Saturday 16 May Inverness- Easter Fearn 40 miles Total 852 miles
From Inverness, I am no longer writing from memory of the LEJOG tour that Jim and I did in 2013. Back then, I had to return home a couple of days, for a dental appointment (new wires on my brace) and for my degree art show. Unfortunately I fell over in the garden and badly sprained my ankle, so it was “tour over” for me.
From Inverness the route heads north, past the RSPB Tollies Red Kites Nature Reserve, to Dingwall. Dingwall means meeting place of the assembly, and indicates the Viking connections of the town. Like many towns in Scotland, one of the key employers is the distillery. Glenwyvis is the first modern community-owned and crowdfunded distillery, which makes both whisky and gin. This is a sustainable distillery which uses wind, hydro, solar and biomass energy for power, helping reduce the operational carbon footprint.
From Dingwall, the route runs slightly downhill along the north bank of the Cromarty Firth to the Black Rock of Novar, a box canyon site where filming for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire took place. A box canyon is short in length, has only one entrance/exit, and the other 3 sides have deep and steep, inaccessible sides. Black Rock gorge was carved by the River Glass through red sandstone and is only 10 feet wide, and 150 feet long.
The route then heads north over the Easter Ross, a scenic tourist route, to Easter Fearn. The railway follows the flat land round the headland of Easter Ross and crosses wetland as it skirts the Wester Fearn Burn as it enters the Dornach Firth.
Tuesday 19 May Easter Fearn-Loch Loyal 47 miles Total 899 miles
From Easter Fearn, the first town is Bonar Bridge. Until 1812 the only way across the Dornach Firth, was by ferry. However after a ferry, overloaded with people and livestock on their way south to the market at Tain, overturned and sank, killing 99 people including the local Sherrif, Bonar Bridge was built. There have been three bridges here. The first lasted 80 years, was a cast iron arch prototype built by Telford, using diamond-shaped bracing in the arch spandrels. This was swept away by a flood in 1892, a notorious year in Scotland for unprecedented severe weather. The replacement was a steel and granite bridge which was replaced by a 3rd bridge built alongside in 1973, and once this was open, the second bridge was demolished.
Heading up the Falls of Shin, the local economy centres around forestry, salmon and deer. The Falls of Shin is a well-known site to see the salmon race, where salmon have to jump to make their way upstream.
The next town is Lairg, the largest town in Scotland that is not on the coast. This is because it has grown up around the crossroads of 4 roads, which historically created the largest single-day sheep market in Europe, now held in August. The town holds Gala Week and the Crofters Fair in July, with horse-jumping, sheep and cow judging, children’s sports, tossing the caber/throwing the haggis, and homemade crafts. A recent and popular addition has been sheep racing.
From Lairg it is a steep climb along Vagastie Strath across moorland where it would be inhospitable when raining. This road leads to Loch Loyal, which provides nesting sites for rare black throated divers (called loons in US and Canada). These birds are on the Amber list for conservation, and are a priority species. They have been breeding well at Loch Loyal since tethered rafts have been provided for nesting, thereby preventing Lochside flooding destroying nests in times of adverse weather. Black throated divers can fish at depths of 6 meters but usually swim underwater for less than a minute. Although they are excellent swimmers, black throated divers do not walk well on land because their legs are too far back on their body.
Eighth week of virtual end-to-end completed. 70 miles left along the north coast of Scotland.
The end is in sight!