Inverness to Culbokie, 21Km
The Premier Inn’s restaurant was closed, “no staff”. Wetherspoons was only selling beer, “no staff, no food”. Same with half the places in Inverness. The students have returned to college and the Europeans have returned to Europe. I managed to get a burger and a side salad but the days of sending anything back to the kitchen are over. You daren’t even ask for ketchup. A small Italian restaurant was advertising for a chef who could cook Italian meals. I skipped that place.
The management and chambermaids made the Premier Inn breakfast from 6.30 and I was there filling up with scrambled eggs for the short hop to Culbokie.
I waved goodbye to my bag. Up to now Contours has organised everything for me but they don’t go north of Inverness so I’ve enlisted Gary to move it. Gary lives in Wick. He has a van and I know his bank account details because I’ve transferred quite a lot of money into it. Fingers crossed but so far, so good.
There’s a pleasant stroll along the River Ness to start things off and then I had to clamber onto the big bridge to cross the Beauly Firth and an unhelpful sign said “Footpath Closed”. Without further instructions, I continued and had to squeeze past some workmen at the far end. That was the first and only obstacle on the John O’Groats trail today.
The little guidebook describes a torturous figure of eight route through the woods but I walked along a charming country lane instead. The farmer in Culbokie was busy baling straw while the sun was shining. He drove an enormous tractor which towed the bale making machine. He’d stop occasionally and release a giant bale already bound up and ready for use. One man sitting in the cab processing all the fields, straw, wheat, barley, hay. I can’t imagine what Thomas Hardy would make of it. He couldn’t write Tess of the d’Urbervilles today. Where would he find all the girls with their sickles and scythes?
I’m staying in the farmhouse at Netherton Farm. It’s old and stuffed full of wonderful books. There’s a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica which brought back memories of doing homework in the local library. I found volume 11, Solovyov – Truck and looked up straw, which I might have done when I was eight, and now I know all about it. So much more fun than Wikipedia. The first edition was published in 1768 but it’s now as redundant as poor little Tess. A tragedy.