Today’s walk would be predominantly on roads, some busy some not so busy.
I started early, leaving my B&B in Inverness at 06:00 and driving to and parking in Nairn. As I waited for the 07:00 #10 bus back to Inverness I could see that the A96 was really really busy particularly going into Inverness. I got off the bus at the Inverness retail park. It was still very dark so I decided to pop into Tesco’s to get some food and more importantly kill some time until it got lighter. After drinking my coffee I knew I could delay no longer. I set off from the Retail Park in my hi-vis vest and flashing head strobe. I knew the first couple of miles was along a paved footpath as far as the Milton of Culloden turn-off.
The footpath finally disappeared and I was left with verge walking, the heavy traffic had not ceased, but fortunately the verge was ok for the first mile and it was reasonably light now. Soon the available verge on either side of the road disappeared or was too narrow to safely walk on. I continued alongside the A96, albeit in the adjacent field. It was relatively easy walking through the fields that had not yet been ploughed, containing just stubble from the recent crop. The trouble with walking in fields is invariably the field boundaries have barbed wire fences or impenetrable hedgerows to get through. I was lucky and managed to get to the B9039 turn-off for Ardersier without much trouble.
I thought the walk along the B9039 would have enabled me to relax a bit. I was wrong, the traffic although not as heavy as the A96 was fast and frequent. After less than a mile on the road I decided to try and get onto the shoreline which was about 400 meters away. I turned down a track just after Castle Stuart and continued through a sort of quarry which then brought me onto Castle Stuart Golf course. I followed the links until I could no further, I faced a huge area of mature gorse. There was no way of getting through it and down onto the beach, I could either backtrack or head onto the main road. Cursing myself I cut across a field to get back onto the main road, I had probably walked twice the distance with this diversion.
I had been aware over the years that walking along roads is a dangerous business. I have always tried to mitigate the risk by being visible to motorists, whether that is what I wear, when I walk or being able to read the road ahead. The Rules given in the Highway Code for pedestrians walking along unpaved roads is at best sketchy and in certain cases could get you seriously hurt. As a walker the most crucial aspect is to make yourself visible to ALL traffic on the road, use the verge if available and always the BEST verge i.e. the widest and easiest to walk on – ignoring the rule about walking on the right. Similarly read the road ahead, the HC talks about thinking about crossing the road at “sharp” bends only, which again could get you seriously hurt. If you encounter a sharp bend or otherwise always aim for the outer apex of the curve, where you can be seen by both sets of drivers. The reason why I have given my two-pennies worth on road safety is 5 minutes after returning to the B9039 I was almost killed by some inpatient, stupid, reckless and dangerous driver. Near to Wester Fisherton, I was walking on the right hand side of the road i.e. facing oncoming traffic. The road had did not have a verge to speak of and if oncoming traffic had come towards me I would have stopped and stepped off the road or just pushed myself into bushes. However, I heard traffic coming from the rear and ignored it, as I was walking in the gutter on the opposite side of the road. The next thing I saw was a red flash of a car that overtaken two cars on this straight and passed between the second car and myself before returning to its proper side of the road. It happened in a flash, I did not record the number plate or even think about the make of the vehicle. My first reaction was shock then anger, I cursed the driver and shock my fist, but he or she was long since gone. The road here is not particularly wide and I estimate that this !$&* was only 24 to 30 inches from wiping me out, especially with the speed that they were travelling at. It took me a while to settle down as I continued onto Ardersier. I resolved to approach the driver if I passed the vehicle, but without a number or even make of vehicle I could not even contact the Police.
I made it ok into the village of Ardersier and found some comfort in a lovely Border collie that was very friendly, licking hands and being glad to see me. I continued along the shoreline outwards Fort George. The fortress garrison of Fort George was completed in 1769 replacing the earlier Fort George which was destroyed by the Jacobite’s in Inverness. The Fort is still an active military establishment as is evidenced by the large rifle firing range adjacent to the Fort. The rat-at-tat of machine gun fire and red flags flying told me that the large range was operational today. I took a few quick photos and retreated to a minor single-track road that ran along the range perimeter.
The single track road was quiet, which was a relief, and I could relax and enjoy the walk across the Carse of Ardersier. The odd car or two that passed me on the road were safe and considerate. At the back of my mind I knew this road would ultimately lead me back onto the A96, even though I would be only be on it for about a mile, I decided I would change my route and attempt to cross the Carse of Delnies and get onto the shoreline. To do this I turned off the minor road at Muir of Balnagowan and picked up a track through an Old Scots Pine wood. After 300 meters I emerged on a deserted wide road. This must have been a military road at some point in time, I crossed over the road and continued to a sheepfold. I was now following the base of a scarp slope which would lead me to Hilton of Delnies and then the coast. The Carse of Delnies did not look a great place to walk across, being full of gorse, large pools, salt marsh and bog. Just as i reached Hilton of Delnies I followed a fence line that led me to a farm track that emerged on the shoreline of the Moray Firth, the beach looked beautiful. It was pure joy to walk along the beach and into Nairn. Not the the happiest days walk, just glad to be here and in one piece!
NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:
Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,491 miles