Today could have been brutal. I was already a bit weary, nervous, even, about the walk ahead. It was a 20-mile journey from Thurso to Strathy – the longest I think I have walked in a single day.
Thankfully I set off early from Thurso and chose a back-road route that avoided Dounreay and the traffic heading towards it for the morning commute. This meant a comparitively blissful walk which, sometimes, fell into utter silence.
The sun was beating down fairly strongly even from the early hours of the morning. And away from the coast, with completely still air, it was tough going at times. The temperature today peaked at 23C which is hot for me even without a long walk to finish. On the early part of the walk I was being surrounded by a cloud of flies, attracted by the mix of sweat and sunscreen, and had to break out the jungle spray early on. It helped a bit and kept a few of them at bay. Some of the hungry little bastards did get a bite in, though.
The heat also meant I was fast running out of water. Technically I only had half of what I expected, since the juice bottle with half of my supply hadn’t been washed out properly and the faintly sugary, cloudy-with-bits-floating-in-it water was something I would have only as a last resort. About eight miles in I chapped a door hoping to ask for a water bottle refill. The top window opened… “hello??”, I heard, in a strong southern English accent. I had a brief conversation with the elderly chap at the window, asking if I could have my water bottle refilled.
“Are you any good at catching?”
“Erm, maybe, why??”
He couldn’t make it down the stairs, but offered to drop a bottle of water down to me. It was a 2L bottle, and, in hindsight, was absolutely necessary for the walk today. I had a quick chat, said thank you and headed on my way.
The scenery again wasn’t particularly great for much of the journey. However, as Dounreay appeared from behind the hill and I carried on past Reay and eventually into Sutherland, things got a whole lot different.
The walking through Caithness has been by some wonderful beaches, but also by farms, or by farms along roadsides. Sutherland felt different from early on. It was a mix of, well, nothing. That Scottish Highland nothing: the mix of grasses, bushes and heather which goes on for miles, and which would take an age to walk over (plus the hidden bogs which need to be battled through). I was following a main road but even that was wonderfully quiet as I walked for miles, heading a little bit closer for the mountains in the distance. This was more like it. The road up ahead shimmered in the heat in that way I’ve really only seen in films.
Reaching Melvich, with a quick stop for lunch and a couple of pints of water, and a short “hello” with a lonely little lamb, I continued the quiet road for the last 3.5 miles. Or so I thought.
Strathy is quite a spread out village. When I got there, to what I thought was the centre of the village, I checked the location of the accommodation… 17 minutes away, says Google Maps. Another mile to go. And it was uphill.
As I type this, it’s a beautiful evening out there. I would love to explore Strathy and the coast a little more but must give my feet a rest. If I’ve learned anything from the past few days of long (and long-ish) distances, it’s to know when to rest. Throughout today I had various parts of my body hurting: shoulders from the backpack straps, thighs burning, and my feet pinching. The pinching feet just became part of the walk. This evening will be a quiet one.
So that’s day four completed. Despite the heat, some hills, the flies and the bites, the aches and pains, I managed it. The walk turned out to be 21 miles in the end. And absolutely worth it.