The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday, 12 May 2014

Day 4 - N side of Beauly Firth to before Nairn


Mon 12 May (0705-1630)
Distance: 22 miles
Weather: a morning of sunny intervals followed by an afternoon of wall-to-wall sunshine.


If you'd asked me yesterday which looked to be the harder day on paper, I would definitely have said yesterday rather than today. The only 'hard' factor in today's walk was the amount of tarmac, whereas yesterday well and truly exercised the muscles and the lungs with lots of yomping and plenty of up. Yet I found yesterday relatively easy and today very hard indeed.

I'm sure today's difficulties were mainly in my mind, although the lack of interesting features in the day probably didn't help. The two aims in the route we are currently walking were: 1) to start a Challenge at Torridon; and 2) to walk along the Moray Firth Coast. The resulting route had the three spectacularly scenic days we've just walked, followed by a 'linking' day to get us past Inverness and over to the Moray coast. Today was that linking day and it featured walking along more miles of trunk road than is reasonable on any Challenge route.

Before we hit any main road, we took the tiny lane along the Beauly Firth to the Kessock Bridge and that lane (almost on the water's edge) was perfectly nice, with good views and very little traffic. I quite enjoyed the bridge too, even though it was busy with morning commuters.

Having reached the other side of the bridge we opted to stay along the A9, so as to speed us to our next focal point: Tesco's coffee shop. Whilst I bought supplies Mick would put away a bacon sandwich and we would both drink pots of tea. We'd been looking forward to that since yesterday afternoon.

So, it probably goes without saying that Tesco's coffee shop is currently closed for refurbishment. That was such a blow, and probably marks the point at which my positive mental attitude started to wain.

Even in the absence of tea and butties, we still managed to spend the best part of an hour in the store, including shopping and sitting eating and drinking some of that shopping. Then it was onwards to Culloden, where we took to the forest.

The next 8 miles through forest were a source of frustration as reality and the maps were far apart. Worse, I'd committed the ridiculous error of drawing a straight line through about 300 yards of forest where no track existed (a mistake I've made so many times that it confounds me as to how I keep doing it; or maybe I did it based on aerial mapping and just failed to make notes on what I'd seen). We thrashed around a while, going back and forth, around and about before cutting our losses, leaving the forest (when we found an exit) and re-entering it a bit further down the road. That added back on the distance we had cut earlier in the day.

The differences between map and reality continued to hound us as we went on. There was one happy moment when I thought I'd misjudged where we were as one particular junction refused to appear in front of us. It turned out it didn't exist as, whilst I was still looking out for it, we hit a road - a mile further on! Always nice to find you're a mile further on than you'd thought.

With the trials of the forests behind us, and having passed the very pretty Loch Felmington, we got to the point where we had a choice. I'd put a note on the map to "consider going this way", but hadn't put it as our primary route as it involved a track which crossed a railway without any mention of a bridge or level crossing. I feared that the track would be a relic which ended one side and started again the other with no way across, and a back-track of the magnitude in question would have made my bottom lip quiver at the very least.

Notwithstanding the danger of sulking, we decided to go for it ... only to change our minds at the last minute and opt to go the long way around. Part way into the 'long way around', we spotted a track which looked useful (but wasn't on the map), so we took it - and it led us to the very same point on the railway. Happily, the level crossing did exist, but being pedestrian only, isn't marked on the map.

The verge of the A96 didn't give nice walking for the final couple of miles of the day, but there was no other way to get to our night-stop without a lengthy detour, so along it we yomped.

The campsite appeared not a moment too soon and I'm rather looking forward to sampling the showers after tea :-)

(Today's photo is one of the few glimpses of a view of the Firth seen from the forest today. Unfortunately we were walking through a construction site at the time, hence the green pipeline also in the photo.)

(Conrad: that bit coincided with our LEJOG too. There were midges about on the evening after Strathcarron and in Torridon, but only a few and they weren't too hungry.)

Click here for Day 5

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