Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Walk 199 -- Portmahomack to Tain

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 138 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 281 days.
Weather: Grey skies but remaining fine.
Location: Portmahomack to Tain.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 1756 miles.
Terrain: Grassy track and firm sandy beach. A lot of road-walking.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.147, Burn of Arboll. No.148, River Tain.
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 flat in the roof of someone’s house about three miles from Dingwall. This morning we got up early, put Colin’s bike on the back of the car, and drove to Portmahomack where Colin dropped me off. I strolled round the harbour of this very pretty village while Colin drove on to Tain and cycled back.
At the end, we finished at the car. We had our tea and lip-smacking caramel squares, then returned to Portmahomack to pick up the bike. We drove back to Dingwall — a long way but we finished our Walk much earlier than yesterday, and we had no shopping to do. So we managed to return to the flat when it was still light — just.

While Colin was parking the car and cycling back, I walked around Portmahomack’s harbour. There was a mixture of leisure and fishing boats moored there, but all of them were very small. A group of men were standing on the quay with their hands in their pockets. A small fishing boat came buzzing in, they put one box of fish on its roof and then it buzzed off. I think the fishing industry is in a really bad way! Such a pretty little town, too.
I strolled back along the seafront to where we had parked the car yesterday. There I sat on a bench with my puzzle book until Colin arrived. My peace was shattered on occasion by military jets screaming overhead! I suppose they’ve got to practice somewhere, but they always seem to choose the most beautiful and peaceful parts of the country for their manoeuvres.
We ate our pies before we started the Walk. Colin wore a knee support all day. He has had his knee X-rayed but they couldn’t find anything wrong with it, which is puzzling because it has given him a lot of jip intermittently over the years. Whether the knee support helped or not I don’t know because he didn’t say. But it gave him a psychological boost if nothing else. Like all the aches and pains which we increasingly suffer from as we get older, he had to try and ignore it and get on with things hoping it would go away.
We were delighted that we were able to walk all the way to Inver on the beach. It had looked a bit rocky on the map, but the tide was out and we were able to walk on firm sand most of the way. The beach started to get rocky before we’d left Portmahomack, so we went up some steps between houses to get on to a narrow lane. This ran out very quickly, but instead of just ending it turned into an official footpath to Inver. So we knew we would be able to get through along the shore. A grassy track led us down on to the beach again, which was lovely firm sand. Excellent! 
Yes, we did pass slimey rocks covered in seaweed and green stuff, but we were able to bypass them on the sand. Colin photographed lots of birds with his long lens — herons, eiders, gulls and cormorants drying their wings.
It was a wonderful experience walking along the sand like that. I don’t think words can ever describe it to someone who has never experienced it. So if you’re one of those people, get out there on a fine day, pick a sandy beach in a fairly remote area — preferably when the tide is out — and get walking! You’ll never regret it, I can promise you!
There was a very slight mist on this beach between Portmahomack and Inver, and I can only describe the views as ethereal! It gave us an enormous sense of well-being.

There were several large rocks, looking a bit like glacial erratics. (Sorry! Bit of Geography coming in there! But they did look a bit odd, as if they didn’t belong.) One of them was covered with birds and their guano.
We came across a large number of snail shells. Then there were more and bigger shells, it was impossible not to walk on them. There were thousands of them, and then they stopped.

We looked at the map when we were about half way along, and thought we ought to be behind the dunes — we had long since lost the path. So we climbed the dunes to a high point, but couldn’t see a path and the sand was too soft to walk comfortably.
So we returned to the beach and continued all the way to Inver.
We had been concerned that this wouldn’t be possible because of the river (Inver Channel) which runs parallel to the shore for about two miles before it empties itself into the sea.
But the tide was out and the river was shallow — it was just glorious!
It was with regret that we had to leave this beautiful beach at Inver. We couldn’t cross the Inver Channel for a start, and if we had been able to we would have had to walk round square mile upon square mile of marsh which is owned by the military and has been used as a bombing range in the past. We sat on a bench and ate our sarnies, overlooking the channel, the sands and with the misty mountains beyond. We shall be walking there soon as we make our way up to John O’Groats!
We went behind the houses to the corner, and there we found picnic tables and benches looking west. This is a lovely spot, a wonderful place to sit and do nothing. But it wasn’t always so peaceful. The plaque on a large granite stone read:
This stone commemorates the contribution made by
the people of Inver and the Tarbat and Fearn areas
who left their homes and land at short notice
from December 1943 to May 1944.
Their evacuation was needed to enable the British armed forces
to prepare for the Allied invasion of Normandy.
This concentrated training of the 3rd Infantry Division
and the naval force ‘S’ was considered vital
for the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944,
and helped bring World War 2 to a successful conclusion.
At least they were allowed back, unlike the people of Tyneham on the Dorset coast whose neglected homes were destroyed by the Army in the 1950s (though they have always denied this) and the villagers have not been allowed back to this day!
There was another monument dedicated to the local soldiers who fought in the Highland 51st Division and those who were prisoners of war. It lists the Seaforths, Camerons, Gordons, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and the Black Watch. Then, as we crossed the tiny Inver Burn to leave the hamlet, we were greeted with the cheery sign – “Haste ye back”!

Then it was road-walking all the way to Tain, five miles. DREADFUL! The cars were intermittent, but drove very fast because this was mostly a straight road. Especially the 1.6 miles of dead straight road — many drivers thought this was a licence for them to practice Grand-Prix style driving! We had no choice but to walk on the tarmac, the grassy edge was too uneven and full of potholes hidden under the weeds. Most vehicles moved across to the other side or slowed down as they passed us, but a few did not and that was frightening. We walked in single file facing the oncoming traffic, but the most terrifying situations occurred when two cars approached from behind and one overtook the other. This happened at least twice, and scared the wits out of me! Even cars which we were facing, if one was overtaking the other there was nowhere for us to go. They didn’t seem to be aware that we were there, even though we had both put on bright yellow reflective waistcoats for this part of the Walk.
Apart from some giant fungi we came across, there was not much of interest. We passed the former military base which was so important during the War. It was completely abandoned, and most of the buildings were derelict.
Roofless and/or windowless, they all looked rather ghostly. The whole area is a complete eyesore in this beautiful part of the world. It must have been a big place in yesteryear, but it is falling apart now.
The perimeter fences were falling down, and no barrier these days to anyone who wants to wander across this disused airfield built on a bog. In fact, while we were resting in a gateway, a woman appeared from opposite where there were a few isolated houses, pushing a baby in a buggy. She crossed the road, and took herself off into the old military complex to go for a walk with her child.
We ‘route-marched’, and completed the five miles in two hours. Since this included a ten minute rest in the middle, we were quite proud of ourselves. After we had crossed over the railway, we took the first track off to the right because the map told us this would take us back to the shore. As soon as we were away from the traffic, we sat down on a grass verge to eat our chocolate. And I had a nose bleed! (My ‘punishment’ for all that hard walking, I think.) It took about ten minutes to clot, before I felt it was safe to carry on.
We twisted through a farm where some children were playing football, went under the railway, crossed a stream and we were at the beach.
A footpath led us along to a bouncy suspension footbridge over the River Tain.
A plaque on the bridge told us it was made in Inverness.
We saw a heron in the water, looking for its supper.
We were now in a lovely park where Colin had parked the car at the other end. It was a nice end to the Walk, except that the toilets were out of use and we had to find a bush!

That ended Walk no.199, we shall pick up Walk no.200 next time at the western end of the shoreside park in Tain. It was ten to five, so the Walk had taken five hours twenty minutes. We had our tea and caramel squares, then returned to Portmahomack to pick up the bike. We finished our Walk much earlier than yesterday and we had no shopping to do, so we managed to return to the flat when it was still light — just. We are now walking a very long way from our accommodation, that is the trouble with it being static. We could do with a caravan.

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