Tain to Brora
Ross Villa was a complete change from the previous two nights in the Novar Arms hotel. I actually managed to wake up and feel rested from the previous day’s walk. In fact, I felt better than I did after my rest day in Evanton which is just wrong. I guess it just goes to show how bad my room really was?
Ok, my feet still hurt, especially my left foot, but there wasn’t a great deal I could do about that other than potter around on it while I sorted my stuff out and hope that it’d start to work properly sooner rather than later.
I went for my usual 8am breakfast which was lovely. I was pretty confident it’d keep me going for a good few hours so I was hopeful when I hit the trail that I wouldn’t be stopping too soon in to the day’s walk.
It took me twenty minutes to get through Tain, a lovely little place that, unlike some of the places I’ve been to on this walk, actually looked proud of its history. There were plaques and information boards on quite a few of the buildings explaining their importance to Tain history. It was a shame to leave as I knew I only had the A9 ahead of me for the next twenty two miles or so, which I wasn’t looking forward to.
Making my way along the edge of the A9 to Dornoch Firth bridge I had some lovely views out over the sands to the sea. Unfortunately I couldn’t look at it too much as I had to concentrate on the oncoming traffic, making sure I made it to the end of the day safely without getting hit by a massive lorry or something. Still, the views I managed to snatch every now and then certainly helped to make the walk a little more bearable.
As I made my way over the bridge it dawned on me exactly how long it took me to walk over each of the bridges since leaving Inverness. This one took me half an hour to walk from beginning to end which is just mad as I’m sure in a car you’d hardly notice you were going over the bridge at all!
Making my way over the bridge I spotted a weather front making its way over the hills and along Dornoch Firth, eventually hitting me as I made my way over the bridge. I wasn’t wearing my coat but I didn’t want to stop so I trudged on until I made it to a parking bay on the other side, putting my coat on then.
As has happened on a number of occasions on this walk, no sooner had I put my coat on, the rain decided to stop. It’d drizzled a little bit already that morning so not wanting to play games with the weather I left my coat on. Anyway, the side of a busy road is no place to be constantly taking my pack on and off that I can assure you.
With a fear of seizing up if I took a break, as has happened since day one of this walk, as my feet were feeling reasonably ok and my belly wasn’t telling me I needed to stop yet I cracked on for four hours, getting to within eleven or so miles of my final destination for the day. By then though I was beginning to feel a little hungry but breakfast had done its job, and done it well, allowing me to get over half way before seriously needing to stop. Hurrah!
Once I’d had my lunch, in the rain, as expected everything stopped working for a while but it wasn’t long, and with a few choice words utter under my breath, that things got going properly again. I’d set myself a target of getting to Golspie, about five miles away, before I would consider letting myself take another break.
By the time I reached Golspie – a couple of hours after my lunch stop – my feet were agony so I had to stop and sit down. I took an extended thirty minute break with my boots off hoping that the time would allow my feet to carry me the final six miles left to Brora. Like a lot of the breaks I’ve taken in Scotland, as soon as I get comfortable it starts to rain, like my lunch break today. I guess in some ways it’s not a bad thing as it spurred me on to get the day’s walk finished? If not for that I could well have been sat there for another half an hour or more, too scared to put my boots back on because of the impending pain.
I was doing ok on the final stretch even if I was getting plenty annoyed with having to stop and dodge the lorries. The six or so inches on the side of the road I had to walk on weren’t exactly a comfort when the larger lorries came through so I moved over on to the awful grass/dirt as best I could, trying not to get blown over as they shot by.
The cars on the other hand were altogether different. I played chicken with them, forcing most of them to pull out and around me. There were a couple who didn’t and got uncomfortably close and there was one who I swear was steering straight for me! The thrills of walking along an A road.
About three miles out of Brora I was approached by a car flashing its lights and the people inside were waving at me. To start with I wondered what the hell was going on but as it got closer I recognised the people in the car. They were a couple I’d passed numerous times along the West Highland Way, German I think they were, saying hello every time. What a coincidence?! I’m sure it’s given them a good story to take home with them?
A little further up the road I met a fellow walker. This chap was practicing, doing the Scotland stretch of the JOGLE (John O’Groats to Land’s End) walk as he wanted to do it next year. He too was suffering with his feet and he was wearing trainers not boots. Not a good sign for the full walk next year I’d say. We had a little chat and I headed off before I started to seize up again.
The final two miles were absolute agony! My feet were as bad as they’ve ever been and I was beginning to run out of steam. The pack felt like it weighed a ton and I was almost bent over double, only my walking poles stopping me from landing face down on the tarmac.
I eventually made it to my B & B – Pandora’s – in under nine hours. Not a bad time for that distance even if I do say so myself. Yes, I’d hurt for quite a bit of it but even through the pain I’d managed to keep myself going, only slowing down for the final mile or so.
Lesley was just wonderful when I staggered through the door. After a little bit of chat as she showed me to my room, with a king size bed, she gave me some essential oils to put in my bath to help revitalise and relax me. A bath was exactly what my bodied needed so I sorted my gear out and had a lovely soak before phoning Alice and Elisa. It was just wonderful!
I just about managed to get a signal on my phone that held long enough to talk to the girls. It wasn’t the longest of conversations but after Elisa told me what she had for dinner I asked her what she thought I should have for mine. She said fish and chips – she knows what her daddy likes!
Feeling a little more human I hobbled down the road to the Royal Hotel for my dinner. Lesley had recommended it and as it was the closest place, except for an Indian restaurant which I’ve avoided on this walk, her recommendation was good enough for me.
Before getting shown to my table, while figuring out what I wanted for my dinner, I started to chat to a South African couple – Ian and Barbara. Yet again I realised how small this world is as they now live in Ascot, just down the road from Twyford! Weird, very weird.
Following Elisa’s choice for my dinner I ordered the haddock and hand cut chips but for my started I had the Cullen Skink again – definitely need to get a recipe for that and make it when I get home.
The food was delicious but very filling, even after my long day on the road. I couldn’t eat all the chips even though I desperately tried to polish them all off. My stomach couldn’t take another thing, which is a shame as the tartar sauce was top-notch too.
I intended on leaving after settling up and heading back to write up today’s walk, but I ended up chatting with Ian and Barbara for another hour or so.
While we were talking they told me about the Comrades Marathon – a 56 mile race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg – where you have a set time to get from the start to the end. This sounded complete madness and on looking it up the next one in 2011 shows that it starts at 5:30am in Durban and you have to get to Pietermaritzburg by 5:30pm the same day…what?! I know we were talking about my next challenge but I think that one’s well out of my comfort zone thanks very much.
With time getting on I said goodbye and hobbled back to the B & B to get the day’s walk written up, which I struggled to do after such a long day. Hopefully this has been as good(?) a write-up as normal? Apologies if it’s not.
I forgot to mention yesterday that I’d also heard from Andy and Sue, who I met on the West Highland Way. It’s been so nice to hear from some of the people I’ve met along the way.
Andy also sent me a link to an article about the trouble in Alness yesterday. It was all because a ninety year old lady had been attacked by a burglar in her home the night before. As Andy said, a major thing in that neck of the woods so it got a big reaction. An everyday occurrence in the south that would hardly get any attention at all.
Oh, and the milestone I’ve been waiting to post and then forgot the other day. I have now officially broken the 1000 mile barrier. Today’s walk took me to 1027 miles which is just mind-boggling to think about…and I’m the one who’s done it! It’s no wonder my body’s beginning to reject the punishment when you realise it’s coped with that distance. Truly amazing – even if I do say so myself – and something I will forever be proud of.
Just the final 63 miles to do now. Game on!