Monday, September 15, 2008

Walk 194 -- Kessock Bridge (Inverness) to Munlochy

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 130 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 273 days.
Weather: Spots of rain at the beginning and end of the Walk, but it just about stayed dry.
Location: Kessock Bridge (Inverness) to Munlochy.
Distance: 7½ miles.
Total distance: 1700 miles.
Terrain: Difficult! Some road-walking, mostly devoid of traffic but car-dodging at the end. ‘Paths’ that led into swamps. Climbed over a barbed wire fence. Muddy. Sheep tracks. Steep slopes. Wet. Woods. Water-logged tracks. Ford. Beach with boulders and slippery seaweed.
Tide: Coming in, then going out.
Rivers: No.141, Drynie Burn, which was a ford. No.142, Littlemill Burn, which was a bridge.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.160 near Kilmuir Cemetery.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage, which was really a flat in the roof of someone’s house, in the countryside about three miles from Dingwall. This morning we got up early and drove to Munlochy where we parked in a layby very near the bus stop. We caught a bus to Kessock Bridge, northern end, where we ended yesterday’s Walk.
At the end, we finished at the car. We had our tea and luscious caramel squares, and then returned to our ‘cottage’ near Dingwall, stopping at Tesco on the way to pick up some supplies.

We are on the Black Isle, now we’re really in the Highlands! But geologically speaking, we are actually in America! How come? Well, when the Atlantic Ocean started to form by the splitting of the continents, sometime between 100million and 200million years ago, it made several attempts, crashing back together again when it failed. It did not always split in the same way, and when the final successful separation took place, a piece of the American plate got stuck to the European plate and ended up on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic. That piece is now the Highlands of Scotland, everything north-west of the Highland Boundary Fault. We crossed that fault when we crossed Kessock Bridge.
That’s the geological theory, anyway. Whatever, we found today’s Walk to be completely unlike anything we had experienced before. It is difficult to actually put a finger on what exactly was different, let’s just say we felt we had entered another world!
We alighted from the bus on the northern end of Kessock Bridge, so it was only a short trot through the gap in the Armco to the car park where we ended yesterday’s Walk. We followed the road down to the shoreline where we could admire the bridge from underneath. It certainly looked impressive from there!
It was only built quite recently, having opened to traffic in 1982. Before that, vehicles either waited for a ferry or drove inland to Beauly in order to cross Beauly Firth — a round trip of nearly twenty miles. It is a cable-stayed bridge, built by a German engineer to the same design as a bridge across the Rhine in Dusseldorf. I wonder if it will last longer than the suspension bridge across the Firth of Forth, which only has a few more years of use before it is closed due to irreversible rusting of its cables.
From the lifeboat station we took a tarmacked lane northwards along the shore. It had stopped raining, just, but remained very dull and quite misty all day. Perhaps that lent ‘atmosphere’ to our first Walk in the Highlands. We watched some oystercatchers take off, and a heron kept flying up and down Moray Firth.
The lane serviced a few houses, and then it petered out. So we followed a path which took us upwards through some woods and past the last house. We looked at the map, but it was very confusing because the contours were so close together. It looked as if a path should have taken us back down to the shore, but we could see no sign of such a route. In the end we found our own way down through the trees. We emerged on to a beach with wobbly stones and slippery seaweed. 
It was very difficult to get along, but we persevered because we could see the hamlet of Kilmuir up ahead. During our struggles, we passed a strange wooden structure and were trying to work out what it was. Steps, some of then quite new, led up to a wooden platform perched atop a rock. Seats were on the platform, so I suppose it was for local people to sit and look out at the sea. But it was above high water mark and looked a bit incongruous sitting there in the middle of nowhere.
We got to Kilmuir eventually, without slipping over, spraining an ankle or filling a boot with water.
We sat on a wall opposite a derelict cottage, so we didn’t ruin anybody’s view, to eat our pies. At the end of the short string of cottages was a phone box. Somehow I didn’t feel we were in the real world, so I had to lift the telephone receiver and listen to the buzz, just to reassure myself that civilisation was still out there!
We decided to continue round two sides of a triangular field next to the estuary. Mistake! The field was well-drained but when we got to the other side we discovered that the only way on was to climb a steep slope which was covered in nettles and thistles! It was steeper even than it looked, and it was with great difficulty that we heaved ourselves up. (We stubbornly wouldn’t go back.)
We came out at Kilmuir cemetery — we should have stuck to the lane. But we were compensated by wonderful views across the Moray Firth.

I was a bit fed up by then. “We’re going to stick to proper paths from now on!” I declared. Hardly were the words out of my mouth when we came to a division of the ways — a fork with paths to right and left. The right hand one had a new kissing gate and a post with a symbol on it. “It must be one of these new paths they are putting in all over Scotland which aren’t yet marked on the map!” we decided. So we took it, we were tempted like Eve with the serpent.
Mistake! This so-called path deteriorated very quickly and abandoned us in the middle of a swamp! It was impossible to go on.
Colin took charge then. He got all excited about a heron he could see nesting in a tree at least half a mile away. He recalled how, when he was a teenager living in Bishops Castle (Shropshire), he used to climb trees so he could photograph eggs in herons’ nests. I remembered that he did just that soon after we first met in the 1960s, and I was terrified for him. He climbed so high! So, towards the woods with the heron’s nest we must go!
This involved climbing over a barbed wire fence, with great difficulty on my part, then trudging up a steep slope to a gate — which, on closer inspection, obviously hadn’t been used for years. We were rewarded with sweeping views behind us, but where now?
We back-tracked along a sheep track, and then up an almost vertical slope to the woods. Under a tree was a ladder-stile, which was a relief to me because I’d had enough of barbed wire fences. Over the other side we found the vestiges of a track which hadn’t been trodden for a very long time. But we were able to follow it up and up until we came to a faint path going along the contours in the general direction we wanted to go. We sat on a log to eat our sarnies.
I was relieved that, by now, all thoughts of the heron and its nest had vanished from Colin's mind. We hadn’t a clue which tree it was in anyway.
Along this grassy path in the woods we came across all sorts of strange fungi, unusual mosses, twisted trees and a fairy ring.
It was quite magical!
I don’t know if it was the influence of the many fly-agarics (magic mushrooms) we encountered — I assure you we didn’t eat any! — but we thought we were in Middle Earth! We were both really on a high, and thoroughly enjoying ourselves in a dreamy sort of way.
We even saw a French partridge which are only supposed to get as far as the south of England, according to the bird books. Hang on! Aren’t we in the north of Scotland? Were we in some kind of ‘Brigadoon’? 
At the end of the woods we came to a real road, well a tarmacked lane, which kind of burst the bubble. There seemed to be high fences everywhere blocking off the tracks leading to the end of the peninsula called Craigiehowe, or perhaps we didn’t look carefully enough for a way through. We’d both had enough by then, so we decided to miss out Craigiehowe — which was up on a high tor — on the grounds that it was nearly a dead end and we would have to return almost to the spot where we were standing. (It’s amazing how you can bend the rules when you’re tired! Anyway, we made up the rules ourselves in the first place.)
So we looked at the map, and worked out a route which started by going the ‘wrong’ way along the road. But this was only for about half a mile before we turned off through a field gateway.
It was difficult to see if we could get through from the map because the paths weren’t marked very clearly, but Colin was super-confident that we would have no trouble. And he was right, for we descended on good tracks as far as a ford. Even that was so shallow it was laughable, despite Colin’s pretence.
We walked through several grassy fields, descending towards Munlochy Bay over which we had stupendous views.

We passed a set of tractor wheels which had seen better days, and were watched by curious sheep as we passed by.
When we reached the shore, we sat on a stile and ate our chocolate. Then we had about a mile of track to the road which we found to be very waterlogged. But we got through without getting our feet wet, our walking boots are very good for that kind of terrain. We kept passing different fungi and even more fly-agarics, they seem to be quite common in this area.
At last we could see the little town of Munlochy across a corn field.
We got to the road, and had half a mile of traffic-dodging before we reached our car parked in a layby. It also started to rain, which added to our misery, and this got more intense as we trudged on. Even so, we passed the car and walked a dozen yards or so up to the bus stop where we’ll be alighting from the bus at the start of the next Walk.

That ended Walk no.194, we shall pick up Walk no.195 next time at the bus stop in Munlochy. It was twenty past four, so the Walk had taken six hours. We had our tea and luscious caramel squares, and then returned to our strange upstairs flat near Dingwall, stopping at Tesco on the way to pick up some supplies.

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