Today turned out to be a very pleasant and enjoyable wander, and I don't think it's entirely down to the effects of the co-proxamol (though my feet are bothering me a lot less now than they were before Barry came to the rescue, so there's got to be something in it). OK, so 9 miles is a short stroll compared to the average day and the weather is continuing to be very kind, especially given the miserable rain that's smothering the rest of the country, but even so, today was a return to the happier walking that I remember from the Borders region.
Yet again the credit must go to Barry, with whom I shared the day. Now that I've spent a good couple of days in his company and half of the previous day walking with Bart and Stefanie, I've realised that I've been under a lot of stress recently. The physical deterioration of my body is the main culprit, but there's a lot going on in my mind too. For example, why haven't I taken a few rest days to sort out the physical side? To be honest I don't know because I really should have done, but something is driving me on. Every morning I think I can handle the day's walk and that my body will be fine, and every day I manage to get through it even though the pain ruins the walking. It makes no sense, but I think that at this stage of the walk momentum is the only thing keeping me going. I'm pretty sure I'm going to make it; I just want to get there as quickly as possible.
Barry put it well today. 'I've already started looking at the weather forecast maps,' he said.
'What do you mean?' I asked.
'Well,' he said, 'every time the weather forecast comes up on the telly, I look at the map of Britain and I think to myself, bloody hell Barry, you've nearly walked across that thing. It'll happen to you too, you know; for the rest of your life, every time you see the weather map, your eyes will go to Land's End, then up to John o'Groats, and you'll think to yourself, "I walked that, and I did it all by myself on my own little legs." You won't listen to the weather forecast, mind, but it'll make you feel good.'
He's right, is Barry. I just watched the forecast for tomorrow and I can't remember anything about the weather, but I can remember a warm feeling of accomplishment tinged with the caveat that it's not yet in the bag. Perhaps that's what keeps me chipping away at those miles, despite the aches and pains in my tired body. I want to be in the position where I have done this walk; I want to be able to look back on it and to appreciate it from the comfort of my armchair. That's got to be worth a bit of anaesthetised hobbling.
Along the Cromarty Firth
We took it easy today, Barry and I. My feet are improving all the time – short days walked slowly are a considerable help – and today's walk was worth savouring. For all except the last couple of miles we wandered along the B817, a minor road that runs above the busier A9, parallel to the northern shore of the Cromarty Firth. To the south, across the firth, lies the Black Isle – which incidentally is neither black (it's green) nor an island (it's a peninsula) – and the views along the firth were nothing short of wonderful.
The sun shone, the water glittered, the slow, gentle slopes of the B-road were easy meat, and a few miles after leaving Dingwall I realised just how long this walk has really been. Today, somewhere between leaving the hotel and arriving in the pretty village of Evanton, I passed the 1000-mile mark; we celebrated with a pot of tea for two in the village hotel.
We continued celebrating with a couple of pints when we reached Alness, and happily my B&B was not only open, it was delightful. If my feet keep on improving and the weather keeps on smiling, I might even end up rolling into John o'Groats without a limp. Fingers crossed...