Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Walk 191 -- Forres to Nairn

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 90 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 233 days.
Weather: Steady rain throughout. VERY WET!
Location: Forres to Nairn.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 1667½ miles.
Terrain: Some road walking and cycle tracks. A path between marsh and forest at the top of the beach. Mostly forest tracks out of sight and sound of the sea. Flat.
Tide: Coming in — though it was irrelevant because we didn’t see the sea until right at the end of the Walk.
Rivers: No.137, the Findhorn, just out of Forres. No.138, Muckle Burn, near Kintessack. No.139, the Nairn at Nairn.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Gardenstown. We drove to Nairn, parked the car on the harbour, walked to the bus station and caught a bus to Forres. There we made our soggy way to the level crossing to restart the Trek where we had left it in bright warm sunshine yesterday!
At the end, we finished at the car. We were so wet and cold we hurriedly drank our tea and returned to our cottage in Gardenstown.

What a difference a day makes! It started raining hard when we were on the bus getting to Forres, and it didn’t let up all day. It was then I realised I had left my overtrousers behind in the cottage! My cape covered most of me, but my legs got soaked brushing against undergrowth in the forest. Photography was minimal because we weren’t prepared to risk the cameras for the sake of a picture or two. The few photos we did take were from under Colin’s umbrella, and then the cameras was put away very quickly. The flat light made it pretty useless for photography anyway. The flowers we passed were pretty, but oh! it was wet!
We started the Walk at the junction of the lanes just over the level crossing. The road passes a distillery, and was very busy for such a narrow lane. We were glad to get off it on to a cycle track after about four hundred yards. 
This led us to the first bridging point over the River Findhorn — a Bailey bridge for walkers and cyclists which was only completed two years ago. This is nearly four miles inland, the next bridge is the main road and is at least another mile upstream.
I had planned this Walk carefully. Culbin Forest covers many acres, and it has lots of tracks going round in circles which don’t join up. As I said before, we could be lost for a lifetime in there! Not a happy prospect on such a wet day. Bearing in mind Additional Rule no.11, I chose a route which took us in as straight a line as possible to where there was marked on the map a path on the seaward side of the forest leading into Nairn.
After crossing the river we walked a couple of lanes, then down a grassy track towards Muckle Burn. Some cows in the adjacent field were spooked by Colin’s umbrella! They were trying to shelter, poor things, by the hedge. But when the umbrella brushed the hedge by them they started to leap about. Then they followed us down to the limits of their field — perhaps they thought we were going to take them in somewhere dry. I wish we could have. 
We both wished we weren’t out walking in this weather, but we only have the cottage until Saturday and then we have to go home. We have to make the most of our time.
We crossed the burn on a footbridge. Shortly after that we came to a large open barn. But it had a roof and was dry inside!  So we crept in and sat down very carefully on some boards to eat our pasties. We hope the farmer didn’t mind, but he probably never knew we had been there. We were careful not to disturb anything, nor leave any rubbish.

Just up the road we entered Culbin Forest. We could tell from the map it was not an ancient forest because the trees had been planted in rows. In fact most of the forest is less than a hundred years old. The area used to be a vast sand dune which was quite mobile. Sand was constantly blown over the surrounding area, blocking lanes, half burying buildings, choking animals and ruining crops. Marram grass was planted in an effort to stabilise the dunes, but that was not very successful.
The first trees were planted in the 1850s, and some of those still survive. But many of the saplings were buried by sand or blown away in the wind. The Forestry Commission took over the area in the late 1920s, and again tried to plant trees in order to stabilise the shifting sands. Most of their early attempts failed. Then someone thought of the idea of bringing in tree branches from other forests to ‘thatch’ the dunes. Not only did they provide shelter for the fragile new trees, but they also dropped nutrients in the form of bacteria and fungi into the sand surrounding their roots. Looking at the tall trees in the established forest today, you would never know it had such difficult beginnings.
We skirted the hamlet of Kintessack and walked along the road until we came to a sign directing us in to a picnic site. There was a house for sale there, and we wondered what sort of person would be interested in buying a property in such a place. We couldn’t find the toilets — didn’t fancy a bush in all that wet! — and realised we were well past where they were supposed to be. So we had to backtrack, and found them round the back of the house. The ‘Ladies’ was locked, so I used the ‘Gents’! The only other person in the whole of that forest today was a forest warden resting in his van near the picnic site. We passed him three times, but he took no notice of us whatsoever. A notice on a board told us of a ‘Butterfly Walk’ aimed at children which was being organised in the forest today, but obviously no one had turned up for it. I bet they were right fed up — if only they had planned it for yesterday when it was warm and the sun was shining.
I had picked up a leaflet in the Tourist Information Centre the other day. Inside was a map of Culbin Forest with numbers relating to numbered posts at the junctions of the tracks. We found these very useful, in fact we would probably have got hopelessly lost without them. “Straight on at 33, branch left at 34, etc.” Every track looked the same, as did every tree! But we saw a baby toad, that cheered us up.
We sat on a log to eat our sandwiches. But it was WET and we got cold, so we were both a trifle miserable. We walked on, and found the tracks we were walking on now were less used, so grasses etc had grown up in them. The undergrowth was wet, and I cursed myself for assuming my overtrousers were in my rucksack when they weren’t. The water soaked down my socks and into my boots making me even more unhappy!
On the Culbin Forest leaflet were marked two little pools named “Otter Pool”. At the bottom of the leaflet we were told that this pool was created in the 1980s to encourage wildlife, and suggested we may see otters there. 
Colin got very excited about this as we have never seen a wild otter in this country. (Oddly enough, the only place we have seen otters in the wild was in the centre of Florence under the Ponte Vecchio!) I knew we wouldn’t see any — in fact we didn’t even see the pool it was so overgrown! I don’t know why they write this stuff in tourist literature — don’t otters need running water anyway? 
The only place there was running water today was down my legs! But we did find another baby toad, so that was some compensation. Not much, but some!
When it was time to eat our apples, we couldn’t find anywhere to sit down. The soggy ground was out of the question, and there were no logs or anything like that. So we had to eat them standing up. I find standing more tiring than walking, so it was no rest. I can’t eat while I’m walking along because, with my lack of binocular vision, I have to concentrate on the walking or I’m liable to trip.
We continued on our way until we came out on the shore at the place where a path between forest and marshes is supposed to start. We looked eastwards, and the path snaked its way back towards Findhorn! 
We wondered how far back it had really started, because the map just shows miles and miles of marshes right up to the forest edge. We decided to eat our chocolate there. I perched uncomfortably on a tiny wooden post while Colin stood — he doesn’t find standing as tiring as me. Then we turned westwards and continued along a fairly decent track towards Nairn.
I don’t know if it was wetter out of the trees or under them. All I know is the rain never let up, not even for a moment. It would have been a lovely walk in sunshine, but there was nothing pleasant about it today.
We came across a circular seat which would have been the ideal place to sit and eat our chocolate on a fine day. It looked pretty miserable today. There was a bit of poetry on it:
sheltered from the waves
the ducks preen their salty wings
in fresh, sweet water
a place to reflect
on blue skies and grey seas
and to pose questions
The only question I was posing was, “Where are these blue skies you’re on about?” Perhaps I was not in the mood for poetry!
We soon left the forest behind and came to a picnic site with public conveniences which were exceptionally clean. We were grateful for that, at least we arrived in Nairn comfortable on the inside if not the outside. The children’s playground looked great, but deserted on this miserable day. 
We then walked through a caravan site, and had some difficulty in locating the footbridge over the River Nairn. We knew it was back a bit from the beach, and so we didn’t climb the dune bank on to the sands on the eastern side of the river.
At last we found the narrow Bailey bridge, and crossed over to Nairn Dock. We had to walk three quarters of the way round it to get to our car parked on the sea front. While we were doing this, Colin remarked that we had missed out the harbour pier walk on the eastern side of the river. We should have climbed the dune bank in the corner of the caravan site, and then we would have seen the harbour pier. BUT  WE WERE SOAKING WET AND FREEZING COLD! I replied (without even looking) that I had made an executive decision that the pier was too narrow and dangerous to walk (it wasn’t). Colin agreed whole-heartedly!

That ended Walk no.191, we shall pick up Walk no.192 next time on the seafront at Nairn. It was six o’clock, so the Walk had taken six and a half wet hours. We drank our tea and got going very quickly because we had a long drive back to our cottage and no dry clothes until we got there. But I did go and peep over the wall at the grey sea because I hadn’t seen it yet today!

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