Thursday, September 18, 2008

Walk 197 -- Cromarty, via Nigg Ferry & Balintore, to Hilton of Cadboll

Walk 197.
Date: 18 September 2008.
Ages: Colin was 66 years and 133 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 276 days.
Weather: Persistent drizzle all day. Cold wind.
Location: Cromarty, via Nigg Ferry and Balintore, to Hilton of Cadboll.
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 1733 miles.
Terrain: Up a steep hill, then a grassy path on the cliff top turning into a track. After that it was a lot of road-walking. When we eventually got down to the beach again at Balintore, we read an information board which told us there was a ‘challenging’ path over the clifftop all the way to Nigg Ferry! But it wasn’t marked at all on our map, and we certainly didn’t find the other end of it. We have got into so much trouble trying to follow clifftops where no path is marked (and even sometimes where a path is marked!) that we said we wouldn’t do it again even though we both hate walking along roads. So we were both a bit miffed that there had actually been a path we could have used. It’s time Scotland got it’s act together over footpaths!
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: No.146, the entrance to Cromarty Bay where we pretended to take the ferry. (It would have been too complex and expensive getting there and back to have actually used it.)
Ferries: No.14 across the entrance to Cromarty Bay. Cost £2.50 each.
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 flat in the countryside about three miles from Dingwall. This morning we got up early, put Colin’s bike on the back of the car, and drove to Nigg Ferry where Colin dropped me off. I waited for an hour and a half in the rain while Colin drove to Hilton of Cadboll and cycled back in the rain – the things we do for the sake of this Round-Britain-Walk!
At the end, we finished at the car. We had our tea and yummy caramel squares, then returned to Nigg Ferry to pick up the bike. We drove back to Dingwall where we went to Tesco for more supplies, then bought fish’n’chips which we ate in the car in the dark. After that we returned to our flat in the roof.

We didn’t escape the rain today, it was miserable! It took Colin an hour and a half to park the car and cycle back. I waited next to a big derelict factory that was previously something to do with the oil industry. It was abandoned and for sale — a dreary sight in the drizzle. I tried to shelter as best I could out of the wind and concentrate on my puzzle book, but I couldn’t get out of the rain and had to keep moving about because I was so cold. There was an hotel nearby, but that was closed so I had to stay outside. What a dump!
I watched the ferry cross over from Cromarty several times in that hour and a half. It only takes two cars, so one time when a third car turned up it had to wait for the boat to come back. I was so relieved when Colin arrived on his bike. We started the Walk without delay because he was as cold as I was, cycling against the wind in all that rain.
We followed the road up a steep hill until we came to a stile. We thought we’d better use it as a seat because it was too wet to sit on the ground. So we sat down and ate not only our quiches, but all our sarnies as well. We should have enjoyed the magnificent views, but it was too wet and cold to do that! With food inside us we felt fractionally warmer, and therefore a lot better.
Over the stile we followed a narrow path round and up a hill. The higher we got, the colder and wetter we became. Not much fun! There was a load of rubbish propped up against a wall on our left hand side, and over to our right we could see our “Malvern Hill” where we had come down through the wood to Cromarty yesterday.
The path widened out into a grassy track, and we continued to rise to where some cows were skulking miserably behind a bush in a vain attempt to stay warm. By golly, it was windy at the top! We should have been enjoying the fantastic views across Cromarty Firth, but it was so cold and wet we couldn’t wait to get lower down behind the hill. Visibility was so poor we could hardly see the abandoned factory we had left behind at Nigg Ferry.
After about a mile, the track came out at a farm. There was no way on along the clifftops that we could see, and nothing marked on the OS map. In fact the contours are quite close together for much of the way, and it all looked most unfriendly.
So we yomped down a series of roads, albeit quiet ones, for miles and miles and miles. It was deadly! All that time we were nowhere near the coast, we couldn’t even see it.
We came to the hamlet of Nigg — just half a dozen houses and a church. Inside the church is a Pictish stone of great antiquity. A notice told us that it had stood in the graveyard for many centuries, but had recently been brought indoors to protect it from the weather. We were told that the Picts were not invaders nor incomers, but descendants of the Celts who had lived in this country for over a thousand years. They were farmers, sailors, hunters and craftsmen. They were also artists, and during the 6th and 7th centuries they used to carve geometric and animal symbols on to boulders. However, during the 8th century their sculpture underwent a subtle change. They would hack out rectangular stone slabs and then cover both sides with their designs which now included Christian symbols such as crosses. This particular slab displays a decorated cross topped by the crouching figures of St Anthony and St Paul in the desert.
We were pleased to see that this valuable artefact in such an out-of-the-way place is protected by CCTV. Just along the road we passed the old Nigg Post Office. I don’t know how long it is since it ceased to function, but several Post-Office-type notices were still displayed in the window. The building itself was in a terrible state, quite uninhabitable!
Further up the road we came to a bus shelter, so we sat inside it out of the weather to eat our apples. After a couple of miles we turned right on to a slightly mainer road, but there really wasn’t much traffic about even there. Another couple of miles, and we were able to turn off again towards Shandwick Bay.
At the top of the hill we caught sight of the sea again — at last! There we came across another Pictish carved stone slab. This one is still in its original position, but is protected from the weather by a perspex cage, a bit like the bus shelter we had just been in. A notice told us that the stone was quarried from the local cliffs about 780AD and moved to its present position using ropes, timber rollers and levers, or perhaps a cart. The pattern was marked out, then produced using a hammer and chisel. It was possibly painted, but there is no sign of any paint left.
It had stopped raining temporarily, so we made use of the opportunity and sat on a seat nearby to eat our chocolate. We then walked down to the beach at Shandwick.
There a notice told us that there was a footpath northwards all the way to Tarbat Ness — we were quite relieved about that as it wasn’t obvious from the OS map. But it also told us there was a seven mile “challenging” walk southwards over the cliffs all the way to Nigg Ferry! Well, we didn’t find it, and it’s certainly not marked on our OS ‘Explorer’ map which I recently paid so much for. We were both quite angry about that — we’d spent most of the day walking on roads which we hate, and they led us miles out of our way too.
We were soon in Balintore, and walked round the harbour. The rain started up again, and the wind hadn’t abated any. Shandwick, Balintore and Hilton of Cadboll are three adjacent hamlets known collectively as ‘The Seaboard Villages’. They are fishing villages and we passed fishing nets which had been strung up on poles, but it looked as if the wind had got at them.

Balintore is slightly larger than the other two communities, and is absolutely delightful! (Pity we couldn’t enjoy it because of the rain. I took a few pictures from under Colin’s umbrella, but still managed to get a few spots of water on the lens of my camera despite being careful.)
We walked over a pavement plaque depicting a woman rowing a boat — it said, “Effle of the two oars Nan Da Ramh”. (Haven’t a clue what that means, and neither does Google!)

Then we had a big surprise, for there was a mermaid on a rock!! It was a lovely stone carving (of course!) which was reminiscent of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.
Somehow it cheered us both up enormously, I think we could hardly believe our eyes when we first saw it!
Next we passed sculptures of fish, and then we came to the most original children’s playground. There was a ‘Snakes & Ladders’ pavement with real dice so you could actually play it. Then there was a large chess board with all the pieces that you could heave around. Also draughts scattered around on the grass so you could use the chequered board to play that game instead if you preferred.
And finally there was a loopy wire with a ring to pull along without ringing the buzzer! (Don’t know if that worked, it was too wet to investigate.)
We thought it was a fantastic place, and cursed the weather which was spoiling our enjoyment of it.
The rain came on very heavily as we merged into Hilton, where we walked along a street between the houses and their gardens. I should imagine it is a delightful community to live in. We noticed a couple of garages in particular which had fishes painted on their fronts. With relief we came to our car parked in a little car park at the end of the street. We were both soaked and frozen!

That ended Walk no.197, we shall pick up Walk no.198 next time at the northern end of Hilton of Cadboll. It was half past five, so the Walk had taken six hours. We have walked for five consecutive days, and have added 58 miles to our total. We had our tea and caramel squares, and returned to Nigg Ferry to pick up the bike. We ate fish’n’chips in the car on the way back before returning to our flat in the roof of a house way out in the countryside.
Our landlord and his wife have gone on a cruise, leaving their grown-up son in the house below. We haven’t even seen him, let alone spoken to him, and he hasn’t made himself known to us. Electricity is extra, and the meter is eating pound coins! So we are reluctant to put the heating on, and are often quite cold in the evenings. We cannot have a shower because they haven’t fitted one due to there being no head of water upstairs. The bath takes an age to fill. But every evening, at about midnight, the son has a shower downstairs. The tank is in the attic right next to our bed, and takes at least half an hour to fill. No, we don’t like our accommodation at all!

1 comment:

Jon Combe said...

I think you did the right thing on this walk with your route. I took the ferry across from Cromarty. It now costs £4.50 but at least it is running (it did not run at all last year and I understand is only back this year due to a subsidy).

From there I thought I might try to follow the beach as I had done on the coast leading up to Cromarty. But the sandy beach soon became shingle, became pebbles and then rocks. The tide was right up to the cliff face and no way round. So I headed up the "private" road heading up the cliffs. From here there is a footpath signed "Castlecraig Ciruclar Walk 5 miles". There was initially a good path along the cliffs, past some old World War II buildings and a few fields. But then the stiles became harder to find and I was back to climbing over fences. When I assumed I had left the path behind I came across another stile, but the farmer had surrounded it with fences, so it was useless. Then I came to a river valley surrounded by bracken and heather. There was a footpath sign but entirely surrounded by thick bracken. I forced my way down the valley though bracken and heather and found the stream. I could just make it across on rocks and climbed up the very steep bank the other side. Another field and then at the end of that just a load of gorse. I tried to force my way through but got all scratched and had to concede defeat, there was no sign of the supposed path. I made my way up a farm track to Wester Rarichie then followed the roads to Balintore.

So that difficult path you spotted the sign for is not just difficult but impossible! I think in hindsight with the time I wasted the road option you took was probably best.