HINO (Highlands In Name Only) – LEJoG Day 80
Day 80 pre-amble
Might as well warn you now – this is one of those entries where the walker (and therefore the reader, my apologies) wonders why he’s bothering! A very dull walk, comparable to Day 31 but longer. The worst foot pain so far. And really flat, without even much in the way of hills to admire from afar. The saving grace of Day 80 was that it was only just over half the length of Day 79. Meanwhile, the so-called Highlands looked more like Lowlands today, hence the post title.
LEJoG Day 80 (Thursday 2 September 2021)
Alness to Tain (11½ miles)
Cumulative: 1,161½ miles
Facts: Time on walk: 3 hours 50 minutes. Average speed: 3.00 mph (that is a big drop-off from a much longer walk, on an almost entirely flat route, and shows the effect of the foot pain). Weather: Breezy, cloudy, sun only broke through after lunch, warm/blue sky on arrival in Tain.
Practicalities: Nothing to report – a very good breakfast at the Station Hotel, regular check-out, quick visit to the local Co-op to grab lunch for later.
Start: Corner of High Street and Ardross Road, Alness, 10:05am. End: Royal Hotel, Tain, 3:00pm.
Today’s walk can be followed on the West and East sheets of OS Explorer 438 (Dornoch and Tain, linked yesterday): about two thirds West and one third East.
So, the first problem made itself known early. That bloody left foot. A persistent but minor issue since June, usually felt most after dancing. During the Great Glen Way it had been fine even after the 25-miler. But, after 22 miles yesterday, it was hurting worse than ever this morning. The big difference, I assume, was that Day 79 was almost all on tarmac. Even my short walk to the Co-op wasn’t much fun. It wasn’t just the left foot to be fair – my right little toe had suffered so much from the hard surface it had 4 (four!) Compeed on this morning.
This didn’t really bode well. How to describe it? Definitely not painful enough to stop me walking, definitely not as uncomfortable as my first distance walking problem on day 3 of the Cleveland Way, but definitely felt with every step and enough to stop me walking at pace at any time.
Now, the John o’Groats Trail (JOGT) runs from Alness to Tain, so obviously it was my first port of call when devising a route. With the left foot in mind, I had to ask myself which was worse: doing another 14.6 miles when I could cut it substantially by using the roads, or walking on tarmac per se? I decided to get my head down and get it over with as swiftly as possible. Again, some of the wooded walking looked unnecessarily convoluted, so it wasn’t a difficult decision. And in all honesty, I don’t think I missed much by staying on the road.
Headed north out of Alness for just over half a mile before coming to the Scotsburn Road junction. This road takes you almost all the way to Tain, and very directly too. I already knew it wouldn’t be one of LEJoG’s red letter days, and set myself mentally for a bit of a grueller.
Sign at the Scotsburn Road junction
(that’s the other thing – don’t expect much from photos today!)
Took my first break (11:30 – 11:50) about an hour from here. I really don’t know what I can say of interest about that 3 miles. Minor unclassified road, passing flat farmland and sometimes gated, isolated private residential properties. Various estates set back from the road. Newmore Wood in the middle distance to the left. Marking time, matching landmarks to the map. No headphones on the road, so the A9 was audible for more than 2 miles. The occasional reservoir.
The break spot was the point at which the JOGT route heads into the woods on a right-hand fork, just after Badachonacher. As it rejoins my road further along, I decided it wasn’t worth the diversion. Although the wooded border made a pleasant change from the first few miles, the road walking was still dull and uncomfortable. The next psychological target was Scotsburn, roughly the halfway point of the day. Before that – at last! – some notable contour lines to the left (north), rising to Kinrive Hill at 330m above sea level. To give you some idea of the drama (!), my elevation had risen from 37m to 89m over the course of the first five miles…
The view towards Kinrive Hill
Ah but yes, only “towards”. Kinrive Wood, as seen here, is at about 200-250m, and I don’t think the hill itself was ever visible. And this, I promise, is as close as the day came to a view of note. The other photos I took are so uninspiring they almost qualify as abstract art – ‘Mundanity’ (by Calvin Klein).
For example, Day 79 boasted two pretty impressive bridge crossings. Today’s sole bridge crossing was at 12:25, over the Balnagown River at Scotsburn Bridge. And it looked… like this:
Shortly afterwards came my last opportunity to follow the JOGT path into the woods (Scotsburn Wood and Lamington Park). Again I thought the direct route was more important, and left the JOGT behind at the entrance to Scotsburn House.
Scotsburn House (entrance and JOGT route)
Cosy little country lanes and farmhouses don’t really cut it for me. I would compare this part of the Highlands to Lincolnshire in fact, mainly because of some of the views in the last few miles. Before that, and purely in terms of LEJoG, the areas it most resembled were Somerset and Herefordshire. Neither of these estimable counties were at all ugly, but they were the most stringent tests of my spirit and commitment. Here in Easter Ross, I did start questioning my purpose for the first time. The site hasn’t really taken off like I dreamt, the money for Mind has only been raised by family and friends, the pandemic has affected everyone and I now find it much harder to motivate myself to write. On the last point: this entry is 7 months late and prompted by my impending return to Scotland for Days 83-86.
I mean, I didn’t have an existential crisis or think about quitting. But I did wonder who would ever read this, whether it had any use, whether I could have spent my 40s having a bit more fun instead…
BUT NEVER MIND THAT! Here’s a picture of some BINS…
Dainaclach (about ½ mile after Scotsburn House)
Very few of today’s photos (in fact, probably none!) woud even have warranted a thought on other days, never mind actual pixel space on this blog. But as I’ve indicated, some walks are so dull that recording them becomes a sort of art project in itself.
Anyway, continuing… after Dainaclach is a very straight stretch of road with Lamington Park woods on the left and a series of identical detached houses on the right. I remember these because they looked so classically picket-fence suburban (upmarket suburban, I should say) and quite incongruous with every other dwelling en route. It’s also where you change from the West to the East sheet on the map. I took lunch (1:25 – 2:10) at the point where the road finally bends left, near East Lamington.
Traffic was more frequent from this point on. I was close to a car park at Aldie Burn, a popular spot for trail walking and picnics. At this point the turning for the car park was a rare break in the woods.
Glen Aldie / Heathmount Wood (close to car park turning)
Not long after this however, the woods were left behind for good and the road veered right, now heading directly NE for Tain. Occasionally it was necessary to walk very close to the hedgerows to avoid traffic – the road is wide but does not always have a verge. The views east and south-east towards Moray Firth are nothing but flat land, churches, windmills and small villages. It reminded me quite powerfully of the view from the car on many childhood day trips and holidays to Skegness, hence the earlier Lincolnshire comparisons.
Soon enough you cross the increasingly familiar A9, and it’s less than a mile to Tain. The road to the centre is mainly downhill. I was staying at the Royal Hotel, which just so happens to be the end point of this stage of the John o’Groats Trail.
After the walk
Arrived at check-in time: nice relaxing afternoon and a fine evening meal. The Royal Hotel is excellent for the price. (It was the best part of the day, which shouldn’t surprise you!)
The following morning I took a train to Inverness, then another to Edinburgh. Stayed in Edinburgh at the Motel One on Friday night. Anyone planning their walk north of Inverness should be aware of the train journey times in Scotland, which make getting back to anywhere south of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in one day very difficult indeed. I returned home on Saturday 4th September.
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
Road walking all day, without pavements, so no headphones. However I’d like to mention that, the day after this walk, my favourite album of 2021 was released. The artist would (on 6 December) be my first live gig since before the pandemic. But this album (from 2019) is even better.
Picture (2 September 2021) of The Royal Hotel, Tain, shortly after arriving at the end of the walk.
Next: Day 81 (27 September 2021)… in which I’m caught short (no, not in that way).