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]

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Day 83 - West of Watten to Dunnet

6 July
Distance: 17.5 miles
No. of killer wee dugs: 1
No. of overly frisky cows: lots of herds, fortunately all the other side of fences.

There is a rule that says that the earlier we want to get away, the longer it takes us to get through our morning ritual and get on the road. Today we proved that the opposite is also true.

Today our schedule was dictated by the fact that the shop in Watten, which we needed to visit, doesn't open until 10am on a Sunday, as a result of which we had arranged breakfast at the Brown Trout Hotel for 9am.

That meant that we didn't need to leave the campsite until 8am, which gave us a bit of a lie-in.

Predictably, with time on our side, we were ready to go in record time. Then, despite trying our best to dawdle along the road, we kept up too fast a pace. We found ourselves in Watten at just ten past eight.

The hospitality at the hotel was fantastic. We explained that we were in no rush and they happily let us take a very leisurely breakfast, staying in their dining room until 10am. During that time we had orange juice and cereal and toast and tea and a huge cooked breakfast and more toast (we were quite hungry, even though we'd already had first breakfast at 7am) and more tea, followed by more tea. And the charge for this huge breakfast? Well, let's just say that I've paid more for a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. We left very happy indeed.

Much of the day was unremarkable once we got back on the road. The early mist turned to drizzle, slowly getting us wetter and wetter until we changed our windproofs for waterproofs. A while later I had to concede that waterproof trousers were required. Then it started to rain in earnest and out came the overmittens. This was not what the forecast said we would get.

On we sped, along various little lanes requiring minimal navigation and with little of interest except for herds of cows so frisky and stampeding that they had me quite nervous even though they were on the other side of (very flimsy looking, low) fences.

Then we approached Reaster and our day took a surreal turn for a short while.

First there was the ramshackle collection of buildings, with a large collection of old pony-traps, in various states of decay, lining the road. It was here that we were accosted by two friendly dugs and one wee killer dug.

Around the next corner, we were overtaken by an old-fashioned open-topped London Bus. This wasn't a main road we were on; it wasn't a B-road. It was an obscure little lane. The bus seemed somewhat out of place.

Then we went around another bend and towards us was walking an old woman. She was wearing wellington boots, a plastic rain hat, a mackintosh and under the mackintosh she apparently had on a nightie, even though it was 1pm and she was walking up a remote lane in the rain.

At best she looked eccentric, and maybe she was, but she also turned out to be a very nice woman indeed.

She stopped us to ask where we were walking from and to and we had a good chat with her. When she learned what we were doing she turned around and walked back with us to her house where she told us to wait by the gate. Off she trotted and a few moments later came back with £6 for Macmillan and a big bar of chocolate for us. She then shook us by the hand, wished us well and we continued along smiling at another random encounter with kindness - and at the surrealness of the previous half an hour.

At Greenland (really, check the map, we weren't in the wrong country!), in spite of the mist and rain, we got a glimpse of the sea. The sea off the north coast of Scotland. That was a very pleasing moment.

After about 15 or so miles of tarmac, we exercised those liberal access rights that apply in Scotland and cut across the Links of Dunnet, exactly as I had assumed in my route plotting that we could. The path marked on the map was not evident beyond the first hundred yards or so, but the going was easy - and it was very pleasant to get some softer ground under my boots.

Across this ground I had a chat on the phone with Vic. She's helped us out with lots of Googling as we've made our way north and I had one more request. Having missed out on our planned B&B in Watten last night and given the weather, we thought that it would be nice to have a bed tonight instead (getting soft, you see, now we're near the end). Vic duly Googled and having walked half a mile or so into tomorrow's route, we're now at the Northern Sands Hotel in Dunnet.

Yes, we have hit the north coast.

We still have a distance to go on our route, but I think that technically we can now claim to have walked "end-to-end".

Tomorrow we will make an early start for our final push for both Dunnet Head and John O'Groats.

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