Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Moving On

Today, I was moving on to Edinburgh and Mari-Anne's flat.
And with no rush to leave Inverness, I had a few final visits to make. Firstly the Post Office to shed some of my load. It was time to be ruthless. Maps, clothes and anything else I could live without was posted home, as the Rucksack felt mightily heavy after the lightweight day bag. I also got my "End to End" Passport stamped by a very impressed assistant.
Then to the Inverness Museum. I wanted to try and understand, just what had made these Highlanders such a strong fearsome bunch, and how did all this Clan business start?Well clearly, the early Picts (painted) people had to work hard to make a living in the Highlands, and probably had to fight for every fertile scrap of land they could. But after hearing all these tales about the fairer sex I reckon this is how it all began...
"One cold night, in a remote settlement, the menfolk were sitting around the fire complaining about their "Other Half's" "All she ever does is nag, nag, nag, do this, do that...and every single day I get a clip round the ear for drinking more than my recommended daily units of alcohol. I tell you I need a break" The others all nodded sympathetically. Then one of them had a bright idea. "Hey, why don't we go and pick a fight with the next village? It'll take us at least four days to get there and back, and with a couple of days fighting, that's nearly a week!" "Great idea Reg!" said another " But how will we know we're not killing each other?" "Yea, good point, what we need is a common identity. I know, I'll get the Missus to rustle up some kilts, that will keep her busy. Now, what about colour? Personally, I think blue, with a splash of red, is rather fetching"... and off they dashed to pack the crates with enough alcohol to last for at least a month.
On the road towards Dunkeld, all the interesting places, i.e. places to get refreshments and facilities like Ballinluig and Dowally were all on the other side of the A9. The cycle track was quieter, but less interesting. Only one solitary cyclist passed me by all day. In need of company and conversation, he slowed down for a chat. "Oh well, best be on my way" he said when he eventually realised I wasn't. In spitting distance of my destination, I didn't want to linger.
Dunkeld was a picture postcard of a place, and as I entered through the forest, there ahead of me was the Cathedral, I was entranced. The bus, however, left from Birnam on the other side of the bridge.
Conveniently, the bus stop had placed itself at the end of the pub garden, and I conveniently had just enough time to enjoy a Spritzer as the sun went over the yard arm. And yes, I had already made sure I was on the right side of the road!

A Slog and a half!

There was only one way I was going to get to Pitlochry before midnight and that was to get the earliest bus out of Inverness, trek down the A9 (missing out Blair Atholl) and eventually turning off at the sign for "Killiecrankie" What a delightful name. As I ate a late lunch, I half expected "Wee Jimmy" to pop up from under the bridge and with silly schoolboy humour, nick my sandwich.
Killiecrankie had a great little Visitor Centre, and a small museum. The helpful assistants put me on the right woodland track to pick up the trail...all the way to Pitlochry! It was a perfect walk to finish what had been a hard day. Dappled sunlight filtered through the trees, as the trail weaved it's way alongside the river. Passing two large lakes the track finally opened out onto the outskirts of Pitlochry.
Pitlochry also proved to be a delight, and if I had known the bus was going to be an hour late I would have had a good old poke around. Well, I shouldn't complain as it had been my choice to commute, and despite the longer, and longer bus journey's to and from Inverness, I was glad I'd stayed there.
I'd already picked up my bag from the Youth Hostel and bid my fond farewells to the cell and the cheery cook in the kitchen (who always let me make a packed lunch from the breakfast food-even though it wasn't strictly allowed) At the B & B I wallowed in my "en suite" bathtub, which was luxury after the "down the corridor" shower at the Hostel before heading to the "Riverside" for my final meal where I met a very interesting couple. We seemed to "click" straight away, and it wasn't long before we exchanged addresses and I was being invited to visit them in Ullapool. They were staying in the hotel so as they went inside for a meal, I strolled in the evening sunshine down to Ness Island, across the bridge to the Cathedral and finally back to "Nico's Bar" for a coffee to write up the day's journal.

Do not dispute the cycle route

Reluctantly dragging myself from the "Wildcat Walking Centre" and clutching my latest purchase - the more detailed "Sustrans Cycle Route" map which would take me all the way to Perth, why on earth did I go wrong within the first hour?
Because I disputed the cycle route, that's why.
About a mile out of Newtonmore I spotted a sign, pointing towards a quiet, shady tree lined road telling me that the information centre/cafe/picnic area I had already earmarked for an elevenses pit stop was but a mere 3/4 mile down this way. The blue cycle sign was saying "Come this way, down the main road out of the village, where there is no shade, the sun is rising on another hot day, you have no suncream on, and you will most definitely get burnt"
And so I chose the shady route, deciding that "Sustrans" had made one major misprint. An hour, and approximately 3 miles down the road I arrived back on the A9 - 4 miles nearer towards Inverness. In other words, I'd walked "Backwards,Backwards"!
Muttering unrepeatable language I furiously stomped down the A9 to the point where I came upon the cycle route sign smugly saying "Newtonmore - 2 miles - You foolish woman - forget that Latte at the veranda cafe, you'll not even make it to Dalwhinnie to catch the bus in time for that Theatre trip you booked and paid for"
And it was unfortunately right. No matter how fast I walked, as I reached the turning into Dalwhinnie - "6 miles" there was indeed no way I would make it.
And so, I decided to do the thing that all good, sensible parents tell their children, never, ever, under any circumstances to do, I hitched a lift.
Justifying that I'd already walked at least an extra 4 miles, if I got a lift to the village I could walk the 2 miles out the other end to the bus stop and it wasn't really cheating, was it?
Happier now I'd made the decision, I walked on..and on...listening out for any oncoming vehicles. On this quiet road it was 10 minutes before I heard the chug chug of the Mobile Library Van coming up the hill. Joy of Joys! What a safe bet, and he's bound to stop. As I waved in a "I'm flagging you down so that you'll offer me a lift" sort of way, he waved back in a "Nice day for a walk" sort of way. Drat! It was another 10 minutes before I heard a car approaching. Taking no chances this time, I positioned myself in the middle of the road, waving my arms like an Air Traffic Controller. The two young Belgian mountaineers who screeched to a halt at my feet had no alternative but to offer me a lift. Now I was more than happy to squash in the back with all the gear, but they were Belgian and serious "You must wear ze seat belt, it is the law,ya?" Well, ya, it is, but for heavens sake, this was but a mere, by now, 3 mile hop down the road!
However, in no position to argue, and with the minutes ticking away, I waited impatiently while they carefully and neatly stowed the gear into the boot. As they dropped me in the "village" and sped off under a cloud of dust to catch the ferry I realised the place was deserted, and I had a very important question to ask. I could have strode across to the Saloon Bar, swung through the swing doors to find the entire population drinking whisky and playing poker. They would all probably turn round and stare in silence until one of them would say "We aint seen you around these parts before" and I would reply "Well no, I'm from Tadworth Surrey, and could you please, please tell me that the bus stop is only another 2 miles down the road"
Well, It may have felt like being in the "Wild West" round here, but I did get the answer I wanted from an unlikely source. Amazingly, in this tiny hamlet I found a school where I heard children's voices and found four uniformed schoolchildren happily playing in a sandpit in the shade, while a teacher read her newspaper. (What a great job)
With enough time to buy suncream, find a comfortable B & B for tomorrow night, my last in Inverness and a quick meal at the "Riverside" I strolled across the bridge to the "Eden Court Theatre" beautifully refurbished with two theatres, a cinema, cafe and restaurant. About a year ago, a random group of musicians had been selected to spend 2 weeks in a house, told to be "creative" and see what they came up with. It was one of those arty experiments which they happily, and without guilt, told us was "all paid for by the taxpayers" Musically, even to my untrained ear, they were very talented and versatile, but most of it was pretentious rubbish. However, one song, and one singer stood out. Inverness born, of french parents, she had the looks, personality, voice and charisma to be a star as she strutted up and down the stage with all the energy of a young Mick Jagger.