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John o' Groat's Trail: Dornoch to Tain.

John o' Groat's Trail: Dornoch to Tain.

Postby Standing Stone 81 » Tue Sep 14, 2021 12:36 am

Route description: John o'Groats Trail: Tain to Dornoch

Date walked: 12/09/2021

Time taken: 4.5 hours

Distance: 14 km

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Three morning walks completed this section. The first two in June with the third in September. The complete section would not be at all challenging but I decided to walk when the opportunities presented, even if they were brief. Live for the day and all that...

Morning 1:

The spire of St Gilbert's Cathedral watched over a quiet Dornoch as I parked up in the early morning. In a few hours visitors would emerge, and arrive, to mooch about these well kept streets, but for now only a very few locals were on the go. There was time to look more closely at the cathedral before heading off on a ramble.

I shall never be able to afford to live in Dornoch, but being a bit older now I can see its appeal - it is a gem of a Highland town. As I made my way past the war memorial I realised the old 'resentment' the younger me would feel at the displays of wealth was gone. Nobody in Dornoch could be any 'richer' than I was strolling on a warm summer morning that was truly carefree!

Out past the Academy, with the striking modernist architecture that I very much admire, the views opened up a bit. Good farmland here and I could see across to higher ground on the other side of the Firth.

The point where the trail leaves Evelix Road was clearly signed and I opened the gate to stroll along what was a yellow boulevard. Whins and broom were bursting with flower and the distinctive coconut fragrance filled the still air.

A short distance to the left stood a tall standing stone. I climbed the gate and had a closer look. This is the Drumdivan stone and whilst most likely a prehistoric monument, legend attaches it to St Gilbert:

Gilbert de Moravia, Bishop of Caithness died further north at Scrabster in 1245. One of his great achievements had been the slaying of a mighty dragon that had terrorised the areas of Sutherland and Ross. The fiery beast had burned the ancient forests and laid waste to the land. With only bow and arrow, and a boy to carry them, St Gilbert went out to meet the dragon which he dispatched with a single shot. Here below me lay that dragons remains marked by the single standing stone. Returning to the trail the trees of Camore Wood quickly swallowed me up.

The JoG trail makes good use of the excellent tracks that lead through the woods. Birds were singing away, briefly a handsome bullfinch settled a short distance before me. Only a lone dog walker and then a cyclist did I meet. I paused to admire the emerging blossom on a rowan.

In what seemed no time I emerged from Camore Wood on to the single track road that runs along the north side of the Dornoch Firth. Still reasonably early there was little traffic to bother me: I think in total maybe five cars passed me the whole way to Cuthill. Anyway the verge was wide enough to step on to when I heard any traffic approaching. There's seldom anything pleasant about road walking but I doubt if there's ever likely to be much of a problem along here.

For me a short - and pleasant - section of the trail had been walked, but I had no time that day to go further. Next time I would cross over the firth on the modern road bridge. Unspectacular by today's standards it would've had St Gilbert gasping in astonishment.

Morning 2:

I'd never seen a whitethroat before but this one had certainly seen me! It perched atop a clump of vibrant yellow gorse alarm calling in the still air. A summer visitor from sub-Saharan Africa it had made a journey to Cuthill links that mocked my efforts on the John o' Groats trail. Yet on a warm Saturday morning there was time to put at least a few more miles behind me.

I managed up the embankment from the links and easily climbed over the barrier on to the verge of the A9. This would be my first bit of main-road walking so far on the trail. However, this early on a weekend, traffic was fairly quiet and with a pavement running the length of the bridge I was mostly able to enjoy the views out over the open water.

As I made my way across the bridge the sound of my footsteps would sometimes reach up to me. A soothing and hypnotic pulse interrupted only by the odd passing car or lorry. On a busy afternoon I can believe the experience would be quite a different one.

I crossed the road when the pavement ran out and for the next section walked the wide verge. This was less enjoyable - though never problematic - and before long I reached the Meikle Ferry roundabout. Care is definitely needed here but some wildflowers on the roundabout island caught my eye. Northern marsh orchid:

I took the farm track exit off the roundabout. I'd noticed it many times before but had never really thought as to where it led. Uphill a bit a farm vehicle passed me, its driver waved. Birds were singing and a roe deer even briefly appeared before I arrived at Tarlogie cottages. Here was as far as I had time to go but another morning stroll would complete the Dornoch to Tain section.

Morning 3:

There was a true late summer feel to the morning as I picked up the trail at Tarlogie cottages and made my way on a grassy path that skirts a paddock. A little cooler, dawn later, already the signs of autumn apparent. The colour now was more from toadstools than flowers.

The track through Tarlogie Woods improves as it makes it's way towards the A9. In truth it's a good track throughout and eventually becomes a quiet tarred road. The woods are a mix of conifer and deciduous and already a few leaves had been shed. I noticed a few wee birch tree leaves and was reminded of seeing them shower and cascade in great display a few years back in Thetford Forest.
A harvested field still bore its rich golden hue, a sign that the pregnant earth had recently delivered for another year.

Only a short section of A9 to walk this time and here the verge was wide. Soon Tain, ancient Royal Burgh and one time place of pilgrimage, swallowed me into its bosom. A very canny morning stroll completing another section of the John o' Groats Trail that had never been challenging yet quite varied.
Standing Stone 81
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Re: John o' Groat's Trail: Dornoch to Tain.

Postby gld73 » Tue Sep 14, 2021 11:28 pm

I still need to have 2 days finishing the Speyside Way, but once I've got round to completing that, your reports have convinced me that the John O'Groats Trail should be next up :D I'll probably do most of the sections on individual days too (.. as and when shift patterns and weather forecasts dictate...)
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Location: Inverness

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