Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walk 196 -- Rosemarkie to Cromarty

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 132 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 275 days.
Weather: Grey, but DRY! Even a little sunshine PM!
Location: Rosemarkie to Cromarty.
Distance: 12 miles.
Total distance: 1722½ miles.
Terrain: The first half was a beach. This was very enjoyable even though we knew we couldn’t hang about because the tide was coming in. It was firm sand at first, gradually becoming more rocky. Then a steep climb – good path – to a quiet road. ‘American’ road which was a track. ‘Malvern Hills’ type zigzag path down to Cromarty.
Tide: Coming in, then going out.
Rivers: No.144, Fairy Glen in Rosemarkie. No. 145, Eathie Burn after we had climbed up to the road.
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 — well, a flat in the roof of a house really — in the countryside about three miles from Dingwall. This morning we got up early and drove to Cromarty where we parked at the end of the village in a car park near the beach. (Free car park and free toilets — well done the local Council!) We caught a bus from the car park to Rosemarkie where we walked down to the beach.
At the end, we passed the car and continued a quarter of a mile to the ferry point. We watched the last ferry come across from Nigg Ferry, and a single car (it only takes two!) reverse off and all the way up the concrete ramp before it could turn round. Then we returned to our car. We had our tea and delicious caramel squares, then returned to our flat near Dingwall.

It was raining when we got up this morning, it rained all the way to Cromarty where we parked the car, it rained all the time we were on the bus, and it continued raining as we were walking from the bus stop to the beach in Rosemarkie. So our hearts were in our boots as we began today’s Walk. But first things first — we had to use the ‘facilities’ in Rosemarkie (clean, open and free, well done the local Council!) before we started. As we came out, the rain stopped and it didn’t rain again all day! Hooray!
We had four and a half miles of beach to walk under the cliffs, and the tide was coming in so we couldn’t hang about. It was glorious walking along the firm sand away from Rosemarkie, really enjoyable! The rocks were spectacular. So much colourful geology, we wished we had an expert with us to explain it all. 
We could see how the layers had been tilted, and they were of different types — blacks and reds, with a spattering of grey and white. Some individual rocks were more than one colour, black spread into pink like fingers. Guess they did that when one of them was molten. Yet another rounded rock was striped in rings. “Pressure solutions” found only in metamorphic rocks, if I remember my OU geology correctly.

The rocks in Scotland are extremely old, and therefore very complex. I remember doing an Open University Summer School at a field centre in central Scotland back in the eighties. The lecturers spent the whole week arguing with each other because they each had a different interpretation of the rock features. It’s a wonder we learnt anything!
But Colin and I didn’t want to argue at all this morning. It felt wonderful walking along under clearing skies with a gentle breeze blowing in our faces, just soaking in the atmosphere. Even Colin, who is normally quite reticent, was moved to say, “I feel uplifted!” And we had it all to ourselves, for we didn’t meet a soul.
We passed some rocks covered in the most amazing lichens. We tend to think of lichens as rather a messy plant which covers gravestones and abandoned buildings. But here on the beach was a rich variety of the plant, or is it a fungus? One rock in particular stood out because it was displaying a fine array of green lichen mixed with white, and topped by a feathery delicate pale green as if it had put on a party dress! It was beautiful!
The occasional rock strewn on the beach became more frequent. The beach narrowed, and if we looked ahead it seemed as if our progress may be blocked. But we always found a way, even if we had to go between rock stacks.

Soon there were so many rocks, the going was getting a trifle difficult. But we knew there was a way through as it had been signposted back in Rosemarkie, so we carried on. In places we had to do a bit of rock scrambling, but it was nothing serious and actually quite fun! We rounded a rock point which we knew we must do before the tide came in too far. Otherwise we would have had to wait for a couple of hours for the tide to go out again. But we weren’t out of the woods yet as there was another promontory to go.
We passed some rock islands covered with cormorants, standing like sentinels against the wind. Some of them were holding their wings out to dry, like washing on the line. A group of them were swimming in the water, and Colin managed to take pictures of one taking off.
We came to a sandier bit of beach where Colin tried to remove a rusty ship’s anchor which he found embedded in the sand. He didn’t succeed even though it was only small — probably came off a fishing boat sometime.

Then the rocks began to get serious. At first it was easy to find spaces between them, and we couldn’t help but admire the beautiful colours of the lichens in which some of them were clothed.
But soon the going got more difficult and we had to resort to rock-scrambling again.
But there was always a way through.
We passed several small caves — the ones the young people we had been chatting to yesterday were going to explore — but none of them were anything much. (We didn’t see anything of those youngsters, either they were up and gone before we got there, or they forgot to get up at all!)

Eventually we rounded another rock point, shortly before the tide reached it. Once we were past the second promontory we could afford to relax, so we sat on a rock to eat our quiches. Looking ahead, we could see that the tide was not going to affect our progress any more before we reached Eathie.
We continued, on a distinctly stonier beach. We passed a spectacular rock stack that looked as if it had been twisted, but that was only the way it had been eroded.
We passed yet another rock island crowded with cormorants.

Suddenly Colin shouted, “Look! There’s a dolphin!”
Sure enough, far out in the Firth was a single dolphin. At last! We’d been looking for these famous cetaceans ever since Fraserburgh!
It was ever so far away, but I watched it breeching several times through my little telescope.
It was very exciting!
Colin took loads of photos using his long lens, and amongst the many of plain sea where he missed his quarry, he managed to snap several excellent pictures.
The dolphin finally dived and didn’t reappear.
All we could see was a seal’s head, which looked like a black labrador dog swimming along, and a number of ducks.

The beach was getting increasingly stony and difficult to walk. The tide was right in so we couldn’t walk further out on sand. The rocks were still interesting colours and stripes, but could hardly be called more than stones now.
Surely we must come to Eathie soon? It’s only four and a half miles from Rosemarkie. We hopefully rounded a Point, but it was not Eathie. So we sat on a rock and ate our sarnies.
About an hour after seeing the dolphins, we rounded another Point — and it was Eathie! It used to be a fishing station, but there are only two derelict hut-like buildings there now. The important thing for us is that there is still a good path up to the top of the cliffs at this point. Without it we wouldn’t have been able to do that wonderful walk along the sands, because the beach disappears into the cliffs a bit further on and there is no way through. 
On the shingle someone had made a circle of stones with a smaller circle in the middle. It reminded us of ‘the Navel of the World’ that we had seen on Easter Island back in 1996 when we visited that strange and remote island in the Pacific. There the local people considered themselves to be the navel of the world because they were so isolated in that vast sea, but what the beach sculpture at Eathie was supposed to depict I don’t know.
Eathie is famous for its Jurassic fossils. We hadn’t got time to go fossil-hunting today, so the next week, on our one and only ‘rest’ day this trip, we returned to the beach at Eathie (parking at the top and walking down) to look for some. The tide was out that day, and many beach rocks exposed. We came across several very interesting striped stones which had been smoothed by the action of the waves, but we couldn’t find any fossils.

We were just about to leave when I noticed some broken shale laid out on a rock amongst the grass at the top of the beach. Closer inspection revealed that the pieces were full of ammonite-type fossils! They were quite small and extremely fragile. Every time we picked up a bit of shale it broke into several pieces. There was no way we could bring such fossils home, so we laid them out on the grass and photographed them.

We were puzzled as to where this shale had come from, for there was no rock anything like it in the vicinity that we could see. But someone had obviously left them there, perhaps they were as frustrated as we were to find they were too fragile to move.

Back to the Walk — a signpost pointed us to the path which led up the cliff. It was steep, but it was a good path because it used to be a road. It zigzagged it’s way up the cliff in wide sweeps, and unfortunately was biassed back towards Rosemarkie. But never mind, at least we didn’t have to climb the cliff — which we have done on more than one occasion in the past. We met two lads coming down, the first people we had seen since leaving Rosemarkie. They were planning to walk to Rosemarkie along the beach, and asked us what it was like. The tide would have gone out enough by the time they reached the rocky promontories, so they should have been OK.
At the top we continued along the track, and passed by some beautiful and very unusual fungi. It only confirmed for us the fact that we have been in fairyland ever since we crossed on to the Black Isle at Kessock Bridge. Even the name of the river in Rosemarkie suggests this — it’s called ‘Fairy Glen’!
We reached a proper road, only a lane, and had several miles of road-walking ahead of us. So we yomped along in a bid to make up time, and because it was boring and we wanted to get it over and done with. We turned on to a track called ‘The American Road’. I believe it was so named because it was built by the American serviceman who were stationed hereabouts during the War. Like the Romans, the Americans build their roads dead straight! Now it is little more than a dirt track, but it saved us several miles as it provided a short cut to the viewpoint at Sutors of Cromarty.
When we reached Cromarty Mains Farm, we were back on a lane. This one took us to the viewpoint which overlooks the strait between Cromarty and Nigg. We sat there and ate our chocolate while the sun went in, and we began to feel cold.
So we descended through the wood to sea level. Hidden amongst the trees was a wartime pillbox. That would have been on a bare hilltop when it was built seventy years ago, otherwise nobody inside would have been able to see anything. We remarked how much the trees had grown in a time span of only slightly longer than our lifetimes — for we were both War babies.
As we descended the zigzag path through the woods we began to feel very much at home, because the path was astoundingly similar to the zigzag paths up the Malvern Hills behind our house! We couldn’t get over our feelings of ‘deja-vu’, even though neither of us has ever been to Cromarty before today in our lives!
There was even a well, could have been Malvern water! We came to the conclusion that the geology must be the same as that of the Malvern Hills, therefore the flora and fauna would be the same, Also the way water is purified naturally by filtering through extremely old rocks. For the Malvern Hills are an anomaly, exceedingly old rocks poking through much younger sediments in the middle of England. There are no other rocks as old outside Scotland, and now we were walking in the oldest part of Scotland, the far north-west.
We descended numerous steps, some of which were quite slippery so we had to be careful. There was a good path along the bottom which took us into Cromarty, but it was a bit marshy in places. Duckboards had been put down to keep our feet out of the mud, but being wooden these were slippery too. However, we reached Cromarty without mishap.
We walked past the car as we wanted to go all the way to the ferry before we stopped. We passed a stone on which was written the legend:
The Cleopatra, as she swept past the town of Cromarty, was greeted with three cheers by the crowds of inhabitants. And the emigrants returned the salute. But mingled with the dash of the waves and the murmurs of the breeze, their faint huzzas seemed rather sounds of wailing and lamentation than of a congratulatory farewell.
We assumed that the emigrants were taking the option of going to Canada in the wake of the ‘clearances’ which had so cruelly robbed them of their livelihoods in Scotland in the early part of the 19th century.
There has been a ferry from Cromarty to Nigg for many centuries, it was first mentioned in chronicles from the 12th century. The only route north, because of the mountainous terrain, used to be along the coast, and this inevitably involved a number of ferries. Gradually they have been replaced by bridges, and the Nigg Ferry is the only one remaining. In the present day it is the smallest vehicle ferry in Britain, it carries just two cars!
It crosses the entrance to Cromarty Firth, which is a huge sheltered natural deep-water harbour. In 1653, Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty is reported to have said, “I have a certain harbour or bay, in goodness equal to the best in the world. Ten thousand ships together may ride in it, in the greatest tempest that is, as in a calm.” I think he may have been exaggerating a bit about his “ten thousand ships”, but it certainly is big, and was much used by the Royal Navy during both World Wars. Nowadays the industry, just the other side of the strait from Cromarty, is all to do with oil.
We watched the last ferry of the day come across from Nigg. They carried just one small car, which had to reverse off the ferry-boat and continue reversing all the way up the concrete ramp before it could turn round.

That ended Walk no.196, we shall pick up Walk no.197 next time at the ferry terminal in Nigg. It was too complicated and expensive to actually use the ferry (no buses down to Nigg Ferry and we should have to get the car over somehow) so we are pretending we took the ferry, as we have done so many times in the past. It was ten to six, so the Walk had taken eight hours.
We returned to our car parked about a quarter of a mile back up the road. There we had our tea and caramel squares — which is our latest treat and we are becoming addicted to them! — and returned to our little roof-flat near Dingwall, accommodation that we are becoming increasingly unhappy about.


cheryl said...

hi ,there is fossiliferous shale on eathie beach,but only accessable at low tide containing ammonites and the odd belamite,the first building at eathie beach has been restored about 5 year ago for camping and fossil hunting and contains info boards on local geology and wildlife

Caroline Standring said...

Hi there, I have been meaning to leave a post for a few years now but keep forgetting - I read your blog to help me plan my walk but then forget to get back in touch at the end!
I have been reading your blog for the past 3 years - following in your footsteps along the east coast of Scotland. I have just come back from this section and had wanted to send you a photo of everyone standing by one of the stones bit I dont think I can post it here... Oh well - its the thought that counts! I just wanted to say how helpful your blog is, and how much I am enjoying the walk - I have seen some amazing sites and had some brilliant times - all because of you! Thank you for being such an inspiration and for such a detailled, helpful blog. Good luck with the rest of tour walk! Carolinex