Helmsdale to Dunbeath
I had a reasonable night’s sleep even if I had to put my earplugs in. The noise from the A9 was a bit annoying and there was one of those air fresheners in the room that goes off every fifteen minutes or so. I guess the room used to be a smoking room at some point and, having clearly not been decorated for some time, the air freshener was keeping the stale smoke smell from the carpet etc. at bay?
That kind of describes the Belgrave Arms hotel across the board: tired. Don’t get me wrong, the bed was comfortable enough and Craig, the landlord, was a lovely chap, but I’d certainly not want to stop there for more than the one night.
I wasn’t feeling the best this morning and had a headache to boot. Maybe it was the room, maybe it was just because I was exhausted after two tough days – physically and mentally? I don’t know, all I know is I wasn’t right this morning and really didn’t fancy anything for breakfast, but after the last disaster back on the Pennine Way of walking on an empty stomach I tried to eat something.
Something in my stomach I grabbed my gear, checked out and hit the road. My feet weren’t feeling too bad as it goes. I’d hoped the time spent yesterday with my feet up would pay dividends and it looked as though that was the case. I could only hope that they’d stay the course for the rest of the day.
Immediately out the door the climb out of Helmsdale started. It wasn’t the worst climb for sure but there was no getting warmed up this morning before starting up the hills. Once out of Helmsdale though the hill climb got slightly steeper and definitely longer. It took a good hour and a half to do the next uphill stretch but thankfully, as it was a new bit of road, there was plenty of room for me to walk without getting too close to the traffic. It was a bit of a slog but I was feeling ok and my feet seemed to be working too.
After a couple of hours I was still feeling pretty strong and my feet still seemed to be playing ball. So as not to kill the status quo I decided not to stop. I wasn’t hungry, I was handling the hills ok and I certainly didn’t want to stop and let my feet go to hell in a hand basket. I was in good spirits so what was the point in stopping?
I carried on like this for another half an hour or so before the first niggles in my feet started. This was due to ridiculously steep descent in to Berriedale. This was a 13% descent that wound its way down for about a mile and caused no end of problems for my knees, toes and ankles. It was not fun and once you reach the bottom and cross the small stone bridge you’re met with an equally difficult climb which seemed to go on forever!
Still, from what I’ve been lead to believe the descent in to, and climb out of, Berriedale is supposed to be the final serious challenge on this walk. I’ve probably tempted fate now by saying that, especially with a longer than average walk tomorrow, but I hope no more nasty hills or such like. We’ll see if I’ve been misinformed over the coming two days won’t we?
Making my way out of Berriedale I was passed by some cyclists, the last one asking me where I’d walked from. When I shouted to him “Land’s End” he put his thumb up, smiled and said “almost there!”, something that’s been on my mind for the previous few days for sure.
About a mile up the road I had a lovely chat with another walking coming in the opposite direction. Amy is doing something that puts my feeble efforts to shame. She’s walking the entire coastline of mainland Britain for charity. That’s 6824 miles in case you were wondering, taking eight months…without a day off! And I thought I was completely mad for doing what I’m doing?!
For someone who had already walked 4500 miles she was the happiest person ever. She really was in great spirits and didn’t seemed to be suffering from all the miles at all. That’s just not fair! Granted, she had a support vehicle and was carrying only a small day pack but still, walking that far must have taken its toll somewhere along the line?
I implore you all to visit Amy’s web page and donate to support her amazing effort and make all the hard work well and truly worthwhile. If you’re on Facebook then you can follow her amazing adventure through her Facebook Group page.
We must have chatted for a good twenty minutes before my feet told me that it was time to move on or stay there for the rest of the day. We took each other’s pictures, said goodbye and went on our respective ways.
I was only four or five miles away from Dunbeath and I was determined to get there before stopping for my lunch so I put my head down and went for it. Well, that was until I got my phone signal back and had a text from Matt that I needed to act on.
He was on his way up to Edinburgh – meeting me in Wick tomorrow – but he thought he’d left the window open on his car back at my place. I phoned Vicky next door to ask her to check for me (he hadn’t) and then we had a nice chat on the phone too. We both agreed that it’s a bit weird talking about seeing each other again next week after all this time but the long and short of it is, next week I’ll be back at home, adventure done and dusted.
Not wishing to dwell on that too much I carried on my way to Dunbeath, my feet finally beginning to complain rather loudly about a mile and a half out. They’d done really well to get that far without any proper breaks so I wasn’t too unhappy about their performance today. All they had to do was carry me in to Dunbeath, where I was going to have my lunch, and then just a little further to my B & B for the night – Toremore Farm – which was about half a mile up the road.
Dunbeath’s a bit of a strange place. It’s quite pretty, with its little harbour and castle (of sorts), but there’s not a lot to draw anyone off the A9 to actually have a look round. This isn’t helped by the fact that the A9 sweeps over the top of Dunbeath on a bridge meaning most people in their speeding cars probably don’t even notice the place. This is more than likely why the hotel is well and truly closed and there doesn’t seem to be anything else around other than a small Spar.
I was hoping to find a pub or something to get a good sized lunch as I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to walk back in from my B & B later, but no, nothing. Well, not that I could see anyway. There was the threat of a cafe on one of the street signs on the way in but my feet weren’t about to let me wander around aimlessly to try and find it, especially as there was a very good chance it wouldn’t be open or it had closed down years ago.
With no other options I headed for the Spar which was closed. Ok, I had ten minutes to wait until 2pm when I was informed it would open so it wasn’t too bad. I bought my lunch bits – chicken pie, crisps, massive cream and raspberry jam scone – found a bench just up the road and tucked in. It wasn’t exactly the lunch I’d been imagining all the way up the A9 this morning but it would do and I had plenty in my pack for this evening and tomorrow so I wasn’t too worried.
As I was finishing my lunch the rain they’d forecast this morning started. Not wanting to just sit around in it I put my coat on and made my way up the road to the B & B to relax for the rest of the afternoon and rest my feet before tomorrow’s considerably longer stroll.
I’ve been really lucky the last couple of days and have had a bath to soak my aching feet in and today was no different. After lying on my bed for a good half an hour with my feet suspended off the floor I tentatively made my way to the bathroom, ran a bath and soaked away most of the pains from the day’s walk. Now, if I’ve got a bath at the hotel in Wick that will be just about the best thing ever! They must have done some good compared to standing in a shower, or maybe it’s all just in my mind?
I only managed to get a couple of minutes on the phone with Alice and Elisa this evening. Clearly they weren’t in the mood for talking? Hopefully I’ll be able to do a Skype call with them tomorrow as I’m pretty sure the hotel in Wick has wifi. I’ll check it out as soon as I get there to make sure I’m ready. That of course assumes I cover the miles in good time tomorrow!?
All in all this was an excellent day. My feet did much better and I covered the fifteen miles in just over five hours. On top of that I was in an a great mood. What had caused this change I have no idea, especially as I started the day well and truly off kilter, but I wasn’t complaining that’s for sure. Maybe the phone calls and the chat with Amy helped to keep my spirits up better compared to other days? Who knows.
I hope this mood change lasts for the final two days and that I can cross that line at John O’Groats with a massive smile on my face!
Thirty seven miles to go and it’ll all be over. I’ll be both happy and sad about that but I guess all good things come to an end at some point?