What better way to follow up the longest day of walking you have ever done with… the longest day of walking you have ever done?
That was today. The 21 miles of yesterday was followed by 22 miles from Strathy to Tongue today. That’s a bit of an estimate since I took a walk around the coast for part of it and think it may have been slightly longer than 22 miles due to a detour to find a footbridge.
It was a day that started well and then went through various phases of brutal and wonderful.
I set off in the early hours from Strathy, walking uphill in the cooler morning, thankfully, with barely a sound to be heard. I kept up a good pace which meant early on I was flagging due to the struggles of the uphills. As an additional frustration, the flies from the other day were back but this time the jungle spray wasn’t keeping them away.
I’m not sure what attracts them: the sweat, the sun screen, the deodorant. Or maybe they just wanted to act as my entourage during the parts of the walk that they surrounded me. With no breeze at times, there were clouds of the little buggers buzzing around me.
When the breeze did kick in today it was hugely welcome. Unfortunately that wasn’t very often and I relied on a bit of cloud cover every-so-often to keep cooler, plus the usual several litres of water.
After a brisk walk which almost knackered me before I felt I had begun, I had reached Bettyhill, which was almost the half-way stage at the 10-mile mark. This felt like an ideal place to stop for some food and a water top up. I say ideal, whereas what I really mean is that it’s the only place to stop. There is nothing else between Bettyhill and Tongue.
I popped into the Farr Bay Inn. They weren’t serving non-residents but after a quick chat fixed me up with coffee, water and a sandwich, and it was very welcome. The couple who run the Inn were really friendly, and provided a bit of advice on sticking by the coast for the next few miles, particularly to avoid “that bloody hill”. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Leaving Bettyhill, I crossed the river and double backed, navigating over some sand dunes and to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. These are some of Scotland’s hidden gems, and this is up there with the best. It was a long stretch of pristene golden sand, backed by dunes, and the water glistening in the sun.
Continuing around the coast, over a footbridge, by a river, and a couple of miles south on the little road, I rejoined the single-track main road which would be the route for the rest of my journey. The flies were back.
To the left I could see the downhill stage of “that bloody hill”. It looked brutal. Truly brutal. I tend to make the mistake of always keeping to the same pace regardless of terrain or gradient, which means I would have tackled the uphill part of that badly, all 1.5 miles of it, and it may have finshed my day. The coastal route, which avoided hills entirely, was far better and was likely far more scenic.
It was a little later in the walk that I started to get a proper view of one of Scotland’s most breath-taking mountains. Ben Loyal, with its unique profile, has been popping up on the horizon at points over the last couple of days, but now I was almost directly north of it, far closer, and with a great view.
This whole section of the walk was just mesmerising. A quiet little road to follow, mountains and lochs all around and total silence in the air.
The final few miles, however, were tough. It wasn’t the physical side so much as the mental side. My feet were aching, legs were sore, and I was sweating buckets under the afternoon sun. But that didn’t cause the difficulty.
Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re trying to get to a place and you just can’t get there? Even if you run, walk for a while, anything, you just never seem to get nearer. Well, that was today.
Tongue looked fairly close on the map and I was continuing at my usual pace. But it just never seemed to get closer. I walked for a while and checked the map, and Tongue was still miles away. I followed the coast around by Coldbackie, and Tongue should just have been around the corner – but it was still miles away. I continued down that road at the same pace but there was still nothing that suggested I was getting all that close. What made the journey only slightly easier was the view of the coastline, fronted by water of a brilliant blue that is usually only seen in holiday adverts. Just, stunning.
Tongue, when I eventually reached it, was a welcome sight. The food and shower even more so.
After 43 miles covered in two days, tomorrow will be a comparitively shorter jaunt. And I’ll be saying cheerio to the North Coast.