From the second closest, to the furthest away ground we will visit on our travels. Having being bogged down with man flu for the previous 2 days I was hardly in the greatest of spirits when Jamie, our driver for the day, arrived at our flat for a 9am start. However the thought of an enjoyable journey through some of Scotland's most picturesque scenery and a Highland derby in Dingwall when we arrived was enough to put me in good spirits for the day ahead.
The epic trip saw us quickly leave the grey clouds and drizzle of Glasgow behind us, on to Balloch and beyond. The winding roads round Loch Lomond were bathed in autumnal oranges and browns with Ben Lomond peeking mysteriously through the low lying clouds of the early morning. Jamie, having previously worked in the area, was able to give us a guided tour as we drifted past power stations, pubs and possible floating roads ( I kid you not). As the A82 meandered on we witnessed a tree growing out of rock and the vast expansiveness of the Rannoch Moors before a brief break at The Green Welly Stop.
The sun was slowly emerging (and the temperature dropping) as we re-commenced our great adventure into the wilds of Scotland with the wonder that is Glen Coe our next port of call. I hadn't been to this area for around 15 years and I had forgotten just how jaw-droppingly spectacular the mountain range is. The snow tipped Three Sisters loomed ominously over the lush valley and we just had to stop to drink in the incredible views. I may not be the most patriotic person but something does stir inside when you get the fleeting opportunities to enjoy such wonderful landscapes on days like this. To be fair though we had just passed Sir Jimmy Saville's house and that was pretty cool too (although the Top of the Pops legend didn't appear to be home, probably out jogging somewhere).
By the time we reached Fort William the sun had firmly taken its place in the clearing skies and we paused for some nourishment at a local bar. Suitably replenished we began the next leg of the trip. Ben Nevis quickly came into sight - the snowy capped mountain dominating the skyline in the distance and Kieran I think was up to picture number 243 on his camera by this point. Then came perhaps the only disappointment of the day. We drove past the wide open waters of Loch Ness but just as the three of us spotted something mysterious gliding through the loch and popping its dinosaur-like head above the water the camera jammed and we missed it. Och well - win some lose some. Kieran's phone did manage to work however and it cleverly pointed out a 'short cut' through to Dingwall. Sort of.
We arrived at Dingwall around 2.20, nearly 5 hours after we had set off. By now the temperature had dropped another few degrees but it was a gorgeous afternoon. We joined the mass throngs of Highlanders slowly making their way over the bridge and down towards Victoria Park. The game itself almost promised to be a classic - two sides separated only by a few miles and just a couple of places in a titanic title battle that Division One has been serving up. The ground itself is a tight little park with stands on two sides and terracing behind each goal. We took our place in 'The Jail End', home of the Ross County barmy army with the atmosphere already reaching fever pitch. Unfortunately my stomach couldn't quite face a pie but after a bite of Kieran's I think it made the right choice. The Bovril on the other hand was perfectly fine.
The teams emerged to a packed house of over 5,000 expectant fans. County had won the previous encounter earlier in the season and the home side set their stall out quickly, hoping to repeat that previous glory. On 18 minutes they won a free kick some 35 yards out. The left back, Scott Morrison, stepped up and hit a ferocious rocket shot which cannoned spectacularly off the underside of the bar but Scott Boyd was there to put The Staggies 1 up with a rebound header. If the County fans were happy with that then they were delirious just two minutes later when Morrison tore down the left hand side and fired a superb cross into the box for Michael Gardyne to power home. At this point County looked like they were ready to inflict some severe punishment on their Northern rivals but Caley swept back into the game and missed several guilt-edge chances.
County fans, sensing this was shaping up to be their day, took delight in reminding Inverness manager Terry Butcher of the horrors of World Cup 86 and a certain Maradona. However their nerves were tested towards the end when Caley won a penalty with just 8 minutes to go. Rooney's spot kick was saved but he netted the rebound. There was some more anxiety for the home fans with Caley piling on late pressure but they failed to level and County eked out the crucial win. It had been an intriguing game as County seemed unsure just how to play the game after they went 2 up and both defences looking equally susceptible under attack. Perhaps the only conclusion we could draw was that County looked slightly more ready to provide a serious title bid.
We began our journey back to Glasgow as dusk fell. After some fish n chips in Aviemore and some star gazing in the night sky (it's amazing just how much you miss that when living in the bright lights of Glasgow) we arrived back around 9.30. It had been an epic journey, one that truly justified why we are taking up this trek round this wonderful country.
Journey - 10
Pie - 2
Bovril - 6
Ground - 6
Game - 6
Photo note: The aptly named Jail End really does feel like somewhere between an 18th century transport ship and a prison riot - in a good way. In terms of a view of the pitch however, it's not so great. So in the absence of the usual pictures of footballers in silly poses, we've just added a few postcards of our day