Friday, August 08, 2008

Walk 192 -- Nairn to Ardersier

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 92 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 235 days.
Weather: Cloudy, getting brighter with sun later. It got warmer as the Walk progressed.
Location: Nairn, via Fort George, to Ardersier.
Distance: 12½ miles.
Total distance: 1680 miles.
Terrain: Some concrete, some sandy beach, a grassy path through a golf course, but mostly road.
Tide: Out, coming in later.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.156 & 157 as we approached Ardersier.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.19, Fort George.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Gardenstown. We drove to Ardersier, parked the car and caught a bus to Nairn. There we walked down to the harbour to the spot where we finished the last Walk in such a soggy state. We nearly didn’t make today’s Walk – on our way we got a double chip in our windscreen, too large to be repaired! We turned round at first intending to get it seen to, but then Colin said it would “last until we get home” so we turned round again and continued towards Ardersier. As a result, we missed the bus we were making for and had to wait an hour. Not a good start to the day!
At the end, we finished at the car. We had our tea, and then returned to Gardenstown for the last time. That journey took two hours!
What a long way we have walked!
The next day we started our long journey back home to Malvern, stopping overnight in Carlisle because it is over 500 miles! It would have taken us three hours longer if we still lived in Bognor.

After alighting from the bus we walked through the interesting town of Nairn, past flower-filled gardens and a church with a bright blue door, to the car park by the dock where we had finished the last Walk. There we sat by the River Nairn to eat our pasties before commencing today’s hike. It was so cloudy we thought it was going to rain, which filled our hearts with woe after our experiences the day before yesterday. But precipitation held off, and it gradually got brighter — we even had some sunshine later in the day.
The course of the River Nairn used to change with great frequency, it’s outlet into the sea having shifted to a different place after every storm. In 1820 Thomas Telford was commissioned to build a pier which would stabilise the river and protect the fishing boats. He built just one pier to the west of the river, but that lasted only nine years before it was damaged by floods. It was repaired, and an eastern pier added. That is why we have the long narrow entrance to the dock which still exists today. The fishing industry in Nairn reached its peak in 1860 when 410 fishermen worked from 105 boats based in Nairn Dock. As far as we could see, only leisure craft moor in the dock today.
We looked at a sculpture of a fishwife, and read a plaque telling us how hard these poor women had to work in order to keep body and soul together, their families fed and their husbands supported. They were the unsung heroines of the fishing industry — I’m glad they are at long last being recognised.
We walked the western harbour pier, and looked across to the eastern pier which we had missed out two days ago because we were too damp and cold to bother. We then clambered down on to the beach where there was nice firm sand, ideal for walking on.  
There were some families enjoying the beach this August day, but not many. Some of them had constructed a splendiferous sandcastle which was sitting there waiting for the tide to come in.
There were also a couple of herons and a flock of redshanks looking for food in the shallows. The beach got more and more rocky and there was an increasing amount of slimey green stuff, so we climbed back on to the path.
In times gone by, Nairn used to be known as the ‘Brighton of the North’. (Personally, I think it has a much nicer beach than Brighton, though perhaps the climate is not quite so balmy!) The resort was particularly fashionable during Victorian times when sea-bathing became popular. Hotels were built, and when the railway arrived in 1855, increasing numbers of summer visitors were attracted to Nairn’s beautiful sandy beaches, it’s swimming pool (open-air in those times, but now enclosed and all-year) and golf courses.
It is still a lovely resort with sweeping views across the Moray Firth, pity there seemed to be so few people on the beach today. But then perhaps the recent inclement weather had something to do with that!
We passed some gardens where there was a lovely pond. It was in front of an hotel, and a notice told us that during the Victorian period of hotel-building, each structure being grander than the last, local stone was quarried. That is why the pond is there. So money was saved by not having to transport building stone, and a natural feature was created providing a beneficial habitat for wildlife. Clever chaps, those Victorians!
We came to the golf club which had PRIVATE notices plastered all over it, but the path continued between the golf course and the beach. There were lots of players out today, and at one place we had to wait while a group of men tee-ed off, but we didn’t mind. Everyone seems to have a “live and let live” attitude up here, none of the golfing snobbery we have experienced so often in England.
At the end of the golf course we sat on the shingle at the top of the beach to eat our sandwiches. We enjoyed lovely views across the Moray Firth to Black Isle as it was very clear. Colin photographed a hooded crow on the beach.
The beach continued for several more miles along a sand bar, and there was a track along it according to the map. But it was a dead end and we were doubtful whether the track went all the way, looking at the deteriorating state of the beginnings of it. So it was with regret that we left the beach and made our way to a parallel road. It wasn’t clear where the path led up to a farm as it was rather overgrown with gorse bushes, but we managed to battle our way through without getting too prickled. 
Colin was eager to walk along the bottom of a bank (no path) which was a shorter distance and would have avoided the B-road altogether. But when we got there even he conceded that there was really no way through, and we would probably have ended up climbing over barbed wire fences, etc.
The B-road was bad — no pavements and very busy with traffic. So we went into ‘route-march’ mode, and as a result we covered the next few miles in excellent time! It was tedious in the extreme. We tried to make it more interesting. 

We watched some gulls squawking away above a pig farm, we were buzzed by a small aircraft (probably from RAF Kinloss which wasn’t too far back), we admired a clump of harebells by the fence, and Colin photographed a butterfly.

At last we turned off on a ‘yellow’ road which was much quieter. This led in a loop through Carse Wood. We were surprised to be passed by a police car in such a quiet backwater. But further on we passed it again parked amongst the trees with its hatchback open. It said, “DOG CARE” on the car, so we assumed it was exercise time for some police dogs. 
We sat on a stone near a pile of logs to eat our apples. Later we passed some interesting-looking fungi.
There were all sorts of tracks going off which led much nearer the shore than we were, but none of them actually got to the sea. So we reminded ourselves of additional rule no.11 and stuck to our ‘yellow’ road. 
A road led off to an area marked as ‘Platform Construction Yard’ on the map. We wondered if they were constructing oil platforms there, but it was only conjecture as we couldn’t see anything through the trees.

We emerged from the wood, and further on passed a cemetery. Eventually we came out on a B-road and had half a mile to walk dodging the traffic before we reached Fort George. We sat on a bench to eat our chocolate before we went in.

Fort George
Fort George ‘guards’ the narrowest point of the Moray Firth, and has a rich history. But we only wanted to walk the ramparts, so we were relieved to be told we were too late to take the one and a half hour audio ‘tour’ because they were closing in an hour!

We sought out the toilets, then walked round the outer ramparts in an anticlockwise direction. We were back at the sea, and this was part of our coastal walk.

We did read some of the notices as we went round. We learnt that the royal arms over the eighteenth century principal gate was divided into four, with England impaling Scotland, Ireland, France and Hanover. They were crowing over the fact that the arms of Scotland are wrong!
We learned that under the broad fighting platform are 27 casemated barrack rooms forming temporary blast-proof accommodation for 700 men in time of siege. I wonder if they ever had to use them! We learned that Prince William Henry’s bastion (named after George III’s third grandson) overlooks a pier and was used to serve the civilian ferry across to Chanonry Point. (If only there was a ferry nowadays, it would save us the next three Walks!)
We were puzzled to come across white feathers spread over one of the grassy platforms. We wondered if a gull or two had met its end there, but we didn’t see any other signs of carnage. While we were gazing across the Moray Firth towards Chanonry Point, some people behind us were boasting of all the famous Moray Firth dolphins they had seen. With cries of, “Look, there’s one — I think! Oh no, it’s gone now!” they claimed to be seeing them even as we looked. We didn’t believe a word of it, because we had been scanning the sea with our telescope and binoculars for some time and hadn’t seen a thing. Wishful thinking, I believe!
We could see the village of Ardersier, our journey’s end for today, from the ramparts. It was about a mile and a half away. So we left through the main gate to walk to it.
Fort George is the last ‘Historic Scotland’ property we shall visit for some time. For some reason ‘Historic Scotland’ don’t own any properties on the mainland in the Highlands, though they do on the islands of Orkney, the Outer Hebrides and Mull. I wonder why that is — there are plenty of sites, particularly Pictish artefacts.
After leaving the fort, we tried to walk on the beach to Ardersier. But we had to retreat to the busy pavementless road after traversing some playing fields as the going got impossible. Further on a path led across rough ground to the beach again. When we got there, we looked back the way we had come and there was a perfectly good path snaking back towards the fort. That was so annoying and it is not the first time it has happened in Scotland! How do you get on to such a path? Colin was also a bit down because he was too hot, dehydrated (he won’t drink enough water), his knee hurt and he was upset about the car’s windscreen.
We admired some harebells in the grass, and carried on to the village which was basking in the evening sun. Our car was parked near the public toilets which were locked by the time we got to them, even though it was not yet six o’clock on a summer’s evening. They had been open this morning. Fortunately we had been at the fort so were not ‘desperate’ because there were no bushes in the vicinity we could use. I shall have to start a campaign about public toilets being clean, open and free at all reasonable times — and that includes summer evenings!

That ended Walk no.192, we shall pick up Walk no.193 next time in the village of Ardersier. It was ten to six, so the Walk had taken six hours twenty minutes. We had our tea, and then returned to Gardenstown for the last time. That journey took two hours so we had to stop at a supermarket on the way to use their toilets. (Yes, we are getting on in years and our bladders are not what they were. We will never let this curtail our outdoor activities, but we know of many elderly people who are afraid to go out much because of the thought of their embarrassment if they are taken short. Yes, clean, open and free ought to be the law!)
Colin was a bit down because of the chipped windscreen. But he needn’t have been because when the windscreen man came to replace it a couple of weeks later he said he could repair both of the chips! We thought they were far too big, but they were both on the passenger side and he made a very good job of it. So we didn’t have to pay the £70 excess fee.
I was cock-a-hoop because we have succeeded on all the planned Walks this session, adding 102 miles to our total over the past two weeks!
The next day we started our long journey back home to Malvern, stopping overnight in Carlisle because it is over 500 miles! It would have taken us three hours longer if we still lived in Bognor.

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