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Day 42 Fri 10-06-2005

Aviemore to Inverness

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I tried not to disturb Peter as I left the room. I grabbed a coffee from a vending machine, and walked through Aviemore. I enjoyed breakfast in a cafe at seven. It was on the first floor, with great views of the mountains where I had been walking yesterday. I wondered if I could reach Inverness today, it was well over thirty miles away, but did have a big Youth Hostel. John and Jean were headed for the hostel, and I wondered if I would see them there.

The day's route was mainly flat, on quiet roads, following closely the path of the A9. There were forests and rural areas, all rather tame compared to the Cairngorms, but still taking me onward to John O'Groats. I must have covered more than 85% of my journey by now, and I occasionally let myself think about reaching that tip of land to the north. Early on in England, I would avoid any such thoughts, worried about tempting fate, but Inverness to me marked the beginning of the end.

At eleven, Jean and John pass me, shouting encouragement from their bicycles. By twelve thirty, in Tomatin, I am desperate for a pint, and they are leaving the pub just as I arrive. I sat in bar, studying my maps, and chatted to a couple who warned me of the midges I would encounter. They made them sound awful, which I had heard before, but thankfully I was just too early in the year to be bothered.

The afternoon seemed to go on forever, as the lanes wandered about, avoiding the River Nairn. Eventually I arrived at the outskirts of Inverness, and again i visited Tesco, for another microwave meal and a bottle of red plonk, and headed for the hostel. My feet were hurting, not blistered, but deep within, at bone level. I much preferred walking off tarmac. Although the miles soon clocked up on roads, it seemed to take it out of my feet much more.

By six I had checked in, and found my room. The hostel was huge, and busy, and for the first time my room was full, and I had to use a top bunk. The other five occupants were mainly backpacking europeans, and I hobbled down to the kitchen.

Jean and John

I was pleased to see Jean and John, who were preparing another culinary masterpiece. They generously shared their melon starter with me, and let me join their table for dinner. We chatted about cycling, and how everywhere in England and Scotland was full of cycle routes, which Jean and John had made good use of. Given that we are being encouraged to cycle, it was disappointing to hear that they had had huge problems booking their bikes onto a train for the journey home. The train has space for two bicycles, surely a little short sighted if we are supposed to leave our cars at home...

It was possible that we would arrive in John O'Groats on the same day, as Jean and John were taking a less direct route than mine. They planned to visit the Orkneys for a music festival, when they finished. I had started to think that a day trip to the Orkneys would be a good way to finish my walk, before returning home. Jean asked how I was planning to get back to Basingstoke, and I replied honestly, "God knows."