From: Culbokey to Alness
Distance: 10m / 16km
Cumulated distance: 1087km / 1749km
Percentage completed: 91.8
I could barely believe the events of yesterday when I woke up this morning! A son arriving out of the blue and a bundle of black lab pups to share with him. What an unbelievable way to end a day. And here I was starting the following day in the same way. How lucky was I.
Over breakfast we shared stories with the Hale family who were on day eight of their cycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats. It was fascinating to share routes and realise the whistle-stop journey they’d made through the country compared with my saunter. Like me they were doing the ride for charities. But in their case it was to raise funds to help people who were homeless. Take a look at their Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chris-hale2
It was a huge struggle to leave Netherton Farm. The puppies were playing out in the sun, along with the piglets and we could have stayed for hours having our shoelaces pulled and our ankles nibbled. But there was also much pleasurable catching up to do as we made our way. Walking talk is always so good, as you meander through subjects you wouldn’t necessarily visit over a snatched breakfast or dinner. What a treat to have seven whole days with my boy.
There were gorgeous views across Cromarty Firth as Gus and I left Culbokie. We joined the A9 causeway and the Cromarty Bridge. It was buzzing with traffic but thankfully there was a pathway of sorts. The mist obscured the distant mountains of Strathfarrar but the views across the estuary were dreamy.
There was a whoop as I spotted the first sign I’d seen to John o’Groats .. just 109 miles to go. Very, very exciting. As we crossed the estuary we didn’t spot any seals despite knowing they were around but there were plenty of oyster-catchers, herons and gulls with their young to see.
Once on the other side we had a few hundred metres to walk along the A9 before we made a brief stop for coffee.
Instead of returning to the A road we made our way along the B roads which make up the A1 cycling track. It was green and quiet in Ross and Cromarty, with fields of wheat, rapeseed and poppies.
We passed through the village of Baile-Eoghain, otherwise known as Evanton, which is just as well as I have no idea how to pronounce the first name. During the 2nd World War Evanton was a pretty important place. It had an airfield which became a flight and bombing training school in 1937. Young air gunners would have come here to be trained and eventually up to 250 aircraft were stored at the airfield. I learned that on Empire Day 1939 78 RAF stations were opened to the public. RAF Evanton was the furthest north in the country and attracted a mile long queue of cars and 9000 visitors.
I’d never heard of Empire Day. It seems it was first celebrated after Victoria died in 1901. Millions of school children across the length and breadth of the empire would salute the union flag and sing Jerusalem and the national anthem. ‘They would hear inspirational speeches and listen to tales of daring do from across the Empire, stories that included such heroes as Clive of India, Wolfe of Quebec and Chinese Gordon of Khartoum’. Empire Day remained a red letter day in the calendar for over 50 years until the sixties, when ‘empire’ became a dirty word and the holiday became known as Commonwealth Day.
I certainly don’t remember celebrating Empire Day but perhaps my parents’ generation would. I can well imagine the not overly complicated chant, ‘Remember, Remember Empire Day, the 24th of May!’ being drummed into school children. Still, if it was a day’s holiday from school, maybe it would have put a spring in their step.
For several miles before we arrived in Alness, we could see the Fyrish Monument up on the hill. It’s a curious monument: three arches flanked by massive stone pillars .. you might even think it’s a folly. But actually its inspiration came from much further away. India to be precise. It was commissioned by Sir Hector Munro, a Scottish soldier who had become wealthy by giving 12 years of high-ranking military service in the sub-continent. Apparently he really only ordered the work to provide jobs for locals who had been cleared off their land to make way for sheep in the 1780s. Jet-lag and aching feet prevented us from climbing to see the monument close up and so I’m relying on another photographer to show you just what it looks like close up.
I can’t say that Alness had anything to recommend it unless you were keen to visit a barber. It seems Scotland’s men take great care of their hair, if the proliferation of barber shops along this walk is anything to go by. Our generous hosts suggested we leave Alness for dinner, so we caught a cab to Kincraig Castle Hotel, an erstwhile Scottish hunting lodge, now with rather strange oriental overtones … tartan carpets and stag trophies mixed with lanterns and Chinese statues of dubious origin.
However, there was another surprise in store! As Gus and I sat sipping our drinks, in walked Yvonne and Martin, the kind and lovely people who had taken pity on Swampy, Nigel and me way back in the Cotswolds! Back in April, spotting that we were lost through their farmhouse window, they had raced out to invite us in for tea and cake and to set us on the right track. We had half an hour of lovely chat in their warm and cosy kitchen and then opportunities to hold one of their new-born lambs. And now here they were again, staying not far from Alness with David and Julie, who had also come along. We sat out in the evening sun, overlooking Cromarty Firth, sharing stories .. a great end to the day.
Black Dog Tails
Bruce Watt, the co-founder of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association with Radar, riding the ski lift at Whistler. Think this wins the prize for coolest pic! Don’t forget to click on it for the story.
Can’t believe you met that lovely Cotswold couple again! Fabulous. Nx
What were the chances! They were up having a pre-wedding party with Colin’s parents .. all utterly delightful people. xx
So close now Jules, how wonderful and to have Gus join you – what a bonus. You should be so very proud of yourself. I am sure you will miss this adventure once its over!
I’m so lucky to have him by my side. Not long to go now .. xx
Dear Jules, I’m finding it sad that you are nearing the end of your journey. I just love reading your blog every day. But what a lovely surprise to have Gus join you for the final 100 miles or so. Congratulations on an amazing effort.
With regard to Empire Day – at my boarding prep school in Dorset (started by my mother and her best friend in the mid-1930s) we always had a day off for Empire Day – usually spent either at Studland Beach or Brownsea Island in the middle of Poole Harbour. It is also my sister’s birthday, so I am reminded every year on May 24th that we also used to celebrate Empire Day (later Commonwealth Day as you say) on that day.
How fascinating, Jo. So interesting to get your message. Thank you for your support along the way. x
looks like another spectacular day on the trail with great company. I love the foto “not a breath of wind”, what a still-life. nearly there!
Thank you, Amely. think that photo may make it into being a painting. It was very serene. xx
What a huge boost it must have been to have Gus join you yesterday. Hardly a dry eye this end as well! Well played Gus.
You are doing amazingly Jules.
M & I have been following your daily blogs avidly every morning whilst sitting in bed drinking the first cup of tea of the day… as long as you haven’t been having a lie in of course and sending your blog in somewhat tardily 🙂
We’re going to miss your daily bulletins hugely once you have arrived at John O’Groats. You wouldn’t consider taking a couple of days off and heading back to Lands End again I suppose?
Keep on trekking!!
T & M xx
What lovely words .. thank you, Tony. Gus has been a huge boost and will be with me till Sunday, and then just 3 more days to do. Can’t quite believe it. Looking forward to seeing you and Mandy when I get back to Ampney. Want to see all those wedding photos! xx
So pleased that your journey is being sweetened by the company of friends and family right now, Jules. You are almost there!!
Yes, they’re a great support. As are the messages you and others have sent on the blog. Thank you Silvia.
Hi Jules – well what stories…they just keep coming and are an absolute delight! So unbelievably good to have Gus with you – was there one less puppy when you left your lodging?! You have been a one woman advertising campaign for Scotland!! Keep looking after yourself. Lots of love xx
The big challenge is going to be getting the pup on the plane! Only kidding! xx
Almost there. Hope your foot isn’t too bothersome. I’ve had bilateral plantar fasciitis in the past, and so I know how troubling it can be. Hang in there, just a few more days to go…..
Is Patrick getting you a pup upon your return? This should be a non negotiable!!
BTW – Gus looks like a younger version of Patrick.
Thank you, Linda. Can I ask if you strapped your foot? Gus is negotiating for not one but two pups! xx
Such an amazing journey and your fortitude and determination is commendable, especially with your bad foot. We always avidly read your daily blog to track your progress. Your writing is so engaging as well as being full of interesting facts. The photos and sketches are just perfect, especially nostalgic from the past three weeks.
Your last few days will be hectic so just wanted to say we are full of admiration for your achievements.
Thank you so much Effie and Lilly! Such positive comments make a huge difference each day to the journey. Looking forward to your visit to Sydney, very much.
Your Gus looks big enough and strong enough to pick you up and pop you in his rucksack.
I well remember seeing the first road sign that said Joh ‘o Groats with mixed feelings: part of you doesn’t really want it to end.
Here is another snippet from the day before my stay at the Crask Inn and the boot sole incident the day after that:
Day 70, Tuesday 24th June, Rosehall to Lairg., 8.5 miles.
“Just eight miles on the road for this day, but Lairg was the last place where I could stock up before another three or four
shopless days after the next day at Crask Inn. I had booked ahead for The Crask and knew I could eat there. On the way to Lairg my watch battery expired. I thought there was a remote chance of buying a new watch there but this was not possible. When I got to the camp site I told the proprietor about this, and against all the odds he said “I think we can do something about that.” He got a cardboard box from a shelf and it was full of watch batteries and all the necessary tools and he proceeded to dismantle my watch and fit a new battery, and this was much more difficult than I would have thought. I asked him how much he wanted and he said £1.50 so I gave him £5 and said thank you very much. What are the chances of getting a watch repaired in a small, remote, Highland village?”
After my trip I treated myself to a new watch which is still going strong and is a daily reminder of my LEJOG.
Yes, Gus has taken the bulk of my belongings .. very few now as I’ve pared down and down over the weeks to virtually nothing. It’s just the pc that weighs. I’ve so enjoyed hearing your stories, Conrad and am looking forward to reading your blog when I’m at the end of this journey. The wretched foot is annoyingly interfering with the enjoyment of the last few days .. but there’s nothing to be done but ignore it as much as I can and march on. It’s making me very tired too .. for the last two days I’ve fallen asleep as soon as I’ve stopped. Not ideal. But I find your messages very encouraging, so thank you.