Woke up to fog today which had burned off by the time I set off on one of the days I had been least looking forward to on the entire trek due to the unavoidable amount of road walking involved. When I planned the route from JOG down to Fort William there were really 3 options:
1. Main roads down the east coast – no thank you!!
2. Head into the western Highlands without too much experience in that type of country and risking the weather, and making it virtually impossible to schedule in the motor home support – maybe another time.
3. Plot a more central route using as much off road and minor roads as possible before getting to the Great Glen Way south of Inverness.
The dilemma was how to manage the 2-3 day section between Lairg and Beauly with a lack of off road options and now being far enough south that there are no more single track A and B roads. This was the compromise and it meant about 4 miles along the now busy A836 either side of Ardgay and a long section on the B9176 over Struie Hill, all of which not achievable in a single day. In poor weather this would have been a real problem as there are no paths and limited verges to walk on, so very much at the mercy of the speeding motorists.
The walk started with a great view back across the Loch to Lairg and then onto a quiet country lane alongside the River Shin. I chose a woodland walk through Achany Wood and Shin Forest which was not as deforested as what I had seen on previous days and boasted some very tall pines providing a bit of shade on what was becoming a warm day in the sunshine. After leaving the forest I had my first main road section where Cath caught up with me in Betty, before crossing a footbridge next to the railway line over the Kyle of Sutherland at Invershin. Another quiet lane stretch before arriving in Ardgay and a late lunch stop with Cath and some respite from the sun and increasing wind – at the same time preparing myself mentally for the next 5 miles to our scheduled meeting point at the Struie Hill viewpoint. The 3 miles along the A836 were not enjoyable other than the masochistic pleasure of being blasted by drafts from passing HGVs and speedsters whilst hopping up onto whatever verge I could find. I just tried to keep going as fast as I could. The turn off onto the B9176 signalled the start of the 2 mile uphill stint to Struie viewpoint – again little verges to rake refuge from speeding traffic although less problematic than the A road and despite a strong headwind I quite enjoyed the push to the waiting Cath and fabulous views over the Kyle of Sutherland below. As I had gained some time and to take advantage of the fine weather I decided to carry on for an extra 2 miles or so to the turn off for our campsite, a lovely little place called Inchintaury with views all the way out to the Dornoch Firth road bridge – I will do a separate review on campsites elsewhere. This will make tomorrow’s continuation along the B9176 to Evanton a bit shorter and less daunting.