Day 7. Alness to Inverness. 21 miles.
Footsore and troubled by a niggling Achilles, I left Alness at 830, slightly concerned that I had another 20+ mile day ahead of me, but very much looking forward to Inverness, where I would have a whole rest day, and be reunited with my better half, Becky (note: Becky is helping me to edit and publish this blog, so I have to be even nicer than usual). After a quick stop off at the local Coop (interestingly, Northern Scotland is all Coops) for a bacon roll and some sour bon bons for the day, I set out towards Evanton, my first village around 4 miles away. I foolishly got a cup of coffee as I left Alness which, combined with last night's short-sighted gluttony at the Indian buffet, had very predictable, and unwanted, consequences. Now I don't want this breakfast rating/walking blog to become crude, and its worth noting that I was prepared for all eventualities, but all the same when I'm actually in the moment it turns out I'll do almost anything to preserve my civility. So I clenched my way to Evanton, almost certainly doing further damage to my wounded Achilles with my inflexible gait, praying for a Premier Inn or similar when I arrived. I found a campsite and was met with a surprisingly stern no from the judgemental Medusa who was present when I asked if I could use the facilities. I, very sweatily, crumpled a Scottish fiver into her hands in a last gasp attempt to avoid the bushes of shame and she reluctantly acquiesced. When I explained, after returning, that I was walking the country for charity, she returned my crumpled fiver and creased her visage into what I imagined was meant to be a semblance of a smile. Easy come easy go.
After that torturous morning, the afternoon slipped by with relative ease. Another mile long bridge was grumpily crossed, and I soon found myself in the peaceful village of Culbokie. I briefly stopped and inhaled my sour bon bons before resuming my stroll through Culbokie woods, now just 12 miles away from Inverness.
From here, to be honest, it was a he'll of a slog. My feet were throbbing and my achilles was becoming a source for concerns. Things like blisters and muscular complaints are hardly a source for joy, but can be shrugged off with a positive mental attitude and as much cocodamol as you can safely ingest in a given 12 hour period, however tendon issues left unchecked can cause permanent problems (and end hikes), so it was with trepidation and a very slow pace, that I continued towards Inverness.
With around 8 miles to go, I got horribly lost. Those who have been to Amsterdam will understand here - every canal street in the Dutch capital looks the exact same, and the pine forests of the Highlands were no different. Once lost, its almost impossible to find the correct path again so I continued in the direction I presumed to be 'South', and hoped to hit my nemesis the A9 at some point soon. I was soon clambering over fallen logs and squelching through boggy puddles, I was tired, off the edge of the map and forced into limping thanks to my sore Achilles - my mood was dark. I eventually heard the A9 rumbling ahead but was met with an impassable wall of those thick, dark green, unnecessarily spiky bushes with the small yellow flowers (you know the type I mean). On the verge of tears I followed the "path" round, searching for an opening, but to no avail, until at the very last moment I found a small gap in the hedge, with a simple barbed wire fence to cross before a steep hill down to the A9 verge. With unparalleled joy I unravelled my foam roll mat and began the now-familiar process of illegally passing barbed wire barriers. I was soon limping on the A9, my most hated enemy now a close friend. The last 4 or so miles to Inverness were slow and painful, but the thought of an entire rest day tomorrow spurred me on. I crossed the Kessock bridge and dragged my aching legs the final 2 miles (on tarmac) to my Airbnb home for the next 2 days.
Upon arriving into Inverness, directly opposite our Airbnb, lay an entire shop devoted to "Flat Earth". It was closed, but hung on the outside were crude meme posters devoted to every single conspiracy theory imaginable. I hoped, longingly, that the premises would be open tomorrow, and headed off to meet Becky at the airport.