Currently I have a craze for macaroni cheese. I can tell you that there is nothing better in this world than to walk 20 odd miles and then to jump aboard Celeste and be greeted by a big smile from Ian and a hot bowl of macaroni cheese. Plus a cup of tea. It’s heaven.
I know I’m a softie for not camping the whole way, and for having had the support of Ian visiting from time to time. But my feet have still covered 1,173 miles to date and the main thing is that I have thoroughly enjoyed almost every single day of my journey.
I missed out an important detail from Alison’s two days with me. In Bonar Bridge we popped into a little hardware store. Our eyes nearly popped out of our heads. There was STUFF everywhere. I have never seen so many lines of stock in a shop. The next day we went back and had a little competition to see which of us could spot the most unusual item for a hardware shop to sell. I went for the range of ladies handbags. Alison went for the ancient disused cashpoint machine. I love shops like that.
From Foisinain, where you left me at the end of my last post, I walked east along sandy forestry tracks to Loch More. For the 16.5 miles of the walk, I saw no one. Half way through I passed a remote train station, Altnabreac, where there is a lodge and a couple of dwellings. (Only accessible by train or an 8 mile drive up the forestry track). Mainly I could see miles and miles and miles of peat bog, some forests, and shapely peaks in the distance. Some might find this place desolate. I thought it was vast and beautiful. The skies here seem bigger, and I relished the space. This area on the Sutherland-Caithness border is one of the world’s biggest areas of peat blanket, and is now recognised as being important for storing carbon:
The Flow Country is a large expanse of peat bog in Caithness and Sutherland. Covering 4000 square kilometres, it is the largest area of blanket bog in Europe. Dating from the end of the last ice age, the bog has developed due to the damp, acid conditions that have encouraged the growth of sphagnum moss. As the moss rots it slowly forms peat. The same conditions that cause peat to form make the Flow Country unsuitable for farming and the area has been largely preserved from human development. In the 1980s, some areas of the bog habitat were planted with forestry but the introduction of non-native conifers and artificial drainage have dried out the peat, contributing to its erosion. Large areas of these plantations have been felled and attempts are being made to restore them to blanket bog. (Source: BBC, ‘Scotland’s Landscape’)
Ian had driven to the end of the narrow tarmac road at Loch More. We had the most fantastic wild camp aboard Celeste. The loch rippled in the wind in front of us, the sheets of bog cotton nodded and swayed, birds sang. Once a couple of fishermen had departed, we had the place to ourselves. I don’t know if there’s a better spot in all of Britain. Shhh, don’t tell anyone about it. There are even sandy beaches beside the loch.
Yesterday I walked north east from Loch More to the North Sea. After 5 miles I left the Flow Country behind and entered the northeastern, coastal part of Caithness, which is farming country. There was no easy way of avoiding tarmac, but the little single track roads were dead quiet, and the sun warmed my back. Plus I had my macaroni cheese to look forward to! A friendly ghillie stopped to chat and said that it was particularly dry this year, and that’s why the peatlands were white with bog cotton. Apparently bog cotton flowers especially well in dry weather.
It took me 21 miles to reach the North Sea, and at that point I decided to call it quits for the day. I’ve now only 17 or so miles to go to John O Groats. Easily doable in one day, but perhaps I’m enjoying myself so much I’m putting it off. I have decided to split it into two half days walking. My excuse is that yesterday’s gorgeous hot day has been replaced by pouring rain this morning, so Ian and I are off to the laundrette in Wick. (Both Katie and Alison, who accompanied me in Staffordshire and Sutherland respectively, commented with surprise about the clean appearance of my clothes and pack. So I’ve now got to keep up my Clean Hiker status). I should thus finish the main part of my journey tomorrow.
I’ve not wanted to bang on about it during the last few months, but as well as doing this journey for the sheer pleasure of seeing the country on foot, I wanted to raise some money for an excellent cause. It’s the Mending Broken Hearts fund, run by the British Heart Foundation. They are well on track for being able to help mend heart muscle damage that people suffer during heart attacks. This muscle damage takes away people’s fitness and thus their ability to lead a normal life after a heart attack. All the details and explanation are on my Virgin Giving page. Many many of you have already sponsored me, and you’ve raised £2,275 !!! so far. THANK YOU!!! For anyone else who would like to sponsor me, just click on this link and then click ‘Donate Now’. I would be extremely grateful.