|Day 68 – June 19||Dornoch to Brora|
|Weather: Cloud, sun, strong winds||B&B: Pandora‘s B&B (£35)|
|Departed: 9:35 Arrived: 15:55||Walked: 5h 24m Rested: 0 hr 41m|
|Distance Today: 18.3 mi / 29.45 km||Total Distance: 1106.4 mi / 1780.58 km|
|% Complete: ~ 94.48%||Pint of the Day: Isle of Skye Young Pretender|
|GPS Track for: Day 68|
It was a particularly chatty group at breakfast this morning and as a result I didn’t get away until after 9:30. The wind out of the northwest had really picked up over night and I hadn’t walked 200 meters before I stopped to put on my jacket for warmth. I left Dornoch by way of a B-road that headed due north through a wood and into open fields. One field in particular was full of colorful wildflowers, including Poppies, and warranted a longer than normal photo stop.
I left the B-road and cut over to link up with a disused railway track that offered up some fantastic views of the North Sea and one of several golf courses in the area. The track skirted the edge of Embo and then disappeared into some fields. I was able to pick it up again without too much difficulty and followed it for a couple of miles in the direction of Loch Fleet. It was great to be walking on turf again but I knew this luxury would be short-lived.
Before long I joined up with a quiet road that followed the line of the old railway as it traced the edge of Loch Fleet. I passed beneath the ruins of Skelbo Castle before reaching the water’s edge. Loch Fleet is a National Nature Reserve and home to a wide variety of birds as well as seals. There was a large group of the latter lazing on a sandbar in the middle of the Loch and I had a great view of them as I walked west. The road was quiet enough that I could clearly hear the seals barking but unfortunately this would soon give way to the hum of the A9.
The quiet road I had been following for more than an hour eventually merged with the A9 at the end of Loch Fleet and the contrast was startling. There really is no way to sugarcoat this, walking along the A9 sucks. 95% of my time was spent focusing on oncoming traffic and making sure I stayed as far to the right as possible. While there was always a shoulder of some kind it was often uneven and so when I wasn’t staring at the approaching cars I was staring at my feet.
A couple of cars offered friendly honks and waves as they passed, I guess they know an End-to-Ender when they see one. But the fact is that no one would be stupid enough to walk along this road for any other reason. I also noticed the Orkney bus whiz past as I crossed the bridge over the River Fleet. In just over a week’s time I’ll be on that bus and heading back to Inverness.
The march continued towards the town of Golspie. When there was no oncoming traffic I’d power walk along the edge of the road until such time that I had to retreat to the gravel, grass or trees. At one point there was a long straight stretch where I could afford the occasional glimpse to my right, but gawking and daydreaming were definitely not on offer.
At Golspie I grabbed a snack and took a break by the water. The wind had died down, the sun was out and I only had 6 miles to go. There was even a sidewalk leading out of Golspie but unfortunately this petered out sooner than expected. I passed the entrance to Dunrobin Castle, which I had spotted from the disused railway track earlier this morning, however I saw almost nothing of it from the A9. From the photos I’ve seen this 19th century building looks more like a French Chateau than a castle. I’m guessing Dunrobin, Ontario might be named after it?
The views towards the North Sea were excellent and I occasionally stopped for a photo. I figured if I can’t enjoy them now maybe I can later.
The A9 weaved around the coast and at one point we made a sharp turn to the left and in an instant the wind returned. It intensified as I neared Brora and having almost lost my cap to Loch Fleet earlier in the day I stuffed it in my pocket. At one point I was almost blown over and couldn’t help but think how difficult it would have been to cycle in this crosswind. Brora was a long time coming but eventually I made my way through the town and to my B&B situated directly on the A9. My initial impression of Brora was that it was not as pretty a town as Dornoch, Tain or Dingwall. It did however have a good little pub, the Sutherland Inn, and later that evening I enjoyed watching a local pipe band parade and perform through the town centre.
Tomorrow I have a relatively short walk to Helmsdale but unfortunately all 12 miles are on the A9.