LETJOG – Day 53: Friday 9 July – ALNESS to DORNOCH (21 miles)
Whether it was hill-fog, drifting down from the wooded slopes above Alness, or a sea fret, the locals could not agree. Either way, the mizzle that had set in whilst I was having dinner last night, and that dampened my stroll back to my overnight accommodation, was still in place this morning. Despite this being the softest rain I have experienced this side of the Irish Sea, and, as it turned out, not even enough to merit deployment of my waterproofs once I got walking, maybe it was this drab weather that explained my awakening this morning to some sort of homesickness, and to a regret that it would be another few days before I see Rachel.
Of course, relatively speaking and if all goes well, then I’m fairly near the end of my LETJOG walk now, but I have been warned by others who have done similar endurance challenges that the last few days before the immediate end to the trip can be the most demanding emotionally, as the mind starts to move on subconsciously. Certainly in my case, today was the day that started the hardest on my trip to date.
But, as happens in life, things move on quickly, and after a super breakfast from Ali at the Tullochard, and with a few miles behind me on the quiet twelve-mile lane to Tain, the sun began to burn off the fog (or fret) and my mood returned to the joys of walking in the countryside. This particular region, perhaps a little surprisingly, is actually one of the driest in the UK, with rainfall totals not dissimilar to East Anglia, and a mere fraction of those in the western Highlands that take the brunt of the prevailing maritime westerlies.
Around noon I crossed the shallow ridge above Tain and caught a breath of sea air before walking into the town for a coffee and a look around. Another mile or so took me to the Glenmorangie distillery, and, prayers answered, this one was open! So some tastings at last, and a picnic lunch in their grounds inhaling the most wonderful aromas imaginable, downwind from the distilling plant!
On foot of course, and slightly light-headed, I then joined the A9 traffic for my crossing of the Dornoch Firth Bridge – quite a memorable experience as a sole pedestrian – before descending immediately the embankment on the north side back onto the John O’Groats Trail. Following the coastline of the Firth for a short while, the path then picked up a pleasant single-track lane for the last three or four miles into Dornoch.
Another lovely town is Dornoch, once again of sandstone and blooms, that I last visited some decades ago. My hosts, Marelle and Edward at the Amalfi B&B, made me most welcome, and after I had wandered back into the town for dinner in the garden of the Dornoch Castle, they kindly invited me to join them for a chat over an Old Pulteney whisky (from Wick). Aside from being wonderful hosts and great company they have kindly supported LETJOG – it has been a pleasure to meet you both, and my sincere thanks!
So a day of wide-ranging experiences and emotions closes on a happy note. If only I could write like Paul Simon . . .
‘Kathy’s Song’, by Paul Simon:
I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls
And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies
My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you’re asleep
And kiss you when you start your day
And a song I was writing is left undone
I don’t know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can’t believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme
And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you
And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I