From Corner to Corner
In 2020 the event was cancelled and no fundraising took place, so when it had to be cancelled again this year and the organisers asked participants to devise their own challenges that they could do safely without being in a group. I thought that walking the length of the Black Isle in one go would be challenging but achievable and of a similar length to the GWC events. So, Muir of Ord to Cromarty, around 25 miles and from corner to corner of OS432.
Muir of Ord 8am
On July 18th I dragged my daughter away from her Sunday morning lie-in for a lift to Muir of Ord and set off from there at about 8. Too early for the Bad Girl Bakery but I couldn’t complain as I already had a Cromarty Bakery rock bun in my bag for breakfast. The weather was ideal all day, a breezy mixture of sunshine and cloud so it was warm but not scorching. The first part of the route took me through Spital Wood along the line of the old Muir of Ord to Fortrose branch railway, which closed in 1960. Parts of it are walkable and I returned to it several times during the day. Some sections are too overgrown, flooded or ploughed out but plenty of traces of the railway remain. On the approach to Kilcoy the line ran through a long cutting which is now both overgrown and flooded but you can squeeze through the bushes along the top of the bank.
Part of the old railway
After Kilcoy dense thickets of gorse forced me into a short detour on the A832. Although it was relatively quiet on a Sunday morning this was the only bit of the day I didn’t enjoy. It’s not pleasant walking along a tussocky verge with traffic whizzing past at 60mph even if it’s only for a few minutes. As soon as I could I got off the road and back on to the line of the railway to Linnie and Muckernich. To avoid the A832 I had considered taking a cross country route from Kilcoy to pass north of Tore, but the A9 is a major east/west barrier. It has scissored through the roads and paths that used to link the communities on either side. On most of the old routes you can’t even get down to the road. The only accessible crossing point is on the cycle track just south of the Tore roundabout so that’s where I headed next. Then I cut back to the line of the railway past Cotterton and Redburn Muir to Littleburn. From there a short walk through Hill o’Hirdie Wood brought me to Munlochy.
From Munlochy I had to make a loop to the north to get to Rosehaugh without walking on the main road. Just beyond Pink Lodge I followed a small burn into the woods at Matheson’s Croft, which is overgrown but beautiful. At the bottom the wee burn joins the much larger Killen Burn. I needed to take my boots off to get across; the water was deliciously icy. The crossing place looks like an old ford but it’s not marked on the map. I sat beside the burn and ate a sandwich while my feet dried, with little brown frogs hopping round me in the grass. A magical spot, but I didn’t try kissing the frogs.
A walk through the beautiful Rosehaugh woods along the high drive, stopping for a short chat with a friendly and vocal pet sheep, brought me to the last section of the railway route between Avoch and Fortrose.
Avoch & Ord Hill
It’s worth walking this pleasant path just to have a look at the Culloden stone, although the view across the Moray Firth to Culloden is hidden by the trees at this time of year. By this time I was counting the steps to the Fortrose Café where I daydreamed in the garden for half an hour with a cappuccino (obligatory) and fruit scone (of course).
While I could still lever myself out of the chair, and re-energised by caffeine and cake, I pressed on to Fairy Glen. It was busy with families enjoying a Sunday walk so I hurried through to the Eathie road and cut up through Flowerburn Wood to Callachy Hill. Here it was peaceful in the afternoon sunshine with bees and butterflies on the wildflowers and glorious views across the Moray Firth. From the main Learnie cycle track it was then road walking for much of the way home. The road was quiet though and it’s wooded as far as Eathie. I was lucky enough to see a wildcat here a few years ago, not far from the road. At this point I swapped my boots for sandals for the easy walking ahead. Fresh air on the toes was very welcome!
After Eathie the views opened up to the Cromarty and Moray Firths on either side. It was beginning to get a bit hazy and cool down as the breeze had gone round to the north. The North and South Sutors were now in sight: home wasn’t far away. You can’t see Cromarty itself until you get down to it because it’s hidden below the level of the raised beach and by a belt of woodland. I passed the squealing pigs at Eathie Mains and on down into the densely wooded ravine of Eathie Burn.
Home at last
Not far past Navity I turned off on to the American road (there are various theories about the origin of this name), the track that leads to Cromarty Mains. Then a field of carrots, a field of barley, a field of tatties and I was almost back in Cromarty. In the tattie field I met my daughter heading in the opposite direction with the dogs. It was 6 o’clock, and 10 hours had been my minimum time estimate for the walk, including stops, so she was surprised to see me: “Are you finished already? Can you take this bag of dog poo back with you?”. Not quite the welcome I’d expected but I couldn’t complain as she’d ordered pizza and given me some new pyjamas as well as the early morning lift. A hot shower, glass of red wine and dinner from Sutor Creek were the perfect end to a really enjoyable day.
The best bit though was the generous support for the fundraising effort. Thank you very much to everyone who contributed to the total of over £1100. Special thanks to the Californian friend with Highland roots who put in $100.
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I cobbled together this route from bits and pieces across the Black Isle that I already knew. I’m not so familiar with the area west of the A9, so that part took a couple of advance exploratory walks to sort out. There are ways round the A9 problem but they involve adding mileage, making it less viable as a single day walk. Most of it is straightforward walking; the challenge in this case was length rather than difficulty. The Black Isle has a wonderful combination of wildlife, landscape, historical interest and friendly communities. Exploring it is a pleasure and even a short walk armed with OS Explorer 432 will take you to places of interest and beauty. I recommend it.