Day 6. Camore Woods to Alness. 20 miles (ish).
I awoke from my pine marten-interrupted sleep around 7am, cold, hungry and longing for another cooked breakfast to meticulously evaluate. Regrettably, I was forced to settle for a handful of peanuts and some rather old Haribo - still probably an improvement on the Stag Head's breakfast offering from the day before...
With frozen limbs and shaking hands I grumpily packed up my camp and boldly strode out of the woods, bleary eyed and thinking longingly of my first destination, Tain, around 8 miles off. In my mind Tain was literally made of coffee beans and strands of crispy bacon, weaved expertly around columns of sausage, with crunchy hash brown people wandering about, lobbying for a permanent egg/bean separation policy and paying for things with a currency based on garlic mushrooms (the more garlicky the mushroom, the higher the value).
As you can see I had, quite clearly, begun to unravel. But warmed by my insane inner monologue I traipsed onwards through bleak pine forest and cold country lanes until the intimidating Cromarty Bridge reared its ugly head.
After plodding along the bridge, never more than 6 inches from oncoming traffic, I saw a sign for Tain only 3 miles away. I practically sprinted towards the town, images of grilled tomato and lavishly buttered toast racing past my eyes. A small, unrealistic part of me was bitterly disappointed when I found Tain to be an utterly charming, but largely normal town (i. e. Not made of food). A local old boy pointed me in the direction of the cafe without me even asking, was my cholesterol addiction so obvious? It mattered not to me, I sauntered into the fine establishment as the only customer (lord I love an empty pub/bar/cafe) only to be informed that they did not have the ingredients required for the "big breakfast". I could have cried. Not to be deterred I ordered, with a distinct quaver in my voice, two egg and bacon rolls, two hot cross buns, a large coffee and a pint of orange juice to console myself.
Again, I'm very aware that this has become rather breakfast-orientated; truth be told today's walk was very pleasant, but largely forgettable. Tain was actually lovely, and the forestry commission lanes all the way to my final pit stop of Alness were visually pleasing, if a little repetitive.
There were, however, two minor incident of note before I arrived at Eleanor's lovely Airbnb in Alness. Firstly I was accosted by an overly friendly local. As I wandered the lanes, around 9 miles away from my destination, a flashy red Audi convertible pulled up with a young local lad inside who offered me a lift. I politely declined and explained my situation which led to him demonstrating some impressive clutch control as he maintained a steady 3.5mph and followed me along the lanes, forcing the local traffic to clip the hedgerows and go around him. To be fair, I'm sure he was a genuinely lovely man, but having lived and worked in London for many years I naturally assume any stranger willing to make even the briefest flicker of eye contact is a knife wielding maniac who is, at all times, one autocorrect text mistake away from brutally murdering everyone in the immediate vicinity. I breathed a huge and probably unnecessary sigh of relief when he sped off, and continued on my lonely march. Not two miles further on, I saw a red convertible Audi parked on the verge. Now I've never seen the film Deliverance, but even I heard that jangly guitar music a mile off and slowed my pace slightly as I approached, wondering how the UK government would apportion my assets without a formal last will and testament. As I rounded the corner, my overly-friendly Scottish chap was literally hand feeding a calf and whistling a merry tune, I didn't know what to think anymore. He instantly asked if I would like to spend the night at his farmhouse, gesturing behind him to a palatial building (I politely declined), then asked if I would like any company on the road to Alness (I very politely/nervously declined). It is worth noting that I hadn't broken my stride and by this time I was nearing the edge of his field, so he began walking towards my direction, literally dragging and feeding the unfortunate calf at the same time. He practically insisted that he accompany me on the rod to Alness to which, in a stunning turn of Englishness, I laughed politely then swiftly ignored. I spent the following 4 miles looking nervously over my shoulder for a red Audi and ensuring I had prepared an SOS text in my phone, ready to hit send to everyone in my address book at the first sign of any unwarranted attention.
I'm sure he was just being friendly and after a few steps I actually felt quite bad about the whole ordeal, but it seems my hard won city boy instincts just aren't cut out for the genuine friendliness of the Highlands. A brief run in with some Highland cows (they were behind a fence) lightened my mood and I was soon marching down to Alness with the whole non-event out of my mind.
A mile on I met my first Land's End to John O'Groats walker, Ryan, who had set out from Cornwall on March 1st and had already climbed Britain's highest 3 peaks en route, making a distinct mockery of my slovenly, breakfast-inspired stroll. We exchanged pleasantries before he informed me he had just met another end-to-ender only 20 minutes down the road, going in the same direction as me. I'm naturally very competitive, so I found out from Ryan this other walker had set out a day before me - thrilled I had almost caught him from being a day behind, I bade Ryan farewell and upped the pace - I had to catch this man. 3 miles later I was tired and in more pain than usual due to stomping down the lanes at a regrettable pace. There was no sign of the other hiker and I could feel a niggle in my Achilles, so I took a short and angry break. I finally limped into Alness, slightly concerned I had overdone it, but an hour ahead of time. My Airbnb was advertised as a "tiny house" when in effect my lodgings would have gone for a comfortable 7 figures had it been located in Hackney or Dalston, still, £19 for the night isn't bad.
Alness' best restaurant was an Indian, so after showering I gingerly waddled down for a curry, only to find it was buffet night. It was £12 for all you can eat - after 20 miles I almost felt bad as I put this rural eatery clean out of business. Full to the brim of chicken tikka bhuna and lamb pakora I tiptoed home and collapsed into a sleep so deep a thousand men in red convertible Audis could not have awakened me. A good day all in all.