I’m paralyzed!!! I woke up this morning to unbelievable raging hip and knee stiffness. It was raining outside so I was glad I usurped the B&B option rather than consider my first night of camping in the caravan park out back, as I’m sure the cold and damp would have compounded my agony. Fortunately after a hot shower my body parts began to slowly come back to life, but the old hip joints were still screaming at me for having to carry the weight of a backpack for 20 something miles the previous day, when usually the heaviest thing they’ve ever carried was a belt.
Rhona, the landlady of the caravan park, made sure I was down at breakfast for 7:30 as she knew I wanted to be on the road again as quickly as possible. After shouting my name a 2nd time to come down for breakfast I felt like a kid getting ready for school again, but then wondered, somewhat embarrassed, what the other residents must be thinking. When I got downstairs there was a full hot meal laid out for me. Considering the room was only £30 the spread alone was worth every penny. As I ate, Rhona relayed various stories of all the walkers, cyclists, drivers, and skateboarders (?) who had stayed at her place over years. She made it quite clear there was nothing she did not know about the End-to-End journey, though never endeavoring to do it herself. A truly remarkable and stout Scotswoman with a heart of gold.
I said my goodbyes to Rhona and the man who I previously thought was the landlord, but it turns out he was the cook. Before I left out the door Rhona put a few pieces of fruit on my bag and reminded me that, “Fruit is not just for decoration, but for eating”.
I hit the road in the pouring rain. I was now heading into dense, green woodland rather than the sparse, almost barren, countryside I had just travelled; and judging by the hills in the distance it wasn’t going to be an easy day at all.
I couldn’t have been more right!
Before I go on I have to say my boots were a little bit more agreeable today for some reason. I can only think it was because they knew how cross I’d been with them yesterday. So for now I’ve decided to persevere with them, however they are on probation.
Once I’d left Dunbeath behind, the road veered away from the coastline and then went straight up….and up….and up into the hilly woodlands. There were no practice hills, or small moundy bits, nope, straight up. There wasn’t even a warning sign for crying out loud! Sure, it’s ok to let everyone know when there are dear prancing about, but steep, life-threatening hills with no soft shoulder to walk on, no that’s ok, no need. I tell you, every imaginable expletive I could think of, and some new ones, went straight past my inside voice into the great outdoors. Honestly, I was still getting to grips with walking on flat roads, let alone the lingering aches that went with it, so you can imagine all those ‘why the f*ck are you doing this?’ thoughts were ringing loud and clear.
On the plus side it was nice to be out of the cold, biting sea wind, and being surrounded by pine trees was like being back in Canada. Shame I only saw wet, grey asphalt in front of my face for the most part of the day from those bloody vertical roads.
Then came the bends in the road. I can just about manage the ‘no soft shoulder’ thing. I’ve eventually gotten into the practice of hopping off the road into the bush everytime a car comes by, but the bends in the road were quite drastic today. Why should a corner be such a problem? Well, when there’s a great big hedge growing from it into the middle of road that you can’t see around for starters, and the opposite side has a hard shoulder that practically runs over the white line. You then have to stand flush against the bushes (with a big backpack) like a ponce, and listen out for traffic. As soon as it goes quiet you have to run your tits off and hope for the best. There really must be someone watching over me.
So all in all a pretty harrowing day to say the least…and then the fog came in. So now I can’t see my hand in front of my face, let alone the massive HGV’s and tour buses hurtling towards me at the rate of nought that take up 2 traffic lanes….(sigh)
My target destination today was the village of Brora. 26 miles from Dunbeath. I’d heard from Rhona this morning that there were plenty of B&B’s there, so I should be fine. Well, I think times may have changed since Rhona was last there. You know those old westerns where the lonesome traveller rides into town on his horse and all the shopkeepers change their signs around from ‘Welcome’ to ‘Closed’, well that was my impression of this town. I knew immediately this would be a dead-end cause in finding accomodation after noticing every woman in town had either a blonde or silver bob and wore a gilet or a hunting jacket. I must of stuck out like a sore thumb as the ‘wrong’ sort of person. I did try, and do regularly as a common courtesy, to greet everyone I pass, but when you’re given a look that begrudges you the breath that demands they return etiquette to an undesirable it gets a bit tiresome. After trying a few B&B’s and hotels along the main thoroughfare I had to accept defeat and started to walk out of town with my tail between my legs, feeling sorry for myself in the pouring rain, and it was getting dark.
Scotlands Land Reform laws allow wild camping in any unenclosed area, but the prospects of finding anything remotely resembling that were slim by the looks of things. Most land was barb wired, gated or full of livestock. I was way past exhaustion by this point, but due to necessity I continued on for a few miles up the road.
After awhile I could see a few hills along the coast that looked promising, but there were about 3 fields and a set of railway tracks between me and them, so …”sod it, just do it!” I was glad to realise my ability to ‘up & over’ waist-high wire fences and prickle bushes was still in good form, but I felt ever so guilty that I was doing something illegal. I eventually found a prime spot overlooking the sea, but there did just happen to be a sheer cliff nearby. I figured as long as I didn’t roll over too much in bed I’d be ok. I had only previously set my tent up once before and was a bit weary that I wouldn’t remember how to do it again (there was a method I assure you) but sure enough before long it was up and I was snugly tucked up in my sleeping bag. The wind raged all night long and my Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 stood the stress test, as well my sleeping bag made by an Australian company, One Planet, kept me warm without having to wear clothes inside it. Big thumbs up!
I know I’ve sounded a bit like ‘An Idiot Abroad’ today with the whingeing, but there was actually some very beautiful spots along the way that actually reminded me ‘why the f*ck I was doing this’.
The 1st photo is the not so beautiful Scottish countryside, but a reality unfortunately. The 2nd is the fog rolling in, but in a photo you can’t see the reality of the beast! The 4th photo is the only stretch of straight road I recall in all the woodland. It was like the gates of heaven opened up and welcomed me in. The 3rd and 5th photos were taken at Berriedale Braes. Stunning area with loads of small waterfalls and grass covered bridges.