JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 3. Culbokie to Invergordon.

Over and along the Cromarty Firth.

After a breakfast of fresh farm eggs I took the lane dropping down to the Cromarty. The causeway bridge carrying the A9 was plainly visible, it looked a long way across. The traffic was heavy and fast but there was an adequate footway on the verge for my 30 minute crossing. As well as the traffic hazards terns were dive bombing me at the far side. I couldn’t wait to leave the road on the other side and I probably took the wrong path which led me up to the railway but no further. I resorted to trespassing along the line, The Far North Line, for a distance until I reached the level crossing I should have been on.  These private level crossings were a frequent feature across the single line railway, there aren’t many trains per day.  My track went up to a house and then onto a quiet country lane high above the water so there were good views all morning. The only people using the lanes were cyclists, many on a LEJOG trip. Groups of them were using backup transport which meant they could travel light. The busy A9 was somewhere out of sight and sound.

I arrived in sleepy Evanton at coffee time and the Novar Arms duly obliged. The B817 road was a bit busier but immediately out of the village was a signed cycle path in the trees alongside the road so the continuation was quite pleasant. Interestingly most cyclists persisted on the fast road leaving me to enjoy their cycle route. This gave me time to take in the views and high above me on a hill was the Fyrish Monument. Built in 1782 for Sir Hector Munro lord of the area who had served in India. It represents the Gate of Negapatam, a port in Madras, which General Munro took for the British in 1781. At the time the local population was being cleared off the lands they had worked for centuries to make way for profitable forestry and sheep. Survival was a problem and it is said the folly was built to help keep the locals in labour. The view from up there must be good but no time today. Along the road were signs of the Novar Estate, Sir Hector’s home. now concentrating on tourism of the shooting and fishing variety, somewhere in there is the big house. Out of interest his two sons were both killed in India one by a tiger and the other by a shark!  His daughter married and the estate passed into new hands.

The cycle path ran out leaving a stretch on a boring footpath adjacent the busy but safe road into Alness. A thriving little high street on which I found the basic Cafe Picante for a cheese toastie. I got the impression that most of the staff were central European as well as many of the clients. Oh and why do all these villages have so many, mainly Turkish, barbers?

Wanting to lengthen the day I pushed on a further 3 miles or so to Invergordon. This meant leaving the route of JO’G Trail, not that there had been much evidence of signage throughout the day. Again I was lucky as there was a cycleway out of town parallel to the road. I dropped down past the renowned Dalmore Distillerry to the shores of the Cromarty which I followed pleasantly into town. Along here I passed a standing stone marked as a Symbol Stone on the map. This is the Bronze Age Thief’s Stone which has three C6th or C7th  Pictish symbols carved on it, I couldn’t make them out. Looking back up the Cromarty I’m fairly sure that is Ben Wyvis in the back ground.

The views down the water were dominated by oil rigs in for repair. They looked strange with their legs up in the air.

Invergordon was an unpretentious town with a wide high street. It was at one time an important naval base and there are masses of old fuel tanks still on the edge of the houses. Aluminium smelting works closed and the oil rig business was a saviour. As I found later when wandering down to the harbour Cruise ships now call here because of its deep waters. One was being piped out this evening on its way further north.

The Marine Hotel where I stayed benefits from the cruises by the bus drivers and guides staying here, It was basic but friendly.

What had appeared to be a day on lanes turned very pleasant and interesting.

*****

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