Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Beauly to the Dornoch bridge.

Beauly to the Dornoch bridge.

As I was floating now I sped along out of Beauly, thankful for the boost to my campaign by the Lads from Manchester. They were heading for Dornoch, and one last day to John o' Groats the following day. I admired the camaraderie they displayed and it was evident how many people it was affecting. The walk ahead became very refreshing as the rain occasionally let me know it was still around befriending me. 

Muir of Ord was one of the next bigger places I passed through, but it had little in the way of anything to excite me to stay very long. I asked a woman of the way ahead and she directed me over the rail track and towards Dingwall. 

Conon Bridge was the next village to pop up and I stopped here for a coffee at a local tropical fish shop. Yes that's correct. It shared the same owners as the fish shop, and made lovely coffee too. The day was still pretty miserable as I set out after discovering the huge outlays of keeping these rare tanks and even the corrals were pricey.

The day was getting on, I hadn't left the camp site very early as I had been enjoying the retirement rest. Now I was keen to see what Dingwall had to offer. It seemed an odd sort of a place. I walked around and saw hardly anyone even though it was only about 6pm. I called into Tescos to see what goodies they had on offer for my dinner. As much as I don't like to always use the Supermarket chains responsible for the destruction of many small businesses, I do recognise my own hypocricy by coming here at all. They are open though at my convenience, and I have the chance for cheaper options for me to survive on my project. This is the strange thing about some of us humans. We have morals about so many things or at least rules of conduct in given circumstances, but we also have to recognise that in all bad things there is something a little good, and vice versa. I do believe that Tescos for example are one of the worst offenders of the price fixing commercial rigging on our planet right now, which in so many ways is reprehensible. But they do look after their workforce and continue to give people options for overspending and overeating with alarming regularity. Thankfully I am burning off so many calories it doesn't affect me at the moment.
Still, I do my best to restore the good bad balance by being kind to people as I travel. I just hope this is enough to off set the gates of hell for a while.
My intuitions never said anything about staying here much longer than I did, but the people I did see smiled and were as courteous as everyone else I had met today. Later on, the road became a bit hairy as cars sped past me very closely on the road that had a footpath only to the rail bridge running close to the Firth of Cromarty, and for miles it was a life or death battle to avoid being splattered. For this reason I began to slow down and lose daylight. But it did work out well in others as I found a very nice beach where the land entered the firth and moved me away from all the road noise. I set up camp and decided to have camp fire too as the temperatures had dropped considerably over the last hour. It really was a beautiful spot, and I could hear the seals out in the water to accompany me throughout the night. I ate well and settled down at about midnight as the last of the driftwood was finally burned through. I tell you, you don't often get this much peace and joy so many times in one day, but here on the firth of Cromarty I had had my fair share and slept like a king except for the smell of firewood on my coat...

The evening passed swiftly and the day arrived cool but dry. I still took some time to get up and ready and and eventually set out around about midday.

I was looking forward to perhaps walking off the main roads for a bit choosing to walk closer to the firth and passing through Invergordon. This was a pleasant little town, steeped in ship history and naval sculduggery. I ate in a great little cafe called the Purple Turtle Cafe. It had free Wi-Fi and home cooked food. (Though in a shop of course) Mike the owner was a man from other parts, somewhere south of England if I remember, but lived a few miles away now and had been running the place for about 18 months. As he said himself, business was tough but rewarding as many of the regulars were locals and they also held private events out of hours if requested. Kat was a funny and helpful waitress and the mood of the place was very conducive to me typing and trying to get some stuff published here. I sat people watching for quite a while too before they closed for the day.

 As I started along the road the waterproofs had to come out again, but I had eaten hot food and was still very happy to be back on my way and restored to the project with new meaning.

Along the road I found signs for a welcome to backpackers and  travelers which said they provided accommodation. it sounded like a wonderful place so I nipped in to find no-one at home. I rang the number suggested and left a message. after almost an hour of waiting I had received no response, I tried several times but no reply, so headed off again as I couldn't waste my whole day here it would be dark soon.

I wound my way back towards the A9 though I had seen options to keep me away from it ahead and eventually as it got dark was surprised to find a village with a pub and a shop, where I had not seen evidence of it on the map. Milton of Kildarty and the Milton Inn welcomed me with great freedom and smiles. Sandra the owner manager was very kind, chatty as were many of the regulars. A man named Scott was playing darts on his own, practicing but came over and engaged with me instantly. He was keen to know about the project, why I was walking so far and made a very nice contribution to the cause and invited me to several drinks too. Sandra asked if I could play darts and I began to throw the arrows against Scott, though I doubt I challenged his skills very far. At the end of the night another young man by the name Sean was chatting away to me telling me a lot about the village and life here. Sandra kindly said that I could put my tent up in the garden as it was. More of a terrace, but dry and close with lighting to erect the tent by.
I rose late again, maybe the whiskey bought for me, possibly just general exhaustion form daily walking, and sleeping on hard floors, but the day was fresh and I enjoyed hearing the sounds of nature echoing and responding all around me.

I found that there was a way of getting to Tain, not on the main A9 which was a relief. I headed into the forest and uphill and was amazed at the clarity of the oxygen here and the smell of sawn timber coming from many excavations and timber storage areas. I do love the smells associated with fresh cut wood, and the damp loam of the forest. After a while I stopped for an early lunch of cheeses and pickle sandwiches with yoghurt and self picked blackberries to follow.
The forest route though quiet and peaceful was being used by many cyclists and I felt as though I wasn't completely out of civilization. Some of the people living here are amongst the luckiest in the United Kingdom. The place is extra-ordinarily alive with nature and open space in the cleared parts of the forest, and delightfully green in the wooded areas. I saw many varieties of Rowan here, but noticed again that in the more open areas they thrived better than close to the Pines and spruce.
As I closed in on Tain I began to wonder how I was familiar with the name of the town, though never having been here before to my knowledge. I began to be able to see the sea again in the distance in breaks between the trees ahead. The town soon appeared though I was coming to it from the west effectively and high up. I crossed the main A9 and began to enter urban housing.

A castle looking building to my left caught my attention. It advertised a welcome to non residents, and was named the Mansfield Castle Hotel. I was intrigued as to what it would be like inside so decided to find out.

The receptionist said that it would be a pleasure to serve me a coffee. A very welcoming person with a charming manner who quickly asked me all about the reasons for my walk. I soon found out that she was from Brazil and had married a local Scotsman and was clearly very much in love. She asked if I had ever been to her native country. I admitted that I have been there twice in about 12 years, and she seemed surprised that last year I went to Belo Horizonte for nearly 6 weeks, capital of Mina Gerais to see my friend who lived there. Ariana (meaning, very holy one) was keen to ask me about many places she had never seen in her own country, particularly the Pantanal where I had been for about 2 weeks in the Millenium.
It was interesting to hear from her about the exam that she had to take next month, to be allowed to remain here with her new husband, as she comes from a country outside of Europe. It sounded very tough. She likewise knew far more about dates and events and places in Great Britain than most of the people born and bread here, myself included. We chatted away for about an hour, her English was immaculate before her shift ended and the new receptionist was introduced as Irene from South Africa.
Irene also came here for chance of a new life and was keen to tell me many things about her own country and many about the places she had stayed and worked here in the U.K. South Africa still sounds like a very violent place to be.
It was nice to hear from her about the duality of the Mansfield Castle Hotel with it's sister called the Moranje House Hotel. Apparently it was now back in the ownership of one man. It had once belonged to one of two sisters, the other owning the Moranje. It would seem they had very bad habits of competing with one another for the title of who's house was the grandest. Subsequently they had set about spending huge sums on decorations features and fittings to out do the other. It was indeed a grand place now, and I saw evidence of some of the clientele to have visited here, royals too. I made my excuses to set off again after a very nice afternoon indeed.

The town was small and quaint. I shopped for supplies and set off along the road towards Dornoch. I got chatting briefly with Andrew a man repairing the mullions of an old house's windows. He was very interesting and asked me a lot about my aims. We spoke about C.N.D. (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) that was around in the 70' and 80's mainly, but still going on now.

He had some different ideas about the subject of peace than I but I am sure we both desired an end to war and suffering of others at the behest of our governments greed. It was nice to have a chance to debate and we both shook hands afterwards as we said our farewells.
As I left the town, I soon realised why I had heard of Tain before. On the front of the bottle of GlenMorange whiskey it says, "Perfected by, the sixteen men of Tain."

Glenmorangie The Original Bottle
I was sad that the distillery was now closed for the day and I wouldn't be able to pop in for a wee dram with the men of Tain.

Soon I was crossing over the Dornoch bridge that had been opened by her Majesty the Queen mother in 1991?. it was impressive but not on the scale of the Forth or the Humber bridges but constructed by a shunt method it was one of the longest in Europe of its kind.

The other side was tempting me to walk along the shoreline as the road headed north for a while before turning east towards Dornoch. I found that the beach was pebbly making it harder to walk on but made a nice spot for camping so arranged the site and set myself down for a well deserved rest. I thought about another fire, as the temperatures were dropping but it would mean that it may be dark by the time I ate so ate first and then found it easy to drift away into sleep instead.

The following morning I couldn't decide whether to move on or not so I stayed in the tent with the flap open watching the water and nature and writing and typing and generally getting mellow with ease of not having plans that cannot be adapted. A couple came along the beach and we got chatting. Sandy and Susan who lived just the other side of the bridge near Tain were out doing the dog walking and they told me about so many local places to visit. Apparently the Castle where Madonna got married was only a short distance away the other side of where I was camping. I said that to be honest I don't mind who I meet, but I tend to be received well by ordinary people, more so than the (should we say) more affluent of society. They tended to look down on me as they might a vagrant, and I am actually a homeless person at this moment, so that might be deserving...
The day passed slowly, which was wonderful and I felt so good for the rest and the time to myself to reflect on the things seen and received as gifts from so many lovely kind people. I was looking forward to a fire on the beach tonight so set off to collect as much local driftwood as I could. I had a huge pile after several hours of wandering about the beach. When it came time to have a fire, the wind had began to pick up so I was not sure if it would be a good idea or not. Other forces had their way in the end, as I struck all five of my matches and they were all blown out before they could ignite the tinder.....

I got into the tent laughing my head off at the pile of driftwood and the lovely fire enclosure I had built that would now be available to some other passer by one day. Still, I can pay it forward. The job of organising the fire has already been done, so if you live nearby and fancy a night at the beach, the camp is ready to roll, help yourselves....

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