Forfar 4 : John o’Groats 1

First mainland night for a while was at Fearnoch Forest stopover outside of Oban. Scotland Forestry Commission and other orgs are trialling using places like this as overnight places and it is great. Seems they are trying to embrace the travellers among us and trust us with honesty boxes. We’ve seen no abuse of it, litter etc. Anyhow, after our meet up and a meal at Oban’s finest, The Falls Hotel, a Beefeater crossed with the Crossroads Motel, we headed in a different direction (away from the midges!)

We headed towards Fort William to stock up at a supermarket and had a wander around. It was surprisingly busy which is great for the town, we even had to wait for a snack at The Wild Cat Cafe… yes Cat Cafe but no cats! Wandering back to the van we stumbled across The Lancashire Fusilier just firing up it burners. What a mighty example of engineering, in immaculate condition, it chuffed its way out of the station while we headed for a less impressive form of transport!

We meandered our way along the spectacular Great Glen. Given the weather it was all the more dramatic and moody, the mountains either side coming closer one minute then opening up into flat glaciated plains the next. Mainly agriculture and farming further along, it is a route that calms the soul for its splendour. We followed Loch Lochy, arriving at The Bridge of Oich. Yes, someone once upon a time had some fun naming these, Loch Lochy and Loch Ness are connected by the River Oich! It’s a tad different to the Bridge of Sighs although we did, a really pretty spot to park up at with the river Oich on one side of us and the Caledonian Canal on the other. In all seriousness the Bridge of Oich was designed by an ex brewer from Bath! It’s still standing (!) and is a patented, taper design for stability (so the sign said!) Also, geeks that we are, the swing bridge over the canal in action was pretty cool too!

From the bridge we were able to cycle along the canal to Fort Augustus past a series of locks that make the Kennet and Avon ones look like tiddlers. The ride took us to Loch Ness and the small town was pretty busy with day trippers, motor cyclers and scooter riders and two electric bikes. Driving away, the landscape changed as we crossed the Cromarty Firth and we could sea the oil rigs in the North Sea, and several within the Firth itself for maintenance, looking like the War of the Worlds alien machines. At this point we picked up the NC500 and the area softened, vast areas of dark heather took over from the bracken as we headed to Bonar Bridge parking up at a spot where the Kyle of Sutherland meets Dornoch Firth. Jigsaw made friends with some fishermen…

This area is well known for mountain biking and salmon, so we headed out for a ride in Balblair forest on the marked trails. We were not daft enough to go for the one called Rock Hard, a black run, but a more sedate one that wouldn’t have me end up in A&E. We were on our own in the forest and it was serenely quiet, just the whispers of fairies among the moss carpets and the usual cuckoo. I didn’t ever think I’d ever comment on the beauty of a tree stump but I did! Nearby are the Falls of Shin where Salmon leap up the waterfalls for the annual spawning. Yes, we were lucky, even though it’s very early season we did see leaps (video posted) it’s an addictive watch to be honest.

Dornoch is a lovely, if somewhat gentrified town, likely due to a ‘Royal’ golf course and a championship one at that. It did tickle us, the fact that the route to where we parked took us across the third fairway (can you imagine the site of that on BBC coverage!) and yes, there were blokes on it 😀 The reason we went wasn’t golf but that it’s a spectacular nature reserve, all around Loch Fleet so we were treated to red kites, numerous ducks, basking seals, a lone dunnet but still the red squirrel evaded us. After that we headed to John o’Groats, just because we could, and why not! Not a great deal there other than the selfie signpost but there is a fab cliff edge walk where there’s nesting guillemots and gulls in their thousands, and a lone puffin (pleased to spot that!) Nearby is Duncansby Head, a spectacularly wild spot, a tad ‘north’ of Jo’G…. mmm, have we been had? We overnighted at a tiny, unspoilt harbour called Latheronwheel overlooking sea stacks. It was built for the herring boom in 1840. Jigsaw had a good walk around the harbour walls without getting into trouble although she did appear to want to give rock climbing a go!

A good few hours drive south, through the moorland one minute, long mountain views the next and coastal areas scattered with derelict cottages from bygone times, we journeyed through the contrasting towns of Wick and Inverness with their B&M’s and Lidl’s. Even though thriving, we both felt a sense of loss for the small fishing and crofting communities. We arrived in the Aviemore area however to the uplifting Cairngorms National Park, staying in Rothiemurchus, an area of ancient forest and a glorious part of wild Scotland. We found a remote spot so Jigsaw has already been exploring, unfortunately for us, we are surrounded by climbing trees! Anyhow, our binoculars and cameras are at the ready, we set out to explore! Where are the Ospreys?

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