Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Walk 195 -- Munlochy, via Fortrose, to Rosemarkie

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 131 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 274 days.
Weather: Persistent drizzle. Grey. Cooler.
Location: Munlochy to Rosemarkie.
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 1710½ miles.
Terrain: Stubble field. Overgrown bank. Rough path along the edge of a loch. Woodland tracks. Main road with no footpath (Horrible!) Grass path, mown in places. Firm sandy/stony beach.
Tide: Coming in, then going out.
Rivers: No.143, Avoch Burn at Avoch.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.161 just outside Munlochy. (We didn’t count the one at Avoch Castle because we didn’t go through it.)
Pubs: The ‘Plough Inn’ at Rosemarkie where we enjoyed ‘Stag’ and ‘Trade winds’, both from Cairngorms Brewery.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday flat in the roof of a house in the countryside about three miles from Dingwall. This morning we got up early and drove to Rosemarkie where we parked in the ‘Fairy Glen’ car park. We caught a bus from the car park to Munlochy where we ended yesterday’s Walk.
At the end, we went up to the pub from the beach. After refreshing ourselves we continued up the road to the ‘Fairy Glen’ car park We had our tea and scrumptious caramel squares, and then returned to our funny little ‘cottage’ near Dingwall.

We alighted from the bus in pouring rain and walked up the street towards the main road. At the junction we came across a flower bed surrounded by a lovely stone wall with a “Welcome to Munlochy” sign in the middle of it. We had reached the 1700mile point of our trek, and wished to mark it by having a photo taken of us both. But there was nobody about that we could ask to take it, and we couldn’t use the delayed shutter because the rain was still teeming down. So I took a picture of Colin, shielding the camera with my cape. Then he took a picture of me, shielding the camera with his umbrella. Later I combined the two photos on the computer, and I don’t think I made too bad a job of it.
We thought we would then have two miles of main-road walking followed by a loop back on ourselves along lanes, and we weren’t looking forward to it — especially in the rain. But a couple of hundred yards along the main road we had a lovely surprise. We came across a kissing gate leading into the adjacent field, and a new signpost pointing across the fields towards Munlochy Bay telling us we could get to Avoch that way! This meant we would be well away from any road until we got to Avoch Bay, and we would be walking much nearer the coast too. This new footpath wasn’t marked on any of the maps we had, neither the ‘Explorer’ OS map, the map I had downloaded off the internet, nor the leaflets I had picked up at a local Tourist Information Centre a couple of days ago. And we both hate walking along main roads, so we believed the sign and went through the gate.
First we crossed a couple of corn fields on stubble, right down to the bay itself. The rain eased off, only to return in waves throughout the day. We both kept our overtrousers on because the undergrowth we were brushing against was quite wet. 
We turned left at the bottom, and there we found the going to be a bit swampy. But it was nothing drastic, and there were plank bridges over the ditches so it was all passable. 

We came to a stile which I found difficult to get over, and it took us on to an overgrown bank where the wet grass looked as if it was almost as tall as me! We had lovely views across the bay, which was full of reeds at this end. The mist made it seem quite ethereal.
The way led on, through a marsh but it was solid ground under our feet. It wasn’t easy to walk, but the path never let us down. (This we had feared after our experiences yesterday!) It took us under some trees, and got very lumpy. We were right next to the beach, so we walked there instead. The rocks were slippery, but the path led on. We were just thankful it was there. Under the trees we were out of the rain, so we sat on a log and ate our slices of quiche which we had brought with us as a change from pies.
After the trees, we walked on grass along the very top of the beach. We had wonderful views of the entrance to Munlochy Bay, and Craigiehowe which we failed to climb yesterday. Eventually we came to a disused quarry. Just before this we found our way up through some trees to a dirt road which went round behind said quarry. This is where we joined up with the route we had originally planned, and we were relieved that the new path really had connected up.
There were goats in the wood surrounding the quarry — they eyed us with curiosity as we passed by on the other side of barbed wire fences.

The dirt road led gently upwards. After about half a mile we turned off to take a track to Ormond Hill. In the woods we followed a good grassy track round the hill and past the ‘castle’.
Ormond Castle was quite important in its day, being one of the largest medieval castles to be built in the Highlands. It was constructed in the 12th century, and owned by the De Moray family. But it had a chequered history, and by the 1650s it had been owned by the Crown for two hundred years. It was probably in a dilapidated state by then, and building stone was needed for Cromwell’s fort in Inverness. Here was a ready supply, so practically the whole building was demolished and taken away. All that remains today is a grassy mound.
We came out of the woods and had a lovely view across the fields to Avoch, though we had to approach the town inland on two sides of a triangle. So far, we hadn’t met a soul since we got off the bus in Munlochy. We found a log seat which was very comfortable, and we sat there to eat our sarnies.
It started raining again, so we decided not to walk the arms of Avoch Harbour on the grounds that they are dead ends and we were wet and tired. We came to the main road where we had no choice but to walk for two miles along the edge of this pavementless A road. To our right was a wall with a rocky beach below, and on the left hand side of the road rose vertical cliffs. The road was quite narrow because it had been squeezed in at the bottom of the cliffs, and I must say that most of the traffic did slow down or pull over as it passed us — but some vehicles did not and that was frightening. Talk about ‘Death-Alley’! I tried holding my white map out into the traffic as a kind of flag to make sure the drivers actually saw us in the gloom and rain, but all in all it was a HORRID walk! One ‘safe’ bit was about fifty yards length where huge rocks had tumbled down the cliff into the road, so the carriageway had been looped out on to the beach to avoid them. We were able to walk along this bit of ‘old road’ — we felt safer under the rocks than facing the traffic!
It was with relief that we reached Fortrose where we were able to turn off on to a minor road. Again we didn’t bother to walk the harbour walls because we felt very tired by then. Besides, it was STILL RAINING! The road led up a little hill, then passed a picnic site above the beach. From there we walked along a greensward behind the houses which was mown grass. There were also lots of delicious blackberries about, so we helped ourselves! It had stopped raining by then, and seemed to brighten up a trifle. We passed a campsite and then walked along the top of the beach to Chanonry Point.
We sat down and ate our chocolate. We also both removed our overtrousers because they are hot to walk in when you don’t need them. We went over to a stone with a plaque on it to see what it was about. It was commemorating the legend of Coinneach Odhar, better known as the Brahan Seer. “Many of his prophecies were fulfilled, and the tradition holds that his untimely death by burning in tar followed his final prophecy of the doom of the house of Seaforth.” This sounded fascinating, so I looked him up on the internet later. Apparently there is some doubt as to whether he existed at all. He is reputed to have lived in the 17th century, and he is thought to have been born in Uig on lands owned by the Seaforth family. He came to Brahan Castle, which is near Dingwall, to work as a labourer. The castle belonged to the Earls of Seaforth, chiefs of the Clan Mackenzie.
He is reputed to have used a stone with a hole in the middle to see visions of the future. He amazed everyone when his predictions seemed to come true, but sceptics say they were so generalised that they could be interpreted in many ways. Also, there were a few lucky coincidences. He upset the Seaforth family by predicting their land would be sold and the male line become extinct when four of the lords in the family exhibited physical defects. (This did in fact happen when Sir Hector Mackenzie was buck toothed, Chisholm of Chisholm was squint-eyed and hare-lipped, Grant of Grant was half-witted and MacLeod of Raasay was a stammerer — sounds like an interesting family, I would like to have met them!) But Coinneach Odhar particularly upset Lady Seaforth when he predicted that her husband was having an affair with one or more women in Paris. She ordered that he be burnt to death in a spiked tar barrel on Chanonry Point. (I don’t think I would have liked to meet her, come to think of it!)
And so the Brahan Seer met his grisly end, hence the memorial on Chanonry Point. The plaque was cast by the boys of Fortrose Academy in 1969.
We walked past the lighthouse on the beach, and stood on the stones at the Point looking towards Fort George on the other side of the Firth. This narrowest point of the Moray Firth is supposed to be the best place in the whole of the British Isles to see wild dolphins, and there were many people on the beach trying to do just that. Like us, they had probably come from far and wide. When the BBC were filming here a few weeks ago, the famous Moray dolphins were really doing their stuff — leaping out of the water and all sorts. But there was no sign of them today, perhaps they knew they weren’t going to be on telly so they didn’t bother to turn up! One man near us reckoned he saw two, but we’re sure he imagined it because nobody else saw them. All we could see was a single seal looking like a black labrador with it’s head bobbing up and down in the water.
We moved on, walking down the other side of the peninsula towards Rosemarkie on the beach. This was the first beach we have walked on this trip. It was nice firm sand, but it did get stonier. A breeze got up which made it less humid, and we were pleased the rain had stopped. But it became decidedly colder.
When the beach got too stony to be comfortable, we walked on the grass at the top. We passed some flowers that seemed to be growing out of lumps of peat. I don’t know if someone had chucked them out of their garden, or what?

We then walked through a campsite, and passed a couple, not that many years younger than ourselves, who were pitching their tent in the wind. I told them they were very brave to even consider sleeping in a tent on such an exposed peninsula in September! We were glad we were in our roof-space, for all its shortcomings, and recalled that it is now well over two years since we have used our tent. The weather has simply been too wet and cold these last two summers.
Finally we passed a garden that was full of statues — a bit OTT for my taste, but it takes all sorts... We walked along until we were at the end of the road which led up to the pub in Rosemarkie.

That ended Walk no.195, we shall pick up Walk no.196 next time on the beach in Rosemarkie. It was five to five, so the Walk had taken seven hours. We walked up to the pub, and sat outside enjoying our beer because it was too crowded inside. (We were sheltered from the cool breeze by the buildings.) We got talking to a group of young people who were very interested in our Trek. They told us that they, too, were going along the beach towards Eathie tomorrow because they were going to explore some caves. We had a very interesting conversation, then we walked up the road to where our car was parked in ‘Fairy Glen’. There we had our tea and scrumptious caramel squares, and returned to our funny little ‘cottage’ near Dingwall.

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