Lots to report. You last heard from me in Tomatin, (between Aviemore and Inverness), celebrating 1,000 miles. Since then:
Ian and Celeste returned home to Yorkshire.
Little Flora has stayed off the booze, I’m glad to report.
Joy, my rucksack, developed an annoying squeak. Luckily it’s intermittent.
I’ve been eating butteries for my daytime snacks. They are a north east of Scotland delicacy. Very similar to croissants except round in shape and with more salt. More delicious actually. If they had a more exotic name, like the good old croissant, maybe they’d be world famous too.
I had a lovely days walk from Tomatin to Inverness, mainly along remnants of General Wade’s road. Mostly this was forestry tracks, and was quiet, lovely walking. Looking on the map, the busy A9 was always fairly close by, but I rarely heard it. Midway through the day I met a retired couple out walking their dog. We got chatting, and they apologised for having no money on them to donate to my Mending Broken Hearts fundraising. Then they asked of I’d got accommodation in Inverness sorted, and said I could stay with them for the night if I wanted. Unfortunately I did already have a B&B booked. That’s the second such kind offer from strangers I’ve had since arriving in Scotland. It’s really heartwarming, and perks me up no end when meet such generous people.
Inverness seemed a metropolis to me. I did a few errands, and was rather disgusted when a cashpoint gave me English money instead of the more interestingly designed Scottish notes.
Once over the Kessock Bridge the sun came out and I made my way along the beach towards Fortrose. I was now on the Black Isle. It’s badly named as its it an island and it’s a riot of gorse and summer flowers. It was so strange to be crunching over pebbles listening to the sea lapping under a hot sun, when just 3 or so walking days ago I’d been walking on snow up in the Cairngorms. I realised that this was the first time I had walked on a beach since the 9th of April, when I tramped from Clovelly to Westward Ho! Devon – it seems like a lifetime ago.
During the last few miles of the day I got thoroughly stung by nettles on an overgrown path. And a day later I was stung on the nose by nettles. My granny used to tell me that nettle and bee stings were good for preventing rheumatism. So I’ve never minded being stung, and after the last couple of days I think I’ve had a lifetime’s rheumatism antidote.
Next day was Fortrose to Cromarty. Just twelve miles; a half day really, as I arrived by noon for a treat I had lined up. A dolphin spotting sea safari. The dolphins duly appeared and were really brilliant. We saw two schools of about 10 dolphins in each. At one point they did the whole acrobatics display – somersaulting clear of the surface. I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot. Later three or four came right by our RIB. In the silence we could hear them breathe and also whistle. I didn’t realise that they whistled.
Cromarty is a gem of a place. It also has a wonderful pizza place. For some reason I was hungrier than normal. I’m embarrassed to say that I had two pizzas. One after the other. Then the following morning the landlady at my B&B must have thought I still looked hungry as she gave me a second bowl of porridge. I’ll also remember Cromarty for being the first place where I lost my walking poles. I was walking along the street and suddenly something felt wrong. Where were my poles?! I had to retrace my steps to a bin, luckily enough not far away, where I’d stopped to tie up my bootlaces. I’ve no idea how I contrived to leave my poor poles there. They are more of less like two additional limbs by now.
The following day I took my leave of the Black Isle via the Nigg Ferry. I had rather a wonderful personal ferry service as I was the only passenger. There were no cars and no other foot passengers. The ticket man was very nice but rather disapproving of my solo journey, as some people are. “I wouldn’t like my daughter doing something like that on her own. Has anything bad happened at any time?” I said no, and that I’ve had so very many good encounters with people.
In fact the good encounters continued straightaway, as shortly after leaving the ferry a car pulled up. The lady driver said she had watched me consulting my map a mile down the road and had hoped I would take the right turn as it was a nicer track. I had, and she was pleased. She gave me a bit more advice about my planned route for the day. Also she said it was a shame my route wasn’t going to take me past her house as she’d have asked me in for a coffee.
Towards the end of the day I walked through Tain, home to my friend Gemma (hi Gemma!) and I asked a passer by if she’d take my photo. (So I could show Gemma where I was). Before I knew it this kind stranger gave me £10 for my fundraising, and apologised that she couldn’t give me more.
Finally, I’m very excited that my friend Alison will be arriving tomorrow morning, having travelled a the way up from London via the sleeper train. It’s been such a morale booster to have friends coming to walk with me. I’m so far north now that it’s a really special thing for someone to travel up this far, and I’m ever so happy to have Alison’s company for two days. I have always been very content walking on my own but it’s great too to have friends and family to walk with. Big thanks to everyone who put their boots on and strode alongside me: in order of appearance, Doug, Emily, Steven, Cathy, my father, Katie, my sister, Annette, Tony, and Alex.