Day 91 Evanton to Strathrory 14mls

For the next two days I wasn’t even going to try to follow the John O’Groats trail ,but head into the hills to cut off a corner. It was going to be forestry and more forestry today,so I had better keep my wits about me.

I found the way from the campsite without any problems, but then at a crossroads of paths took the wrong one and after about a mile found myself back on the road again. Once back on the right direction,I made sure to double check constantly. Forestry tracks are so confusing for there are often additional ones not shown on the map.

I reckon a mountain bike race was imminent. There was a very naughty bit of me that was sorely tempted to change the direction of the arrow. I didn’t.

After much up,down,round about and anxiety I found myself at the Fyrish monument. Having only seen one person running up to now,I was suddenly surrounded by many people. They had all come up from the carpark in the other direction.

There were some very good views from here.

From the carpark I had a very long and dull road walk which seemed to take forever. There were big trees and small trees, but for a long time there was nothing else.

On the positive side however, there were huge quantities of very nice Bilberries growing alongside the verges.

At long last I turned onto a track which took me across the Alness river near Ardross Castle. This place complete with turrets, towers,a river and sweeping views would be an Americans dream. What looked like a major housing development from the other side of the valley, turned out to be the brand new Ardross distillery being built. Obviously this is the line of work to be in.

The castle gates were equally impressive.

I’ll skip over the next 4 miles. They were just as tedious, but had to be endured because I needed to get to a river for my overnight camp. As it was, I only just managed to find a suitable place before the rain started. Why does it always rain when I camp out in the middle of nowhere.

Day 90 Black Isle to Evanton 12mls

I was asked to close the velux window of my room last evening because of threatened rain,and I think it poured all night. It was still coming down in stair rods when I ventured out this morning, and that was not good, but this is the price one pays for adventure.

After a horrible but quick dash along the far too busy A832, I was onto side lanes. Fields,roads,tracks and in fact everything seems to be operated on a grid pattern in the isle. Travel became zig zag, for every time I met a junction I headed off at another right angle.

In dips large lakes of water accumulated,and streams ran down sides of roads. Wet feet, here I come.

Low cloud obliterated any longer views, but then just as I reached the top of a small hill, the rain stopped and a burst of sunshine appeared.

Far away beyond acres of yellow cereal fields, a thin line of bridge curved away across the sea. I was so excited about all this that I promptly went the wrong way and had to add an extra loop to my road hike.

By this time I was in dire need of coffee,so called at Culbokie stores. There was little space between aisles and quite a number of elderly women clutching baskets,so trying to manoeuvre around resulted in some chaos. After I’d knocked price labels and packets off shelves, and bumped my soggy self into other shoppers I decided to make myself scarce clutching my coffee.

Just as I reached the bridge I caught a glimpse of a black and white marker on a post. Someone had been out marking the,’John O’Groats trail’.

Yet again the tide was going out so there were sand banks in plentiful supply on the Cromarty Firth. For anyone else going this way, keep to the left side of the road, for the pavement disappears on the right. I had to do a quick dash when I was suddenly stranded.

More waymarking on the other side. The sign directed me away from the A9 past Ardluie Lodge so that was definitely a good start. The difficulties started when I had to firstly get over a fence, over the railway and then into a sea of wet, waist high vegetation to reach a small white cottage. I opted for a trudge through the potato field next door as a better option .

From the road Foulis Castle could be seen in the far distance. More road and more rain, but at least the rest of the way to Evanton and the campsite was direct.

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Day 89 Inverness to the Black Isle 11mls

Time to leave Inverness behind. It’s a rapidly growing place and I’m not that keen on it, but having rested at the SYHA hostel I’m somewhat rejuvenated.

The old part of the town centre and the area by the river were quite attractive.

Getting out of the town was as bad as getting in. The way in took me through mind and foot numbing suburbs, while the route to the bridge went through yet another industrial estate.The simplest method of finding the way was to follow cycle way 1 from the centre and that took me right on to the bridge.I lost count of how many timber and wood products companies I went past.

Once on the bridge,I had grandstand views of the mud flats for the sea was fast disappearing. No dolphins today.

The cycleway across the bridge was narrow,so I had to keep a careful eye out for cyclists coming up behind. Once over the other side , there was only a short stretch of A9 before I could take a side path down to North Kessock.

No campervans down there, just peace and quiet and a very nice café with friendly staff. From here I followed the little road along the southern edge of the island. By the time I had reached Milton, the water had gone right out leaving sand banks where gulls were busy having their lunch.

A very short way up from the hamlet,I went through some rather grand but tumbledown gates, past a gatehouse and up an overgrown drive.

Around the next corner appeared this wonderful ruined castle, imaginatively named Redcastle. Apparently it was abandoned because the walls were subsiding into the adjacent gulley.

From here I entered Gallowhill Wood, where my grand plan started going wrong. I wasn’t quite sure where the tracks went through this large tree covered hill, but I’d looked at on line maps that seemed to show them going north to meet the A9.

My track however insisted on going up. As there were no other paths and the trees were dense ,I carried on, with the track now circling back on itself. I was concerned that I’d end up back where I’d started which would have been irritating.

I must have added around 2 miles to my day by the time I met the A9 , but there wasn’t much I could do about it. From the main road I could see the mountains to the north of the island, over the next stretch of sea.

The Black Isle Berries Bunkhouse where I was staying made everything better. I’m giving it a boost as a place well worth going to, for it’s clean,new and very well equipped. Just check your route if coming on foot.

Day 88 Moy to Inverness 14mls

Today was another day of meeting large vehicles on small lanes, but more about that later.

Having camped half way up this hillside,I wondered whether I could take a short cut first thing. Otherwise I would have to go down to the A9 , along the cycleway, and back up again onto General Wade’s Military road after a couple of miles. I’ve had rather too much of the A9 as it is.

There was a track going in the right direction that wasn’t on my map, so nothing ventured, nothing gained. Yesterday I’d discovered that I could have used a footpath going from the distillery almost to my overnight stop, instead of along the road. The path was marked from this end,but goodness only knows where it started at the other.No obvious track on the map or sign.

Loch Moy and the castle were visible in the valley.

The new track was fine for half the distance until it went steeply uphill at a deer fence. When I saw a gate in that,I decided it was time to go across country and aim for some buildings I could see in the distance. I hasten to add that I would not have tried this had the ground been boggy,or had it rained recently. Getting wet feet is not my idea of fun.

Yes, progress was a little slow, for tall heather, semi dried boggy patches and birchwood do not make for speedy travel. On the way I startled a Roe deer, another hare and several escapee sheep,but to my delight just along from the houses was the start of General Wade’s road.

I rather imagine this path would be hard going in normal Scottish conditions, but in this dry summer the bog had dried out. Underfoot was merely springy rather than squishy.

The path became a dusty stony forestry track after a mile or two. Thankfully dust clouds signalled the imminent arrival of vehicles. Firstly a log filled HGV and then later an enormous quarry vehicle laden with gravel. Each took up most of the track but I’m pleased to say there was plenty of room for me to escape on either side.

A few surprise historical items livened things up along the way. This cairn commemorates the Rout of Moy. On 16th Feb. 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie was staying as a guest at the Castle of Moy. When the Hanovarian forces garrisoned at Inverness found out, the troops immediately set out at midnight in a storm to march there. The cairn marks the spot where 5 Jacobite watchmen spotted the 1500 soldiers, and set out to thwart them.

A combination of surprise shooting, turf piles on the moorlands, and lightning flashes convinced the Hanovarians that the whole Jacobite army was waiting, and they turned back and fled.

Anyway back to the present. General Wade’s road went up hill and down dale , and as I got closer to Inverness progress again slowed.

The reason this time was huge quantities of wild raspberries growing along the path. I couldn’t resist,and anyway I needed my vitamins.

The very last section of path was the nicest. No dull forestry roads but instead a nice meander through mixed woodland.

A very small lane took me down into the suburbs of Inverness. Just as I reached the end where it was hemmed in by walls,an even bigger HGV turned to go up it. Was this a Sat Nav misdirection in action? I seriously doubted whether that vehicle would fit, but I reckon I’d had yet another close escape.

Day 87 Carn Thearlaich to Moy 12mls

Well the rain certainly did come down in the night so I definitely did the right thing in staying inside. There was a broom ,so I’d swept the place and tidied up before making myself at home. Like other huts I passed,this one had a large table and benches inside for use during grouse shooting lunches, but judging by the length of the grass blocking the gate,it hadn’t been visited since last year. Nothing scratched or scrabbled during the night which was certainly good, and I definitely left it looking better than it was when I arrived.

The track continued uphill. Having seen one hare yesterday,I lost count of how many bounced here and there today.They really are the original Easter bunnies because they sit up on their hind legs,ears up, looking around, just like the foil wrapped chocolate version.

Where the track ended,I headed out overland to get to the top of a nearby hill. The vegetation was very low growing here, but due to everything being very wet,my boots still managed to get soaked. There were some very attractive colour schemes going.

I met a double fence line leading to a gate by a cairn and a trig point. This was more like Escape from Alcatraz than the middle of the Scottish Highlands, because for some bizarre reason one of the fences was electrified.

I can only presume neighbouring estate owners must loath each other. There are no deer so perhaps their sheep are especially proficient at the high jump.

From here I could see right down into the next valley and the Findhorn river.

Another track started from the gate and took me right down to the road at the bottom. There was then a long slog out to the next road,but much to my relief, few cars. I was offered a lift by a gamekeeper,and when I explained why I couldn’t accept we had a long conversation about camping and footwear. I think he was glad to find someone to talk to.

On through Tomatin, where I found a community shop for a sandwich and a cup of tea,and then on past the distillery.

This funny waymarked path went for about a mile and a half, but it did at least mean I didn’t have to walk along the road. A little further on,I followed a track a short way up into moorland. I’d seen a building marked ‘bothy’ on the map and was curious. While the building was uninhabitable, there was a very good level camping spot just beyond with a stream just below.

Day 86 Aviemore to Carn Thearlaich 10mls

Having spent a day resting, restocking and drying out,I was off to the north again.

The day started with a short walk westward along paths and old road sections parallel to my old friend the A9. I was looking for the start of a track going up into the hills, and I found it beautifully waymarked.

The evidence has been shown in case there is disbelief that the track is actually called the’Burma rd’. I would love to know how it got its name.

The next wonderful thing was to see a sign reading ‘ traybakes for sale’ at a house just a few yards up the track. Perfect, because the one thing I hadn’t bought for the next few days was anything sweet.

The Burma rd started off steep and carried on steep. I didn’t try to rush and plodded on, with the result that I made steady but slow progress. On the way I was overtaken by several puce in the face mountain bikers and a jogger. Rather them than me.

All of a sudden I was quite a long way up , and on looking back saw panoramic views of the Cairngorm mountains which I had passed through two days ago. The clouds were sitting over the mountain tops again.

There was more than a passing similarity to the Pennines as I reached the highest point of the track. As if on cue, the wind got up and the rain started. My hopping and wriggling into my waterproofs must have so startled a mountain hare, that it jumped out onto the track almost in front of me. I had a very good view of it before it literally bounced off to the left and away.

The vista to the north was as impressive as that to the south. The Burma rd wiggled its way off onto the far north and the hills spread out in all directions. No chance of losing that path.

Eventually I reached the bridge over the river Dulnain, where I turned left and followed the river for a short while. In the distance was the red roof of a building which I had a feeling was an estate bothy. It would be good to find somewhere dry for lunch.

Had I arrived later in the day I might have stayed as this place was cosy, clean and dry, but I wanted to get on a bit further.

Up another hill I found another hut and as it was open, and there was a stream nearby decided to stay. I could have camped but the weather was looking very unsettled, and anyway, why get wet when you don’t have to.

The view from the porch was rather good.

Day 85 Corrour to Aviemore 13.5mls

More rain in the night and I woke to midges and very low cloud that sat over all the hills like a big damp blanket. It was all pretty horrible,so this was an exercise in how to pack everything up inside the tent and then emerge fully dressed and ready to go. After putting on the ‘smidge’ that is. It works,as I can testify in my efforts to take down the tent and also pack that away. Anyway I was off rather early.

The little bothy had gained two more tents around it,and as I walked away I counted another two down by the river.

The path went steadily uphill and of course into the fog. I was going into a huge glaciated valley between the mountains known as the Lairig Ghru which is known for spectacular scenery. Not today, that’s for sure.

So much for the views. There was barely any breeze and what there was, came from behind me. As a result the midges kept up with me very happily, idling along in my slipstream. As soon as I stopped there they were, buzzing expectantly and ready for breakfast. Thank goodness for insect repellent.

It wasn’t until I reached the higher parts of the path that the cloud parted. Quite fortunate really because the path disappeared into a boulder field and the direction was not clear in thick fog. I was then aware of huge mountain walls reaching up either side . The silence was total. Not a sound of anything up here.

Soon after, I arrived at the rather mystical Pools of Dee. These are a couple of pools from which the burn emerged, but they were definitely Tolkeinish today. I half expected a hand clutching a sword to emerge.

The highest point of the pass at 830m was marked by a cairn. It was also the highest point of my end to end walk so deserved a selfie. Actually there was not much else to take a picture of, apart from a pile of stones surrounded by fog.

As soon as I started descending, the clouds cleared,and I could see the huge mountain sides more easily. I also lost my little flying friends, for the breeze was too strong for them.

Descending took some time, for I cannot rush especially where stony,bumpy paths are concerned. Far away in the distance I could see the town of Aviemore beyond the miles of pine forest.

The descent was interesting. First there was heather and bilberry, and then further down I started coming across small scattered fir trees and juniper bushes before entering the proper forest. This was no plantation, but the original Scots pine forest growing over an enormous area. It’s a very popular area for cycling and there are numerous routes, but today being midweek,they were very quiet. I followed a couple of these right into Aviemore.

As always the last few miles went on forever and I dared not sit down for fear of failing to get up again. I was meeting up with Martin at the SYHA in the town and having a rest day the following day. No sightseeing for me, just reading and doing nothing.

Day 84 Falls of Tarf to Corrour 12.5mls

No rain during the night, but it started up again the very second I was about to get up. Thankfully the shower was short lived but my tent was very wet. While I was packing I saw the Spanish cyclist again. He had decided he couldn’t get his bike any further along the path and so, after camping further along,was heading back the way he had come.

The Falls of Tarf were quite spectacular even without much water.

The rather elegant bridge was put in place after a young man drowned there in the nineteenth century.

The path continued to wiggle alongside the river, and then when it divided into two streams, followed one between much bigger hills.

Eventually the landscape opened up into a wide valley. I was very glad that the day was calm, for up here walking against a strong wind would have been unpleasant. For once I was also glad the sun wasn’t shining, for under cloudy skies the temperature was perfect for walking.

The water droplets looked like jewels on this type of grass.

Part way along I came across the ruins of Bynack Lodge surrounded by a few old pine trees. It was probably too far away from anywhere to maintain it,even for deer stalking.

Soon after,I had a series of river crossings, but for once luck was with me and I crossed with dry feet. Low water levels and walking poles made stepping from stone to stone quite easy.

An estate pick up was driving along the track on the other side of the widest river and stopped just before I crossed. While I’d like to think he was waiting to offer assistance,I am sure he was watching and waiting to see me fall in, because as soon as I set off past him,he drove by. What a shame I spoiled his entertainment.

At the next river there was a bridge and I turned onto a side path towards the distant mountain tops. A little further on I had a wonderful spot for lunch with a view of waterfalls.

This path climbed steadily until I could see big mountains ahead with mist swirling around their tops.

As they got closer they were even more impressive.To the right of the cairn is the mountain known as ‘Devils Point’.

At long last I could see my destination in the form of the Corrour bothy. The tiny white blob at the foot of the mountains.

While I had been thinking of staying in there,I decided against after being warned of a mouse problem by another camper. Instead I pitched my tent on an area of grass nearby and enjoyed the views until the breeze dropped and the midges made themselves known.

Day 83 Blair Atholl to Falls of Tarf 12mls

I was off into the Cairngorms today and so of course the forecast was for rain. Just serves me right for getting smug about the weather.

Having first called at the shop for last minute food items I set off up the little road to the Old Bridge of Tilt. The water level was much lower than normal after so long without rain.

From here there was a track leading right up Glen Tilt following the river. The river went into quite a steep gorge at first amongst trees so although I couldn’t see it I could hear the water rushing far below. This very rare flower is Small Cowwheat and apparently it is only found in a few places in Scotland and not in England at all.

Just in case my flower knowledge amazes anyone, the only reason I know is because there was a helpful sign next to the clump.

As I continued up the track, the trees ended and I was in open land with increasingly large hills to either side. The clouds were very low and rain was threatening.

A few estate lodges were passed after which the track gradually deteriorated to become a path meandering along with the river.

High up in the top of a hill I saw a small herd of deer grazing . The only person I met all day was a Spanish cyclist who was hoping to find a joining path and so do a big loop back. His bike was quite heavily laden so I thought it might be a struggle.

And the rain started. Why did it have to rain when I was having to camp out in the middle of nowhere after weeks of dry. Just before the Falls of Tarf, I found a nice level area above the river with a stream for water close by. It wasn’t much fun pitching the tent in the rain but at least at this point it wasn’t heavy. It was wonderfully quiet here with the only sound being the river below,so time to find my kindle and have an early night.

Day 82 Pitlochry to Blair Atholl 10mls

After another and more disturbed night at this campsite I’d decided to move on and camp at Blair Atholl. Why do some people have to play music loudly late at night,let their kids kick footballs at tents until all hours and generally be extremely loud. Martin could sleep through this but not me.

Anyhow back to the adventure. Pitlochry is one of those tourist trap towns. Quite pretty, but jammed with traffic while every other shop is an ever more expensive cafe or restaurant. Today I was following the river path upstream,so looking out for signs for the’ Killiecrankie Route’. I must admit that I was feeling rather killiecrankie this morning, after being kept awake until 1am.

From the town the route was actually very pleasant along Loch Faskally. This is an artificial loch made from damming the river in order to supply water to the two hydroelectric plants nearby.

There was more cloud cover today, but had the sun been out the woodland surrounding the water would have provided lovely shade.

Beyond Faskally House, the rivers divided and the path continued into the gorge of the river Garry. As water levels were very low, the gorge was probably not at its most spectacular, but things were still very scenic. I was very pleased to see a very fluffy tailed red squirrel on the path and then watch it climb up a nearby tree.

I thought this was a pedestrian speed bump until I read the notice at the side. Apparently it is believed to be a grave of an army commander from the Jacobite period.

I left the path at the village of Killiecrankie, went over a bridge and joined a very long small lane. There was a firm notice stating that this road was dead end leading to a working quarry, so for a while I was unsure whether I could get through. There were however a number of houses and farms along it,so decided to take a chance and risk a cross country escapade at the end.

In actual fact I had no problems. A couple of large lorries passed me, but beyond the quarry, the lane passed under the main A9 and became a beautiful track leading as I’d hoped, right to the bridge for Blair Atholl.

This little place looks every way the estate village with all the houses built in the same style. My campsite is right in the grounds of Blair Castle, which unfortunately I wasn’t going to have time to visit. There were lots of coaches coming out,so a place that is definitely on the tourist trail.