  ‘Done Robbing’ might be a better name.  I was put to shame by a group of Canadians from Nova Scotia, who I met at dinner this evening.  They were visiting the original homes of their Scottish ancestors and refused to visit the castle, as they did not want to be supporting the Sutherlands in any way.

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On a happier note, the route to Brora was a delight.  Bluebell-covered woodland led to open pasture near the sea.

20190516 Bluebells on the route to Brora
Bluebell time

I passed the remains of Carn Liath Broch…

20190516 Carn Liath broch
Carn Liath Broch

…before passing under the first cliffs on the walk.

20190516 The first cliffs on the John O’Groats Trail
Cliffs add interest

During the next section, I saw several seals sunning themselves on the rocks.  Like my father, I love the sea.  There’s always something interesting happening, and it was lovely to walk along being serenaded by the seals and a pair of ravens.

20190516 Seals basking on rocks near Brora
Basking seals

I reached Brora at 3.15.  The town seems to have an active fishing fleet judging by the lobster pots at the harbour.  It also has a Salt Street, reflecting the importance of salt pans to the town.  The Duke of Sutherland opened a coal mine in the town to provide employment for the population.

20190516 Approaching Brora
Approaching Brora

Overall a very pleasant day, and the scenery will only improve from here.  One slightly worrying point is that two walkers told me today that around Berriedale the route is almost impassable – but we will just have to see when I get there.

15th May – Dornoch to Golspie

20190515 Dornoch cathedral
Dornoch cathedral

Dornoch turned out to be a charming little town.  I left the hotel at 8.10 and walked down past the Market Cross and Cathedral before regaining the trail.

20190515 Dornoch market cross
The ancient market cross

At last I had some coastal walking, first beside the Dornoch Golf Course, and then onto a disused railway track to the little village of Embo.  From there I followed the railway once again to reach Loch Fleet.

20190515 Path beside Dornoch golf course
Path beside Dornoch golf course

The walk around Loch Fleet was very pleasant, even if it was on a road.  I passed Skelbo Castle, and then had a nature-packed few miles.

20190515 Skelbo castle
Skelbo Castle

A stoat ran across the road a few metres in front of me, and then a seal surfaced on the loch.  As the tide was in there were few waders around, but the loch was full of Eider Duck, and hearing their mewing call was a delight.

20190515 Great place to stop for a break
Great place to stop for a break

 

I delayed walking along the A9 for as long as possible by using a woodland path, but was forced onto it at the causeway of The Mound in order to cross Loch Fleet.

20190515 Mountains and mist over loch fleet
Mountains and mist above Loch Fleet

From the A9 a short section in a wood led to the railway line, which I followed across fields.  Inevitably I had to cross one field of cows, calves and a large bull.  Luckily they were all quite nervous, and the bull hid behind the cows. The farmer’s sign saying “Cattle in field.  Enter at your own risk” was not very helpful when you really have no alternative.

20190515 Highland cow
Benevolent Highland cow

After a short section of road and a beautiful wood, I returned to the coast and another golf course.  Golspie was now in sight, and I arrived at the town at 2.50.

20190515 Approaching Golspie
Approaching Golspie

I managed to get some tea at a cafe, but eating tonight will be problematic.  There is very little choice, so it will probably be fish and chips.

I have a very short day tomorrow – only 10km or 6.5 miles. As I will be passing Dunrobin Castle, I am going to spend some time there before going on to Brora.

When I left Dornoch, there was a trail sign saying John O’Groats 162km.  As today’s walk was 22km, which is the same distance between John O’Groats and Dunnet Head, tomorrow I shall be less than 100 miles from the end of my trip.

20190515 Sea mist on the road around loch fleet
Sea mist on the road around Loch Fleet

 

14th May – Tain to Dornoch

20190514 The Memorial Church at Tain
The memorial church at Tain

I liked Tain.  As a royal burgh it has some interesting history, so I tarried a while to find out more.  The museum did not open until 10.00am.  I could therefore enjoy a lie in and a late breakfast.  I also had time to sort out some different boot inner-soles which seems to have relieved my blister.

20190514 Viking burial stones at Tain
Viking burial stones

The gentleman at the museum was very knowledgeable, and it was well worth a visit.  Tain was a pilgrimage site for Saint Duthac, and much visited by James 4th, although he often also called on his mistress who lived nearby.  The Saint’s relics, in their containers of gold and silver, disappeared during the Reformation in mysterious circumstances.  The churchyard of St Duthac’s contained three interesting Viking graves, probably of Danish pilgrims, and a fine Pictish standing stone.

20190514 Ardjachie Pictish Stone
Ardjachie Pictish Stone

The museum has an extensive collection of Tain cutlery and silverware, which is much sought after by collectors as it bears no hallmark.  Amongst the other exhibits was information about the Highland Clearances, which were still taking place in the area as late as 1845.

20190514 The quiet lane to Dornoch
The quiet lane to Dornoch

I finally left Tain at 11.20, anticipating another day of road walking to cross the Dornoch Firth from Ross and Cromarty into Sutherland.  It was a pleasant surprise to find that the miles slipped by quite quickly, and the countryside was more interesting.

20190514 Looking down on Dornoch
Looking down on Dornoch

Leaving Tain along a road which led to the A9, I almost immediately turned along quiet lanes and paths and approached Dornoch Bridge.

20190514 Dornoch bridge
Dornoch Bridge

Crossing the bridge was made easier by both a pavement and a cycle path, so the traffic was less intrusive and intimidating.  Immediately after crossing the bridge, the trail made its way through a gorse-covered coastal fringe, before more road walking led to Camore Wood.

20190514 The path by the shore below Dornoch Bridge
Path by the shore below Dornoch bridge

I stopped at a convenient picnic table for lunch, and then continued through the wood.  Although predominantly pine, the trees had been selectively thinned, which let in more light, so that other plants could flourish.  This made this walk much more enjoyable, rather than passing through another sterile plantation.  The remains of a Bronze Age Round House could be seen at a path junction.

20190514 Remains of a Bronze Age Round House in Camore Woods
Remains of Bronze Age roundhouse

Leaving the wood along a track, with a solitary standing stone in an adjacent field, I reached the road to Dornoch and continued to the centre of the town, arriving at 2.50.

20190514 A solitary standing stone near Dornoch
Standing stone near Dornoch

My accommodation was a little way outside of the town with a fine view over the golf course, but I hope to see more of Dornoch tomorrow on my way to Golspie.

20190514 Dornoch Castle - now a hotel
Dornoch Castle – now a hotel

13th May – Evanton to Tain

20190513 Typical section of road walking near Tain
The sheer joy of road walking again

Today I crossed the Easter Ross peninsula, which entailed 19 miles of almost entirely road walking.

I left Evanton at 8.00 with a blister on one foot and a hot spot on the other.  This was totally down to my own stupidity in leaving my boot inner soles at Braemar.  I had replaced them in Inverness but obviously something was not right.

20190513 Rich agricultural land above Alness
Rich agricultural land above Alness

The best thing seemed to be to get the day completed as soon as possible.  The 7k to Alness disappeared in 95 minutes, so I had a short break.  More road walking took me to Newmore which had some beautiful gardens.

20190513 Beautiful flowers at Newmore
Beautiful floral displays at Newmore

Finally after 13k of roads, I moved onto a forest track and stopped for another rest.  I decided that some music would help pass the time.  Quick look at the guide map.  Follow the path to a road, turn left, get to a T junction, turn right, take the second road on the left.  Right, off we go.

20190513 Back in the forest
Back in the forest

An hour later I suddenly thought, “This left turn is taking a long time to appear.”  A closer inspection of the guide revealed that it was not a road, but the entrance to a farm that I had passed about a mile back.  As the trail only ran parallel with the road I was on, I chose to continue.

Around 1.15, I was less than 3 miles from Tain, when Stuart, my son, rang me.  When we had finished, and as I had stopped, I had lunch by the side of the road – getting some strange looks from the locals.

Entering Tain I paused at a very impressive building, to discover that it had been the Easter Ross Poorhouse.  Closer examination of the information board revealed that the large building was in fact the warden’s house, and what seemed to be a barn was the women’s quarters.

20190513 Easter Ross Workhouse
Easter Ross Poorhouse

I arrived at my accommodation in Tain at 2.45, after a day with little memorable about it.

Tain seems an interesting town, and I am planning to visit the museum before heading off to Dornoch.  I only have 14k to cover tomorrow, so for the first time I will indulge in some sight-seeing.

12th May – Inverness to Evanton

 

20190512 Kessock Bridge over the Beauly Firth at Inverness
Kessock Bridge over the Beauly Firth at Inverness

After spending last week with friends it seemed a little strange to be on my own again.

I left Inverness at 8.15, walking along the River Ness through the industrial part of the city.  The trail passed a clock tower, built during Cromwell’s time, and then went over the Kessock Bridge.  I inadvertently managed to use a path on the bridge which was supposed to be closed, and was delighted when the workmen were happy to let me pass rather then making me return and use the other side.

20190512 Cromwell's clock tower
Cromwell’s clock tower

On entering the Black Isle, I climbed up into the first of many woods and crossed a ridge, before dropping down to Munlochy Bay.

20190512 Munlochy bay
Munlochy Bay

From there it was back into the woods on another ridge leading to the Clootie Well. The trees here were hung with all sorts of things including Teddy Bears, socks, shoes, pieces of cloth and other detritus.  Apparently the well has healing powers and seems very popular.  Unfortunately I failed to take a photo.

20190512 Looking north from the ridge above Culbokie
Looking north from the ridge above Culbokie

From the well more woodland tracks and minor roads led to Culbokie overlooking the Cromarty Firth.  The Culbokie Inn beckoned me to stop for a reviving cup of tea, and made a fine lunch stop.

20190512 Approaching the Cromarty Bridge
Approaching the Cromarty Bridge

Walking down to join the A9, I then crossed the Cromarty Bridge, which was a real pleasure with cars and lorries hurtling by a couple of feet away.  Luckily, just after the bridge I could escape up a track to join a minor road, which led to Evanton where I arrived at 4.00.

20190512 The Cromarty Bridge
The Cromarty Bridge

Not the most inspiring of days, but I had sunshine most of the day so should not complain too much.  I have two more days of road and tracks through woods to look forward to, before things improve and the trail moves to the coast.

20190512 The long straight road
The long straight roads…

3rd May – Drumnadrochit to Inverness

20190503 Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle

Wyn and I left Drumnadrochit at 7.15, anticipating a long day before reaching Inverness.

Initially the route follows the A82, before turning into the Abriachan Forest and ascending up to 380m.   Around 9.00 we stopped for a break and had just restarted when the snow began to fall.   For the next few hours we were treated to bouts of snow and hail.

20190503 Wyn battling through the snow
Wyn battling through the snow

We reached the eco-campsite near Abriachan, and stopped for bacon rolls, coffee, tea and cakes.  The food was excellent – but be warned, it is not cheap, and you might want to check on prices before ordering anything.

20190503 Five Star Cafe at the Eco Campsite
Five Star cafe at the Eco-campsite

Suitably replete and having been joined by Ove, a German friend we had met on the trail and whose partner had decided to stop at the cafe, we set off along a minor road with increasing views as the weather improved.

20190503 Five star breakfast stop
Improving weather as we leave the Eco campsite

After an hour or so of road walking, it was back into the forest before receiving our final dose of hail.

20190503 Wyn in the forest
Final dose of hail…

Descending Dunain Hill, Inverness can be seen but the final 6k has still to be completed.

20190503 Storm clouds over Inverness
Just 6 more kilometres to go…

The trail links areas of greenery in a clever way eventually leading to the Caledonian Canal and along the banks of the River Ness.

20190503 Crossing the River Ness
Crossing the River Ness

We passed Inverness Cathedral on the opposite bank of the river.

20190503 Inverness Cathedral
Inverness Cathedral

Then with a short sharp climb the trail ends at Inverness Castle.  We arrived at 4.30.

20190503 Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle

It was great that Wyn was able to join me for The Great Glen Way, and we are looking forward to completing the Offa’s Dyke Trail later in the summer.

20190503 Wyn at the end of the Great Glen Way
Wyn at the end of the Great Glen Way

Tomorrow I am going to Braemar for a week with my friends from MAC (Mountain Activities Club).   I will resume blogging again next Sunday.

2nd May – Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit

20190502 Wyn in a fairy glen
Fine weather for walking through the fairy glen

Wyn and I had had a superb meal at the Glenmoriston Arms last night and were pleased that breakfast was not until 8.00.  It was 9.00 before we set off in fine weather but with a poor forecast for the rest of the day.

The day started with the mandatory ascent from the glen up into the forests.  The route took us through some charming woods which had a “fairy glen” feel about them, with thick moss covering the base of the trees and any exposed boulders.  A short detour to the Stone Seat promised extensive views of Loch Ness, which failed to materialise due to the height of the surrounding trees.

20190502 Loch Ness from the Stone Seat
Loch Ness from the Stone Seat

More interesting, and as it turned out useful, was the Stone Cave.  This was apparently constructed to offer shelter to a washerwoman on her frequent journeys from Allsigh and Invermoriston.  We stopped for a short break, and the promised rain began in earnest.  We took advantage of the cave to don our wet-weather gear, which was needed for the rest of the day.

20190502 Sheltering in the Stone Cave
Welcome shelter in the stone cave

A gentle descent down to Allsigh was followed by a long climb up to the day’s high point in Ruskich Woods.  Any possible views of Loch Ness and surrounding area were lost in the cloud and murk.

20190502 Up in the clouds in the conifer plantation
Up in the clouds

The most important question on our minds was, “Would the teashop at the Loch Ness Pottery at Grotaig by open?”  Thankfully the answer was yes.  Not only was it open, but it was crowded with more walkers than we had seen in days.

20190502 Loch Ness Pottery Teashop - A port in the storm
Loch Ness Pottery and Teashop – a welcome port in a storm

After coffee, tea and cake, we departed for the last 5 miles to Drumnadrochit.  Most of this was along a minor road, with a short detour into woodland, before emerging onto the A82 for the final section to our accommodation.  We arrived just after 4.00.

20190502 Wyn on the path down to Drumnadrochit
Bleak walking down to Drumnadrochit

As we had not stopped for lunch, we booked an early dinner at the Fiddlers Restaurant, which we would both recommend.

Our plan for tomorrow is to leave at 7.30 at the latest, as we have a 20-mile day, and the weather forecast is not great.