Monday, 25 July 2011

Culloden Moor and Tain to Inverness

Monday July 18: Site of the last Battle fought on Scottish soil where, on 16th April 1746, the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart (the Bonnie Prince), armed mostly with knives, swords and a small round wooden shield or targe, their charge was brutally decimated by Redcoat musket volley-fire. It's a bleak and surprisingly emotional place. One of my kinsmen, Alexander, fought here and managed to escape to the Irvine family seat at Drum Castle where he hid in a secret cupboard while his sister, Lady Mary, entertained the Redcoat officers. Thus he escaped the Duke of Cumberland's bloody aftermath by fleeing to France but was allowed to return to the estate 6-years later. Charles Stuart, the young pretender, died in France a disillusioned alcoholic no longer young nor very bonnie.
Tuesday 19: Tain to Nigg Ferry (12 miles). Cloudy, dull with some light drizzle. Taking the train to Tain I'm trying to finish the Far North Way to Inverness and walk past Fearn's pretty station around Nigg Bay to catch the Nigg Ferry to Cromarty, planning to then get the bus back to Inverness. But, despite a sign telling me the Cromarty Rose runs every thirty minutes no ferry arrives, "it's broken" a local informs me. My only option is to walk 8-miles all the way back to Fearn station and get the evening train to Inverness. Twenty miles in total, more of a test for my knee than I had planned.
Thursday 21: My knee's no worse so I buy a pair of Mountain Warehouse Pinnacle boots which I'll test to destruction - them or me.
Friday 22: Cromarty to Munlochy (16 miles). Cloudy with sunny and drizzly spells. Still based in Inverness I take the bus north to Cromarty then walk south, mostly along the quiet country lanes of National Cycle Route 1, to follow pretty Fairy Glen into Rosemarkie and then onto Fortrose with it's ruined cathedral. Minor roads then a path along the course of the old Black Isles Railway take me to Munlochy post office where the local bus takes me back to Inverness.
Saturday 23: Munlochy to Inverness (9 miles). Cloudy and warm with sunny spells. A dissapointing detour to the Black Isles Brewery (it's closed) leads to North Kessock and the sweeping Kessock Bridge over Beauly Firth and I'm back in Inverness. The Far North Way is now complete and the more pleasant waymarked Great Glen Way beckons.
Photos of Culloden Moor and from Tain to Inverness.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


Sunday 10 July: Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, is a pretty city and there is much street entertainment at this time of the year - pipe & drum bands mostly. The girl in Inverness library shows me how to use their guest computers ". . . if it doesn't work at first, just give it a wee shuggle . . ." and I know exactly what she means.
Monday: It's been raining for the past few days so it was a good time to rest up for a while but now the sun is shining I'm keen to get going again but even with a cocktail of Ibuprofen and paracetamol my knee feels worse. So I buy a walking stick and make an appointment to see a doctor.

Tuesday 12: I was expecting Dr Findley but luckily I get Dr Douglas McKeith who was formerly with the British orienteering team and has a diploma in sports injuries. I have a damaged patella tendon, what used to be called 'runner's knee'. I could be weeks or even months before it comes right. Disappointed I pick up my free prescription of Naproxen (to reduce inflamation and pain) and Omeprazole (to reduce the effect of Naproxen on the stomach wall), then limp home.
Saturday 16: Inverness Museum is full of Highland artifacts, from Pictish stones to Jacobite memorabilia, with lots of touch and feel exhibits too, it's a delight.
Sunday 17: I've rested for a few days with little improvement but as it's a sunny day I'm taking a 6-mile stroll, without a pack but with a walking stick, around the pleasant River Ness and Caledonian Canal loop. My knee feels no worse so, encouraged, I return to the city centre and buy a compass and whistle in anticipation of continuing to Land's End.
Photographs of Inverness.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Far North Way

Thursday 30 June: John o'Groats to Wick (17 miles). All road walking along the A99 but with pleasant scenery and a refreshingly cool breeze. I stop at Keiss for lunch and make Wick's pleasant riverside campsite early in the afternoon. Here I meet Ian, a retired Staffordshire policeman and fellow end-to-ender, excited to be nearing the goal in the far north. The Alexander Bain, a pub in the Wetherspoons chain, has a curry night and good value ales at £1.60 a pint - "Another Duchars IPA please landlord . . ."
Friday 1 June: Wick to Dunbeath (25 miles). Cloudy with sunny spells, light breeze. Taking the, so called, coastal path out of Wick the scenery is great and it feels good to be away from the main road but past the Castle of Old Wick the path disappears into a knee deep bog. I push on and eventually reach Mains of Ulbster, a sad village of ruined homesteads and neglected a cemetery, where the path disappears again. This time at the edge of boggy burn with wide nettled banks and a steep broken weir. I'm too afraid to jump the weir with a heavy backpack so I throw and shove my pack across before clambering after it and then across rough country to, once again, meet the A99. A very late lunch at the Portland Arms Hotel in Lybster and I feel much better.
Early evening, Inver campsite in Dunbeath is a very welcome sight, as is the Inver Arms across the road where the barmaid kindly produces a cheese sandwich at 9:45pm. It's been a long day.
Saturday 2: Dunbeath to Helmsdale (17 miles). Clear skies, warm and sunny with light breeze. Blisters patched-up and minor niggles ignored it's a long road walk to Helmsdale with a short pleasant stretch along the old A9 just north of the village. My planned lunch stop, the post office at Berriedale, is closed so it's a hungry walker who reaches the relative comfort of Helmsdale YHA and healthfood - one of the best fish & chip shops in the country.

Sunday 3: Helmsdale to Brora (10 miles). Warm, sunny with cloudy spells and a light breeze. My daily distance is dictated by accommodation stops so this is a light day of road walking to Dalchalm campsite just north of Brora with an enjoyable stroll along the links into Brora in the bright evening light.
Monday 4: Brora to Dornoch (21 miles). Warm and sunny with a light breeze. More road walking as far as the splendid Dunrobin Castle's quaint railway station then coastal track into Golspie for a light lunch. I'm getting a niggling pain in my right knee as I reach a pretty minor road with passing places around Loch Fleet and I can't believe how badly sunburnt my face is - in northern Scotland! Finally I pitch my tent at Dornoch's windswept campsite on the links a mile or so from the village.
Tuesday 5: Dornoch to Tain (8 miles). Warm and cloudy with spells of light rain. A mile or so from Dornoch my knee pain suddenly gets worse and in considerable pain I limp across Dornoch Bridge, past Glenmorangie Distillery and into Tain where I get the bus to the YHA in Inverness, I need to rest my leg. The casualty department at Inverness's Raigmore Hospital examine and x-ray my knee - "no bone damage, just soft tissue, probably be okay in a couple of days" - good news, but I'll be stuck in Inverness for a while.
Photos along the Far North Way.

Monday, 11 July 2011

John o'Groats

Wednesday 29 June: I'm staying at the YHA in Canisbay, 3 miles west of John o'Groats. There is a party of middle-aged end-to-end cyclists staying who have peddled here all the way from Land's End. Drizzly today, but at this high latitude daylight lasts past my bedtime and tomorrow promises warm sunshine. So I fill in the guest book which includes an entry by Chris Lamb, the naked rambler's walking partner, finish my wine and have an early night. Tomorrow's a big day.
Thursday 30: It's an early start and I walk the 3 miles to John o'Groats for a photo next to the world famous signpost but, shock horror, it's pointers are missing, so instead I get a photo next to an empty post. Good day for walking though, warm and sunny with cloudy spells.
Photos of John o'Groats.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Egypt: Cairo

Wednesday 22 June: On the tarmac at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport many men in white uniforms and overalls scratch their heads and stare at my Air Egypt flight to London. There are technical problems with the aircraft, so it's an overnight stay in a comfortable four star hotel in Bangkok - the bathroom is larger than most bedrooms I've stayed in this trip.
Thursday 23: Arrive in Cairo with no connecting flight to London Heathrow, so a night and a day in Cairo, great.
Friday 24: I take a small local taxi to Tahir Square where office blocks, burnt out by the army to blame the revolutionaries, overlook the Egyptian museum. As dusty as always (no photos) the place reeks of ancient history and despite a robbery, staged by the army, everything is still in place with King Tut's golden treasures as magnificent as ever.

Finally, late in the evening, I reach my friends' home, Andy and Jeanie's, in Reigate, Surrey, England for a few days relaxation, thanks guys.

Photos of Cairo and Reigate.