14/08/11 You’re not from these parts, are you?

With the unflinching optimism of an idiot unable to read maps I strode off expecting nothing but flat roads all the way to Ullapool.

It will come to no-one’s surprise then, that I was met with probably the longest, steepest hill of my journey so far.

I think I’ve found my true vocation – comedy tour guide – “I can assure you sir, these roads are safe, there are no precipitous cliffs anywheeeeeerrrreeee!!!”

You’re safe in my hands.

Before the wall-like cliff began in earnest though, I found an unexpected treat – a coffee shop on the side of the road.

Not wanting to appear rude, I ventured inside. I told the lady proprietor my story.

“Oh, we’re always getting people in who are walking around the edge of the UK for charity…”

Do you? Are you really flooded with these lunatic walkers to the point that your profits are tumbling?

I have seen one other long distance walker. The happy chap who called me ‘dude’ as he strode happily away from John of the Groats on his merry way to Lands End.

One – and I’ve been on the road a while now.

What she meant was,”I’ll not be giving you a single penny, you scrounging…”
I don’t expect folk to give to the cause. If they do it’s a lovely surprise. I know that tourism has decreased in these here parts and that money’s tight.

Just don’t make up silly stories!

She had a north west English accent, so I asked her what brought her to these here parts.

She explained that she was from Morcambe and that she’d left this once lovely seaside town because it was now full of Eastern Europeans and DSS.

I asked her how she and her family had been received by the locals up here in this remote part of Scotland.

“Very well,” she smiled, “they seem to be really open minded to incomers…”

Fascinating.

I devoured my toasties and made off.
It was a hard climb into the hills. The road zig-zags sympathetically to soften the blow of the incline – but crikey!

I got to the top to be met with the smiling faces of two young German men. They were proper mountain types who followed paths over the mountains. They were waxing eloquently about the beauty of seeing the hills in this way when I guy who I’d spoken with at the Scourie campsite appeared on his bike.
I turned to him and shouted,”for god’s sake, will you stop following me? Can’t you just accept it’s over ?”

Jonathan – for that was his name – replied with a smile. He’s a maths tutor who chose to leave mainstream teaching because of the red tape and excessive administration – form an orderly queue, please.

Although not as well paid, he loves being a tutor. It gives him the freedom he requires to vanish into the hills.
Before long he and the Germans were pouring over maps, discussing the most exciting and rarely trodden paths here in the highlands.

I smiled as I looked at their excited faces as I thought,”There’s no bloody way I’m ever leaving the main road.

What if I fall over, or die or something?”
We all smiled and waved as the young guys bound off on some path I hadn’t even seen – as Jonathan slowly cycled off into the distance.

It is a great little community.

To be frank though, I was knackered.

I’d only done a few miles and my body was saying, “Isn’t it time to put the tent up?”

It was only one thirty – so, no, it wasn’t.
Thankfully the hill plateaued and I strode manfully on.

In a lay-by I met an older – incredibly fit looking – American man.

He told me about the John Muir trust, a trust that had been set up to reclaim large wilderness areas as national park land.

He was better known in the States for, having vanished off into the hills with Teddy Roosevelt, he managed to establish the national parks in America.
They are in the process of doing the same here.

The Highland Clearances. Buy one oatcake, get seven free? No, not exactly.

The Highland Clearances between the 18th and 19th centuries were a dark time in Scottish history. The land owners at the time had come to the conclusion that farming sheep would be infinitely more profitable than the farming that had taken place for generations.

As such they kindly told the inhabitants of the rural communities that they were no longer farmers – no, they were fishermen.

Just in case these absent minded farmers forgot and tried to return to their lands, the land owners generously burnt down all their homes.
It was a huge displacement of people, purely borne out of greed.

So, back to the John Muir trust. It is their aim to restore the land to the way it was prior to the clearances.

So, they will be culling the deer. No, not poor bambi again, you hear me cry. Well yes…the reason there are very few trees to be had in these parts is that Bambi, and a lot of his mates – no, not Thumper, I understand he’s safe – devour all the saplings before they have a chance to grow.

The sheep are being removed too. They were never profitable.

So, I’m learning about Scottish history and modern day land management from an American.

He’s only been here for 45 years, what dies he know?

Well, quite a lot it would seem. For example, did you know that huge expanses of the Scottish hills are owned by the Duke of Westminster?
“I see he named a mountain after his racehorse, Arkle,” I just pretend to be stupid, it makes other folk feel better about themselves.

The American chap went on to tell me that a number of crofts on the Dukes land are linked together with satellite broadband. Since there isn’t much in the way of broadband in these here parts, wouldn’t it be nice to share the great big data exchanging dishes? Well no – because apparently – a source tells me – that he owns his own satellite! And he doesn’t want to share that either.

My poor imagination is immediately lost in the world of Bond movies…

Thousands of acres, satellites, wouldn’t it be nice to share? Or is that the politics of envy? Something narked me – especially since this was a wealthy English guy who didn’t want to share his toys.

Am I prejudiced?

On that very topic I wandered up to Ardvreck Castle and claimed it as my own…for the night…not before explaining to a group of Spanish tourists that this post modern extension (my tent) had only been added in the twenty-first century, but added great value an aesthetic beauty to the ruin.
I was joined by Jay and Anne, a couple from Inverness, for a short time. She, a college lecturer, he works in the local psychiatric hospital.

They bestowed me with gifts of chocolate pudding and cuppa-soup. Magnificent.

It was a great day. I hadn’t travelled far, but, goodness, I was wiser by the end of it.

Walk a mile folks

Chris

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