Friday, 22 May 2015

Alness to Kildary

The walking party, 23 May, at Ord House Hotel
Tom, Susan, Elinor, John and Stuart
This was a moving day, so it was time to pay our bill (how did they manage to make mine exactly £999.90?) at the Ord House Hotel, and move on to Tain. Susan and Elinor drove the cars, dropping Stuart, John and myself off exactly where we had finished the previous day, before driving on to Tain. The plan was for them to join us for lunch and then finish the day’s walk at Kildary.

So we set off in fine weather, first of all to walk for a mile or more through Alness itself. The town has a grand, wide main street, and a few large 19th Century houses in the centre. But most of the fringe of the town is much newer, and we
Alness - a handsome centre
finished up the urban part of the walk going through an estate under development, with a dozen or so rather ugly “executive homes” at various stages of completion. It’s all rather surprising. Scotland’s population is not, as far as we know, on the increase, and peak oil is history, so why is so much housing in these towns so new? Research required.

At last we were out of Alness itself, and on the minor road to Mossfield. This was the start of what I had planned to be one of the two off-road parts of the day’s walk (although in the event it was the only one). It started with a grassy track between two houses, a kissing gate made of plyboard with scarcely room to squeeze through, and then a few hundred metres of muddy track through woodland. It meant rougher going, which we all found a little more tiring than road walking, but it was certainly more enjoyable.

A continuous roll of silage. How do they do this?
Then it was open fields, inspected by a series cows – firstly a field of yearlings, then by one of heifers and their first calves. The final bit was along a track leading to what must have been a haulage contractor’s business, with abandoned trailers in the field and along the lane. I never cease to be amazed by the amount of junk that gets left in so many farms. Farmers may expect walkers to observe the country code, but they seem to ignore it themselves. 

The next stage was a long, steady uphill haul - just the sort of gradient that seems easy but actually takes some effort. To our left was a field of rape in full bloom, now stinking with overtones of cabbage; to our right there was what is obviously a major riding establishment, complete with a covered manège and extensive stabling. There were also several holiday cottages, which underlined the fact that this is a major operation. As Stuart and John commented, it’s probably more profitable than farming. And shortly afterwards we came across an area where flags were flying around a paddock, and a field was being marked out for parking. Presumably some major horsy event was due to take place over the bank holiday weekend, thought there was no signage explaining what it was to be.

The hope that we would meet up with Elinor and Susan by noon had obviously been wildly optimistic. It was already close to 12:00 and we still had more than two miles to go.  Frequent exchanges of phone calls kept putting the time back. But at least it wasn’t only my optimistic assessment of how long it would take: Elinor and Susan had been dropped by their taxi well short of the intended meeting place, so had to walk more than a mile themselves.

Bog cotton
Our final bit was something of a route march, mainly along what the map showed as woodland, called Badachonacher Moss. What OS maps fail to show, of course, is the maturity or otherwise if woods, and it turned out that much of this one was clear felled. My original plan had been to take forest tracks through it, but that was no longer sensible. It would have added another half mile or more to the journey, and besides it wasn’t woodland any more.

Although the trees had all gone, leaving large areas of moonscape, they had left a few trees at the roadside, and the felled area had the most extensive and dense growths of bog cotton I have ever seen. I remember lots of bog cotton from the Pennine Way a couple of years ago, but this was much more remarkable.

We actually managed to walk past the point where Elinor and Susan had found a picnic table, and they had to call us back. It was now much chillier, so our lunch didn’t detain us long. Then it was the final stretch, downhill pretty well all the way to Kildary.

The most intense gorse yet
Gorse had been widespread before, including extensive borders along roadsides and forest edges, between fields, and even large areas of hillside. But the road down to Kildary and the journey on to Tain was of a different intensity altogether. Here the gorse was at its flowering peak, with the blooms so dense that bushes seemed entirely yellow. This must be one of the most gorse-intense areas in all of Scotland – though there is certainly no shortage elsewhere.

We called for the taxi that had taken Susan and Elinor up to meet us, and it collected us from Kildary after no more than a few minutes wait. So we arrived at our next hotel, the Carnegie Lodge in Tain, by early afternoon.

Bright, but with a fair amount of cloud, and occasionally chilly in the wind. Better later in the day. 14 to 18C. 18.55 km, 260 m of ascents and 232 m of descents. Minor roads for most of the journey, apart from one two-mile section through woodland and fields.

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