Culbokie to Alness, 15Km
I met Rose at Netherton Farm B&B yesterday, as planned, and we’ll walk together for the coming days. We dined at the splendid Culbokie Inn. It’s splendid in a rural sense. The public bar was incorporated into the saloon bar in the 1980s, resulting in an equalitarian, open plan environment. That means residents from the new housing development with their fancy cars and mortgages must mix freely with us hobos in our muddy boots and, for today, a freshly laundered and ironed shirt, courtesy of the New City Chinese laundry in Inverness. Only the farmer was missing. He was ploughing in the stubble of the straw to be ready for the next crop. We ordered the last of the pork loin with local potatoes and vegetables before the pig, having done its duty, was scratched from the menu. And then apple crumble, made on the premises.
Today’s stage of the John O’Groats trail was, without doubt, the easiest. For those of you hanging on for me to edge along the cliff tops of Sutherland and Caithness: they’re next week’s attraction.
Almost immediately we crossed the Cromarty Firth on its 1.7Km long bridge. A footpath existed and was not closed today. Next came the only obstacle of note, a private level crossing over the railway. Both sets of gates were locked shut so we climbed them in the style of the Railway Children.
We reached the small settlement of Evanton where Rose spotted the Cornerstone Cafe so we went in for cappuccino and lemon drizzle cake. A man with a shirt and tie and an apron joined us and introduced himself as the minister of the church opposite. He told us that opening the church for an hour a week wasn’t working for the community so they raised £80k, mostly from a generous parishioner, to buy the cafe as a meeting place for the village. It’s manned by local volunteers who also bake the cakes. He mentioned a special senior citizens afternoon tea today, looking at me. Despite that, I left a substantial tip to bring the bill closer to Costa Coffee prices. It’s a rare thing to live in a community where people really do meet and care for each other.
We then stopped at a cemetery to inspect a couple of Commonwealth War Graves and while we were there, we met a lady from Los Angeles who is biking in Europe and Britain. Doing that, you can go days without talking to a soul so we had quite a long chat. And when we arrived in Alness it was still only lunchtime so we had a special offer lunch for two, just £15 in the Station hotel, my home for tonight.