Thursday, May 14, 2009

Walk 216 -- Tongue to Eriboll

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 6 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 148 days.
Weather: Very sunny and warm, with a cold enough breeze to keep us sane. A few small fluffy clouds, but nothing of significance. (We can’t help feeling rather smug as it’s raining in England!)
Location: Tongue to Eriboll.
Distance: 12½ miles.
Total distance: 1952 miles.
Terrain: Entirely road-walking, though we did divert to walk the ‘old road’ at times.
Tide: In going out.
Rivers: No.182, Kyle of Tongue at Tongue. No.183, River Hope at Hope Bridge.
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 moved our caravan from Bettyhill to Durness yesterday. We had made lots of enquiries locally about a bus between Durness and Bettyhill which ran mid-morning, according to the Traveline website. But it all drew a blank, just that the bus driver sometimes takes the school bus home to Bettyhill after delivering the children to Durness School. So we decided the only way was to thumb a lift. We drove to Eriboll and parked the car opposite the phone box. Then a bus turned up! But the driver was very apologetic — he had heard about our request but he wasn’t the one who lived in Bettyhill, he lived just a mile further down the road which wasn’t much help. We didn’t have to wait long, despite the lack of traffic, before two ladies stopped for us and were very obliging. One of them ran a B&B, and they were off to do their weekly shopping in Thurso. They dropped us off on the causeway part way across the Kyle of Tongue where we finished the last Walk.
At the end, we finished the Walk at the car in Eriboll. After refreshing ourselves with tea and biscuits, we drove back to our caravan in Durness.
The weather took a turn for the worse, it couldn’t last forever! In the end we decided to cut our losses and go home. The journey of over 600 miles took two full days, but we voted the caravan idea a success.

We gave a card about our blog to the ladies who gave us a lift, and also gave one to a couple who were picnicking where we were dropped off. They seemed surprised that we got out of a car and then were left to our own devices in such a remote place.
Before we left the causeway, we once more admired the magnificent scenery. It looked especially good in the bright sunshine. We can hardly believe the weather we have had for the past week or so — today it was brilliantly sunny again and really hot out of the wind. There were pointy mountains to the south of us. We could see the road to Tongue which we didn’t have to walk last time because we took a steep narrow road which was a short cut.
We saw the old pier that was used for the passenger ferry pre-1971. And we looked closely at the water which was a beautiful turquoise colour. Then we crossed the bridge at the end of the causeway.
We didn’t take the lane to Strathan because it is a dead end. Then we would have had to walk for miles and miles across rough country which is swampy, cut by myriads of streams and gullies interspersed with lochans, strewn with rocks and covered with close contours. Definitely no paths or tracks. None of this makes for easy walking, so we left out the entire headland and stuck to the one and only road. A digger was gouging out a ditch on the side of this, but this vehicle blocking the road didn’t exactly cause a traffic jam with one vehicle every twenty minutes or so!
We went up on the moors where there is a good and fairly straight road for about eight miles. This road must have been renewed quite recently because it was in such a good state. We found strips of the old road running parallel, sometimes for a mile or two, so we walked on those when we could. Colin found this to be quite enjoyable, though I didn’t mind which I walked on because there was no traffic. But Colin was happy and didn’t moan (he hadn’t been looking forward to today’s Walk because it was all on roads) so I was pleased. I was also pleased about the weather — out in the open up there I bet it is hell on most days of the year!
The gorse flowers were lovely, as usual, and we saw two red deer in the far distance, but not much else. Human habitation for the entire eight miles is zilch! There is not even a fence, the whole area is completely wild. We stopped by a dried-out pond because we could get down in the hollow out of the wind. We sat there to eat our pies, and Colin noticed a deer’s footprint in the algae-strewn mud. While he was attempting to photograph it, a loopy caterpillar started doing it’s stuff along the underside of his camera case. I found this more interesting than the footprint!
The old road was in a terrible condition, having been neglected for years. Further along it was flooded, so we walked along the very edge of it. I got my foot stuck in a swamp, so I wasn’t best pleased. Luckily I didn’t get water in my boot, but it was a near thing.
We came upon a single building, the only one in all of the eight miles. It was a roofless house with a plaque set into the end. This was difficult to read, mainly because it was very wordy, Victorian-style. We gathered it was a tribute to the brave men who built the first road across here in 1830. That must have been a terrible job — hard labour mostly in dreadful weather conditions. This must have been where they slept, I wonder who brought their food out here. Graffiti artists had been at work on the house, and actually their pictures were quite good.
Further on we managed to get out of the wind again by sitting next to a stream. So we ate our sarnies there.
My! It is bleak up on those moors! Miles and miles of nothing in all directions. The old road got worse and worse with deep holes appearing in it, so we had to go back to the new road. Colin didn’t like that, though there were barely any cars, and kept saying he’d found another bit of old road. But by now they were just heaps of earth and impossible to walk on, and even Colin conceded.

We saw a couple of greylag geese on the ground. As we approached them they flew off, and Colin got some superb pictures. Then we came across a substantial notice welcoming us to the “North-West Highlands Geopark”. What difference that made to the scenery I don’t know, but it was nice to feel welcome!
Soon after that we began to descend to the River Hope which drains the freshwater Loch Hope. At last we were off those bleak moors, but out of the wind it became very hot. Much prettier though. We took a shortcut through some trees which was a very short detour, but pleasant.
The other side of Hope Bridge we sat on the grass for a “water break”. (Really because we needed a bit of a rest.) It was 3pm, and we reckoned we had about five miles to go. I was exhausted, so I put myself in ‘March-Mode’ and psyched myself up for the last assault.
Feeling slightly refreshed, we stomped up the twisty road to the top of another headland, but this is a much smaller one. From the top we caught our first sight of the deep salt-water Loch Eriboll. It always has been used by the Army and Navy for their manoeuvres, and still is today. (Apparently the conscripts used to call it “Loch ’Orrible” because they hated being up there so much!) But it looked really beautiful today in the brilliant sunshine. There are numerous small lochans on this second headland, and we could see northwards the fearsome headland that we had by-passed. We were glad we had made that decision.
There is no bridge or causeway across Loch Eriboll, we will have to walk all the way round it and it’s miles! But we only have to do about three miles of it today.
The road led us gently past the ubiquitous flowering gorse down to the lochside where there was a fish farm in the water.
We continued walking while it was flat, but as soon as it started to go uphill we sat down and ate our chocolate. We could see the trees where our car was parked, but they still looked an awful long way away.
We began to pass the occasional farm building, most of which were derelict ruins. Further on there were sheep all over the road. We seemed to be herding them as we walked along, and they got more and more noisy. One lamb had lost its Mum, and was bashing its head against the fence to get back in the field. It was quite distressed, but there wasn’t anything we could do to help it. Fortunately all the sheep had managed to get round behind us before we reached the farm where we had parked our car this morning, on a rough grass verge opposite a phone box.
That ended Walk no.216, we shall pick up Walk no.217 next time at the phone box opposite the farm at Eriboll. It was twenty past five, so the Walk had taken six hours and fifty minutes. While we were drinking our tea, the farmer (who was out of sight behind some trees, but up a ladder mending a roof) started shouting aggressively at his wife. We couldn’t make out whether he was talking English in a broad Scottish accent or speaking Gallic — it sounded a bit like “up yer clunge!” as the Scottish chef in the original version of the TV series ‘Reginald Perrin’ used to say! The word “England” was there, and the wife seemed to be saying, “Well you go out and tell them then!” But no one came out to speak to us. We thought it best to beat a hasty retreat, so we hurriedly packed up and drove back to Durness.
The next day we had planned as a rest day anyway, but the weather took a turn for the worse. We had been very fortunate so far, it couldn’t last forever! We took the opportunity to gain as much local information as we could about Cape Wrath. It got extremely windy again, and we had to move the caravan away from the cliff edge. The warden told us, “We haven’t lost one yet!” but I was nervous and insisted we moved as far away from the sea as possible.
The following day we had planned as our final Walk this session, but after a very uncomfortable night with the caravan bouncing about in the wind and teeming rain the next morning along with it, we decided to cut our losses and go home. The journey of over 600 miles took two full days, but we voted the caravan idea a success.

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