Days 4 to 6…Embo to Pitlochry
Day 4… Saturday 24th May 2008
Embo to Inverness
It was sad to leave Embo… it is always sad, but, this year was sadder for me because, after I had waved everyone else off, including Gus on his bike, I stayed to do the laundry… a practical arrangement, but it left me too long to think about leaving. Embo is such a great place for a family holiday: so much to do, so many friends and family to spend time doing it with.
It turned out to be a gorgeous day, very warm and sunny, and the route we took was beautiful. Kenny had very kindly left his road bike for Gus. What a difference! It was still hard work, but at least it was less hard work! The bike was now working for him!
Leaving Embo, the couple of miles into Dornoch is very pretty, the narrow road, with views down to the North Sea between patches of glorious, golden Gorse, is sometimes only single track with passing places.
Dornoch is a small town, lying a mile or two east of the main A9 road on the coast at the entrance to the Dornoch Firth. There has been a settlement here for many centuries – there is possible evidence of a 6th century church in the centre of the town and there are also records of viking raids in the area. Dornoch is the old county town of Sutherland and it was created a Royal Burgh in 1628.
It is a picturesque little town with much to see and do. It is home to many old and interesting buildings. The most famous is the Cathedral but there is also a 16th century Bishop’s Palace (now a hotel), the old town gaol, now a shop, the Carnegie library and many historic houses and cottages. The local museum contains displays on the history of the town and its people.
We always spend at least one day wandering in Dornoch, looking in the wee shops, buying gifts to take home. The beaches in Dornoch are also beautiful: deep, clean sand, edged with grassy banks, in turn sprinkled with wild flowers.
Dornoch is probably most famous for its connection with the sport of golf. There are records of it being played on the links as long ago as the sixteenth century.
We, Gus cycling and me following en auto, came down the A9 across the Dornoch Firth by way of the bridge that was built there in 1991 to Tain.
Tain (Gaelic: Baile Dhubhthaich, Duthac’s town) is a royal burgh in the Highland area of Scotland
The origin of the name “Tain” is uncertain and may be derived from the pre-Celtic name for the nearby River Tain. The origin of the town’s Gaelic name is however quite clear; Baile Dubhthaich, meaning ‘Duthac’s town’ after the saint of this name, also known as Duthus.
Tain was granted its first royal charter in 1066, making Tain Scotland’s oldest Royal Burgh. The 1066 charter, granted by King Malcolm III, confirmed Tain both as a sanctuary, where people could claim the protection of the church, and an “immunity”, whose resident merchants and traders were exempt from certain types of taxes. These important ideas carried through the centuries and led to the development of the town as it is today.
Little is known of the earlier history of the town although it owed much of its importance to Duthac. He was an early ‘Christian’ figure, perhaps 8th or 9th century, whose shrine had become so important by 1066 that it resulted in the royal charter already mentioned. The ruined chapel near the mouth of the river was said to have been built on the site of his birth. Duthac became an official ‘saint’ in 1419 and by the late Middle Ages his shrine was established as one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Scotland. The most famous pilgrim was King James IV, who came at least once a year throughout his reign to achieve both spiritual and political aims.
The early Duthac Chapel was the center of a sanctuary. Fugitives were by tradition given sanctuary inside an area of several square miles marked by boundary stones, probably patterned on the Cities of Refuge mentioned in the Bible as provisions outlined in the Mosaic Law, for the protection of unintentional manslayers. (Numbers 35:6-32 and Joshua 20:2-9)
During the First War of Scottish Independence, Robert the Bruce sent his wife and daughter to the sanctuary for safe keeping. The sanctuary was violated and they were captured by forces loyal to John Balliol. The women were taken to England where they were kept as prisoners for several years. So, unlike the Old Testament Cites of Refuge, Duthac Chapel seems not to have proved itself much of a refuge after all.
After Tain, we went off onto little back roads that weren’t even numbered on our map all the way to Alness. It was great: the scenery was magnificent, looking out over the NiggBay and the Cromarty Firth, with its long bridge. I loved looking back at its long sweeping curve, but you can imagine, to get to that hilltop view was fine for me, harder work for Gus.
We lunched by the roadside near the golf course outside Alness, sitting on a grassy bank littered with wildflowers, forget-me-nots, vetches and such, all of which had to be identified and noted in my book, of course. While Gus set off again, still on back roads, the B817 now, I popped into visit a dear friend, Mae Anderson, who lives in Alness, the largest town in the county of Ross-Shire in the Highlands of Scotland UK. This beautiful Highland town is located just 20 miles, (33 kms) North of Inverness, so I knew we didn’t have too much further to go.
Having rejoined the A9 to cross the Cromarty Firth, traverse the Black Isle and the Moray Firth to Inverness, Scottish Gaelic Inbhir Nis, meaning “Mouth of the River Ness”.
Inverness is a city in the Scottish Highlands. It is the administrative centre for the Highland council area and is regarded as the capital of the Highlands of Scotland with a third of the Highland population living in or around the city. Inverness lies near two important battle sites: the 11th century battle of Blàr nam Fèinne against Norway which took place on The Aird and the 18th century Battle of Culloden which took place on Culloden Moor.]
It is the northernmost city in the United Kingdom and lies within the Great Glen (Gleann Mòr) at its north-eastern extremity where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth. Loch Ness runs through the Great Glen and its profound depth makes it ideal for great sea monsters, like Nessie, who I’m certain lives there, having sighted her at least once, honest!
At the latest, a settlement was established by the 6th century with the first royal charter being granted by Dabíd mac Maíl Choluim (King David I) in the 12th century. The Gaelic king Mac Bethad Mac Findláich (MacBeth) whose 11th Century murder of King Duncan was immortalised in Shakespeare’s play, held a castle within the city where he ruled as Mormaer of Moray and Ross.
Gus and I met up and we put the bike on our super-duper bike rack ( so easy, so neat), before setting off to find lodgings for the night. Not as straightforward as we’d hoped!
Overlooking the fact that this was the Saturday night of a bank holiday weekend, we were unprepared for the fact that there was no room at the inn… or, the Hostel, either the SYHA or the two independent ones. Rather than set about searching for the unlikely empty room in one of the many B&Bs we could rummage through, we decided to take Mae up on her offer to stay the night with her back in Alness.
The half-hour drive back up that lovely road was no hardship. I’m certain it would’ve taken longer, by many half-hours, to find accommodation in Inverness that busy weekend, and we had a very enjoyable evening and morning in Mae’s company.
As you can see from the map, our 146 miles barely makes a dent in the total miles still to go to travel the entire length of the British mainland, from John o’Groats in the far north-east corner to Land’s End on the tip of the far south-west tail. But, there, we’ve made a start.
Miles cycled…Day 4… 46miles
J O’G to Inverness…… 146miles
Day 5… Sunday 25th May
Inverness to Newtonmore
After we’d driven back down to Inverness from Mae’s, Gus delighted that he had already cycled across the Inverness Bridge and didn’t have to do it again–he says it’s very windy and the water is a long way down, making him feel very exposed and vulnerable–Gus took up where he left off, cycling into the distance along the A9, while I popped into the large Tesco store nearby.
You may be beginning to see a pattern here! While Gus cycles, I either wander about looking for wild flowers and admiring beautiful scenery or I wander about looking for bargains and admiring whatever is on display in any shops I encounter. In this particular instance, I wanted to buy a digital camera and Tesco seemed to be the most convenient place to find one, which I did.
When I caught up with Gus, he was just approaching the Slocht Summit…an achievement I was now equipped to record!
When you consider that Inverness is at sea level, then, with many ups and downs along the way, it has to be applauded… 1328 ft… more than thirteen centipedes!
After the photo shoot, we met a couple from the Netherlands who were touring with their dinky little two-berth caravan. They were scandalised at the dearth of proper, decently maintained, cycle paths in this country… a complaint we could only echo since Gus has had to endure all sorts of conditions already, from potholed and drain-infested narrow side-of-the road jobs to non-existent provision along busy stretches of main road where there were no viable alternatives for him to choose. We all nodded our heads sagely about this sad state of affairs before waving them off in their little road-hogging, traffic-slowing charabanc.
Now, you may think that, having reached the summit of the Slocht, it would be all downhill to Newtonmore from there. Let me tell you, you would be wrong: there are plenty more hills that perversely take the wrong incline to keep a cyclist from wearying.
Fortunately, Gus was able to take them on too and he reached Newtonmore Hostel without mishap, choosing the B9152 rather than the A9, ‘a smashing wee road, that!’ he tells me. And I’d have to agree. It was very pretty and not too arduous, I found.
Not too many photos yet ‘cos I’m still getting used to our great new camera.
According to the Newtonmore official website, Newtonmore does not have a long history. Before the early 1800s, the local population lived in townships in Glen Banchor, a mile or so to the West and about 200ft above the level of the present village. The building of the road bridge across the Spey in the 1760s encouraged a few people to build houses lower down, but the first mention of the village in Scottish Record Office papers (1823) refers to ‘Moor of Strone’ consisting of not more than 50 or 60 inhabitants.
The coming of the railway in the mid-1860s let to the village growing faster and the 1892 census shows a village with 364 inhabitants in 88 houses. Two more were under construction.
By 1929 the population was around 800 and the village was a busy tourist centre. The official guide, published by the CommunityCouncil, carried advertisements for 7 grocers, 2 butchers, 3 tailors, 2 boot & shoe makers, 1 boot repairer, 1 newsagent, a drapers and 2 garages. Many families let out their houses for the summer months and repaired to a small dwelling in their garden. 91 such houses were listed for let.
The advent of easier and more affordable foreign travel after the Second World War let to a fall in the number of visitors and the building of the new A9 trunk road in the 1970s, while relieving traffic congestion and noise, meant the loss of much passing trade. Despite this and the ensuing loss of a bank, library, dairy, bread shop, chemist and family grocer, the village continues to thrive. The population has stayed steady at around 1,000 for the last 30 years.
For those who remember the BBC tv series ‘Monarch of The Glen’, This is real Monarch of the Glen country, with much of the filming taking place in and around Newtonmore.
The hostel in Newtonmore was clean and comfortable and reminded us of our youth, when we both had cycled, youth hostelling all over the west coast in particular. Many happy memories of those days.
Miles from Inverness to Newtonmore…. 47 miles
Accumulated miles from J O’G…. 193 miles
Day 6…. Monday, 26th May, 2008
Newtonmore to Pitlochry
Fittingly, we stayed the night in Newtonmore in a youth hostel designed for those undertaking all sorts of outdoor pursuits, like canooing, windsurfing… and cycling. It was fun being in a dormitory again… even though ours was a family room intended for five people and we had it to ourselves, and eating in a huge, shared kitchen with its long, heavy scrubbed wood table… even though we just had chips because we were too tired to organise ourselves to cook anything.
And, of course, we had far too many chips since Gus bought them and, knowing he was hungry and Kenny had told him to fill up on carbs the night before cycling, and even though I had said I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t need to fill up on carbs the night before sitting all day in the car… he bought three portions… and they turned out to be HUGE!!
Gus knew he was in for a lot of teasing when the woman handed the heavy boxes across the counter. He did think of ditching one box before getting back to the hostel, but, either due to his parsimonious nature, or because he didn’t pass a rubbish bin, he produced enough chips to feed the entire hostel occupants.
He did offer some of the excess to one of the guys who worked there, but he declined with an amused smirk and informed us they were all off for a meal out. We did our best, but had to admit defeat with less than half the chips consumed!
The hostel was clean and comfortable and reasonably priced, so, all in all, we voted that a successful stop-over. Once we accomplished breakfast, in the hostel kitchen again, but cooking this time, if you could call tea and toast ‘cooking’, we headed off
on a small country road through Dalwhinnie, where Gus remembered fondly how he’d sheltered last year on this bed of straw, trying to get warm when he cycled up the way to Embo in the freezing cold, soaking wet rain, until I came to his rescue bearing a flask of hot tea and wielding a blanket.
We learned a lot of lessons last year! The undesirability of getting hypothermia being one of them!
When we had to rejoin the A9, to his great joy, Gus found that there was a really good cycle path running beside it most of the way to Pitlochry.
This was a good day. Gus felt he cycled well…
…and I got a bit of writing done.
Even the Drumochter Summit didn’t feel so hard to reach on such a lovely day. Don’t get me wrong, though. There was plenty of stiff breezes to remind us we were in Scotland in May and snow on the hills reminding us it’s not quite summer yet.
Pitlochry (Baile Chloichridh or Baile Chloichrigh in Gaelic), is a burgh in the council area of Perth and Kinross, Scotland, lying on the River Tummel, nestled in front of Ben Vrackie. Its population according to the 2001 census was 2,564.
It is largely a Victorian town, whose success as a tourist resort was due to Queen Victoria visiting the area in 1842, and the arrival of the railway in 1863. It remains a popular tourist resort today and is particularly known as a centre for hillwalking, surrounded by mountains such as Ben Vrackie and Schiehallion. The town has retained many stone-built Victorian buildings and the main street has an unusual period cast iron canopy over one side.
Although Pitlochry today dates largely from Victorian times, the areas known as Moulin and Port-na-craig are much older. History records that Moulin Kirk was granted by the Earl of Atholl to Dunfermline Abbey in 1180 and Moulin became a burgh of barony in 1511. Port-na-craig was the site of the original ferry over the River Tummel which operated until the suspension footbridge was built in 1913. Building between these two separate communities followed the construction of the military road north in the 18th century which followed the line of the present main street.
The town has two whisky distilleries, whose visitor centres are popular attractions: Edradour, which is the smallest legal distillery in Scotland, and Blair Athol Distillery, which dates back to 1798. Edradour sits to the east of town at the foot of the Moulin Moor. It is privately owned and produces only 12 casks per week with a production workforce of three men. Unchanged since it started making whisky, it is the last example of a traditional distillery and hugely popular with visitors. Blair Athol sits on the main road at the southeast of town and since 1933 has been owned by Bell’s, now part of the Diageo group. Its visitor facilities are state of the art.
The power station’s dam is known for its 310 metre salmon ladder; fish can be viewed swimming from weir to weir within the ladder, via an underwater viewing station or a video from inside the visitor centre. Over 5,000 salmon pass through annually.
I had phoned ahead and booked us into Pitlochry Youth Hostel for the night.
No, the SYHA have not gone all posh.
Between me getting to Pitlochry and finding the Youth Hostel… while I was in the changing room of a charity shop, actually…I got a phone call from Neil, our oldest, telling me that he had booked us into The Pine Trees Hotel for dinner, bed and breakfast! Instead of the self-service, roughing-it scenario we’d planned, here we were, in old-fashioned, elegant luxury. We didn’t complain. Apparently, the Pine Trees Hotel is a favourite of Neil & Nicky. We soon realised why.
Our room was delightful: top floor, coom-ceilinged, comfortable bed, classy furniture. Lovely. We tried our best to look the part, but failed miserably because we hadn’t expected to be dining in such style. If only we’d know in advance, I could’ve put the ‘full slap’ on! Not that it seemed to matter to anyone else: the service was first class… as was the food. First course, main course and
I knew someone was going to ask me that!
No, I’m sorry! I don’t remember what they were called. It was five years ago and I didn’t note it down at the time. All I remember is that the whole meal was delicious and a far cry from last night’s chip overload.
After dinner, we enjoyed an evening stroll round the extensive grounds, feeling quite the titled gentry, especially when it came to surveying the cars parked in the driveway!
But we prefer our own. We think it’s posher. It’s certainly easier to start!
Newtonmore to Pitlochry…. 45 miles
John O’Groats to Pitlochry… 238 miles