From: Alness to Tain
Distance: 12m / 19.3km
Cumulated distance: 1096m / 1764km
Percentage completed: 92.6
Gus and I had our sights on Dalmore Distillery this morning. The Dalmore 1968 was the star turn in the opening scene of the epic film ‘Kingsman’, with Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson and his scissor-legged assistant. Devotees of the movie will remember that not a drop was spilt. But the late opening of the distillery meant we had to give it a miss. We thought we’d grab a dram in the evening when we reached Tain and then make up for it with a visit to Glenmorangie the following day. Globalisation has extended its wily fingers here with Dalmore being owned by the Philippines company Emperador Inc. It’s difficult to imagine two countries more unalike and yet bound by love of a wee whisky.
Alli and David at Tullochard Guest House were most generous in giving the cost of our stay to SANE. It made for a great start to the day, together with being joined by Kay and Jebs, friends from Kent. They were flush with the success of a great fishing trip up in Helmsdale, catching salmon as long as your arm. And they had the video to prove it! The temperature must have dropped ten degrees since yesterday and instead of stripping off clothes we found ourselves putting layers on. After the last couple of weeks it was quite a change .. and for me, quite a relief.
Today gave us the opportunity to walk on the John o’Groats Trail proper and leave both the A9 trunk road and the A1 cycling route behind. Technically, we’d been following it along the A1 but we were keen to find the sections which would take us through forest and across the pleasant countryside of Easter Ross. I had to smile as we walked through Lamington Wood and wondered if this is where the iconic Aussie cake lamingtons hail from. ‘The chocolate lamington is as Australian as meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars, ranking alongside the other true Australian icons of the peach melba and Vegemite’. It’s a brick of a cake consisting of sponge, dipped in chocolate and liberally sprinkled with fine desiccated coconut. Not one of my favourites but pretty ubiquitous.
Not far from our route, to the right, is the pretty, candy pink Balnagown Castle. It was once the ancestral seat of the Clan Ross but was bought by Mohamed Al Fayed in 1972. According to Travel Scotland, ‘It has been much restored and is now a snazzy private residence for the Al Fayed family’. Love that word, snazzy .. somehow manages to imply just the tiniest hint of a sneer.
The Highlands of Scotland tourist board awarded Al Fayed ‘Freedom of the Highlands’ for his ‘outstanding contribution and commitment to the highlands’. I doubt he feels that wandering at will across the mountains is fair reward for spending £20 million on the estate. As an Egyptian with links to Scotland, he was intrigued enough to fund a 2008 reprint of a 15th century chronicle. The ‘Scotichronicon’ describes how Scota, a sister of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, fled her family and landed in Scotland, bringing with her the Stone of Scone. According to the chronicle, Scotland was later named in her honour. The tale is disputed by modern historians but that didn’t deter Al Fayed from later declaring that, ‘The Scots are originally Egyptians and that’s the truth.’
In 2009, Al-Fayed revealed that he was a supporter of Scottish Independence from the UK, announcing to the Scots that, ‘It’s time for you to waken up and detach yourselves from the English and their terrible politicians…whatever help is needed for Scotland to regain its independence, I will provide it… and when you Scots regain your freedom, I am ready to be your president.’ Really? Wonder if he tweets.
The countryside trail was lush and the path through the woods, gloriously soft underfoot. It was wonderfully quiet, away from the roads with lots of rural treats to distract.
At times the trail was difficult to find as I suspect it has few walkers at this infant stage in its formation. To be fair it’s still be created by volunteers and the footfall is yet to help in establishing the paths. At times we had to resort to both GPS and OS paper maps to help us find the trail.
Just before stopping for a picnic lunch, the kindness of strangers showed its sweet face for the umpteenth time on this journey. With there being no handy streams to give my foot a quick ice-bath, we knocked on the door of a welcoming looking home. Not only was I given ice and a tea-towel to wrap it in but we were also ushered to garden seats and a table where we could have the sandwiches and cake that Kay and Jebs had generously brought along. People are so very kind.
Our bed for the night was in Tain. As the Tain Community website puts it, the small but bustling town lies between the heather and the sea. The area is known for its mussels and salmon. With such plentiful fish around there is inevitably a rich and thriving bird-life .. ospreys and oystercatchers are around at the moment. Across the water on the tiny Handa Island there are apparently puffins, guillemots and razorbills in their nesting colonies. In the winter the firth gets visited by whooper swans, greylag geese, velvet scoters, long tailed ducks and widgeons. The surrounding woodlands contain tree pipits, redstarts and wood warblers and it seems I have just missed the birdsong of lapwings, grey partridges and skylarks. Just reading the names makes me feel as if I’m reciting poetry, the names are so beautiful. I could so easily take up twitching just to enjoy having the names on my lips.
And back to lamingtons. Once more connected with Mr Google I discovered that they were created by accident by a maid-servant to Lord Lamington, the thoroughly-British eighth Governor of Queensland, Australia. The maid-servant was working at Government House in Brisbane when she accidentally dropped the Governor’s favourite sponge cake into some melted chocolate. Lord Lamington was pretty frugal and suggested that it be dipped in coconut to cover the chocolate to avoid getting messy fingers. ‘He devoured the new concoction with great delight and the maid-servant’s error was proclaimed a magnificent success by all! Despite serving in Queensland for five years, it is the lamington that will be, forever, his legacy.’
Black Dog Tails
Raya, the Lab cross Norwegian elkhound cross, saved her owner Brent Cole, left, and his mother from a bear that charged them while they were out hunting. How brave was that!
Looks wonderful, Jules……a precious time with Gus…
Love from the dearloves
Thanks Ray and Margi. Much love.
An entertaining post for my breakfast this morning, especially your amusing take on Al Fayed. He may have to compete with Trump for president and may well win – Trump is not all that popular in Scotland.
Here is a bit more of my LEJOG getting towards the last few days, and much in the wilderness.
“The ascent to Knockfin Heights involved pathless trekking through tussocks heather and bog in dreary rain and mist.
When I thought I should be at the trig point I took a GPS fix and it told me I was exactly there. This area is an undulating,
featureless, peat hag ridden moorland. I walked another twenty yards and there was the trig. The guide told me to walk on a compass bearing for about two kilometres until I reached “running water” and then turn east and follow it. Why he couldn’t say “a stream” I don’t know. Anyway, a stream it was, and I followed it through bog and rain for a long time until I reached an estate Land Rover track. By this time I needed to change my maps and guide in my waterproof case, and the next ones were
mistakenly in my rucksack. I knew that if I stopped to do this everything would get sodden, and also I was getting cold and
very uncomfortable and generally needed to regroup. Rounding a corner in the track I thought I saw a mirage. There was a wooden octagonal building with windows all round looking like a sort of gazebo. I would add that at this point the track I was on was fifteen miles from the road. I thought “I bet it’s locked it up”, but no, it was open. Inside there was a Calor gas heater, a table and a gas camping barbecue, and all the windows were double glazed. I think this must have been a sop to the wealthy stalkers. After I had sorted myself out I realised that it had now stopped raining and I proceeded down the track with a much lighter heart.”
My goodness, thankfully the gazebo appeared in the nick of time!
Lamingtons and Empire Day are so Australian Jules, I feel I have to comment.
Lamingtons were such a feature of fundraising for Australian schools, sporting clubs, Brownies and Girl Guides for example, for decades.
And the excitement of Empire Day when we were in Primary School. A half day holiday back in the fifties AND our “Cracker Night” – winter fireworks instead of Guy Fawkes Night. I only leant about Guy Fawkes when I was much older.
Great to see you and Gus together in Scotland. And the puppies, oh those puppies.
Take care dear Jules, Jo
How absolutely fascinating, Jo! Thanks so much for your message. Yes, Gus and the puppies in one day .. the biggest of treats. xx
Two more things.
Just wonderful to see you walking with Gus in Scotland the land of origin of my Dad and his family.
At each school assembly at Lane Cove Primary School in the far flung reaches of the Empire we said the following: “I honour my God, I serve my Queen, I salute my flag” before singing the National Athem, God Save Our Gracious Queen. Long before Advance Australia Fair.
Seems we’ve come a long way, Jo. Thank you so much for the message .. great to learn about times past in Australia. x
It has been wonderful following your progress m’Lady, what a wonderful walk, for a worthy cause.
Thank you so much! xx
Oh Jules I have only just today caught up with three days of fab blogs so am a bit behind the curve. But so thrilled to hear of the surprises – well deserved! I just hope your poor foot is OK… sounds like quite a torment. Xx
I love surprises and I had the very best in Gus arriving! xx
m’Lady Julia enjoy the last few days of your extraordinary adventure. I imagine you walking with Darwin’s ghost, drawing wildlife and other discoveries, sketching buildings and machinery accompanied by the spirit of da Vinci, your glorious photographs adding joyful colour to your evening musing coupled with a glass of wine and a tasty morsel, followed by a well deserved rest. You are a modern day adventurer, walking with the devotion of all the black dogs that ever gave their unconditional love to humankind. You walk that black dog girl!
Magnificent hearing from you, medem! Such lovely words. Thank you millions. xx
Dearest Jules – another wonderful post. You look so fit and blooming but from what you say, also know that you are coping with continual pain. You are digging deep again and we are all so proud of you! What a special photo of you and Gus “taking a break” – fabulous memories. So we are going into the last few days – what a treat it has been! Lots of love xx
Really, it’s on the pesky foot that’s the problem .. I’m feeling so well apart from that! Exciting to be so close now. xx
I once learned to make Lamingtons in a baking class, my youngest, Sarah, loved them, and started making them as end of year treats for her teachers….lots of mess in the kitchen for mom to clean up!
I’ll send you an email all about plantar fasciitis – its a pesky problem, and requires TLC to heal, something it can only get after the next 5 days are behind you, so I’m afraid for now its NSAIDS and gritting your teeth. Not sure wrapping makes much difference, but calf stretches are definitely the way to go.
Soon you’ll be able to see John o’Groats in the distance….
Thanks so much for your emails with advice .. I will be on to it when I finish next week. Will have to try the lamingtons myself, as soon as I’ve spent enough time doing nothing but watching box sets! xx
Well done Jules! So close to the top now 🙂
And I’m not surprised Angus picked the stretch of the walk with all the distilleries!)
Love to you and Gus!
Thank you, India! Great hearing from you. You’re right .. the walk threatens to take a lot longer as Gus insists on so many distillery visits! x
I bet the Lamington wasn’t as good as our Parkin!
How could it be!
Hi, how lovely to have Gus with you! Trying to work out how many days you have left and when you will reach a John o’Groats? Have a great day today, with love to you both Lee x
I reach the end on Tuesday, sadly without my boy as he has to return to Oz on Sunday. It’s been a dream having him here with me this week. x
More than a touch gobsmacked by your sudden and total conversion to Scotch, Jules. Not complaining, just impressed by the power of the Scots air/water/ accent to influence your tastebuds 😁👍.
Maybe leave the Holden out of the next list of Australian icons. It seems to have gone the way of Leyland and the rest. You don’t want to put everyone off the lamingtons. Or maybe we should???
Not nearly as surprised as me, Tigger! And now there’s a whole new world to explore.