Saturday, 29 September 2012

What is the point ?

What is the point ?

There was still a climb I had to do to get onto the mountain path through the forests above which would see me well on my way into the Great Glen way. I met a few walkers coming towards me that had left Drumnadrochit this morning to walk all the way into Inverness. As I had been putting the tent away, it had rained so I needed to find a spot to dry it. Almost at the top of the trail I found a place and opened the tent up and pegged it, but just as it was almost dry it began to rain once more. Heavens above, I raced to get it scrolled up and into the bag but then it was hailstorms, and I nearly wet myself laughing at this scenario. The tent might be dry...ish and the bag certainly isn't but I was gladly fully kitted for the surprise turn of events. For a while I stood hunkered down over the tent and backpack hoping to save it all from getting wet and covered with hail, but couldn't stop laughing.....
Oh how nature can be cruel...

Later chilled and sweating I managed to make it out of the forest an onto an open stretch of road, where I met a lady called Barbara and her Daughter Susan who were just leaving her home for a brisk walk. They knew of the Eco Campsite and said that they would walk me to the gate, and also to pass on their regards to Sandra and Howie the owners of the cafe/campsite, heralded as an alternative experience. Again that familiar welcome from complete strangers was evident as they accompanied me to the spot were the track fell back into a small forest of new sapling trees. I thanked my escorts for their kindness as they returned the way we had come.

The signs were telling me that food and drinks were on offer as I wound my way into the Rowan forest. I followed the carefully arty signs and was soon at the turning into the heart of the site, where I found a lady de-barking a pine tree. We made our introductions, Sandra was surprised at my name, but very welcoming and happily filled my order for tea, three mint variety. She brought along some extra biscuits as well, bless her. I had wanted to know all about the site and their ideals as it were for an alternative lifestyle. They seemed to have everything under way for a self sufficient way of sustainable living. Admittedly there was no hot shower here, at least for the campers, but everything else was a wonderfully rich experience, that I ate up with glee. Having myself a camp fire for the first time was a lovely touch, as I bedded down in the late evening in this forest of Rowan trees.

Sandra unfortunately was not the person I thought would be able to explain my recent fascination with this tree, but she added a few other new considerations to the melding pot.

For example, she was from the Orkney Islands. Apparently there, they thought that the Rowan was a tree to ward off the witches, rather than my idea that they were tools of the witches of old. Oddly enough and with good reason, they say that if the tree hangs heavy with berries, it will be a very cold winter or a very hot summer. As winter is due, I thought it made sense, that the birds and animals that would live on these berries would have a decent supply to stock up with, if a harsh winter came. And every tree I have seen this last few months are hanging very heavy indeed.

In the morning Sandra and I got chatting again, about everything and she wished me well for the rest of my journey. A few other walkers had come by for the hot drinks and she was busy rushing about after them.

Later in the morning as I reached the top of the ascent into the hills again, I had a strange feeling that things had changed in me. That is to say, though I am not unduly sad, I had a feeling that I can only describe as a lack of vision towards what I am doing here on the road to John o' Groats. I was temporarily struck dumb as to my reasons for the walk and the project as it is evolving.
Sure it is without doubt a great adventure and the people I am meeting are being very conducive to my aims of finding out what is great about Britain, but as to the real aim and reward I felt bereft of an idea. So I did what one must do in such circumstances, I gave up....
I said to the Universe,
Ok, I'm baffled, I have no idea what you want of me any more and I am going to quit and go home.”

As I stood there in the middle of the road I wondered what would happen next. Time seemed to have slowed right down, the sun was bursting through dull clouds and I had just quit. Three months of adventure and it was now at an end. As to what I would do now was anyones guess. Time ticked by.....tick tock...tick tock....
Then I thought, well as you have quit you might as well go home then.
Unlike the Forest Gump moment of realisation however, I have no home as such to go back to. So instead of turning around I carried on ahead, glad to be moving again and on my way home, where ever that would prove to be.
After a while I arrived at a crossroads, and found a Hotel where I had myself a celebratory meal, and loads of tea, as I contemplated my next move. The staff seemed at ease with my being here using their services and not being in a hurry to get away. I got chatting with Karen who was off camping this weekend in Ullapool, where there was a music festival on. I almost asked if I could tag along as I had nothing else pressing to do.
Later as I pressed on to a camp site near Beauly I was wondering whether my earlier conversation with the Universe had occurred or not, as I fell back easily into the routine of walking and paying attention to the omens. The Robin had popped up once or twice to tell me something, but maybe I hadn't been listening very well, no ideas came to fill the void.

At the Lovat Bridge Holiday park I met the owner Jimmy who graciously offered me both a free pitch and the use of all the site facilities as donation to my efforts in raising money for the 5 charities I am supporting, and I knew that I was supposed to be here. The facilities are indeed spot on and I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to have a shave and get cleaned up with hot water.

I settled into the camp bar later for a bite to eat. The menu consisted of Scampi and chips, Scampi and chips and more Scampi and chips, but none the less the food was excellent and hot and went down very well with this tired old walker. The place was sporting a fine looking log burning stove which kept the chills at bay, as I read a while from my old mate, Gandhi and his travels in the book I am reading about him and his beliefs.

The next day I set out happy and fed and looking forward to the retirement, when I walked into Beauly and sat to have my breakfast at the Cafe on the Corner.

As if by magic, after a few minutes of being there, in walked three men and a mid-life crisis. The cyclists asked me where I was going with such a huge bag and so I told them. Before you could say Tom Robinson they had asked to sit with me and asked me all about my journey. I likewise asked about their epic trip so far from Lands end by bicycle and only a day and a half to go until John O Groats. They were such fun, and oozed a warmth as they joked with everyone.

We basically took over a corner of the Corner cafe with out bags and helmets and cameras and requests for pictures to be taken. Sean asked one of the staff to take our pictures on his I Tablet. When it was taken she asked if it was ok.
He said, “oh its no good, we'll have to find somebody else who can take a decent picture for us.”
The waitress soon cottoned on as did I that this was his type of comedy, and we all laughed. In fact I complimented the three men, Sean, Ian and Ian all from Manchester, for the renewed wit and humour that was taking me out of my dour mood of yesterday, when I had quit. Meeting the three amigos who had cycled to raise money for charity, (Christies and Tameside Titans) all the way across the country had restored my conviction not to quit at all but to go on as planned. In fact I guess I own them a debt of gratitude for helping to raise me out of the temporary doubt about the rewards of the project. At the end of the day I can control only my aims, and not the responses of people to it. I have to have hope that eventually people will get where I am coming from and help me to achieve great things in the world.
Actually I needed these 3 to remind me that many people have been supporting me all the way along, with both kindness and gifts of charity and practical and financial support, and that I should be more grateful for that help. I am indeed humbled again by this revelation and thanked the guys as they not only paid for my refreshments, but helped raise some money for my charities too from other people in the restaurant. Thank you to Debbie for the generosity and her friend Liz, for the kindnesses. And a massive Thank you to Ian, Sean and Ian for being such great sports and helping me to regain my mojo....

They threatened to walk with me as I get around to Manchester, and I sincerely look forward to putting my tent up in their gardens... (Hope it isn't Mosside)

With this renewed vigour I sped along the highways and was soon laughing again at my temporary lack of vision and the remedy that had saved me.

Road to Inverness.

Road to Inverness.


The day broke and the guys in the room were up showered, breakfasted and out before I could open my eyes. Which was great as I do not like rushing out in the morning myself. I had the room to myself as I carefully packed my stuff away again.
In the town I had decided despite the possible costs that I would need another warm top. Having worn both of my fleeces and my coat coming through the pass had been just on the borders of comfortable, and if I had to sleep in my clothes and they were damp with sweat too, then that would certainly not be conducive to a good and warm sleep. So I needed at least another lite fleece. I found a shop and got speaking to the salesman, Duncan who was from South Africa. He understood I couldn't be bullshitted so gave it to me straight. The stuff they had was way too expensive....
I accepted that honesty and we got on well, and he suggested other places. He understood my financial concerns as is obvious when trying to walk for a year. If I have to spend huge sums on clothing and equipment then I will have less available to support myself with food and drink, and therefore more need for charity and the goodwill of the people of Great Britain. Though in the main these folk are doing the most amazing things to help me out, I still need a small dowry to travel with. I am preparing myself for the possibility of finding a job in the next month or so, as funds are dwindling and I am hoping that the job may be in the route of my journey too. Either that, or I will have to start begging outside churches....

I set off from Aviemore passed the Macdonalds restaurant, the only one I would recommend eating at. It was a massive hotel, with a shopping complex beside it. Oh to be rich and wealthy, not...

The roads took me towards Carr Bridge. It rained as it does occasionally, and I survived the maelstrom of cars trying to ditch me as I worked my way northwards alongside their road. Nearer to the village there were some very pretty walks through the woodlands taking me away from the havoc of the roads. I found a cafe and wrote some poems before stocking up on supplies at the local post office shop.

It was late in the day again, but I was in good spirits to walk on into the late afternoon/evening, arriving at Tomatin as it got dark. There was little in the way  flat areas off the road, so I chose a place directly under the street lamp at the corner of the road leading to the local primary school. I figured that as it was Saturday tomorrow nobody would mind me being so close to a school. The sleep was welcome and deep.

The next day I was out early as the sun shone brightly and the forecast seemed very good. As it happens, I soon passed a whiskey distillery, so nipped in for a wee dram, and a chat with the locals...

I had never heard of Tomatin to be fair, but it would seem that it was once one of the largest producers of malt whiskey in Scotland, and even now still houses stock for several other manufacturers. I liked the product, but unfortunately can't carry the bottle... I cried all the way to Inverness.....woohoo....

Seriously, after the crying, I walked on to find a place close to Daviot where the path descended into the valley and then across a suspension bridge for walkers. Phew that would save me a long walk to the bridge along the valley, and it took me all the way up to the Village of Daviot, though they had no public house for refreshments or food. I saw a sign by the church that showed a map of the local area and apparently the nearest place to eat was the Culloden Moor Inn some 4+ miles away.

To be fair I was starving, and the thought of walking for another hour and a half was painful, but it was a lifeline. I began my hike at a stong gait and narrowly avoided the selfish people racing past me along the back roads, before I saw the lights burning in the village ahead. God was I worn out. By the time I arrived I had decided that cost was not going to be an issue, and heartily tucked into Broccoli soup and a jacket Potato with chilli con carne..... Amongst the beautifully dressed clientelle and staff I must have looked a sorry sight. Windswept and tired and eating for Great Britain as if my life depended on it.....

I later found a spot to camp at the fringes of the famous battlefield of Culloden Moor. I was so tired I welcomed the noises of the night and haunting ghosts that roamed these moorlands for eternity, as a distraction from the road traffic.

Someone had told me not to bother with the expensive tour of the site and museum, though it possibly would have given me a more factual basis for my discoveries, and just walk the fields which is free. The place is enormous and you could easily put yourself in the days of that battle, where the soldiers and clansmen gathered for the slaughtering to come. Some 1500 Jacobites, clansmen and hired soldiers died here alongside an indeterminate number of English soldiers under the Duke of Cumberland. Bonny Prince Charlie left defeated it would seem, though to see the place, you could see why it was a fated attempt. The owners of the site are attempting to return the moorland to its original state at the time of the battle, after centuries of deforestation and farming have changed the terrain somewhat. I was actually surprised (and pleased) that the site is open to the public to walk across from several access points. Of course you are expected to show respect for the site, and the monuments as is correct, but usually sites like this are fenced off completely.

I was soon out of the moors and into the outskirts of Inverness. I found a Tescos 24 hour store as I wanted to use the cafe and toilets. I met a very helpful young lady by the name of Jen, who had recently begun working here after a very long time unemployed. She was a delight to be around. Full of life and energy and glad for the chance to get on with her career in the hospitality trade. Her story was a very heart warming one, it touched me, and I hope that I left her feeling equally rewarded for the kindness she showed me. Tescos need more staff like Jen, but well done them for giving her the chance. I say this even if I am not a fan of huge chain enterprises.
Later, shopping in bag, I made my way into the town and looked for signs as to where to lay my head. In the public house called the Pheonix, I met Sally, the manageress from the isle of Bute, and Ian one of the regulars, an ex taxi driver, and then Johnnie a man from the Midlands who lived and worked here now. They were an odd crowd. To say that they were an unusual mix of people gathered in a quiet pub where nothing much was happening, except idle chatter and drinking. I made my way later to a field in the north of town and set my tent up and fell quickly to sleep.

Waking I found myself in a playing field close to another school and behind the Go Outdoors store. This was a fortunate occurrence as I wanted to buy a stove to cook on or at least provide myself with hot drinks on cold days. The store was recently open when I had packed away which was great as I needed the loos too.
I love this shop. It has everything you can possibly ever need for outdoor adventures and every season. They had a cheap and small attachment and a small canister of gas for the job which I purchased. The Jetboil brand of burner was a dream, but at around about £100 I could not justify such decadence. 

In another store in the town, Craigdon Mountain Sports I later bought a mug/saucepan for boiling water/food and was served an given a handsome reduction by Robert the salesman. I appreciated the kindness, as I saved a little on the costs.
The city of Inverness is quaint and many things here to see, though I avoided the town in the main and walked along the river bank where I came across the lovely coffee shop called Manna House. I could not tell from outside what the difference was except my intuition told me to go in. It turned out to be a place run by a multi religious community as a local project for helping the needy and be a meeting place for quiet and reflective passers by. Everyone seemed to know one another, both staff and clientelle, and soon the lady running the cafe today, as a volunteer came over to make herself known and enquire of me my travels. Betty was a delightful woman, of mature years who made me feel right at home in the cafe. Bill the guy serving brought me tea and scones and I was in heaven, or close to it as we chatted about this and that. Faith is a big part of many peoples lives and I was happy that they were using it in such a genuine and helpful way. I had been reading a story in a small booklet about addictions too and we chatted about the lady from the book who was also a local. It was an inspirational account about someone addicted to Valium, prescribed by her doctors, that went on for almost two decades.
Betty was a real star, who made my day I have to say, and as I got up to leave, she wouldn't accept any payment from me for the refreshments, as a gift from her towards the Imagine project and my ongoing needs. I have much gratitude for people like Betty who see the need and act upon it. Too many people unfortunately are too obsessed with the life they lead to have time to notice a stranger and the chance to help them. God bless you Betty and Bill and the people of the Manna House project.

I also got into conversation with a couple, Ian and Audrey from Manchester and Dundee respectively, who made a wonderful donation to the cause and shared a while with me telling me all about life here in Inverness, and helped me to navigate my way towards the Eco campsite that I had been told about by Phil from Kent.

I said my farewells and set off along the river and across the islands that are the start of the Great Glen Way towards Abriachan. The Nessriver flows with incredible speed, so I must be careful not to fall in or I might not ever get out.

I enjoyed the trek out of the city and into the hills as the day drew on towards evening. A huge building, all the lights burning stood at the top of the nearby hillside. I wondered what was going on there, but received no answer, other than it was possibly a government run establishment. And what need have they for economizing with our tax payers money by turning the lights off in an empty building....!!!
I found a place to camp amidst a block of abandoned old buildings, possibly a former hospital. The wind was getting up so I set my tent in the shelter of some huge trees, and on soft grass and let the memory of the climb here take me rapidly into dreamland.