LEJOG59: Drumnodrochit to Dingwall

The Saturday evening and Sunday rest day had been brilliant. I was no longer confined to my little Hilly but in a largish dome tent with an inflatable Bed and real duvet. There were fold out chairs and a gas double-hobbed grill on which meals could be made and not just reheated. But most importantly there were other people about so I didn’t have to do every little thing myself. We popped into inverness for a shop in morissons, and it felt great to be buying proper food and not tins and pasties. I also managed to upgrade my iPhone software, introducing innovations such as copy and paste (what will they think of next?) with the practical benefit that I can now upload my own blogs without risking losing them.

So I woke up on Monday feeling refreshed and ready for my final 8 days of walking. The melancholy of the previous days had gone due to the distraction of my ‘lifestyle change’. I had a long day ahead of me again, maybe a little over 22 miles, in order to meet up with the A9. This would herald the final stage of the walk whereby I weaved my way around this Tarmac river and it’s tributaries up to the JOG part of LEJOG. Maybe not the most auspicious way to end such an epic journey, but then nature didn’t create the land and humans haven’t shaped it over the years to fit with such a simplistic narrative.

As I exited the campsite I bumped ino another LEJOGGER. This was an older but very fit looking guy who apparently had started about 3-4 weeks after me and had since been going non-stop, taking only two days for rest. His route was quite different from mine, and hadn’t taken on the South West Coast Path so I didn’t feel too pathetic in comparison.

In fact, when he told me of some of his exploits I was glad I took a relatively more relaxed route; for example, he walked the 40+ miles from Tyndrum to Fort William in one go, starting at 4:30pm in the afternoon, walking through the night and ending up at te campsite around lunchtime the next day. Apparently after kinlochleven (28+ miles!!!) every time he sat down he fell asleep for 15 minutes. Interestingly he didn’t have a fixed plan, he just walked as far as he could each day until he got to the next place to sleep. I think he had been experiencing the ‘walkers high’ becase just before we parted company (he needed to get some breakfast) he asked me whether my sense of past, present and future had become blurred. I admitted that it hadn’t, probably because I’d been focusing too much on achieveing my route and had been too connected to the outside world to let go.

Afterwards I reflected that I could see the lack of fully letting go as missing out of an integral part of the walk, and beat myself up about being too uptight to fully appreciate the experience. But I realised that everybody’s walk is different, and is a product of age, lifestage, personality and the amount of time available to them. I might not have fully let go during my time away and reach some supposed nirvana of thought but I now understood what I needed to do to let go and taste a bit of it and (more importantly) that you don’t need to disappear for three months to do so. Given the right circumstances it can be achieved in a month, week or even weekend, and I fully intend to do so regularly when I get back.

The first part of the day involved a little under ten miles continuing on the great glen way. Similar to the previous day this involved plantations, forest tracks, ups and downs, with the interesting addition of a bit of undulating moorland at the very top of the hill. As I walked through I realised that I missed moorland and looked forward to seeing more of it once I reached the very northern part of northern Scotland.

Once I got to the point of turning off the great glen way I entered a completely new type of territory. This wasn’t due to the landscape, which became more typically agricultural (reintroducing me to my old friends cows and sheep), but due to the wayfinding. From now on I was going to be mostly following roads due to the lack of footpaths. This meant choosing between taking the more direct but less pleasant and more dangerous A roads or going via the quainter, quieter and safer minor roads.

I started off on minor roads. They were windy and often initially took me further away from my destination, but I didn’t have to worry about cars and could trundle along at a good pace. I past through several little villages and a rural art gallery in an old church which featured a massive metal sculpture of a lizard on it’s exterior walls. This looked a bit sinister from a distance, like Armageddon had arrived and demonic beasts had escaped from hell to roam the earth, eat it’s souls and descecrate it’s holy places. The weather was bright to start off with but got cloudier in the afternoon and even had a brief but hard shower. I arrived at Muir of Ord, six or so miles from my final destination, and decided to try my luck with the A road. It was late, I was tired and the minor road route would have taken several miles longer. It was a mixed experience. The first three miles were on a lonely road with over grown verges which provided just enough space to walk on but plenty of nettles and thistles to brush against my bare legs (I got stung so bad that I could still feel it several hours later). I kept having to stop to let cars pass me safely, and realised that A roads were not necessarily as quick to walk on as I had supposed. The second three miles were completely different as they past through a couple of small villages with lots of pavement and a new stretch of road with a purpose made cycle path. Hmmm. planning this A-road walking business was obviously going to be even more complicated than I first thought. I got to my final destination, Dingwall station, to find that my dreams had been answered: there was a pub next door! I waited here for my ride and wetted my whistle as I felt I thoroughly deserved after a long and tiring day. We left just as andy murray’s Wimbledon game was starting because we knew we couldn’t watch it all the way through, but promised ourselves that we’d make arrangements to ensure we were able to watch any potential future games. Then we went back to the campsite and a lovely meal of red Thai curry, camping style, was freshly prepared for me. I could get very used to this style of accomodation! Sent from my iPhone

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