Inverness to Evanton
I wasn’t feeling too bad this morning when I woke up, which was surprising after the nineteen mile yomp I did yesterday. I hoped this was a good sign and that I’d cover the miles to Evanton without too many problems, but then again I’ve had days where I’ve felt great to start with and everything’s just fallen apart a few hours later. Fingers crossed this wasn’t one of those days.
Breakfast at the Waterside hotel was about average quality for this walk. I packed in some more food – yoghurt and actually eating some of the cold toast – and got myself sorted out to check out and start the day proper.
Just up the road from the hotel I walk past a church where a lady was just about to go in. She said hello and asked me where I was walking to. I told her today’s destination but tagged on that I’d be in John O’Groats in a week’s time. She asked if I was doing the walk for charity, to which I said yes, and she gave me a couple of pounds. Thank you Bridget, every single penny helps!
The first stretch of the day was the rather dull walk to reach the edge of town and Kessock Bridge, a suspension bridge over Beauly Firth. The walk took me out of the town centre where people were waiting for their coaches to pick them up with all their hundreds of bags of luggage. I must admit, there were more people around than I expected to see this early on a Sunday morning.
Soon after that all I had to keep me company were the many outlet units you now typically find on the outskirts of towns and cities. All the usual suspects were there – Halfords, Wickes etc. – reminding me of a life that seemed so distant now.
Finally I made it to the bridge where I got my first sighting of the sea since the morning of day three when I left Porthleven. Boy that seemed like such a long time ago now!
Making my way across the bridge the wind was trying its best to blow me in to the road. It was amazing how strong it was and how good a job it was doing almost twisting me round when it snatched hold of my pack. It was a long bridge and took me a little while to struggle over. The good bit about it though was the view over Inverness and beyond – very impressive.
This morning started the part of the walk I’ve been looking forward to the least: the A9. Unless I wanted to take myself miles out of my way this is the most direct route to get to John O’Groats and I, as so many others before and no doubt after, had little choice but to walk the best part of a hundred miles along this very busy road. Well, the A9 and then the A99.
The first part of this new relationship went well. The bridge had a path which joined up to a cycle path on the other side. Great. When I got to the junction for Charleston I thought my luck had run out and that the unavoidable horror of walking along the verge of the road had begun but I spotted another cycle path on the other side of the road. With that I waited for a quiet spot – fortunately the road wasn’t too busy, it being a Sunday morning – and ran [hobbled?] across the four lanes to the path.
This kept me safely away from the traffic until it was time to head away from the A9 for a few miles along a lane to Tore. This was more like it, quiet, hardly any traffic and some lovely views out over the farmland.
As I was making my way along the lane I passed lots of people out walking dogs. After the first couple I stopped to chat to some of them, and to say hello to some very lovely, very excited dogs. They were all from the kennels up the road, giving the dogs their daily exercise. Now that’s a job I could handle doing!
When I eventually reached Tore I put my stuff down and took a break. I’d been walking for the best part of three hours and I needed a sugar hit and five minutes without the weight on my back. My shoulders were beginning to take the brunt of the pack now, the waist belt now done up as tight as it would go after losing so much weight on this walk, and they needed a break.
I wasn’t looking forward to the next bit as it was along the A9 for pretty much the rest of the day, without a path this time I suspected too. Making my way to the roundabout with the A9 I was pleased to see that the grass verge was actually pretty wide so I was hopeful of a reasonable walk to Evanton.
Things were going pretty well, if not boring, and to try and start to train myself to getting used to being so close to the oncoming traffic – for when the verge all but disappears in the latter stages of the road walk in the coming days – I walked right next to the road, ignoring the lovely, relatively safe expanse of grass next to me. Am I mental or what? Some would say yes, especially nearly getting blown over by the lorries shooting by. Still, I hoped it would stand me in good stead for later and so I carried on in my own mad way.
About five miles up the road, just past Culbokie, the A9 crosses another expanse of water – Cromarty Firth – over another long bridge. As I got closer there were signs telling everyone that there were road works on the bridge. At the time I wasn’t too bothered about it but as the bridge came in to view I started to get a little concerned. The road works had shut one of the lanes for a few hundred yards, using traffic lights to allow the traffic to keep moving, to a fashion. The problem with this was that the path across the bridge couldn’t be used for those few hundred yards and there would be absolutely no room for me to squeeze down the side of the traffic – bugger!
Not sure what to do I found a spot to stop and have a bite to eat and take the weight off while I pondered the situation, and after sitting there for ten minutes I’d still not come up with a way of getting across the bridge in one piece. There was an alternative route but that would mean walking back the way I’d come and taking at least a twenty mile detour – never gonna happen! So, I put my gear back on and started to walk to the bridge, hoping something would come up.
Getting to the traffic lights there were two guys there, clearly associated with the road works in their day-glow jackets and hard hats. As I approached they both smiled at me and said hello. Before I could say anything the first chap said that his mate would escort me through the road works, taking me through in their van. Clearly this wasn’t a good thing, as generous as it was. How could I say I’d walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the knowledge that they’d driven me a few hundred yards? I’m sure most of you would have let me off that one but I wasn’t over the moon about it. I asked them if it would be possible for me to walk through, telling them what I was doing, to which they happily said “not a problem, we’ll stop the traffic for you”.
And that’s exactly what they did. When the next sequence of the lights finished they stopped the traffic in both directions and one of the guys escorted me along the road past the other guys working on the road surface. Even though my feet were hurting quite badly I made sure I walked as fast as they would carry me knowing that the motorists at either end of the road works would be getting somewhat frustrated with nobody moving.
It didn’t take long until I was past the road works and back on the path. I shook the guys hand and thanked him for helping me out and allowing me to honestly say that I’d walked all the way.
That problem out of the way I made my way across the rest of the bridge, again getting blown almost sideways by the wind. I got a few toots by cars as they went by but I didn’t bother to look to see if they were friendly toots or not. I didn’t care and let’s face it, it hadn’t taken me long to walk through so it wasn’t like their day had been delayed that much.
On the other side of the bridge there was a roundabout and on it there was a sign that pointed to the “North”. I found this highly amusing as you see such signs from the beginning of the M1 if not before, and to see one here, with very little of the UK left above me, I couldn’t help but smile. Exactly how far do you have to go in this country to consider yourself to be in the north?!
I didn’t have much further to go for the day but I was beginning to really feel the pain in my feet and the aches over the rest of my body. Just a couple more miles up the road and I’d be heading in to Evanton and it couldn’t come soon enough. I put my head down and tried for one last good effort for the day.
About a mile up the road I came to a lay-by where lots of people were looking out over the water. I wondered what was going on, and even though I just wanted to get to my room and take my boots off, I couldn’t help but look. There, sitting on a rock, was a sea lion. I’d seen lots of them before in sea life centres and the like but not out in the wild so to speak. I took a snap and carried on up the road.
I managed to push on well for the final part of the walk and found the Novar Arms Hotel before 3pm. I’d had it in my head that I was only covering sixteen miles today but when I got to my room and updated my spreadsheet I actually covered the best part of eighteen miles! And there was me thinking I’d been dawdling along again. I didn’t feel too bad now about falling apart a bit near the end of the walk and my feet hurting as much as they did.
After cleaning myself up I headed down to the bar for a well deserved drink or two. I sat there chatting to a couple of the locals, listening to their stories of working on the rigs and their many tales of drinking – and fighting – in Invergordon. I don’t think I’ll be visiting there any time soon, even if it’s changed since their days back in the 80s!
By the time I got round to having something to eat I’d sat and happily made my way through four pints of Guinness – no ale on, again – and was feeling a little light headed. I needed food…stat! I tucked in to steak and chips, relishing every delicious mouthful.
The phone signal was all over the place in Evanton so I headed outside to phone the girls. I never got a chance to tell Elisa about the sea lion before she finished what she had to say but I told Alice. She was amazed and then reminded me about the sea lion show we’d watched at the end of last year, telling me all the sea lion kissing and hugging the trainer. It always amazes me how much she remembers.
Being a few days behind on the blog due to lack of wifi I asked the person behind the bar for the key to get on to their wifi network, just to be told that it wasn’t working properly – doh! That was one, if not the only, reason I’d chosen this place to stay at. Not happy.
To make things worse, I was planning on spending the evening sat in my room watching some TV on my netbook seeing as the room didn’t have a TV. In fact, I’m struggling to find anything good to say about the room I was staying in. The hot tap didn’t work. There was no mirror over the sink – no shave for me then? – and the pillows may as well not have been there they were so thin.
No wifi, and a patchy phone signal would also make the most important job for tomorrow – sorting out the final leg of the walk’s accommodation – a lot harder than I wanted it to be. That could wait until tomorrow though.