Saturday, 23 May 2015

Dingwall to Alness

Yesterday was change-over day: Rosemary and Alan away to the South, and John Poulter, and Stuart and Elinor Goldsmith, arriving on the flight from Gatwick to Inverness.

Dolphin watching
Actually that’s rather over-simplifying things. In the morning Susan and I went to Chanonry Point to watch the dolphins, and were there with Rosemary and Alan (and 100 or so others) to witness a tremendous display of ten or more dolphins, including a mother and calf performing synchronised rolls not more than 20 meters from the shoreline. Then we managed lunch together in Cromarty before we had to head back to the hotel in Muir of Ord to greet our new walking companions.

We came across John half way along the drive to the hotel. His taxi had delivered him to the wrong hotel, and he’d already walked most of the mile and a quarter between the two hotels before we were able to rescue him with a lift for the final few yards. He had missed Stuart and Elinor at the airport, and they had been forced to wait for a hire car to arrive on a transporter before setting off to meet us. However, all were duly assembled, and after a brief walk around the block and an excellent dinner we were all set for the walk on the following day.

So in the morning it was an early breakfast, and then off to catch the 9:16 train to Dingwall. This was over-heated, but it was only ten minutes to take us to the point where I had finished the previous section with Rosemary and Alan Towers a couple of days earlier.
More gorse

So it was back up the High Street (a little more lively than when Susan and I had been there two days earlier, but still showing the negative impact of the huge Tesco on local businesses), and then up a hill to get to the minor road that runs parallel to the main road to the Northeast. The town continues for some way along this road, with the houses getting obviously newer as one gets towards the countryside.

After this it was actually quite a pleasant walk: even though it was all on the road, there was little traffic, so we were all able to walk side by side in groups of two or three for most of the time. The first part was gently uphill, but then there was a relatively level stretch before dropping back down again. It was very pleasant to have a larger group than usual. One can change ones walking companion form time to time, and get to spend time with everyone else.

Oil rigs on the Firth of Cromarty
And the views were great. 100 meters above sea level provided enough elevation to have wonderful vistas over Cromarty Firth, changing with the state of the tide, and across to the Black Isle, with its patchwork of fields, several of rape still in fine yellow flower. To the Northeast there was a series of oil rigs moored in a precise line between Nigg Ferry and Invergordon.

An easier alternative?
About half way to Evanton we came across a group of cyclists having a rest break, with their support van in attendance. This was emblazoned with pictures and advertising, including mention of the Land’s End to John O’Groats challenge. That was what this group were doing – and they were on the penultimate day of fourteen. It meant that they had to cycle 60 or 70 miles a day. I thought that this must make anyone saddle-sore, which was rather borne out when I saw one of them standing on the pedals when freewheeling downhill.

Stuart knew this part of the world quite well, as until seven or eight years ago he had owned a chunk of forestry in Glenglass. He assured us that there were a couple of pubs in Evanton, though I was suspicious, given that there was no blue tankard on the map. But he was right, so after not more than a few seconds’ hesitation we went in for a break – and drinks all round. This was a welcome break. Though the weather forecast had promised improving conditions as the morning progressed, the reverse proved the case, and it had become quite chilly and was beginning to spit with rain as we approached Evanton.

The easier way back to Muir of Ord
This was also the point at which Elinor and Susan finished their day’s walking, and caught a bus back to Dingwall. For Stuart, John and myself it was back to the road (rain finished), sandwiches in a bus shelter (better than sitting on someone’s garden wall) and the final three or four miles to Alness. Initially this was on a high quality cycling track that parallels the road and runs through pleasant woodland, but the last mile into Alness itself was along a dead straight road with no redeeming features and plenty of traffic. The only consolation was that there was still a cycle track, even if it was more like an ordinary pavement.

Then we were in luck: the timing proved perfect to catch a bus back to Alness, from which we could catch a connecting service back to Muir of Ord. So we were through the day’s walk and comfortably back in the hotel by mid afternoon.

Initially bright, but becoming more cloudy as the morning progressed, and a little light rain at lunchtime. Brightening in the afternoon, and sunny as we finished the day’s walk. 12 to 16C. 17.95 km, 150 m of ascents and 136 m of descents. Minor roads for most of the journey, though a little of the final stretch was on a walking/cycle track that runs parallel with the road.

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