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]

Saturday 5 July 2008

Day 82 - Before Dalnawillan Lodge to Outside Watten

5 July
Distance: about 18 miles
Distance to go: 38 miles
No. of people seen out walking in last 7 days: 0

The road goes ever on and on...

That's how it felt a couple of miles into this morning. The landscape had become completely flat featureless moorland, with the middle-distance and beyond obscured by low cloud and a mist, so the only notable thing we could see was the estate dirt-access road stretching out in a straight line ahead of us, seemingly forever.

Now, I'm quite a fan of bleak moorland, but being so flat and featureless this tested even my usual enthusiasm for such wide open spaces.

Finally reaching the end of the estate track, we deviated from our plotted route. Looking at the map last night we decided that the riverside route was probably more trouble than it was worth when we could just take the minor road that ran alongside it. I'm all for road avoidance, but this bit seemed to just be making our lives more difficult than necessary for no appreciable scenery or terrain gain.

However, I did decide, on the spur of the moment that we should cut off a small corner of the transition from the road back to the route by traipsing across country.

After the wet grass and heather we encountered on the way, not to mention the odd bog (plenty of those around here!) we reached the track with our trousers drenched to mid-thigh and our boots letting in water.

The yomp had also warmed me up. From yesterday's short shirt sleeves and trouser vents open, this morning I was wearing long-sleeves under two jackets and hat and gloves. Once on the track I stopped to remove a jacket and mentioned a bar of chocolate (hungry day today).

Left to my own devices I probably would have had the chocolate on the move, but Mick got out his sit mat and sat down - and it turned out to be a very good thing that he did.

Sitting there trying to make half a chocolate bar each feel filling, we surveyed the map and rather belatedly realised that if we had stayed on the road and modified our route, we could get to the campsite 2.5 miles outside of Watten.

When the Watten accommodation crisis arose we had explored all sorts of options, but had discounted the campsite as a 2.5 miles out-and-back detour was too far at the end of a 21 mile day and we could see no obvious way of cutting across to it from our route.

The reason that I missed the obvious was that it involved wandering off the edge of the map twice (the downside of A4 maps; at least with full size OS maps you're only likely to wander off them once in a day!).

Once we knew we could make it to the campsite within a reasonable mileage the decision easy, even though it involved road walking. In fact, I was positively excited at the thought of a shower and facilities.

It's not that I have an issue with wild-camping. Indeed, in my opinion it has many benefits over campsites. However, my limit is about 3 nights out, after which I like to get a proper wash*. Added to that, we're now in the lowlands, which makes the drinking water issue a bit more tricky.

So, ruing the fact that we'd unnecessarily yomped through wet grass and got ourselves wet, and that we'd walked a bit further than we needed to, we turned left along the track instead of right and went back to the road.

Traffic was not an issue on these roads. We were passed by half a dozen cars on the first stretch of and maybe a dozen on the next.

Then we wandered off the map again, which required a little bit of fingers-crossed that the tiny road would come out where we needed it to.

Fingers were then crossed that the campsite existed, that it took tents and that they had room for us (and that it was where we thought it was; we could just see the tent symbol on the edge of the map, what we didn't know was whether there was an arrow pointing to somewhere on another off-the-map road).

Luck was on our side. After some remarkably fast walking (it was the shower thought that spurred me into almost a trot for the last 8 miles) we arrived to find that the campsite was where we needed it to be. They did squeeze us in. The shower was hot and I was able to use the washing machine (to remove half a peat bog from my trousers) for free.

Even better, a phone call to the Brown Trout Hotel in Watten, which had no room for us tonight, has resulted in an agreement that they will serve us a cooked breakfast in the morning.

All in all, it's been a rather good day!

(* Had I known yesterday that I would be able to shower today, I wouldn't have run naked into the River Thurso for a quick wash down last night. That was one bracing experience!)

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