A Fairytale Walk

Yesterday a nice chap in a car pulled alongside me on a country lane and offered me a lift into town. I declined the lift and he said, ‘very sensible, you are now walking in the best county in Britain and you’ll be amazed by what you see … god willing you may even see an eagle’.

accidental selfie
Well to be honest I have read too many miserable accounts of the last leg of Lands End to John O’Groats walks to believe that I would be amazed by wonderful sites. I was wrong. Today I was truly amazed by the beautiful scenery and wildlife. Sometimes it was almost surreal. I was walking along a deserted sandy beach when a fairytale castle appeared, then the seals started calling whilst the waves crashed around them. I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. I sang to the seals and they came very close to see who was making the dreadful noise. What did I sing? A mashed up version of the Selkie of Sule Skerrie of course in a very bad Scottish accent. Luckily nobody but the seals heard me – I hope. 

Castle Dunrobin
can you see seals on the rocks?

I feel so sorry for the walkers who have slogged up the A9 like Richard who should have finished his LEJOG today (congratulations Richard!) and missed this lovely stretch of coastline. Yes, I had to negotiate a couple of barbed wire fences and walk on a railway line but it was worth it.
A local farmer said that walking on the railway line was the best route – ‘the train isn’t due till 2 o’clock and I doubt if there are any specials’ – so I decided to risk it. The same farmer also said ‘we had the naked rambler through here last year – he walked on the railway line.’ Maybe the 2 O’clock tourists on the train saw more than they were expecting! 

a walk on the rail side

Kerriann has headed off ahead of me in the motorhome and stopped at Brora campsite. I called her on my phone and asked her how to find the site: ‘follow the coast path and turn left at the dead puffin’ was her response – that’s not a sentence you hear every day.

dead puffin on sand
dead puffin waymark

Dornoch – The Place of the Witch

Just walked 8 miles today so that Kerriann could take the motorhome to Embo and walk back to meet me at Dornoch for lunch.Part of the walk was alongside the main A9 to cross the Dornoch Firth – as expected this was not fun with vehicles whizzing past. After the bridge, however, my route took me on a lovely lane that ran parallel with the coast for the remaining few miles.

Sadly Dornoch is famed for being the site of the last execution (by tarring, placing in a barrel and burning alive) of an alleged witch in 1722 or 1727 (the date on the stone is apparently wrong). 

It’s nice to have a Tilley Hat again – Kerriann brought me up my replacement for the one I lost at the start of my walk. Yesterday it was especially useful in keeping the rain off my glasses and today it kept the sun out.

Info board on Janet Horne
Witch stone – place of Janet’s execution

Dornoch Appealing

Another longish walk today partly in the rain.The first half of the walk was on minor roads and the afternoon was mainly forest tracks.

local wildlife

I deviated from my planned route a little so that I could finish at the campsite that Kerriann has taken the motorhome to. We had hoped that we could park up at the Glenmorangie Distillery but when Kerriann popped in to purchase a bottle for me they were very nice but couldn’t let motorhomes stay overnight. Never mind – the campsite is fine but it did mean a slight diversion.

The paths through the forest were not where they should have been – Many of the tracks marked on the OS maps were no longer there and others that did exists were not marked at all.

In the end I decided to simply take a bearing and go for it – walk in the right direction for about two miles through thick woodland – this was great fun but very slow. I ended up within where I intended to end but an hour later than I expected too. The forest up here are seriously big, I cant think of a southern woodland that you could walk for miles in without crossing a track.

Walking in the woods filled every crevice, pocket and fold in my clothing with needles but it was a great change from road walking and I now smell like lavatory cleaner.

Going to have a shorter walk tomorrow and a look around Dornoch.

Geraldine Beskin of Atlantis Bookshop Reviews Graham’s Book

The Atlantis Bookshop in London is one of the most well known esoteric bookstores in the UK. Owner Geraldine Beskin reviews Graham’s book The British Book of Spells and Charms.

Every now and again, a little honey of a book appears and you just know you will love it and use it. The British Book of Spells and Charms is just such a lovely chunky little thing that it is almost obviously nowadays that Troy Books have published it. It is fresh and pretty and simply crying out from some wax from an old school guttering candle so when it is passed on it has even more character. 

The author is well known for his long association with the Witchcraft Museum and he has chosen useful examples of charms that may well be hundreds of years old but they still work today. There are even some county variations so showing a loyalty to your family’s origins can be a part of the sympathetic magic bought into play to effect the positive outcome. This is practical, no nonsense, no frills, household problem solving if someone has got a stye on their eye or a handful of warts, a toothache or a tummy ache. It wouldn’t be complete without love spells and has others to aid sleep. The contents are so interesting, the illustrations so good, that it could be a long night before you put it down so maybe the charm against the night riding spirits will be handy.

 His book is available at The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle or from publisher Troy Books.

The Healing Well

The photographs of the strips of cloth tied to trees are from the Cloutie (pronounced clootie) Well in Munlochy.

Munlochy Healing Well

I talk about cloutie wells in my book The British Book of Spells and Charms. Traditionally, to cure an ailment you tear a strip of cloth from clothing near the problem, soak in the spring (well) water and tie it to a tree. As the cloth decays the problem disappears. In Mulochy the area around the well has hundreds, if not thousands, of clouties hanging in the breeze performing their magic.

Leaving the Black Isle

Today’s walk, as expected, was mainly on minor roads and tracks with the odd encounter with a main road. In planning, I tried to pick a route that was completely off road but that is impossible for this final section so I am following the John o’Groats Trail. This is a relatively new long distance path which is still a ‘work in progress’ but the team that has put it together have saved me (and I dare say a lot of others) an awful lot of work. They have filled in the missing link for LeJoG walkers and come up with a route from Inverness to the top of Scotland.

sign for cromarty bridge
very shipping forecast

Whilst this sort of road walking is not my favourite, today’s trek was quite pleasant and I managed 19.7 miles across the Black Island to the camp site in Evanton where I met up with Kerriann and Hugo.

It was interesting to note how few dwellings there are in this part of Scotland – there is a lot of space. The buildings that are around are either large farm houses with Range Rovers in the driveways or 1970s style bungalows. Just occasionally you will see an old cottage still occupied but most are derelict. I notice that the Glenmorangie distillery is close to tomorrow’s route. Will I get distracted by it?

ribbons tied on tree branches
glad to see old magical traditions alive and well

Watch this space to find out …

A Day Off In Inverness 

I’m having a rest day today and have walked a few miles into Inverness town centre with Kerriann and Hugo to top up supplies.I purchased the last 6 OS Explorer for the final leg of my trip to John O’Groats which is now less than 200 miles away (I think – need the map master to confirm). I also purchased enough walking pole ferrules (rubber ends) to last me to the end of this trip.If all goes according to plan I will walk some twenty miles to a camp site where Kerriann can meet me. Kerriann is however expecting some important documents in the post and if they do not show up she will have to stay in Inverness for another night and meet up with me in the next day or two further up the coast. Bearing this in mind I have stripped my backpack down to bare essentials – I still have to carry a tent and sleeping bag but do not need to carry more than the one set of clean clothes, or a stove and gas. Lightening the load one carries makes a huge difference. A heavy pack puts strain on the whole body so a lighter pack will be very welcome. 

This last leg of my walk will consist of a lot of country lanes, forest tracks and weaving around the busy A9. It is the only section of the whole walk that I am at all worried about but it is just about impossible to get away from the dreaded main road. I will just have to be extra vigilant when crossing the road. The problem is when walking for long periods in the quiet countryside it is easy and possibly desirable to enter into a trance, a state of mind when you notice the wild life around you and day dream the miles away – this state of mind is not compatible with fast cars and trucks.

I promise I will be careful.

Onwards and upwards.

A Walk in the Woods

The bulk of today’s walking has been on woodland tracks. Most Scottish woods consist of neat rows of fast growing pine trees planted in the twentieth century but there are moves afoot to restore highland woodlands to their former glory. These areas originally supported a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees but centuries of plundering for ship building and military use means there are very few mixed woodlands left.Along the Great Glen Way, and in other parts of Scotland we can see that more birch, oak, rowan and other indigenous trees are being reintroduced and the wild life loves it.   

chambered cairn by The Great Glen near Inverness
gorse in the foreground sea in the distance
from west to east Scotland

I was delighted to stumble across the delightful, Abriachan campsite and cafe in the woods and I stopped for a lovely cup of real tea (made with tea leaves, not bags). This is the proper home-made, shack in the woods, off-grid technology that I love and the best tea ever. Do not pass it by, stop for a cuppa and you may even get to meet Oink the pig.

But the highlight of today has to be meeting up with Kerriann and Hugo in Inverness. Yes, Kerriann has driven all the way up here to support me on my final leg to John O’Groats – good on her!

best cafe in Scotland

One Thousand Miles

Yes I have walked 1000 miles and more. I was hoping that the 1000 mile point would be somewhere special and as my gps was reading 999.8 a deer ran across the path in front of me.
I walked to that point and the gps declared that I had walked 1000 miles. As I was on my own I marked the point with a 1000 in sticks and ‘miles’ in little gravel stones so that I had something to photograph.I was then passed by a group of fellow walkers that I had seen yesterday; they were suitably impressed with my milestone.

Just reached Drumnadrochit and met the group again so have put my slightly damp tent up in the corner of the tourist carpark. There is a nice flat grass verge next to a field with a cow in it and I hope that the carpark will be quiet at night. Not my usual middle of nowhere type pitch but it might be good to go out for a meal tonight and celebrate.

st Columba’s Well
note washing facilities in background
my tent mate
no sign of Nessie
ooops should be on the green path
getting pine needles out of my socks