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Day 71 Wayfinding

Continued from previous entry.

Wayfinding Note 1:  After crossing The Mound, turn right onto an old asphalt road with a bar across it opposite the car park.  The road doubles-back into trees parallel to the A9.  Take the first left and follow the remains of a old dirt road across a clear-cut area into the forest; the path ahead is obvious.  When the forest path turns right, continue straight and down to the field visible ahead.  Let your conscience be your guide here and turn right, following the edge of the field down to a drainage ditch continuing along this line to an active railway.    

Cross the railway where you can and find a stone culvert beneath an old raised roadbed running at a right angle, south away from the railway.  Follow this overgrown raised roadbed into Balblair Wood and turn right onto a two-track forest road, which is now a waymarked bridleway.  Continue along this road, ignoring all side trails, until you reach an asphalt road.  Turn left and continue along this minor road and into Golspie.

Wayfinding Note 2:  About four miles out of Golspie, the seacoast path begins to climb up behind the dunes and is eventually lost near a waterfall.  Before this happens, make your way to the beach and continue the last two miles to Brora.  A wooden fence leads to a dirt road, which is followed through a gate.  Turn left onto a residential street and join the A9.

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Day 71

Day 71 – Tuesday August 2, 2011 Dornoch to Brora
Pandor’s B&B Weather:  Cloudy w/ PM Lt Rain
Today’s Distance:  19.0 mi Total Distance:  1151.5  mi
Departed:  09:20  Arrived:  17:24 Elevation Gain:   934 ft
GPS Track:  Day 71  

This was a very interesting day.  I got a late start this morning after buying a thank you card for Jan and dropping it off at last night’s restaurant.  I left by way of a minor road heading north.  Instead of cutting over to the disused railroad bed as Steve did last year, I continued along this road until I came to Loch Fleet and turned northwest to follow the edge of the loch to the A9.  Along the way I passed beneath the ruins of Skelbo Castle, a 14th century fortified tower belonging to the powerful Clan Sutherland.  It was low tide and a large group of sea lions could be seen on the sand bar.  After about two hours of walking in the relative quite of minor roads, I rejoined the busy A9, crossed the bridge over the River Fleet, and began looking for a route into Golspie, away from the A9, that was described in a comment to Steve’s blog last year (see Wayfinding Note 1 on next entry).

After lunch, I located the seacoast path from Golspie to Brora and set off along a grassy track, which was a nice change from all the road walking I’ve been doing lately.  After about two miles I passed beneath Dunrobin Castle, which has been the stately home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century.  The Castle resembles a French chateâu with its towering conical spires and is one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses.  It was used as a naval hospital during the First World War and as a boys’ boarding school from 1965 to 1972.  It is now available for tours, weddings, and corporate functions.

I continued along a good path until it ran out and beach walked the rest of the way to Brora (see Wayfinding Note 2 on next entry).  As I came around a dune I saw a bunch of people in yellow hard hats digging in the sand around some stone walls.  I had stumbled upon an archeological dig at the site of an early 17th century salt works.  Jackie Aitken gave a tour of the site and explained that Lady Jane Gordon, Countess of Sutherland initiated the early coal and salt industries at Brora in 1598. Brora became involved with the making of salt due to the geological fortitude of coal being found on the beach.  In 1614 salt pans were erected which filled with sea water and were fired with the locally won coal to evaporate, leaving a residue of salt. The salt would have been used locally to preserve meat and cure salmon in home consumption.  The venture was short lived and closed a few years later.

Tomorrow I have a relatively short walk to Helmsdale and I’m going to try to beach walk my way there in order to avoid the A9.

Day 70

Day 70 – Monday August 1, 2011 Alness to Dornoch
Cairnhill B&B Weather:  Cloudy w/ Occ Lt Rain
Today’s Distance:  21.1 mi Total Distance:  1132.5  mi
Departed:  07:53  Arrived:  15:44 Elevation Gain:  778 ft
GPS Track:  Day 70  

Steve’s route took me along the main street of Alness and through a residential area on streets with sidewalks to rejoin National Cycle Network Route #1 on what I called “the never-ending road to Tain.”  It was only ten miles, but it never turned a corner, never saw a proper town, and it just kept going, and going, and going.  At first there were some nice views of the Firth, but before long that disappeared I tramped through farmland then woodlands.  Just after noon I entered the town center of Tain, went into the first café I could find, and relaxed with a Coke and a burger.  Tain looked like an interesting town and I wished I could have explored it further, but my GPS told me that I still had another nine miles to Dornoch so I headed west to pick up the dreaded A9

Today was a “Bank Holiday” (three-day weekend) in Scotland, so the highway was very busy with traffic presumably returning home.  I could see Dornoch just across the Firth but to get there I had to cross a bridge, which was about two miles away. As I approached the bridge I saw the first sign to John O’Groats that I’d seen since leaving Land’s End.  A short distance after crossing the Dornoch Firth Bridge I entered field and sat down to tend to my aching feet and watched a dear run back and forth trying to figure out how to get to the other side of a fence.  From there, I linked-up with a surprisingly busy minor road that took me all the way to Dornoch.

Dornoch is a seaside resort and former Royal burgh on the north shore of the Dornoch Firth.  It has the thirteenth-century Dornoch Cathedral, the Old Town Jail which is now a shop, and the previous Bishop’s Palace which is now the well-known Dornoch Castle Hotel.  It is also notable as the last place a witch was burnt in Scotland and where the pop star Madonna had her son Rocco christened in Dornoch Cathedral, the day before her wedding to Guy Ritchie in nearby Skibo Castle.

I had a very enjoyable dinner at the One Up Restaurant.  As the older couple at the next table got up to leave, the gentleman, hearing my American accent, asked if he could sit down as ask me a few questions about the States.  While he went to the bar for “one more too many,” I spoke with his wife, Jan.  She had recently come back from a trip to Chicago and wants to take a trip down Route 66.  Ian wanted to know about all kinds of things, everything from American Indians to Cajuns and what theMason-Dixon Lineis.  After about two hours we said our good bys.  When I went to pay my bill, I was told that Jan had already taken care of it.  I need to get a thank you card before I leave tomorrow.

Day 69

Day 69 – Sunday July 31, 2011 Conon Bridge to Alness
Westmore B&B Weather:  Pt Cloudy
Today’s Distance:  12.7 mi Total Distance:  1111.4 mi
Departed:  09:36  Arrived:  14:12 Elevation Gain:  702 ft
GPS Track:  Day 69  

If you ever stay at the Conon Bridge Hotel don’t take Room 4, it’s right above the kitchen door and I had to listen to that damn thing slam shut all night.  I guess I’m getting spoiled.  Anymore “roughing it” means no en-suite and only four channels on the  “telly.”

The A862 had a sidewalk all the way Dingwall where the route turned onto the National Cycle Network Route #1, which I will stay on for the next two days.  It followed minor roads through the hills above Cromarty Firth and avoided a busy B road by following a parallel dirt path.  There were several oil rigs near Alness, but nothing more remarkable then that as far as I could see.  I stopped for lunch in Evanton then walked the last for miles into Alness. 

Tonight I’m staying at an inexpensive, but nice B&B.  They put me up in the bungalow where the daughter also lives.  It doesn’t have en-suite, but it does have a washing machine that they said I could use.  As I write this, I’m waiting for my trail clothes to get done so I can hang them to dry and smell all springtime fresh when I start out tomorrow.

Day 68

Day 68 – Saturday July 30, 2011 Inverness to Conon Bridge
Conon Bridge Hotel Weather:  Mostly Sunny
Today’s Distance:  15.3 mi Total Distance:  1098.7 mi
Departed:  09:25  Arrived:  14:58 Elevation Gain:  853 ft
GPS Track:  Day 68  

Inverness has a long history, having evolved from an ancient fort to the Capital of the Highlands. The city and the surrounding area is now home to 65,000 people, but it was much smaller when St Columba visited the Royal Court of the Pictish King Brude in 565AD. Legend has it that, in 1040, Macbeth, of Shakespeare fame, built his stronghold in Inverness. In 1158 King David of Scotland awarded Inverness its charter as a Royal Burgh.  Robert the Bruce seized the first of the city’s five castles from English forces in 1307 and, in 1562, Mary Queen of Scots had the Governor of Inverness Castle hanged for refusing her entry to the Burgh. Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite troops were defeated in the famous Battle of Culloden — the last battle on British soil — in 1746.

The Great Glen Way was the last of the National Trails, and while the scenery was less spectacular than the West Highland Way, I think it was my favorite trail due to the variety of surroundings, the first-rate trail markings and the excellent trail bed.  From this point on I will be following the route Steve Clifford laid-out for his LEJOG last year. 

I left my hotel, turned right and followed the River Ness through the picturesque city center and into a grimy industrial area.  Along the way I stopped at a bike shop and bought a new piece of equipment to prevent “dain bramage.”  It’s a bright yellow belt that I can sling around my body and pack to make myself more visible as I walk along these upcoming A roads.

Eventually I reached the Kessock Bridge, on which the A96 crosses the mouth of Beauly Firth onto Black Isle.  Following Steve’s GPS track, I found a small path that led down to a minor road that followed the northern edge of the Firth past the little villages of North Kessock and Charleston.  I stopped for lunch at a pretty little waterside park and picnic area that is maintained by the residents of Redcastle and Milton for “the enjoyment of all.”  I continued on this road until it merged with the A832 and dodged traffic for ½ mile until I came to a farm track and a footpath before crossing the B9169 near the village of Ord Muir.

Wayfinding Note:  This stretch of A road can be eliminated by taking the minor road northwest out of Milton and across the A832 to Blairdhu where it becomes a footpath.  The footpath continues north to Drynie Park and a minor road.  Turn east, go to the B9169, turn left for ¼ mile then right to Ord Muir and Steve’s route again.  OR  Before you get to  Drynie Park there is probably a footpath signed for Ord Muir heading left.

The route then followed a network of quiet roads until coming to the unavoidable A862 for about a mile until reaching the town of Conon Bridge and a sidewalk.  Tomorrow’s walk to Alness will be another relatively short one before the push to John O’Groats.

Day 67

Day 67 – Friday July 29, 2011 Drumnadrochit to Inverness
Waterside Hotel Weather:  Mostly Sunny
Today’s Distance:  19.7 mi Total Distance:  1084.6 mi
Departed:  09:00  Arrived:  17:01 Elevation Gain:  1991 ft
GPS Track:  Day 67  

Wayfinding Note:  There is a café and campsite half-way between Drumnadrochit and Invernessthat is not in most guidebooks.  The Abrichan Campsite and Café on the east side of the Way, between Tomachoin and Woodend in the Abriachan Forest, on your Ordnance Survey map.  Watch for signs before you get there and don’t feed the hens.

Drumnadrochit is the Roswell, New Mexico of Scotland when it comes to the Loch Ness Monster.  References to “Nessie” can be found everywhere.  They even have two official visitor’s centers with tacky little monster exhibits, which I didn’t go into.

I left Drumnadrochit and walked along the sidewalk next to the busy A-82 for a mile or so until the Great Glen Way veered inland and climbed steeply up the side of a hill and into a forest with a good path that continued to climb.  Here I passed two women with a little terrier dog who was carrying his own stick that was twice as big as he was.  After about an hour I reached a forestry road and continued up, catching my first glimpse of the North Sea through the trees.  Finally I reached a plaque proclaiming this point as the highest point on the GGW (1245 feet) and had my picture taken by one of two women that I had met at the B&B in Invermoriston.  They were splitting this long day into two having been dropped off by car and hiking back to “Drum.”  They told me about this little café up ahead “run by hippies” that served coffee, tea and cakes.

The road passed through a large section of moorland before entering the Abriachan Forest where I began seeing signs for the Abrichan Campsite and Café.  This turned-out to be a friendly, if not somewhat quirky, little oasis run by a man and women, some hens, a rabbit and four large white dogs who were behind a large fence.  They offer basic meals, camping, fresh water, a privy, and even a “yurt” that can be rented.  I sat down with some other hikers who were already there and had a bowl of soup.  As I started to leave, the ladies with the terrier came into camp and the white dogs immediately started raising a ruckus.  The gutsy little terrier gave back as good as he got until he realized there were four of them and decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

The GGW joined and left an asphalt road to follow another drover’s road through forest for the next several miles, finally emerging on a hill with some excellent views of Invernessin the distance.  Below me I could see the stone towers and turrets of a very large building that looked like a medieval castle, but turned out to be the old Creag Dunain Hospital that closed long ago and is now being converted into condominiums.  It took over an hour to work my way down the hill and into the city where I briefly rejoined the Caledonian Canal and then along the River Ness into the city center and my hotel.  And while I was eating dinner, who should show-up but the two ladies with the brave little terrier dog who had all three walked the 19+ miles from “Drum.”

Day 66

Day 66 – Thursday July 28, 2011 Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit
Woodlands Guest House Weather:  Cloudy
Today’s Distance:  13.3 mi Total Distance:  1063.9 mi
Departed:  08:57  Arrived:  13:53 Elevation Gain:  2080 ft
GPS Track:  Day 66  

I’m not sure the mileage is 100% correct toady.  I had trouble with the GPS all morning; it couldn’t hold a signal.  I don’t know if it was the trees blocking the signal, or the fact that we are so far north, or a combination of both.  I see the TV satellite dishes all point south with almost zero degrees of elevation.

There was a slight drizzle with I got up this morning, but by the time I left, it had stopped.  I made the steep climb out of Invermoriston and into a pine forest with almost no views of Loch Ness, which was a dull gray in contrast to yesterday.  For three hours the Way alternated between footpath and forestry road as I climbed to the top of a ridge and joined an asphalt road, which I followed the rest of the way into Drumnadrochit.

I wanted to get into town early so that I could visit Urquhart Castle, which sits beside Loch Ness.  The castle was built in the 13th century on a point of land on which a Bronze Age promontory fort once stood.  Its history is one of intense conflict, inwhich English and Scots alternately occupied it, with William Wallace and Robert the Bruce each holding the property for a time.  The castle was then largely destroyed in 1692 by troops who had been holding the castle against Jacobite forces with the intention of insuring that the castle could not become a Jacobite stronghold, an intention that was fully achieved as the castle was never repaired and remained as a ruin.

I got back to the Woodlands Guest House at about 16:30 looking forward to getting out of my smelly hiking clothes and into a hot shower.  Unfortunately the hot water ran out in less then five minutes.  They’re also having trouble with their WiFi, so I’m off to find a spot where I can get a signal.  You know, for £50 a night, you’d think they could provide the basics along with the amenities they advertise.

Tomorrow it’s off to Inverness.  Maybe I’ll get a hot shower there.