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|Skye wisely slept on the sofa next to the fire as I stepped out from Balsporran Cottages into a gale|
|Days N45 - N56 Scottish Highlands|
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English West Country
North of England
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Time of departure: 8.30 am
Time of arrival: 4.30 pm
Place departed: Balsporran Cottages, Highland
Place arrived: Newtonmore, Highland
Cum miles: 751.2
Percent complete: 81.0
Alvey House Hotel, Newtonmore ***
Cost for bed and breakfast: £30 ($60)
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What others say
8.30 this morning, I wished I were a dog. It was
raining and bitterly cold outside Balsporran
Cottages, where Ann and Phil Nickson had made me feel
welcome with ample heating, a comfortable room and a breakfast of
smoked salmon with poached egg, with whisky marmalade on my toast.
As I made reluctantly for the door, I glimpsed their dog, Skye, reposing on the sofa with his head in his paws, looking approvingly at the fire. He, for one, had his priorities right. My photo of him on the sofa still makes me envious.
Drumochter Summit, atop the Grampian Mountains here, is not so much a summit as the beginning of a highland plateau. So I was still at 1500 ft, and the bitter wind outside was strong enough to bow the trees - and blow the rain almost horizontally. Five minutes after I left Balsporran Cottages, it started to hail small pellets. With the wind, the ice pellets stung my calves and hands. (I'd decided that wearing shorts and enduring wet legs was preferable to wearing trousers and waterproof overtrousers, and I had long ago discarded my gloves - thus my bare calves and hands.) I was fortunate that the wind was from behind, or I could not have suffered the hail in my face - or the exertion of walking into a gale.
An hour into the walk, with the rain continuing, it became clear that my parka wasn't quite waterproof. My shirt started to get wet on the left side. After another hour feeling more and more miserable, I came to Dalwhinnie where I saw the Dalwhinnie Inn, and ducked into its attractive coffee shop. The other customers looked on my bedraggled appearance and reckoned I might be a highland stoat, and one offered me a ride. I ordered a large Americano coffee, not knowing what it was, and found it hit the spot.
With my pack and parka off, I hung myself to dry over the only evident heater, a contortion made more difficult by my compulsion to look at the serving ladies' bare midriffs at the same time. I spent an hour like this, sometimes chatting to a couple of Alabamans who had flown Huntsville-Memphis-Detroit-Paris-Edinburgh yesterday, and had today rented a car for an east-to-west dash from Edinburgh to Skye. I was fortunate to have ample time for my own journey.
Before leaving the Dalwhinnie Inn, I checked that they had rooms available, and I took their phone number with me. Then I stepped out during a lull in the rain.
Twenty minutes into this, my second segment of the day, it rained and hailed again. The wind was so fierce that it blew me around. I was grateful to be on a bike-track and a long way from cars.
The conditions were so miserable that I would have returned to the Dalwhinnie Inn if I could have avoided walking into the teeth of the gale.
The rain but not the wind eased again. But, in occasional moments of shelter from the wind, I noticed that it took more effort to walk. The following wind had actually been blowing me along.
Jenny's call to me arrived on time, but all communication was obliterated by wind. I hoped she understood my shout of "Gale-force winds, will call you later”, but later she said that she didn’t.
During all this, I was oblivious of my shoulder and leg aches, and was nearly at my destination of Newtonmore when more downpours made me too wet to tolerate it any more. At about that moment, I came to the Ralia Highland Centre, a café and information center for visitors. There I dried off for the second time, enjoying a free coffee refill and free internet access for some minutes. How nice to feel like I was in America! The Scottish staff was really friendly too.
Leaving the Ralia for the third segment of my walk, I ran into a heavily- laden hiker headed south. We looked at each other with immediate recognition; the only question was whether we were coast-to-coast wet walkers or end-to-end wet walkers. It turned out that Dr. Colin Skinner, microbiologist, and Dr. Daryl May, aerospace engineer, were both end-to-end walkers. Colin was on his second end-to-end walk, raising money for charity. He had a 30-lb pack, and was camping. He typically covered ten more miles a day than I, and on top of that raised money. I would have felt quite defeated, except that he was 15 years younger than I, and I had my own credentials of 750-miles done. We exchanged email addresses, and parted. I wondered whether I'd meet any more end-to-enders. Just one in 750 miles says "unlikely", and yet all the end-to-end routes tend to converge after Inverness, and of course they all come together at John o'Groats.
Colin has a website at http://www.freewebs.com/drskinnersite/. Those interested in contributing to charity might like to visit Colin's site, read the remarkable story of his 10,000-odd miles of hiking to raise money for hospice care, and make a donation.
The weather eased for my last two miles into Newtonmore, where I bought rolls, cheese and chocolate to eat in my room – washed down with a nice cup of tea. I didn't want to go out again, whatever the weather. I needed to get my boots dry as a first priority. My clothes might dry quickly, given heat, but boots would take more time.
For all the hardship, I felt quite fresh arriving in Newtonmore after a 15-mile day. Perhaps the adverse conditions stimulated adrenaline? Perhaps that brief chat with fellow end-to-ender Colin Skinner meant more than it seemed? He was one of the two end-to-enders that I met on the entire hike. Given that a hike of this length and intensity by its very nature set us apart from normal society, it was nice to find a like-minded eccentric. We are surely that by definition, but I need to add that half of Britain identifies with this hike and wishes they could do the same. Some eccentrics are weird and some are not, and hopefully we are among the "not"s.
The forecast called for rain the next three days, but less wind.
|Day N45 © 2007 and 2008 Daryl May Day N47|