Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
Click for Southbound hike
Crossing the Cromarty Firth bridge was no fun in a stiff crosswind
DN50 Cromarty Firth bridge from afar
DN50 Cromarty Firth bridge
Days N45 - N56                                                                   Scottish Highlands
Day N50 - Inverness to Alness
Day N49                   A nice lunch in the dry                           Day N51
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Southbound Home
Thursday, May 10, 2007

Time of departure: 8.00 am
Time of arrival: 5.30 pm
Place departed: Inverness, Highland
Place arrived: Alness, Highland

Miles: 21.8
Cum miles: 822.2
Percent complete: 88.6

Bed sign Westmore B&B, Alness  ***
Cost for bed and breakfast: 25 ($50)
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The Inverness Youth Hostel was modern and large.  Heating and hot water were in generous supply. The continental breakfast had juices, a good fruit salad, yogurt, cereals, cheese, and cold meats. I could only fault the youth hotel for their bread, and the broken-down internet.

Last night I tried to book the only accommodation that I knew in Evanston, which is the village located at the right place on my route. It was full, and thanks to the TIC on my approach to Inverness being closed when it should have been open, I had no other listing. When the TIC office on leaving Inverness was also closed, I booked at Alness instead of Evanston, committing me to an extra four miles but giving me an assured bed.

The day started well enough, with only light drizzle and little wind, and a reasonable bike-track at times, though on the A9 otherwise.  I crossed the Kessock bridge exiting Inverness, a fine suspension bridge that I would have photographed but for the rain. There were another two notable bridges on the trip north, both across firths (estuaries) and slicing many miles off the A9's former path following the coastline around the firths. One of these bridges came up today after five miles or so, crossing the Cromarty Firth.  I was able to take a photo of this bridge when the drizzle lessened briefly. It's over a mile long, and 25 years old, which is quite modern in bridge terms. But it held a shock for me today. Exposed to the North Sea, from which the wind now came at gale-force, I had to struggle to hold my footing as I walked on a narrow footpath right next to the highway, without a guide rail separating me from the traffic.  On the other edge of the footpath was the bridge railing, but its height was less than the height of the bottom of my backpack. As you can readily appreciate, a backpack tends to make one top heavy - and it took just one speeding large truck to produce a gust that blew me sideways. Looking over the bridge railing then made me envisage a watery grave, because the firth must have been icy. As I proved later, my fingers were too cold to even remove my backpack if I had gone over. I lost no time getting across that bridge and was very relieved to do so.

At about that time, I got a beep from a large liquid-gas carrier truck. It was Pete Stephens from the Tomatin B&B.  Pete drives this truck from Inverness to John o' Groats and back each day, starting very early, and was looking out for me on his return. I wondered if we'd encounter each other on the road in the days to come, but we did not.

I had not passed a single food place by early afternoon - or, for that matter, on a succession of days in Scotland between one accommodation place and the next. But half an hour after crossing the Cromarty Firth bridge, I found The Storehouse in Poulis, a historical restaurant overlooking the firth, and including a farmers' store with fresh produce, cheeses and the like.  In the restaurant I located my table, and then for some minutes after my 17 miles thus far, I was unable to get my fingers to operate even the press-to-release buckles that held the waist and sternum straps of my backpack around me. Only after doing so could I order, but meanwhile stood next to my table in embarrassment at my frozen ineptitude before the other guests who had surely arrived in well-heated cars. Eventually I got the pack off, and I chose a smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cress sandwich with a salad, and it was quite excellent.

“Wet outside,” a man said from the next table.

“No kidding,” I agreed.

“Must be global warming,” he said.

“Darn Yanks,” I said.

Donning an extra layer of warm clothing, I departed to find the wind and rain had subsided. I left the A9 to take an available parallel B-road through Evanston to Alness. The road was further inland than the A9, and sometimes among trees, and I think this helped with the wind, too. Thus I arrived at the Westmore B&B in Alness and enjoyed an arrival cup of tea.

It had been dreadful weather all day. By now, the good fortune of my days in England, where winter weather had been like spring, had been counterbalanced by spring days of winter weather in Scotland. What possesses a person to leave a warm youth hostel early in the morning, strap on a backpack, and walk for nine and a half hours in the cold, in the wind and in the rain, across a dangerous bridge and sometimes on muddy grass verges? No one could possibly regard today as fun, except for the half-hour in the restaurant. I do not have a logical answer beyond terms like "challenge" which really just restate the question.

When I had told my friends about my plans, they used words like "lunacy" and "should get his head examined". Yet, when I ate healthily in The Storehouse, I watched a lot of overweight, sedentary-lifestyle people stuffing their faces with the wrong food. I was one of them a few months ago, and at least for the moment I was not. My weight was about right, my muscles were toned, and my knees were better than when I started. I could do greater distances with less effort than I could envisage before I left home. I felt I was achieving something of my own choice. If that was lunacy, bring on the men in white coats.

 
In Alness, a road sign said it won the British "flowers in bloom" award - a notable achievement - though I seem to have arrived between the daffodils and the primroses. Another road sign said it is 101 miles to John o' Groats. That's about seven days. Someday soon, all this will end.
Day N49                              2007 and 2008 Daryl May                               Day N51