Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Muir of Ord to Dingwall

This was to be the last of the three days with Alan and Rosemary Towers. They would be going back down South for the weekend, but returning to accompany me for the final two days early next month to John O’Groats itself.

Rosemary and Alan on the Black Isle
As the crow flies – and by way of the main road – this is only about 9km. But the direct route didn’t appeal, so we manufactured a route by way of minor roads to the East of the main road, and then crossing the river on the main road (there is no alternative) and a final stretch of a mile or so into Dingwall itself.

Muir of Ord has a splendid name, but not a splendid nature: it’s actually a rather plain little town. A few older houses in the centre; an industrial estate with huge buildings on the road from Beauly; lots of newer estates on the fringes; and major new building projects offering new 2 or 3 bedroom houses at “from £100,000”, or at £365 per month with Help to Buy support. It still seems incredible that for the price of our flat in London we could buy ten houses up here. Such is the law of supply and demand.

It’s not even as if this is a particularly impoverished part of the world. Indeed, it seems quite prosperous. There are a lot of relatively new homes in the area, many very substantial, and plenty if other signs of prosperity. Of course, it’s pretty close to Inverness, so presumably a large proportion of the local population commutes in to town. But I shall leave this as conjecture: I don’t plan to study local traffic movements early in the morning.

The rabbit warren between two fences
Our route took us on minor roads through areas called Balvaird and Newmore. You can’t call them villages: they have no focus, and simply comprise 30 or 40 separate dwellings, each with a house name and a number – 19 Balvaird, for example. Once again each seemed to have a smallholding of 10 acres or so. All are pasture, most with a few sheep, and several horses. The sheep included a pair of totally coal-black animals with white flashes on their faces – something I’d never seen before.

The route involved regular right angle turns, and in an attempt to avoid walking three sides of a square on one occasion we tried to find a track where none existed. Two parallel lines on the map, the distance apart that would appear to indicate a track, represented what were in reality fences – and the area between was a continuous rabbit warren. I was prepared to cross the barbed wire, but Rosemary and Alan declined, so there was some inevitable retracing of steps.

Descending back to river level
Our progress was watched over by a pair of red kites. We saw them frequently, and initially thought there must have been more than two, but we never saw more than the two at one time, so presumably they were just quite wide-ranging. I hadn’t realised there were red kites up here: Galloway, of course, but not here. Were they evidence of another scheme in this part of Scotland, or wanderers from elsewhere?

After few kilometres on the heights of the Black Isle we came across a sign post pointing to Conon Bridge. Some careful map reading suggested that we could take this route, and after half or mile or so on the main road would be able to walk down to the river and along its bank to the bridge. And so it proved: a delightful riverside walk, mostly through woods that flank the river, and finally across a little open ground in to the town itself.

The River \Conon in flood
The Conon was in boisterous mood, flowing powerfully and probably two or three feet above tis normal level. But it’s surprisingly clean with such a big flow – clear, with no sign of the discolouration that happens with so many rivers in spate. No wonder the fishing in these rivers is so highly rated. Though perhaps not by the two fishermen we saw just below the bridge: the water, one said, was too big, and besides this part of the river would be at the top of the tide in just a short while.

The final part of the walk was through the town of Maryburgh and along the road into Dingwall itself. Fortunately there was a cycle track parallel to the (busy) main road, so we weren’t as exposed as I’d feared over this last stretch. But Rosemary and Alan put on their long league boots, and I found myself a hundred metres or more behind them before they noticed and waited for me.

The rail bridge over the Conon in Maryburgh
Then there was time for a quick coffee at the station tea room before catching the train back to Muir of Ord. As a final treat Susan was able to meet us there so that we didn’t have to walk the final mile back to the hotel.


Bright for most of the day, but with cloud building progressively. Much warmer than recently – 11 to 16C. 12.66 km, 221 m of ascents and 266 m of descents. Minor roads to start, then riverside path, and final 3km along A862.

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