313. Bettyhill to Kyle of Tongue

October 2017

This was my first full day in Scotland (of a 5 day trip) having done only a short walk the previous day due to the time it takes me to get from home to this part of Scotland. For this walk I was heading between the Kyle of Tongue and Bettyhill. Logistically this is a tricky walk since there is a only a bus service between these two 3 times a week (on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). So I was doing this walk on a Thursday when the bus is running.

I drove from my hotel in Thurso to the Kyle of Tongue where I parked at the picnic site part way along the causeway, since there didn’t seem anywhere else suitable. There was no one else there and I was glad no one saw me get out of the car because I was having a bit of “car embarrassment” on this trip. I had booked a hire car with Europcar at Inverness Airport as part of the flight booking (as you got a good discount) and as usual selected the smallest car (group A), which was listed as Fiat 500 or similar. I had done the same on previous trips but always ended up with a larger car (often a Vauxhall Corsa). This time I did get a Fiat 500. Unfortunately I knew there was a problem when the women serving me when getting the keys, muttered “oh dear” and her face fell. I asked what the problem was. The answer was that “it’s the colour – it says it’s pink”. She promised to see if she could find me another car and went to speak to a manager. Unfortunately it was bad news. This car was the only one in Group A they had left. I could have a different car (in Group B) if I deemed it not suitable, but I would have to pay a supplement for the “upgrade” if so. I decided to go and take a look. Well it was not the shocking pink I feared it might me. More a pinky shade of red I felt. Here it is, at the Kyle of Tongue.

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So by now you’ll have realised that I wasn’t prepared to pay the upgrade. I just had to hope no one saw me getting in or out, to save the embarrassment (though I could tell from the history of the devices that had been “docked” via bluetooth to the car stereo I was not the only male driver to have had this car).

I then headed back along the causeway and followed the main road west to Tongue a short distance to the Kyle of Tongue Youth Hostel (this is marked on the map as Tongue Lodge). This is the point the bus was listed as starting it’s journey from (except on Saturday when it runs through from Durness). The next bit of confusion was that the bus is listed as starting at 10:20 if it’s a schoolday and 10:10 if it’s the school holidays and I wasn’t sure which it was today. A quick Google gave me the local term dates and confirmed that it wasn’t a school holiday.

I had allowed more time than needed to get here so once I had found the Youth Hostel I headed back a short distance down the road where I could stand by the waters edge and enjoy the view rather than stick to the road outside the Youth Hostel. The Kyle of Tongue was an incredibly beautiful place.

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

When it was around 10am, I headed back up to stand outside the Youth Hostel, which seemed very quiet. It was not a great place to stand since there was nowhere to wait that wasn’t either in the car park of the youth hostel or in the road. 10:10 came and went and no sign of a bus. But at 10:15 what I initially thought was a van (but turned out to be a Ford Transit mini bus) headed towards me and it was only when I saw the “803” board in the bottom of the windscreen did I realise this was in fact the bus, so I flagged it down. I did wonder where it had come from, since it seemed an odd place for the bus to go into service.

I was the only passenger and the driver seemed surprised to have anyone on board at all. Despite the fact I had got on at the place listed as a stop in the timetable (and the place the bus begins it’s journey from), he decided it was not safe to stop on the road here to issue me a ticket, so suggested he’d drive on to the centre of Tongue and issue me a ticket there. This he duly did. Another confusing aspect of this bus route is that according tot he timetable, it serves Skerray only if it is the school holiday. It wasn’t, but the driver went that way anyway. It was a bit of a preview of my walk since I would be following the same roads we were driving over! It took about 35 minutes to reach Bettyhill during which no one else got on or off, so I was the only passenger for the entire journey.

Having been a little nevervous about the bus journey I was glad to arrive in Bettyhill (where the driver continued with the now empty bus) with the rest of the day ahead to walk back to the Kyle of Tongue. Bettyhill felt a bigger place than it really was. I guess this area is so remote that these small villages still serve as a bit of a centre, with a secondary school, shop, police station and hotel amongst the facilities. I stopped to use the toilet and the began my walk.

I initially followed the A836 which soon gives me a wonderful view of the sandy beach of Torssidale Bay ahead of me.

The River Naver

This is where I want to be – but there is a problem – the river Naver, which separates me from the beach. It is too wide and deep to cross directly so I need to head to the nearest bridge which is about a mile further inland. I could try and cut across fields but I don’t see the point as the road is so close to the waters edge and although an A-road there is little traffic (stretches of it are only single-track anyway). It’s a pleasant walk and it is rather beautiful. The river seems, oddly, to get wider as I head further south.

The River Naver

I stop at a viewpoint to take a photo where a car pulls up and the occupants do the same.

The River Naver

 

Soon the road heads down to the bridge. I’m not sure what I was expecting really – but it wasn’t this.

The River Naver

What I see is an ugly bridge that looks more like a rail bridge than a road bridge and only wide enough for one car at a time. I cross and continue along the road for another couple of hundred metres to the turning for Invernaver.

The River Naver

The River Naver

This is a small village on a dead-end road. I follow this to the centre of the village (a hamlet, really) and continue broadly towards the estuary. I’m not 100% sure where to go so am pleased to find a gate that has a sign pointing that it is the way to the beach. Ah good. This takes me into a grassy field where there is no obvious path. I head towards a derelict and abandoned house by the river. I find a lot of abandoned houses around this northern part of Scotland though this one looks to have been more recently abandoned.

I headed behind the house and found a pebble and shingle beach. This was hard going because it was a mixture of large pebbles and small rocks. But to my left were large gorse bushes so there seemed little alternative.

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Soon this widened and I came into a little sandy bay where water had just retreated, with high hills behind. I walked across this.

Torrisdale Bay

There was a stream flowing out over the sand but the water was shallow enough I could just step through and keep dry feet. At the other end of this little bay I came to a strange area. A sort of sand dune island. It was clearly once home to a community because there were all sorts of cairns, stone circles and enclosures marked on the map but I could see none of that from the beach. Rather than try to climb onto the dunes I went around to the right where I was back next to the river Naver and the rough pebbly beach.

Torrisdale Bay

Soon the shingle and pebbles began to give way to sand and I could make quicker progress.

Torrisdale Bay

Soon I was at the beautiful sandy beach I had seen earlier, but it had taken a while to get here.

Torrisdale Bay

Over an hour since I left Bettyhill and I was about 300 metres away (as the crow flies)! Still it was then a lovely walk west along the beach. There was no one here. In fact there was not even any sign anyone had been here as there were no footprints in the sand.

Torrisdale Bay

Torrisdale Bay

Part way along the beach there were some small rocks but I was (just) able to go in front of them as the tide was going out.

Torrisdale Bay

At the other end of the beach was another river, this one the River Borgie. I knew I would again have to head inland here to get around it but at least this one had a footbridge marked.

Torrisdale Bay

The scenery was spectacular with high rocky and gorse covered cliffs with a few houses in front of them. I couldn’t find the exact way to go so simply turned inland along the sand close to the river. As I got further south the land became a bit boggy and muddy rather than sand so I followed close by the edge of the river.

Marshes by the river Borgie

As I got closer I could pick up the path which was a bit muddy in places but mostly good and there were even some areas of board walk. To my right now was an area of marsh land criss-crossed with all sorts of little water channels.

Marshes by the river Borgie

Marshes by the river Borgie

Marshes by the river Borgie

Marshes by the river Borgie

There were a couple of smaller bridges over these and then just as I was beginning to lose faith I would find it, I found the larger footbridge over the main water channel hidden behind trees so I did not see it until I was almost there.

Marshes by the river Borgie

I crossed this and then headed up steps to the road, where a campervan was parked (these get everywhere in northern Scotland).

The River Borgie

The River Borgie

On reaching the road I turned right. It was only a minor single-track road with little traffic.

Torrisdale Bay

The road headed downhill towards Airdtorrisdale. I had to pass a few BT workmen doing work to install fibre broadband. It is nice to see this is finally happening in remote areas. I passed their van and continued along the road.

Torrisdale Road

The road on this side is all single-track and the crash barrier is painted alternatively with white then black rectangles, making it look a bit like part a grand-prix circuit!

Torrisdale Bay

A short distance ahead I came to a small car park and a minor bridge over the stream. I was amused to see the bus stop here, that I had passed earlier had basically been taken over by someone as their own green house!

Bus shelter greenhouse

Sadly drizzle began now but I continued along the road passed a small cemetery. Here I could fork right on the minor road to Airdtorrisdale, but it stretches only for a couple of hundred metres before ending, so I decided to just continue ahead towards Achtoy. I passed the lovely old telephone box with an old blue and white enamel “telephone” sign post on the adjacent lamp post, it did feel like this part of Scotland had not changed for years! Just passed this I came to the odd tin-roofed church.

Achtoty church

It looked more Nordic to me and I was surprised how big it was for such a small place. It did not look in good condition but was I think still in use. Just beyond it I came to a footpath sign pointing right.

Well that was nearer the coast, so why not. I followed this rather awkward path up through the trees and towards the gorse where it improved. Soon it was a track above the houses of the village and nearer to the coast, though still out of sight of the sea.

Achtoty

I followed this behind the houses and at some sort of farm I was a bit confused as I had put the map away because of the rain and thought this was now a road. As I did so I found a signed footpath heading north towards Port an Fheadairigaig. So I followed this. It was initially muddy and boggy but soon improved and bought me down to a pleasant little rocky beach.

Port an Fheadairigaig

At the end of the path when it reached the coast there was a stile onwards. I used this as a handy seat to have lunch before I crossed it!

Once I had eaten I continued onwards over the stile. Initially the path was steep but soon it descended down to almost sea level. To my right is Coomb Island. Now un-inhabited it was clearly once lived on but isn’t now. (It’s the land beyond the sea, as it’s not entirely obvious from the photo below that is an island).

The beach at Skerray

The beach at Skerray

I believe monks used to live there but in more recent years it has only be used to graze sheep but this does not happen anymore either. It looked rather nice and soon I was able to follow a good grassy path just behind the pebble beach.

The beach at Skerray

The beach at Skerray

I could continue on this around the corner to the beach at Skerray. This was a small little bay but had a little harbour and wall at the far end with a couple of small boats moored up.

Skerray

The beach at Skerray

A sign told me seals could often be seen on the beach, but there weren’t any today. I walked along the beach to the harbour wall.

Skerray Harbour

I walked up to this hoping to find an onwards footpath behind the wall, but there wasn’t one. So I either had to turn inland along roads or find my own way. I opted for the latter. It looked like a few people had made it up onto the cliffs behind the harbour wall but it was too steep for me. So I followed the steps a little further along the wall onto the top of it and then found my way over the rough moorland. There was a sort of sheep track for a while and I had thought it might be a fairly easy walk to Lamigo ahead.

Skerray Harbour

Neave Island

But soon I came to a a steep almost cave ahead, with a narrow inlet of sea water, so I had to head right up and over this as it was too dangerous to try to cross at sea level.

Near Clashbuie

This was quite a tiring climb. At the top I got a beautiful view over Lamigo but it was tricky trying to find a way back down as the bank was very steep and the ground a bit damp.

Near Clashbuie

Lamigo Bay

Lamigo Bay

Once down I was able to follow a track around to Skerray where I joined the road. But after only a short distance there was a path on the right which I could follow over the moors. This climbed up over the moors and then descended down to a wooden footbridge over the river.

Near Skerray

I followed this but once over the bridge there was no obvious path other than into someones garden, so I had to go left over the rough ground behind the houses to reach the road behind.

Skerray

Here I could turn right and just before the end of the road take a footpath off to the left over the moorland. I was doing well for footpaths today!

Near Skerray

This passed a couple of small lochans. The path was variable sometimes good, sometimes a boggy mess.

Near Skerray

Near Sletell

Rabbit Islands

Near Sletell

Sletell

But after about ¾ of a mile I reached the abandoned village of Sletell.

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There had clearly once been a small settlement here but now the houses were all roofless and the walls falling down. Despite this the grass was quite short suggesting someone still came here (or perhaps just grazed sheep here). There was a small lochan here and a stream. The latter proved more tricky to cross than I expected but once over I headed down to the shingle beach.

The beach at Sletell

I stopped here for a rest. I now had to head just over a mile south to the end of the pubic road at Scullomie, along open moorland with no track or path marked and I was not looking forward to it. Thankfully, as often seemed to be the case there was a bit of a path but I suspect it was worn by sheep rather than people.

Between Scullomie and Sletell

It undulated over the moorland and at times I had a choice of paths or found I was on a higher path further from the coast than I might have liked.

Between Scullomie and Sletell

Between Scullomie and Sletell

As I rounded the corner I soon had a lovely view of the Kyle of Tongue.

Near Scullomie

I gained increasing amounts of height not really by choice but it was where the path went.

Scullomie

The views were lovely, but it was a relief when the buildings of Scullomie came into view. I headed down into the valley here towards the houses where I reached a small bridge and then a gate onto a track. Well to be honest I wasn’t quite sure if it was someones gardens or not and worse I could see someone was out in the garden of the first house.

Fortunately he turned out to be welcoming and asked me what it was like walking over the moors today because the weather was not good but I had still enjoyed it. I was relieved though to reach tarmac ahead and be back on the public road. I followed this out of Scullomie setting dogs barking in one houses.

Near Coldbackie

As the road turned to the left I found the path I was hoping to take on the right, heading down to Strathtongue Burn. I followed the path over moorland and gorse and soon entered the trees where there was a good path.

Near Coldbackie

I crossed the river via the footbridge and climbed back up the other side to the main road. There was briefly a pavement as I passed through the village of Coldbackie, which is only a dozen or so houses along the main road. Soon the pavement ended again and I continued on the road with a nice sandy beach just below to my right.

Coldbackie Beach

I continued along the road to round the corner into Rhitongue and descended towards a small settlement marked as Woodend.

Woodend

Here the houses were on a loop road off the main road which I followed in preference to the main road. At the end was a small parking area and then I could follow a narrow road off to the right. The road layout here is odd. The main road, the A838 turns to head inland for more than a mile to the village of Tongue, then turns steeply back north for another mile to return to the coast. But a small road links these two parts of the main road, a handy shortcut. I presume this was once the main road but it had been by-passed but it was not too bad and a shorter route. I passed no traffic and soon was alongside the Kyle of Tongue.

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

Here I could continue along the minor road with Tongue House to my left largely out of sight to the old house and pier.

The Kyle of Tongue

This pier (above) was once used for a passenger ferry over the Kyle of Tongue before the causeway was opened. Traffic had to drive all around the Kyle but now this is no longer needed after the causeway opened in the 1970s.

The Kyle of Tongue

I could then follow this minor road around the edge of the Kyle to the junction with the A838 and follow this back to the picnic spot on the causeway where my car was parked.

This had been a lovely walk and I was pleased to be able to follow more footpaths than expected and the stretches over the open moors had not been too bad either. The scenery had been lovely and extremely varied too. In fact given how good it was I surprised to see so few people. It had been hard going though and had taken longer than expected, so I stopped for a quick drink before driving back to Thurso where I was staying. I managed to do the single-track sections of the A-road before it got dark but the rest of the way it was dark and it was a tiring drive over the twisty turny road at night. I was glad to be make it back to the “bright lights” of Thurso.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Durness Bus /Far North Bus (they seem to use both names) route 803 : Durness (Saturday only) – Laid (Saturday only) – Eriboll Farm (Saturday only) – Kyle of Tongue Youth Hostel – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie Bridge – Bettyhill – Aramadale Road End – Strathy Inn – Portskerra – Halladale Inn – Reay – Isauld Bridge – Shebster – Bridge of Westfield – Janetstown – Thurso. One bus per day in each direction on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday only. It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Kyle of Tongue and Bettyhill.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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312. Lednagullin (Armadale Bay) to Bettyhill

October 2017

This was a varied and interesting walk through some beautiful scenery and lovely beaches.

I was staying in Thurso so after breakfast at my hotel I drove west to Bettyhill, taking around 50 minutes.  Although the whole way was along A-roads the last couple of miles along the A836 is all single track with passing places. I do find it odd how a road that in most of the country would be a country lane (and unclassified) qualifies as an A-road in this part of Scotland (though a lot of A-roads are single track in the north of Scotland). This meant I had to drive past my end point for the days walk, but the reason I did it this way around is there is only a one bus a day each way between Armadale and Bettyhill (and even then, only on weekdays). It is basically the “workers bus” to Dounreay and so I planned to catch it on it’s journey back west (as the morning journey is at around 7am) which meant I had to walk to a deadline, since if I missed this bus my only option was a taxi (if I could find one) or to walk back. Hence I had allowed plenty of time for this walk!

I parked in the car park beside the A836 in Bettyhill. Before I started the walk I headed down the road further west a short distance to enjoy the fine views over the beach of Torrisdale Bay. As I had discovered on a previous walk (that I did, not that I wrote up) this is not actually so easy to reach, but it is lovely once you do.

I returned to the car park and then turned left just past the car park onto the minor road through the village heading downhill. I realised that whilst Bettyhill is a small place, because of it’s remoteness, it still has quite a few facilities which you wouldn’t expect in such a small place ordinarily – a secondary school, a car repair garage and a shop. At the church at the end of the road, I turned right. This soon bought me back to the A836 but just at the junction there was a path to the left through a gate which I followed down to a stream and emerging onto the lovely sands of Farr beach. The path emerges by a stream that flows out onto the beach.

Farr Beach, Bettyhill

I needed to turn right so I had to cross the stream but there were stones and pebbles that meant I could step across and keep my feet dry (or at least, that is what my notes from 2017 say …. the map and Google earth shows a bridge so no idea why I didn’t use it….). This was a beautiful sandy beach backed by dunes, the sort I’ve not seen for a while! It was lovely to walk along the sand by the waves to the far end of the beach and it was only me and a dog walker on the beach.

Farr Beach, Bettyhill

Farr Beach, Bettyhill

At the far end of the beach I headed back to the dunes to pick up a track that was marked on the map. I soon found it and followed it uphill and away from the beach.

Farr Beach, Bettyhill

As I approached some farm buildings near Clerkhill the path came to a gate and seemed to end, but there was a large sign “footpath to beach” pointing the way I had come, but no indication of the way to go ahead. Just a load of gates I couldn’t open. So I followed a stream alongside a fence towards the coast then had to climb another fence and found a rough path just outside the fences along the shore line.

Once on the shore I followed the rough and tussocky grass along the cliff top, but I was glad I did as it was a spectacular stretch of coast.

Near Farr

The coast near Farr

This took me to another farm at the end of the road to Farr. The farm was not much of a farm – it mostly seemed to consists of a huge collection of abandoned vehicles dumped at the end of the track on the cliff tops. I went through the gate here and walked through the gap that had been left between these cars but it ended at a field gate, taking me the wrong way. Instead I turned back and walked through the farm yard. I know your not supposed to do this under the Scottish access laws, but I could not see another way other than climbing fences and there was no one about.

Glad to be clear of the farm and back on the public road I turned inland along it. I considered trying to walk out to the headland of Ard Farr, but the only route I could see to reach it was back at that farm, and I didn’t want to go back there and I was also worried how long it would take, mindful of the need to catch my bus later in the day. So I missed it out, since there was no path, and stuck to the minor road through Farr.

I followed this for about 1 mile to the junction with the dead-end road to Swordly. Here I turned left along it. The road was signed as a dead-end, but looking at the map I was hopeful of a way through to the other dead-end road leading to the eastern side of the road since there seemed to be a track marked on the map that connected the two dead-end roads.

Swordly

I headed down the road but nearing the end it was sometimes tricky to know which track was the road and which a private drive. As the road looped round I could also see workmen doing work on one of the houses and a digger. This is bad news because when lost and potentially climbing over fences, the last thing I want is people around to see me (or telling me that I can’t!). However just before the house I spotted a “path” sign pointing right on a track. This headed down past the house where the workmen were, but at least I knew there was a proper path. They were digging up the road in front of it, but did stop and let me pass. The track descended down to another couple of houses and then came to a gate.

I went through it, but the track became narrow, overgrown and boggy. I managed to get a wet foot in one of the boggy areas (for which I was grateful my hotel room had a hair-dryer later!). This wasn’t quite the track I had expected from the map, which suggested a vehicle wide track (to parallel lines). If a vehicle had been down here, it had been a very long time ago! However as I neared the end of the gorse bushes, the path emerged to an area with sheep grazing and there was a footbridge over a stream. Then a gravel track leading to a road.

I was confused now. What I was seeing didn’t seem to match up with the map. I should reach the end of the road, not end up part way along a road. I got the GPS out and realised the track I’d followed wasn’t the one I thought it was. I though a track had joined up the very ends of the roads. Perhaps it did, but it wasn’t where I went – I had turned right earlier and followed a more narrow footpath over the ford and footbridge further south from Swordly than I had realised.

I could see it on the map now so I could see what i’d done. So I’d actually emerged further south on the next road than I had realised, which meant I only had to follow it about 50 metres or so to reach what I hoped was a footpath linking it to the minor road to Kirtomy. So I was pleased that when I reached the point I thought the path should leave there was a proper footpath sign, signing me to “Kirtomy, 1.25km”.

Things were going well now. The path was a fairly wide stony track heading steeply uphill.

Track descending to Kirtomy

At the top more sheep were grazing but they ran out of the way and I emerged to the road. Kirtomy looked a pretty village in an attractive valley.

Kirtomy

Here I had a choice to make about my onward route. Between Kirtomy and Armadale there is nothing but open moorland. A path heads part way over the moor, but comes to an abrupt end in the middle. So my options were the more coastal route over the moors – but with no path or track I’d have to make my own way, which might be hard. Or I could take the east but dull option, to head inland to the A836 and follow this A-road the rest of the way.

I checked the time and realised I had plenty of time. I had a little over 4 hours before that all important bus. I suspected if I took the road route it would take me a little over 90 minutes. Then I’d have 2 and a half hours to wait for the bus! So I decided to try my luck with the moorland route. I had enough time to turn back if it wasn’t possible.

So I turned left and followed the road through the village and turned right to follow the road over the bridge to cross the river that has formed the valley. From here the road turned left, back towards the coast and gained height. Somewhere on the right was the track that started out over the moorland. All the ones I passed looked like private drives and checking the GPS I soon realised I’d gone a bit too far north. So I turned back and took the only track it could be, which did look private but was the only option. However it took me close to a house but not through the garden, so it is OK and then I could join the track heading up onto the moor.

I followed it, passing the remains of a few bits of farm equipment. I was gaining height now with a lovely view back over the coast.

Kirtomy

I followed the track up for a while and as it felt like I was near the top, I turned left, off the the track to follow the rough line of stones. Most of the time there was no real path. Occasionally I’d come across something that looked like it might be a sheep track, but it would soon fade to nothing. As I neared the sea I turned right to reach the top and turn right down onto the moor ahead.

The coast near Kirtomy

There was no main path but I could see a few tracks ahead (or so I thought). But first I had to get down the almost rocky cliffs.

Moorland between Armadale and Kirtomy

I made my way down with difficultly. As I thought I was nearing the bottom I slipped on a rock that had water flowing over it and had become incredibly slippery, it had looked like grass to me, so I hadn’t expected it. I didn’t hurt myself, but I realised I had to take more care.

Soon the rocky areas ended and then it was more boggy marsh. I kept having to jump over boggy areas and little streams, at time having to double back. I soon realised the “paths” I had seen above were actually the streams! I needed to head for the rocks ahead where the land climbed where it would be firmer underfoot.

Moorland between Armadale and Kirtomy

I made my way slowly and carefully. I had to find my way over a little stream but found a spot where it was narrow enough to jump over and continued until at the edge of the rocks, stopped for lunch.

The main reason for stopping here is that out on the top it had become incredibly windy, but the slope of the rocks provided a bit of shelter from the wind. It was a nice rest for lunch and I wondered when someone was last here. I could see no signs anyone had been here for a long time, no tracks or footprints, no fences or buildings. As a result, I was making slow progress.

After lunch I continued up over the rocks, but had a problem at the other side. It was so steep to get down the other side it was not safe to walk, or even climb really. I had learnt how slippery some of the rocks were. It was beautiful, though.

Moorland between Armadale and Kirtomy

On the map I had seen a few buildings marked at Poulouriscaig. I could now see this, the greener areas where fields had (once) been, but now the buildings were all ruined. I figured the village must have had some sort of better access to roads, so I needed to get down there, but it was too steep. So I had to turn to the right and follow the ridge as it gradually got lower until I judged the gradient to my left was gentle enough I could safely get down.

I made it down, but now it was really boggy everytime I left the edge of the of the rocks. Eventually rather than keep starting out and heading back, I would have to go for it. So I continued straight ahead but did end up with damp feet. Ahead I could see another area of rocks and opted to go right of this, where there was a small lake.

Moorland between Armadale and Kirtomy

I went past this and came to a larger one ahead. I realised I was now south of the remains of Poulouriscaig but if I could just get past this second lake (loch) a track was marked on the map.

Moorland between Armadale and Kirtomy

Moorland between Armadale and Kirtomy

I first tried to go around to the right of the loch but it soon became to boggy and difficult. I headed back and tried the left side. Here I could just make it around without stepping in the lake. I then had another stream to cross, which I managed to eventually find a safe crossing point for. Then beyond that I finally found the track that was marked on the map.

Moorland between Armadale and Kirtomy

It was feint and quite narrow but I could at least see footprints in the mud. Someone else had been here! I was relieved about that and stopped for a drink again. I could see from the map this track would take me, in just over a mile, to the end of the road at Armadale. The track proved fairly easy a bit boggy in places, but much better than the open moor.

Lochan Tiormachd

Crossing the moor had taken me almost 2 hours! So I was glad of the track. After a while I even began to spot wooden posts with arrows on – yes a proper footpath. It seems this is another of those dead-end footpaths, but at least footprints and footpath signs meant I was confident I would get through. I had to descend into two more valleys, both with streams and both ran over the track, but in both cases the rocks and pebbles provided stepping stones over the water. I was soon coming up over the hill into Armadale where cows grazing on the track seemed surprised to see me here and reluctant to move.

Soon I could see buildings just to the left, at Port a Chinn. I followed the track now down to the road at Armadale. It was nice to be back on tarmac (not something I say often!). Here I could turn right along the road to the junction where there was a seat at what I wondered might be a bus shelter (but no buses, now) where I stopped for another rest.

The road offered lovely views over Armadale Bay just to my left.

Near Armadale

I continued down the road to what was marked as a picnic spot on the map and I footpath down towards the beach. I found this, or at least the path, but there was no sign of a picnic spot. The path headed steeply down steps and then into an overgrown and boggy valley, but I could see it was at least used. Emerging at the bottom I followed the edge of the stream to reach the edge of the beach at Armadale. It is such a beautiful beach I was surprised to find how difficult the access was, I would have thought the people leaving nearby would like to get onto it.

The beach at Armadale

Having negotiated the path I was onto the beach, but now had a river to cross. It might have been possible to pick my way across the water on pebbles, but I decided to just take my shoes and socks off and walk through.

This was a wonderful beach. Beautiful sand and dunes and the sea was now quite rough making that wonderful roar I hadn’t heard since Cornwall!

The beach at Armadale

The beach at Armadale

The beach at Armadale

Once onto the beach proper I stopped to check the map. Last time I was here I had ended my walk on the A836 at the end of the road to Cnoc Seonaid/Lednagullin, a bit further east of this beach. So I wanted to get back there to join my walks up. In theory I could catch the bus from the end of that road too, but as I had remembered there was no visible bus stop there and I had enough time, I decided to walk there, then return to the end of the road in Armadale, where I knew there was a bus stop (and shelter) to catch the bus. I didn’t want to risk waiting somewhere for the bus that wasn’t a “proper” stop and have it go past without stopping, not when there is only 1 a day!

The beach at Armadale

The beach at Armadale

So I continued along the beach soon reaching the second, wider stream.

The beach at Armadale

The beach at Armadale

I followed this to the end of the beach. There wasn’t much sand on the beach beyond this second stream which seemed to flow almost to the end of the beach. I also realised the tide was coming in fast, and there was now only a short bit of sand between the dunes and the sea. I made my way across the stream and at the far end of the beach there was no obvious path.

The beach at Armadale

Instead I climbed up the very steep grassy cliffs. It was hard going and I soon regretted it. It was steep and if I fell, it was quite far to fall back onto the beach where the tide was rapidly coming up. Thankfully the gradient soon eased up and I was safe from falling back down. Now I had reached more level ground I had another problem in how to reach the road. Between me and it were numerous fences and roads. Many of the buildings were ruined, but unfortunately the fences weren’t (how Scottish farmers love barbed-wire topped fences). There were houses nearby so I had to be careful to not damage the fences climbing them and try to choose a route that would avoid having to enter anywhere that might be a garden. Eventually I made it east of the last house at Lednagullin. The road was just to the right now but there was a low dry-stone wall and a wire fence between me and it. But I managed to find a point I could step over the wall and climb the fence to the road! Back to the tarmac again, at last!

On reaching the end of the road to Lednagullin I had joined up with the walks from when I was last here, which felt good and I also had a lovely view of the beach.

The beach at Armadale

Now I just had to return to Armadale. I wasn’t going to go back the way I came! Instead I turned right and walked the short distance to the A836, joining up to where I ended my last walk beside the phone box at this junction. Now beside the A836 I turned right. The road was busier than I expected (and hoped) so the walk was not that pleasant. At the bottom of the valley was a little picnic spot where I stopped for a quick rest. Originally I had planned this to be just a rest stop but I could see a “FB” (footbridge) marked on the map ahead. I decided instead to follow the track from the picnic area into some scurbland between the river and the fields. Hay bails had been wrapped in plastic and piled here and I soon came to the footbridge. I didn’t cross it (I needed to be on this side) so continued ahead and found a rough track ahead to the tops of the dunes.

Erosion meant the dunes were almost a “sand cliff” so it took me a while to find a suitable way to get back down to the beach. Once I did I turned left and sat at the back of the dunes for a while. If I headed straight to the bus stop I would have a about 40 minutes to wait. So I stayed on the beach for another 20 minutes or so, as it was a nicer place to wait.

The beach at Armadale

I then returned over the beach and back up the path I had used earlier to Armadale, then turned left to reach the bus stop at the end of the road, where it joined the main road.

This was out of the wind, which had become really strong (the bus shelter even had a little door, suggesting this is quite common)! Although the bus shelter was not right on the main road (it was about 10 metres along the dead-end road to the village), I could see the main road which twisted and turned ahead to get around those streams to the beach so I could see the road quite some distance ahead. This meant I should be able to see the bus approaching a couple of minutes before it got here.

The time the bus was due came and went and I was getting nervous. But about 5 minutes after it should have arrived I spotted the familiar colours of a Stagecoach coach heading this way so headed down to the main road. I hailed it and stopped, someone else got off here too and the driver seemed a little surprised that someone got on here! As expected, all the other passengers were in Hi-Vis jackets returning home from work at Douneray. It was nice to have a comfortable coach and I was relieved to have caught this once-a-day bus. It took about 10 minutes to get back to Bettyhill over the moors, it was quite a nice ride, as I couldn’t really sight-see when driving this way myself this morning.

I got off at the toilets in Bettyhill next to the car park, along with all the remaining passengers. To my surprise (as I found on a different day) the coach actually continues down to the bridge over the River Naver and parks up in a small parking area beside the road overnight (and all weekend). I had assumed it would return to a depot in Thurso.

When I got back in my car at Bettyhill it was bouncing around because of the really strong wind! I stopped for a quick drink and then drove back to Thurso, keen to get there before it got dark, because driving over these twisty hilly single-track roads at night is not much fun.

I had really enjoyed this walk. Two lovely beaches and some beautiful stretches of moorland. The terrain had been tough at time and I did wonder if it was a mistake to head over the open moors rather than stick to the road, but I had time to do so and made it, and the scenery was beautiful. I might not be keen to repeat it, but I was glad I had done it.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this bus.

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 274 : Thurso – Forss Business and Technology Park – Dounreay – Isauld – Reay – Melvich – Portskerra Strathy  Armadale – Bettyhill. 1 bus per day, weekdays only (no weekend service). This bus takes 10 minutes to travel between Armadale and Bettyhill.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 803 : Durness (only Saturday) – Laid (only Saturday) – Eriboll Farm (only Saturday) – Kyle of Tongue – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie – Bettyhill – Armadale – Strathy Inn – Portskerra – Halladale – Reay – Isauld – Shebster – Bridge of Westfield – Janetstown – Thurso. 1 bus per day on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday only. The part of the route between Durness and Kyle of Tongue only operates on Saturday. It takes 10 minutes to travel between Armadale and Bettyhill.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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311. Strathy to Lednagullin to Strathy

August 2017

This was the last day of a 5 day trip to the north of Scotland and I was flying home at the end of the day. It was also a Sunday which meant that there are no buses at all on this part of the coast. So instead I planned a circular route around Strathy Head finishing in the oddly named village of Brawl (anyone for a fight?!) where I’d follow the road down tot he A836 and walk back along the A836 (not as bad as it seems since there isn’t much traffic in this remote area). I also had to be mindful that I had to drive down to Inverness at the end of the day in order to return the hire car and get my flight home and I could not be late for that.

I checked out of my none too great hotel in Thurso and drove west to Strathy. I parked in the same little car park by the chapel in Strathy just a few metres off the A836 that I had used earlier in the week.

The map showed that the coast on the eastern side of the headland of Strathy Point was initially mostly fields dotted with houses. I was also concerned some of these fields might in fact turn out to be gardens and in any case there was a valley at Port an Uillt Rudiah which would mean I’d have to had back to the road to get around it. So I decided to stick to the minor road out to Strathy Point initially. There isn’t much on this little peninsula and it’s a minor road, so I didn’t expect much traffic.

I set off along the road and immediately on my left was open moorland so for much of the time I was able to walk on the edge of that, rather than the road. There were distant views to the coast over to my right.

View from the road to Strathy Point

Moorland near Strathy Point

After about 500 metres the road turned off to the left and I was briefly able to follow a path over the moorland right of the road but soon headed back onto the road. The heather on the moor was starting to come into flower and was very pretty and sheep were grazing openly.

Moorland near Strathy Point

I passed the valley on my right for Port an Uillt Ruaidh. I continued on the road but just ahead of here I saw a man head away from a house on one of those horrible scrambler motorbikes over the moors to my left. I had hoped to avoid that kind of behaviour in this remote and beautiful area. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to round up sheep or just riding about on the moorland, but these bikes will quickly turn the moorland to mud and I had to listen to the noisy engine. I was also concerned I’d encounter the bike later when I planned to walk west from Strathy Point, but thankfully he had gone by then.

I reached the further car park near to the lighthouse, which was already full up. I was surprised by that as it was only just after 10am and the weather was not that great. The road continued ahead, but now it was private and there were quite a few people walking. I could see the lighthouse ahead and wasn’t sure if it might be possible to visit it (sadly not). As I headed out to the lighthouse I was now on open moorland and so with no fences to get in the way I turned right off the road just after Toll Egain.

View from Strathy Point

I made my way over to a memorial seat on the coast and then could find a path over the grass towards the lighthouse. That’s better, no more tarmac! And the sheep grazing on the grass meant it was short and easy to walk on.

Ahead I soon got a view of the Loch between me and the lighthouse (Lochan nam Faoileag). I walked on the hill to the right of it, which was now getting quite rocky.

Strathy Point lighthouse

At the top of the hill was some sort of concrete building, probably from World War II. I was able to follow a path right out to the end of the point by the lighthouse and in fact there was an “almost island” linked by a narrow area of rock. I scrambled over these rocks, where upon the terrain became grass again and I could walk out right to the end of the headland.

Strathy Point lighthouse


I was really glad I did, it was a wonderful view. East I could see the coast I think right the way to Cape Wrath and east back to Dunnet Head.

The coast near Strathy Point

The coast near Strathy Point

The coast near Strathy Point

The coast near Strathy Point

The coast near Strathy Point

The geology was stunning with numerous caves and inlets and the cliffs to my left were much higher than I had expected.

The coast near Strathy Point

The coast near Strathy Point

The coast near Strathy Point

Having enjoyed the walk out I headed back to the lighthouse but found it was now a private house, a shame.

The coast near Strathy Point

I knew now things would get more tricky as I headed away from the road. However I was able to find an easy path over the cliffs west past a spectacular rock arch with a view over the rocky bay.

The coast near Strathy Point

The coast near Strathy Point

Initially I could not see a path when I looked ahead but as I walked I continued to spot a path ahead of me right around the coast, albeit I could often only see it for a few metres ahead. It turns out that the sheep had been this way and worn down a nice easy path and so I was able to find a nice easy path over short grass around the craggy and rocky coast. It was a lovely walk with beautiful scenery throughout.

The coast near Aultivullin

The sun was also beginning to break through the clouds as I passed the little beach near Totegan (rocky, rather than sandy as the map had suggested).

The coast near Aultivullin

West of Druim Alt a’ Mhuilinn I had to go around a larger inlet, but again there was a good path around it. I hadn’t expected this to be an easy walk like this, or so beautiful.

The coast near Aultivullin

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Rounding the next headland the terrain became much more rocky with areas of exposed rock but again I could always see a path ahead, even if only a few metres ahead. I disturbed some sheep grazing here but at least they helped show me the way!

The coast near Aultivullin

The coast near Aultivullin

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I was now near the house at Aultivullin. This meant I could head back along the road if needed but again I was able to find a path along the coastal side of the valley here. There were fences but there was a way to go around it on the coastal side at all times. It was a bit boggy near the bottom of the valley but I was able to find a part narrower enough I could jump over the stream and keep dry feet.

It was a rather beautiful little valley with high rocks on either side and some bracken and grass in the valley.

The coast near Aultivullin

Around the other side of the valley I had one fence to climb over, but there was an area with a sort of wooden gate right at the coastal end, so I could climb over this rather than the barbed wire.

The coast near Aultivullin

I could then follow a path out to the headland of Rubha Dubh. This was a stunning section of coast. The path was again easy and the scenery so spectacular with a little rocky island, Boursa Island visible ahead of me and a rocky beach beyond it.

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The coast near AultivullinThe coast near Aultivullin

Just before the beach I came across a little valley that took me by surprise (it is on the map, but it is easy to miss, as I had), but it was not difficult to get through (I went inland and down into it and back up).

The coast near Aultivullin

The valley really was stunning though with near sheer cliff face on the eastern side.

The coast near Aultivullin

The path now climbed high up above the beach. A fisherman obviously used the beach, a couple of boats were left at the back of the beach, out of range of the high tide but on the cliff top was some fishing equipment and some sort of pulley. I presumed the fisherman slid down this somehow! Or perhaps just used it to get equipment up and down and walked down to the beach.

Boursa Island

The coast near Aultivullin

I passed his little pully and climbed high above this rocky beach.

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I love hearing the sound of the waves crashing around rocky coast like this, as I was. I was heading towards the west coast of Scotland which I’ve heard is the most spectacular and felt like I was getting a taster of it on this walk.

The coast near Aultivullin

Boursa Island

At the top I could now see clearly around to the small village of Armadale, spread out along the cliffs ahead, an area of greenery in the moorland.

The coast near Brawl

The coast near Brawl

I followed the path up to near the top of Cnoc Glas and then descended down into a most beautiful area. Looking back there were numerous rocky islands and caves formed into the rock, it reminded like parts of the Cornish coast near Bedruthen Steps.

The coast near Brawl

There was a cave here and then even more spectacular, a collapsed cave, where a hole had formed at the top of the cliffs, but there was land all around so you could walk around it (for now).

The coast near Brawl

This is marked as Glupie Bhrael. I was now near the small village of Brawl (a hamlet, really) where I could cut inland to the road (my original plan). But I couldn’t actually see the road, just a single house a bit inland. In any case the much easier than expected terrain meant I’d made better progress than expected. Rather than follow the road from Brawl I decided to continue west and make a longer route.

The cliffs were now lower, so I crossed the little valley ahead and made my way along the coast still on quite an easy path.

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However there were a couple of fences I had to climb over again now.

The coast near Brawl

Soon though I had a climb back up to go around Port Fhearchair. Had this really once been a port? It seemed to remote to have been and there were no signs of anything man made down on the beach.

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The path over moorland got a bit feinter now, but it was still there. I was now passed the second road to Aultpihurst. I was also now right at the edge of my Ordnance Survey map (and I didn’t have the next one with me, as I hadn’t yet bought it!)

So I could see I should reach a fence ahead. When I did, I could turn left follow the fence, turn right with the fence and then join the road past Cnoc Seonaid back to the A386.

So that’s what I did, but the walk beside that fence was the only tricky part of the whole day. Now there was no path next to the fence, it was just rough moorland. At the first corner it was also very boggy, but a little area of land was fenced off within the fence (why) which I could also see on the map, confirming I was in the right place. And then I spotted the road ahead. Just as planned I could easily get down onto the road.

The road to Cnoc Seonaid

I stopped for a drink and snack first and then headed down to the road and followed it to the main A836. This too was a scenic walk and I hadn’t realised until I set off along the road how close I was to Armadale, since there was now a beautiful sandy beach just to my right.

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I also came across a stile in the fence to the right which I expect could be crossed to get down to the beach, but that would have to wait until next time.

I continued along this road to the main road. I emerged on the A836 where there is a telephone box. I was pleased to see this here, as mobile this is such a remote area and I couldn’t resist lifting the receiver. But then the screen came up “Payphone not commissioned”. I was a bit annoyed about that (oddly, since I didn’t actually want to make a call). There is no mobile signal here so payphones still serve a use. If you’re going to decommission it, surely it makes sense to remove the box or at least remove the telephone. Oddly it must still be getting power for somewhere so someone (BT?) must still be paying for that, so why not leave the phone connected, if the line is still present and working?

After that it was a long and boring walk along the A836.

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Though traffic was quiet, sometimes it was 5 minutes or so between cars, though sometimes I’d get a rush of about half a dozen all at once, then silence. The road passed a couple of small lochs too which were quite pretty.

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Here’s where to go if you’re looking for a brawl!

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This time no one offered me a lift but I was quite happy to walk and soon reached the small car park where I had parked.

It had been a beautiful walk, much easier than I had expected and more spectacular too. It was now time for the long drive to Inverness. It took around 3 hours. I stopped at the Tesco near Inverness Airport to refuel the car (and myself) and then drove it onwards to the airport where I returned it. Thankfully the car hire company could not find any problems with it, so I headed to the airport terminal.

My flight was not until 20:55 (rather later than I’d like, but services are limited to Inverness). So I was a bit annoyed when 20:55 arrived but no plane was there and it was only then announced the flight was expected to be around 90 minutes late (it was). I mean knowing earlier wouldn’t have changed matters I suppose but it’s rather annoying to be thinking you’re about to be on the way home only to find you’re not!

Due to the flight delay I finally got back to my own car at the long-stay car park of Luton Airport around 00:25 and then I had an hour drive back home. I got to bed around 1:45am. Not good, because I had to be at work by 9am in the morning! So I was pretty tired the next day. This was the only frustration that this flight always seems to be late, albeit this trip was the latest I had experienced so far.

This was a stunningly beautiful bit of the coast and I enjoyed this walk way more than I expected. It was helped that for most of the way I was able to find a fairly easy to use “sort of path”, often worn by sheep (who knew sheep like coast walking too?), which meant progress was easier and I could enjoy the scenery more.

I didn’t use public transport for this walk (as it was a Sunday) however to avoid the walk back on the A836, there is a once a day bus service, weekdays only, as below, which will stop at the telephone box on the A836, at the junction with the minor road to Fleuchary, east of Armadale Bay and will drop you at the Strathy Inn:-

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 274 : Thurso – Forss Business and Technology Park – Dounreay – Isauld – Reay – Melvich – Portskerra – Strathy – Armadale – Bettyhill. 1 bus per day, weekdays only (no weekend service). This bus takes 5 minutes to travel between Armadale and Strathy.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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310. Strathy to Reay

August 2017

This walk would see me complete the coast of Caithness and return to the (historic) county of Sutherland, though I’m not exactly sure where the border is.

The logistics of this walk were a little tricky due to the now very limited bus service. A single bus a day (weekdays only) runs in each direction between Strathy and Reay. It is essentially the “workers” bus for Dounreay and runs from Bettyhill to Dounreay in the morning and back from Dounreay to Bettyhill in the evening. I was staying in Thurso so to drive to Strathy in time for the morning bus would make for a very early start and mean missing breakfast. So instead I’d be walking from Strathy to Reay in order to catch the evening bus on it’s way back to Bettyhill. That meant I could avoid a really early start and have a cooked breakfast at the hotel to set me up for the day. Another reason is that the previous day finding somewhere safe, legal and not likely to cause an obstruction in Reay looked a little tricky whilst a car park was marked on the map at Strathy, so I hoped parking would be easier in Strathy.

After breakfast I drove to Strathy and parked in a small car park on the left just at the start of the dead-end road out to Strathy point, which was also by the bus stop which was handy for my return journey.

Strathy

I was puzzled to note the bus shelter contained a pair of immaculate looking wellington boots. I wondered who had left them here and why!

From the car park I headed back down to the main road, the A836 to Strathy Bridge, passing the Strathy Inn and a war memorial and then crossed the River Strathy.

The Strathy Inn

Strathy War memorial

Although a road walk there is not much traffic so it was not a problem and the road is quite wide, albeit with no pavement. On the eastern side of the river there looked to be a footpath on the map, heading north which I hoped to follow to reach the sea. I found a gate which looked to be the start of the path but someone had attempted to block it by placing the parcel shelf from a car across the gate. I removed this and then found a reasonable path along the edge of the field and soon out into the dunes and finally to the beach.

Path to Strathy Bay

This is a stunning beach too. Fine golden sands backed by dunes and with low rocky cliffs on either side. I stopped for a quick rest and to take in this beautiful scene – I was the only one on the beach and mine were the only footprints.

Strathy Bay

The beach at Strathy Bay

The sea too was a beautiful turquoise colour, it was wonderful. I walked along the beach but sadly it is not very wide and soon I had reached the other end.

The beach at Strathy Bay

Starthy Bay

Starthy Bay

At the far end of the beach I found a rough and steep path off the beach which I followed until I emerged onto the minor road that provides access to the beach car park.

Starthy Bay

I followed the road and tracks down to the main road, the A836 again where I crossed a cattle grid and joined the main road. However this time it was only for about 200 metres as I then turned left on the road into Baligill. I didn’t go right to the end because it’s a dead end and the road didn’t even lead to the coast anyway so I followed the loop of the road to return to the main road at Strathroy.

It was about twice the distance but at least gave me a break from the traffic. Ahead there didn’t seem much alternative other than to continue on the A836 as there were no paths marked along the coast so that is what I did. Oddly I found that the road over this land used to be single track with passing places but was upgraded at some point. The old road still exists in places but is not marked on the Ordnance Survey maps, so I was able to follow parts of this to avoid the traffic.

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

It was a boring trudge along the road really but after about half a mile at the northern most point of the road the road had been straightened out and a view point constructed on the old “loop” of the road. I stopped here but it was surprisingly crowded, so not for long, I was glad to be away from the road and the traffic. However I really didn’t want to walk on the road the whole way so I decided from here to try to walk across the moor to my left nearer the sea.

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

In fact I stuck close to the road initially, just a few metres down to the left but where I could find a reasonably flat route, mostly along the grass verge next to the road. Just that short distance from the traffic makes such a different to how pleasant the walk is! I could see from the map there were a couple of valleys and streams to the left so I stuck with the road until I had crossed the second of these, just west of the first road to Portskerra.

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

Here I turned left off the road to the open moorland as I was to sea the coast west of the village where natural arches and beaches were marked – it looked like it was spectacular and I was missing out. I found a reasonable route over the moor, but as I approached the village so the fences started and I had to climb a couple of fences but at least these were not barbed wire as they so often seem to be! I was glad I did for the views over this rocky little bay were spectacular and it was only me and the sheep enjoying it.

The coast west of Portskerra

The coast west of Portskerra

I continued along the rough path along the cliff tops to the end of the rocky inlet at Rubha Ghoiridh where I could follow a route back to the road where I could find a gate to take me to the road at some sort of water company compound.

The coast at Portskerra

The coast at Portskerra

The coast at Portskerra

The coast at Portskerra

At the eastern end of this road where it turned right to head south again I was pleased to find a proper coastal path signed off to the left. It was nice not to have to be climbing fences and walking over rough ground again.

The coast at Portskerra

I followed this and it was lovely along the cliff to a small car park I could continue along it to a jetty overlooking Melvich Bay. Well it was more a derelict harbour, the jetty was fenced off as unsafe with just a small slipway still open.

Old harbour at Portskerra

This was the end of the footpath so I decided to drop down onto the beach to make my way around Melvich Bay. It was rocky and shingle to start with but I could see that it became sand further on and there was a car park marked on the map so I was confident there would be a way up off the beach from there if I hit problems. It was very hard going initially with slippery lose stones to walk over and I made slow progress.

However soon I started to come across sand and then it became much easier.

The beach at Melvich

Once again this was a gorgeous sandy beach and I was pleased to get to the sand where the walking was much easier.

The beach at Melvich

I followed the beach which was quite busy by the standards of northern Scotland. Near the eastern edge of the beach I cut inland on an obvious path to the dunes where a bridge was marked on the map. As I hoped this was a long footbridge so I could use it to cross the river.

Footbridge over the Halladale River, Melvich

This took me to a house marked as Bighouse (how imaginative).

Footbridge over the Halladale River, Melvich

There was access to the road here but I faced a decision on the onwards route. The easiest route was to follow the road from here back to the A836 and then the road all the way from there to Reay. But that would not be a pleasant walk or really a coastal walk so I decided to try an alternative.

The house was large and imposing so I managed to follow a path beside the edge of the river to get passed it where I could then climb back up to the open land to the east.

The Halladale River, Melvich

The Halladale River, Melvich

Approaching the farm just up the hill (served by a second road) I went to the left of this climbed over the fence and tried to follow a track I could see heading north on the map. When this ended I was pleased to find a kind of sheep track over the grass. I don’t know if other people had walked this way or if it was just sheep but it was fairly obvious and whenever it looked like I might lose the path I’d spot it continuing a bit ahead.

This was more like it, a proper coastal walk right along the spectacular cliff tops.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The scenery was spectacular as the cliffs became high and there were numerous rock stacks and sheer areas of rocky cliffs.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

It was especially pretty with the tops covered in heather still partly in flower. There were a number of valleys marked on the map and streams. I had to head quite far inland to get around some of these but just as I began to lose faith in the path I’d spot it again.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

It was boggy and a bit muddy in places but at least it was there. I passed some truly stunning coast and was in a good mood knowing that few people had likely ever been here to this stunning place.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

This biggest problem was at Geodh’ Eisgiadh where I could see there was a steep valley stretching almost back to the road. Thankfully I didn’t have to go as far inland here as I had expected that I might have to and was soon able to resume a route along the coast. There was clearly an issue with soil erosion here as the valley was showing evidence of a lot of slippage.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The spectacular scenery continued as I headed east with numerous little rocky bays and inlets.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

I passed Loch na Moine which was a big pond really and there was not much water flowing out.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

There was another large rocky inlet just past this where again I had to head a bit inland.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

Just after this I came to the first major problem. A very high fence had been built right along to the coast here. There was a rusty gate but it was really high (over head height) and locked with a very rusty padlock. To make it worse wood had been attached to the top of the gate in an attempt to make it impossible to cross. I was frustrated by this. After all that lovely walking and out hear on a remote bit of moor someone had decided to build a fence and block people from walking. (In fact I believe the fence was constructed to keep deer out – who can jump, and that is probably why it was so high).

Well I was not to be defeated and did managed to climb over it and get over the other side. Oddly once over there was a good path onwards again to the next valley, Geodh Sheumais. Here to my surprise was a little stone bridge covered in grass so I could cross this stream with ease.

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I headed back up the other side of the valley and back to the moor and soon alongside the stone wall alongside a field which was marked as a path heading east to Fresgoe where there was a little harbour and a car park marked. It is always a relief to be back to a road or village where I know I won’t end up having to re-trace my route over the rough moorland!

Path to Fresgoe

From here I could follow the road along the west side of Sandside Bay past what was once a busy little harbour by the look of it, but largely deserted now.

Fresgoe Harbour near Reay

Fresgoe Harbour near Reay

Fresgoe Harbour near Reay

Soon I came to a little car park and toilets where I could head down to the beach which was another beautiful one though signs warned of radioactive material having washed up here and not to touch anything which was a little worrying, presumably from nearby Dounreay.

Sandside Bay, Reay

Sandside Bay, Reay

I continued along the beach crossing two little streams and the wider river at the eastern end (Burn of Isauld).

Sandside Bay, Reay

I tried to head inland to where a footbridge is marked on the map but it was really hard through brambles, nettles and having to climb wire fences. I made my way along the overgrown field edges passing a pylons and power lines to emerge on the road just south of Isauld Farm Cottages

Here I turned right along the road through Reay. I headed through this linear village looking for the bus stop. I didn’t find one and I passed a telephone box and soon the pavement ended with a little grassy area ahead with a war memorial near the school where there was a track heading inland. I decided this was the best I was going to find and hoped that the bus would stop here. This was one issue with this walk. I normally prefer to get the transport out of the way first so I can walk back to my car which means at least if where I wait turns out to be somewhere the bus doesn’t stop I’m not stranded. Now however if the bus didn’t stop I would be in real trouble as I also had no mobile signal (perhaps it was a good idea I was waiting next to the telephone box!).  It was a relief to soon spot the familiar colours of a Stagecoach coach making it’s way along the coast road towards me and I was lucky that it did indeed stop. I think I was the only passenger that did not work at Dounreay! 

I was surprised on the way back to find the driver negotiated the tight and narrow looping route around Portskerra, rather than stick to the main road. He did very well to get this large coach around the right bends, parked cars and narrow road. Sadly it was all in vein as no one got on or off there! Back on the main road it continued west to Bettyhill, the end of the route but I got off at the Stathy Inn just down from the car park, relieved to have made it back.

The last bus

When I got back to the car park (mine was the only car when I arrived) I was surprised to find it was more or less full. As I got closer most of the people standing in it seemed Spanish and soon a couple of them came over to ask where Strathy head was. They seemed to think this was the main car park and they had to walk the rest of the way. I pointed that they were still some distance from Strathy Point and showed them on the map, where we were, where Strathy Point was and that there was a car park there. They seemed surprised the road was in fact a road and not a track having assumed the cattle grid meant it was private! I assured them it was the public road and so they set off on their way. 

This had turned out to be a wonderful walk. I was pleased at having found a mostly coastal route when the map had suggested I’d be spending most of my time walking on the roads. Instead I had found a cliff top path taking me past some stunning scenery. There were lovely sandy beaches too, something I’ve not seen much of in this far north of Scotland. Though it had been quite tiring and I had a quick dinner and retired to my room.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 274 : Thurso – Forss Business and Technology Park – Dounreay – Isauld – Reay – Melvich – Portskerra – Strathy – Armadale – Bettyhill. 1 bus per day, weekdays only (no weekend service). This bus takes a little over 10 minutes to travel between Reay and Strathy.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

Posted in Caithness, Sutherland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

309. Reay to Thurso

August 2017

For this walk I was staying in Thurso at the Weigh Inn Lodges, a pretty grim hotel though at least I was in the main “Lodge” building rather than the others which were more like sheds in the car park. I headed to the main hotel building for breakfast which was at least a decent breakfast and with nice views around the bay from the conservatory. The weather forecast today was poor with heavy rain showers, thundery at times, so I was expecting to get wet. However it was actually a nice sunny morning.

I decided not to bother with the car today. I was planning to take the bus to Reay but it was not until around 9:30am. Instead the hotel was about a mile west of the town centre and almost on the cliff top so I’d end up walking past it on the walk. So I decided instead to leave the car at the hotel and walk the mile or so of the coast to the centre of Thurso first. Then I’d take the bus to Reay and walk back to my hotel. So that is what I did. From the hotel I could quickly find a path to the cliff top and follow this east along a pleasant cliff top path passing a caravan and camping site on the right.

The coast at Thurso

The coast at Thurso

Soon I neared the end of the cliffs and I was pleased to see a promenade ahead.

The beach at Scrabster

I went down onto this but soon left this for the firm sands of the beach, as Thurso has a good beach.

The beach at Thurso

The beach at Thurso

As I neared the harbour I headed back to the promenade and then rounded the corner to follow the western bank of the river Thurso into the town centre.

Thurso harbour

I could see the ruined castle on the other bank and the river was very calm on this still morning. The arched bridge over the river was especially pretty in the low morning sun.

The River Thurso, Thurso

On reaching the bridge I headed into the town to get some lunch and then found the bus stop and waited for the bus.

Thurso

The bus arrived on time and I was pleased to find (as seems to be usual in the Highlands), it was a coach. I was surprised however to find that I was the only passenger! Not just at the start, but for the entire journey.

I got off the bus on the main street of Reay. Now one thing with this stretch of coast is that only a mile or so along the coast from Reay is Dounreay Nuclear Power Station. Actually I think the power station is now decommissioned, so I’m not sure exactly what goes on here, but I do now that it is a major employer with seemingly half the population of Thurso working there. In any case the establishment went right up to the cliff edge and stretches for about 1 mile. I quickly realised that there would be no access behind it on the cliff top and I remember fellow coastal walkers Colin and Rosemary getting questioned by police on the access road, so I decided to play it safe and stick to the road. Already I could see it ahead.

Dounreay

Unfortunately the road is an A-road, the A836 so it was quite busy and not a pleasant walk. I passed the turning for Shebster on the right at Bridge of Isauld and this is the point where the pavement ended. I continued along the road to Isauld Farm Cottages, a row of houses. After that it was really just a bit of a route-march along the road. I always walk quickly on roads generally because it’s easy underfoot and because it’s not pleasant so I’m keen to get off the road as quickly as possible.

I could see the large dome of the site looming large along with various other ugly and industrial buildings. After about a mile along this busy road I reached the first part of the site, Vulcan which is apparently part of the Ministry of Defence and a Naval Reactor Test Establishment, presumably related in some way to the nuclear power submarines.

Vulcan, Dounreay

As I reached the site entrance a car was waiting to pull out and seemed hesitant to do so. As I got nearer the driver opened the window and asked if I wanted a lift! It was a kind offer but I explained I was happy walking (he probably thought I was a bit odd) and so he drove on. I always feel slightly guilty turning down a lift (which is perhaps a bit odd), hoping the driver doesn’t think that I had declined the lift because I had decided they didn’t look trust worthy or I didn’t like their car or something when the reality is that I am choosing to walk.

I passed the main entrance and continued up the hill past the old airfield that is also part of the site.

Dounreay

The road climbed uphill now and I continued past the cottages one of which was marked as a post office, but isn’t any longer. Once I reached the road to Achreamie on the right which from the map meant I had, finally, reached the end of Dounreay and could think about reaching the coast. Just after this turning was a track heading for Wester Borrowston. I followed this towards farm buildings hoping to be able to continue on a track ahead to the coast, but I had to climb over fences to do it. It was as I was about to do this that I spotted the farmer (I presume?) in the field just ahead. So I decided not to risk it (whilst it’s not illegal, causing damage is and I worry the farmer will tell me I’ve damaged the fence in climbing over it) and instead returned to the road and turned left, passing an Animal Welfare Centre on the right, in a place called Balmore. Well I didn’t want this to be a walk along the A836 all the way back to Thurso. So at a farm on the right not long after the animal centre, I turned left.

I headed down the edge of the first field where there was a track. But this soon disappeared to be replaced with over grown grass which made for very hard going. I made it all along the various fields until just before the shore I had a barbed wire fence to get over (Scottish farmers seem to love this stuff, somewhere in Scotland a barded-wire salesmen is very rich). It took me a few attempts to do so, but eventually I made it over safely, trousers intact to the shore. It was a great relief once I did because there was a flat rocky ledge at the top of the low cliffs, making for quite an easy walk and also a bit of a worn path. The scenery too was good and got better and better.

The coast near Balmore, Caithness

I’m not a geologist but the cliffs was in layers with horizontal lines all across a bit like the circles in a tree. The path I was on whilst feint continued and the cliffs gradually got higher and made for some impressive scenery, with rocky ledges below the cliffs.

The coast near Balmore, Caithness

I’m not sure if these are natural ledges or the result of quarrying. No quarry is marked on the map here but some of the lines in the cliff look rather two straight to me to be natural.

The coast at Forss, Caithness

The coast at Forss, Caithness

Ahead I was nearing some wind turbines.

The coast at Forss, Caithness

Continuing along the cliff top path, which was now quite easy to follow I passed some old tree roots which looked to have been retreaved from the sea and put on the cliff top. For what purpose I didn’t know, it seemed a bit odd. As I approached the wind turbines there was a fence across the path, so I had to climb over it to continue. I was now in the area of wind turbines, which are quite noisy, close up. All along the coast are lots of rocky inlets, each marked as “Geo” with a differing name. They were impressive and I presume are formed when the sea erodes the cliffs to make caves and the caves then collapse, leaving a deep valley.

Ahead after the wind turbines I had come to Forss Business and Technology Park. It was an odd sort of place, many of the buildings looked derelict and all seemed run down. I couldn’t see much evidence of business going on and it seemed a rather out-of-the-way place to be building a business park, at the end of a dead-end road not really near anywhere.

I continued to find my way along the cliff tops to reach St Mary’s Chapel, though I had to climb over another fence to reach it. This is now in ruins, with the outer wall and a gable wall remaining, though a sign informed me it dated from the 12th Century.

St Mary's Chapel, Forss

Inside, the old chapel was full of grave stones and there was also the remains of another building (a house?) close by.

St Mary's Chapel, Forss

Another good thing here is that I was, at last, back on an official footpath. This links the chapel to the end of the road at Crosskirk with a bridge over the river, Forss Water. I was relieved to find this path as it meant I knew I could get through and would not have to turn back.

Thankfully as I approached the river I could indeed see the footbridge was present and correct.

Crosskirk, Caithness

The path descend down to the valley and soon reached the bridge, where an old metal sign was directed the way I had come to “St Mary’s Chapel Crosskirk, Ancient Monument”. I crossed the bridge which looked to have been recently replaced. Across the river there was a derelict old building, with no roof but a couple of diggers around it suggesting some building work was being done, whether to build a new building or repair this one I’m not sure.

Crosskirk, Caithness

Crosskirk, Caithness

A little further along the rocky bay here was another cottage this one still intact and looking to still be lived in. I went the coastal side of this, just squeezing in front of the fence and found a path along the cliff top again.

The coast near Crosskirk, Caithness

(You can see that odd rather desolate feeling “business park” surrounded by wind turbines on the cliff top beyond).

I passed more of these spectacular “Geo” inlets.

The coast near Crosskirk, Caithness

There was a small fence to climb over and then I had a good path along the cliff tops, which took me to a ruined chapel marked on the map. This was an odd sort of place, with just the graves remaining, but nothing of the church itself.

Remains of former chapel

(They are the things sticking up in the photo above).

Beyond this there was again a path marked on the map and I followed this approaching the farm at Mains of Brims. This was an ugly farm, with a couple of tall towers. As I neared this I turned left to walk and dropped down onto the beach to avoid walking through the farm yard (which you are mean to avoid under the Scottish access rights). The beach had flat pebbles and a few little areas of sand and another ruined building, this one marked as the remains of a castle.

Mains of Brims

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I think the square pile of stones in front of the ruined house may be the remains of the castle. If it is, there isn’t much left. If it isn’t, well then there must be even less left.

I was soon past the farm house which had clearly seen better days.

Mains of Brims

Once around this and away from the farm I returned to the grass behind the beach which soon began to climb up to low cliffs.

The coast between Brims and Scrabster

I had another couple of these “Geo” inlets to negotiate and here the stone walls were close to the cliff edge and surrounded by thick tufty grass, making the going hard and with nettles in the mix, too.

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I soon gave up with this and resorted to climbing the fence into the adjacent field ahead. There were cows in the first couple of fields (though they left me alone).

The coast between Brims and Scrabster

The coast between Brims and Scrabster

The coast between Brims and Scrabster

I was hoping to be able to find a route along the cliff tops all the way to Thurso now, the alternative was to walk a mile inland on the A836. Thankfully after these couple of fields the land was no longer farmed and became moorland.

Here there seemed to be a fairly easy path along the coast which I think is where sheep had walked and worn the grass to short grass, perfect for walking on. I was so glad I had opted to do this, the scenery was spectacular with caves and rock stacks galore.

The coast between Brims and Scrabster

I did come across a field cows too, but they were calm and left me alone to enjoy this amazing scenery. At one point when I did come to a dry-stone wall ahead I was pleased to see that a stile had been provided too, unusual given I wasn’t (too my knowledge) on a proper path.

The cliffs became increasingly high and near vertical. There were by now quite a few showers around I could see, but I managed to avoid them all.

The coast between Brims and Scrabster

I met plenty of sheep that had, I presumed, formed the path, too.

The coast near Scrabster

After a couple of miles of lovely walking I came to the disused quarry marked on the map. I had been a bit worried about getting around this. As it happens, the quarrying had left flat areas of rock I could easily walk through, there were no sheer drops and no fences, and just some sheep wandering about.

The coast near Thurso

It was also fully of rusty old bits of metal, some I presumed were left from the quarrying, but others looked as if they were cars that had been driven here and burnt out. I made my way through this quarry without any issue and continued on a path the other side.

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The sky was becoming increasingly dark now and I suspect it would not be long until I got wet. As I neared Thurso, the scenery became more spectacular, with rocky inlets, rocky islands and sheer cliffs.

Near Holborn Head

Near Holborn Head

There were also some blow holes where water would sometimes spurt out the top when there was a large wave. It was amazing scenery and I was so glad to have found this path to enjoy it.

Near Holborn Head

Holborn Head

In some places there was the start of one of these “Geo” where part of the cave had collapsed but there was still a land bridge, with a hole either side.

Holborn Head near Scrabster

Holborn Head

It was clearly well walked as it was worn to mud, clear evidence that this part of the coast was walked more often. It was impressive, if a little scary to look down such a steep sheer drop to the sea in a cave below. There was also a large cairn not much further along.

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I continued south from Holborn Head, now on a good path and soon I could see Thurso ahead and the lighthouse at Scrabster. Sadly this has closed as a lighthouse in 2003 and was now a private residence.

Holborn Head

I dropped down on the path just in front of the lighthouse and followed the access drive down to Scrabster.

Holborn Head lighthouse

Holborn Head lighthouse

This headed down to the ferry port at Scrabster, where ferries run several times a day to Stromness on the Orkney isles.

Scrabster Harbour

Here a proper footpath had been marked on the ground around the ferry port, with a sign directing you to walk this way, so I did. I continued along the road and was surprised how much traffic there was along this road. It’s the A9, but this is the very end of the A9, at the harbour. With no boat due I was surprised how much traffic there was. Wood seemed to be a major export with piles of logs piled up at the back of the port.

Scrabster Harbour

Just around the edge of the port I found steps down and a path leading to the beach. Fed up with the amount of traffic on the road, I decided to follow the beach instead.

The coast at Scrabster

This was easy to start with, as there was firm sand, but as I progressed this ran out to be replaced by stones and some lose rocks. As I was down here the rain that had been threatened soon began and got quite heavy.

I made my way along the beach which soon became difficult as it was all large lose pebbles. Worse, I came to a stream. I tried to follow it up inland to cross it but ended up at a World War II pillbox with no obvious route to the road beyond. I dropped back down to the beach, crossed this stream and then found steps back up to the cliff top the other side.

From here it was only about a 5 minute walk to my hotel, though I was by now quite wet. Thankfully the good thing at staying at a “Motel” like this is at least I don’t have to walk through reception dripping wet, but could go straight to my room (which was in the white building below rather than one of the “chalet” type buildings in front).

P1010843

The hair dryer in my room was useful to dry the worst of the dampness from my shoes!

This had been a good walk, after a slow start. A boring and not all that safe walk along the A836 for several miles past Dounreay, but after that I was able to find good paths across the cliff tops, and what stunning cliffs they were. The scenery here was fantastic and I was so pleased I had been able to find a route to take it all in, rather than sticking to roads, which would have been easier, but far less interesting. A shame I had dropped down to the beach at the end though, or I might have made it to my hotel before the heavens opened!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 73 / 273 : Thurso – Janetstown – Shebster – IsauldReay.  3 buses per day Monday – Friday only (no weekend service). It takes around 25 minutes to travel between Thurso and Reay.

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 274 : Thurso – Forss Business and Technology Park – DounreayIsauldReay – Melvich – Portskerra – Strathy – Armadale – Bettyhill. 1 bus per day, weekdays only (no weekend service). This bus takes around 35 minutes to travel between Thurso and Reay, as it waits at Douneray for 10 minutes.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

Posted in Caithness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

308. Thurso to Dunnet

August 2017

This was the first day of a 5 day trip to Scotland and I was stating from home so today’s walk was a little shorter due to first having to get to the north of Scotland from home in southern England. I had to make an early start from home first driving to Luton Airport. Even before 7am the traffic on the M25 was already queuing, (it being a weekday) but thankfully only in the other direction. The way I was going it was busy, but generally kept moving. However it’s always a relief when doing this journey to pull off onto the M1 because now I’m going north, away from London and away from most of the traffic, so things eased off. I parked in the long stay car park at Luton Airport and waited what seemed like an age for the bus to the terminal which seems to act as a local bus serving various industrial units (mostly aviation related) and the car hire centre before we were finally on the main road to the terminal. 

I had no problems through security and I was soon on my way to Inverness. It only takes a little over an hour to fly to Inverness, but that means 2 hours of standing in queues at the airport first. I’m not prepared to pay to choose a seat for such a short flight so I was pleased to get a window seat and get a view of the coast I had already walked as the plane approached Inverness airport. This is the coast just east of Nairn.

The coast east of Nairn

Inverness is a quiet airport though for some reason on arrival, despite arriving on a domestic flight we were directed to enter the terminal via the “International Arrivals” (which on most days is only used for the single daily international flight from Amsterdam) where we were all asked to produce photo ID. It was all very odd and I’m not sure what happened if you didn’t have any, as no documentation is required for internal travel. However I had my driving license and showed that, but it was an irritating and unnecessary delay.

Once into the terminal I headed straight for the car hire desk having previously had a long wait as they can’t really cope with a plane load of people arriving all wanting a hire car. This time I was given a black Vauxhall Corsa which I was happy with though I did find the glow from the radio screen slightly distracting when driving at night (there is probably a way to switch it off but I couldn’t be bothered to spend ages fiddling in menus).

I had quite a long drive ahead of me now, all the way to Thurso first via the A96 and then onto the A9 right to it’s very end at Thurso. This is quite a busy road and there were a couple of sections of road works where the speed limit was reduced to 30mph which slowed things down.

Other than that, things were going well until I got to Berriedale where I had got stuck behind a lorry. The road here heads down a series of hair pin bends almost to sea level, crosses a river and climbs steeply back up (I think some recent road works may have improved matters). It was on this climb back up that the HGV got slower and slower until on a steep bend, it stopped entirely, blocking both lanes of the road. The driver tried to reverse a short way back and try again. I think the road was simply too steep for this heavily laden vehicle to get up, at least not without a run-up. After siting stationary for nearly 10 minutes and the driver of the car behind coming to tell me that she thought he was stuck (no shit) the suggestion seemed to be for the lorry to try to reverse back and try again. I decided at this point, as it was gone 1pm to make a lunch stop. So I made a U-turn to lay-by up on the hill the other side of the village to have lunch in the car (which I’d bought at the airport) in the hope the truck had moved by the time I had finished. Thankfully this plan worked and when I drove back now the truck was gone and I made it to Thurso.

I had a bit of difficultly finding somewhere to park in Thurso. I passed a few parking areas but was not sure if they were private and belonging to a nearby Ford garage or were public, but beyond it I found a car park. I thought I was sorted until I spotted a sign that it was limited to a 2 hour maximium stay! So I turned around and found a few parking spaces beside the river which were free both in price and in vehicles parked there. At last, now into the early afternoon, it was time to get walking!

I headed from my parking area to the nearby bridge over the river Thurso and crossed the bridge to head east, I had never been to Thurso before.

The River Thurso

Thurso Harbour

Just across the bridge I passed a petrol station which had the warning sign outside “Last fuel for 50 50 miles southbound (A9)”. A reminder that I’m now in a pretty remote area. Once across I turned left, off the A9 on a road past a recreation ground and then some houses on the right. These soon gave way to some industry beside the harbour. As I continued north there was soon a bit of a beach to my left, pebbles and I was then following a path beside a wall with the ruins of a tower or castle ahead.

Leaving Thurso

As I got closer the tower turned out to be only part of the building it was clearly once an impressive home but it was derelict and roofless now. I’m quite surprised how many ruined buildings I come across in Scotland, some of them rather grand.

Ruin, Thurso

Ruin, Thurso

Once past this I continued on the feint path along the foreshore in front of some farm buildings. The beach itself seem to have something dumped on it. The left over from some industrial process perhaps?

The coast east of Thurso

Soon I rounded the corner, away from the river mouth and from Thurso. The path had more or less disappeared by now and I continued on the rough grass now on top of low clifs towards the sewage works – lovely! (Thurso wasn’t particularly impressing).

The coast here had low cliffs which looked a bit like slate, it was in layers with a shelf below the current cliffs presumably where they had been eroded over the years.

The coast east of Thurso

The coast east of Thurso

As I continued to head east there were numerous little inlets and caves forming. I continued along the sometimes rough grass, (though in places it was short) to a little bay at East Lug of Tang (interesting name!). This was mostly rock but it was still quite pretty.

The coast east of Thurso

I continued east along the rough grassy and low cliff tops passing Clardon Haven, another rocky beach this time with beach access, where I stopped for a brief rest.

The coast east of Thurso

The coast east of Thurso

The coast east of Thurso

Fed up of the rough grass I dropped down onto the beach and decided to see if I could reach the start of Murkle Bay ahead, which was marked as sandy on the map, around on the rocks and beach.

The coast east of Thurso

The coast east of Thurso

I soon regretted this decision as the rocks became flat, smooth and slippery, but mixed in with a few lose stones and rocks too. I made my way around the base of the cliffs very carefully and slowly, but at least the cliffs were low enough I could have climbed them if needed, but this wasn’t needed. Soon I was on the beautiful white sandy beach at Murkle Bay.

Murkle Bay, Caithness

Three layers of “Dragons Teeth” could be seen in the dunes, presumably left from World War II.

Murkle Bay, Caithness

Murkle Bay, Caithness

Mine were the only footprints on the sand at this beautiful beach too, which I was surprised by. In the middle of the beach, as I had seen from the map, there was a stream flowing out. Soon I had reached it and it was wider than I had expected.

Murkle Bay, Caithness

So it was shoes and socks off time as I went through the water, though it was little more than ankle deep, it was cold. Once over this I continued on the beach.

Murkle Bay, Caithness

It soon started to become rockier as I headed east with just a thin strip of sand near the back of the beach.

The coast near Castletown

After a while it became mostly rocks and only a bit of sand, mixed in with some pebble and rock sections, so my pace slowed. The cliffs were only low here and the map suggested there might be a path, but if was very rough so I soon decided the rocky foreshore was the least worst option.

The coast near Castletown

The coast near Castletown

The land almost merged to the coast here, it just seemed that the back of the beach just became grassy and later fields!

The coast near Castletown

The coast near Castletown

Soon I could see the buildings at the edge of Castletown ahead. Oddly they too seemed to be mostly derelict (though most of the town is half a mile or so inland).

Castlehill, Castletown

There was now a good path too, so I left the beach to follow this and continued to the harbour. The harbour was small and looked shallow with a single fishing boat and a couple of pleasure boats, but I liked how we’d ended up with a blue boat, red boat and a yellow car on the harbour wall behind, it was very colourful.

Castlehill Harbour, Castletown

Castlehill Harbour, Castletown

I rounded the harbour and continued along the foreshore. Ahead of me was a sandy beach and I was looking forward to it, especially now the weather was improving too.

The coast at Castletown

It stretched for around a mile and a half north so I knew it would be an easy route and I hoped a beautiful one, too. Dropping down to the beach when I could I was soon on the slightly stony sand at this end of the beach.

Dunnet Bay

Dunnet Bay

Dunnet Bay

Ahead I knew there was another stream. This one turned out to be narrower than expected and with numerous stones sticking up above the water I was able to make it across without taking my shoes off and without wet feet, which was a bonus.

Dunnet Bay

Now I just had a lovely walk along this beach. A few people had been here today, judging by the footprints, but very few as there weren’t many footprints. Roughly mid way along the beach was another stream to cross. This one was a bit deeper so I took my shoes of again to wade this one, though it was not much more than ankle deep. Once across it was lovely walking along the beach.

Dunnet Bay

Easy underfoot, fresh air and the sound of the waves next to me, it was wonderful.

Dunnet Bay

Near the north end of the beach where there was a campsite and visitor centre there was path up to the road, which I took.

I had deliberately planned this walk for my first day as it was short and there was a reasonably frequent bus service between Thurso and Dunnet including two buses an hour apart in the early evening. I knew that later in the week I’d be relying on buses that run just once a day!

I’d made better time than expected and was now following the pavement beside the road into the village of Dunnet, just in time to catch one of these buses.

The A836 at Dunnet

As I headed towards the village I thought I had 5 minutes before the bus was due but before I’d reached the first of the buildings I saw it coming down the road! It must be early. I was not going to make it to the village centre, so my only hope was to cross the road, stand on the grass verge and flag down the bus in the hope it would stop. Thankfully it did, although I’d have had only an hour or so wait if it didn’t so it wouldn’t have been a disaster.

The bus was actually a comfortable coach and I sat back and enjoyed the views of the coast I’d just been walking. As I settled into my seat I checked the bus times and realised I’d remembered the time incorrectly, the bus was actually on time and had been due 5 minutes earlier than I thought!

(For any pedants that have noticed – when waiting getting off the bus in Castletown the next day, which is actually the previous walk I wrote up I did go back and walk the short bit of road (about 100 metres) that I missed between Castletown and where the bus stopped for me today so as not to leave any gaps in my walk However you can see all there was to see really on the photo above taken a few seconds before the bus came around the corner).

It was nice to make it back to Thurso before it was too late in the evening as I was tired after my early start and didn’t want to be eating too late. This part of the town looked a bit nicer, too.

Thurso

Ruined church, Thurso

I headed back from the bus stop to my hired car, which was now all alone and drove the short distance along the coast to my hotel, The Weigh Inn Hotel about a mile to the west of the town centre at the junction with the A9 and A836.

Once again I’d really struggled to find accommodation for this trip. It seems the Highlands of Scotland is very popular (it being especially popular with Americans and, increasingly, Chinese from my observations) along with the North Coast 500 which has bought even more people it means accommodation gets all booked many months in advance. That means finding somewhere to stay can be very tricky. I had come this particular week simply because it was about the only time I could find a hotel anywhere in Thurso where I could spend the whole 5 days, most seemed to be either full or only had vacancies for one or two days at a time (and this was at the time of booking, six months earlier, back in February).

There does seem to be a real shortage of accommodation in the north of Scotland where demand seems to far exceed supply. That means hotels don’t have to try that hard to fill rooms and unfortunately that means many don’t. Think very dated and run-down rooms. That was the case for me. The main building of the hotel only has 16 rooms all “deluxe” according to the website. However the main building was fully booked. Instead I had ended up in what the hotel describes as a “Basic Standard” room which I was told is “not star-rated” and located in the separate “lodge” building. I think the hotel is as much a motel as hotel as more of the rooms seemed to be located either in this “lodge” building or flat-roof wooden buildings that looked a little like chalets, as seen on Google (I think I dodged a bullet not ending up in one of those). All the “lodge rooms” have doors going straight outside (either at ground level or an upper walkway with outside stairs) so it is like a motel really. Whilst not all that expensive at £60 a night I also didn’t consider it to be especially cheap given what was on offer (albeit it did include breakfast) and what I had been paying (considerably less) for nicer rooms at Travelodge or Premier Inn hotels further south.

On entering my room there was a small hall where one door led to the bathroom and the other the room. The bathroom had plastic panels as the wall, like a caravan. The shower screen was cracked and the extractor fan was broken, and it was cold (I later found the bathroom had no heating).

The main room wasn’t much better. It was a good size but the furniture was all mixed and looked like it was from a house clearance! One of the drawers in the chest of drawers was off the runner and a couple of the knobs off the front were missing. It smelt funny, not dirty, just odd (probably the cleaning chemicals used) and the curtains from one of the windows draped down onto the pillows of the bed, so you end up opening the curtains a bit when turning over a night!

The only heating was a dented and very battered electric heater on the wall of the bedroom, but it did at least work. In short, it was pretty grim. There was a small TV but no Wifi. My “welcome” was a rather aggressively worded letter left beside the TV that warned that people had been smoking in the rooms and the penalties for doing so. I don’t smoke so that wasn’t going to be happening but I was surprised to find this hotel did actually offer smoking rooms still (I thought that was long gone), so was glad I hadn’t been allocated one of those.

I was not impressed. Despite this, I headed to the hotel bar for dinner, I was tired, it was getting late and I couldn’t be bothered to walk the mile or so back to Thurso or drive back. Thankfully the bar was in the main building and whilst still a little basic, the food was reasonable and the beer welcome. I sat in the nice conservatory where I was away from the noisy bar and could enjoy views over the bay and to the harbour. Still despite the poor hotel I was looking forward to what the next few days had in store for me!

This was a walk of two halves. The first part, getting out of Thurso was not all that interesting but as I headed east things improved greatly. I enjoyed the sandy beach at Murkle Bay and especially the beach at Castletown which was a gorgeous sandy beach that stretched for well over a mile and made a nice finale to the walk. The low cliffs in between were also nice, if not spectacular.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 80 : Thurso – Castletown – Dunnet – Brough – Greenvale – Scarfskerry – Mey – Gills Bay (road end) – Canisbay – John o’ Groats. Approximately hourly Monday – Friday between Thurso and Castletown. 6 buses per day on Saturdays. No service on Sundays. It takes about 15 minutes to travel between Thurso and Castletown.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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307. Gills Bay to Dunnet

August 2017

On my previous walk I reached the most north easterly point of mainland Britain. This is another compass-point walk as today I will reach the most northerly point of mainlaind Britain, Dunnet Head.

For this walk I was staying in Thurso. This was actually the 4th day of a 5 day trip, as I didn’t walk these sections in order, due to the limitations of public transport, today being a Saturday and this being one of the few walks on this trip where there was a bus service at the weekend. I had breakfast at the “hotel” I was staying at in Thurso (which was more a Motel than a Hotel and my “basic room”, in an annex, was as grim as it sounds).

I had hired a car for this trip and so I drove it to Dunnet. I could not find a car park in Dunnet, so I parked in a residential road just off the eastern side of the A836, as I did not want to park on the main road. From here I had about 20 minutes to wait for the bus as I had allowed plenty of time and the drive had not taken long.

From Dunnet I planned to take the bus to Gills Bay road end. On my previous trip to Scotland I had got as far as Gills Bay ferry terminal but that time I was coming from Wick. This time from Thurso, the bus did not stop at the ferry terminal, but instead the end of the road leading to it (which is only around 300 metres long). The bus was late arriving which meant I was a bit worried it wasn’t coming at all, but it arrived a little over 5 minutes late and I was pleased to find it was a more comfortable coach, rather than a bus.

I asked for a single to Gills Bay and the driver was a little surprised “We don’t go to the ferry you know” but I confirmed the end of the road was fine. I suspect he was a bit puzzled as to why I might want to go to Gills Bay if NOT catching the ferry given there isn’t anything else there! I was also surprised to find that rather than following the A836 we took the back roads via Scarfskerry and Ham. I hadn’t realised this (though it is clear from the timetable) and the driver did well to get the large coach around such narrow and twisty roads.

At the end of the road I asked the driver to stop off and got off, just to see the ferry disappearing out into the Pentland Firth.

Pentland Ferry

It was lucky I wasn’t intending to catch the ferry! For the sake of completeness, I walked down to the ferry terminal along the road and back up, so I had not missed any coast out!

Almost as soon as I met the main road I could turn right off it and follow an old road that was almost parallel to the A836. This ran past a few houses and was more or track than road in places, with grass down the middle. Sadly this only lasted for around 500 metres and so it was back to the A836. After trying and failing to find a better route than this road last time I resigned myself to it as I hoped to turn off in around 1 mile, and I passed the sign welcoming me to Gills.

It was not too bad, it is not that busy a road, though. There was not much to see on the road so I walked quickly keen to leave the road as quickly as possible. After about 1 mile I could turn off north on road over Mey Hill. As this road turned left, where a tourist sign “Birds of Prey” is marked on the map (I didn’t see any) I planned to take a path that was marked going north out to St John’s Point where I hoped I’d then be able to turn left and follow the cliff tops.

The track started of well enough, but soon it became wet and boggy and I made slow and difficult progress, soon getting wet feet too, near the fort at the end of the headland.

The coast near Mey

The track was barely visible at times and certainly not what the map suggested, but nearing the end it became clearer again. I headed down until it opened out to grass and a little bit of heather.

Here I turned left and tried to make my way along the cliff tops.

The coast near Mey

This turned out to be more difficult than expected. To start with there was some grass, but it soon became rough tussocky grass. There ware also regular little inlets and valleys to get around some a narrow squeeze between the fence and cliff top. I tried to squeeze through a few times, but it was becoming increasingly difficult and if I crossed into the adjacent fields I had a barbed-wire fence to cross every 100 metres or so, so I was making very slow progress.

The coast near Mey

The coast near Mey

After about 20 minutes of this I decided I’d had enough and walked through one of the fields inland and back to the road. It might not be right along the coast, but at least I could make better progress and there was not much traffic. After around half a mile along the road it turned sharply left heading south east away from the coast, but a track was marked on the map continuing ahead which I hoped to follow.

This turned out to exist and I could continue ahead on the wide track. On reaching the coast it continue right along the back of the beach. This was much better, now back on the coast with a proper path. There was a beach below me, a mixture of rocks, sand and shingle. I could see someone walking on it, but it didn’t look that easy so I stuck to the path.

The coast near Mey

Ahead the track soon joined a minor road again. This seemed mostly to be used by visitors to the Castle of Mey that I could see just inland.

The Castle of Mey

This was the Queen Mothers favourite home and she purchased it and came here regularly. Sadly the rest of the royal family seemed not to share her enthusiasm, it is no longer used by the Royal Family and instead open to the public. I could see the back of the castle quite well from the road, which soon crossed a stream.

The Castle of Mey

I followed this down to a small village ahead called Harrow. Another road head down the valley for a couple of hundred metres to the small harbour. Although a dead-end, as the road was only short I headed down it but there was not a lot to see just a couple of boats and a derelict building.

The coast near Scarfskerry

Back up the road I continued on the road which briefly left the cliff top again for about half a mile before re-joining the coast ahead.

Soon I had reached the edge of the scattered village of Scarfskerry. Here an old telephone had been put to use as “Mark’s Book Kiosk”, a book exchange.

Telephone box library

Inland I could see some of the water of the Loch of Mey, which seemed to have flooded some of the fields nearby. Although the road was along the coast there houses between me and the coast in places and their gardens meant getting a view of the cliffs and scenery was tricky, though I could manage it in a few places.

The coast near Scarfskerry

The coast near Scarfskerry

The coast near Scarfskerry

The coast near Scarfskerry

As I was walking along here the bus I had been on earlier came back around. I did wonder if the bus driver had recognised me and wondered why I’d got off the bus at Gills Bay only to walk back to here!

After half a mile along the coast the road turned inland a little again. To my right was another dead-end road heading back to the coast at The Haven. I had decided it was lunch time, but I didn’t want to stand beside the road or sit on the grass (it was damp) so I decided to head down this so I could sit on the beach and have lunch. At the bottom there was an old concrete slipway which looked disused and rocky and shingle beaches. However it was a very windy day and I was glad that the cliffs provided some shelter from the wind.

The Haven, Scarfskerry

After lunch I returned back up the dead-end road. Just as I did so I spotted a footpath sign just after the house nearest the harbour. This pointed along the coast over a stone stile, but beyond it was overgrown. I followed it for a short distance in front of the houses after which there seemed to be no visible route. Like so many footpaths in Scotland it seems to exist as a sign only!

The Haven, Scarfskerry

I made my way with difficult along the cliff top until I reached a couple of isolated houses on the map at “Kirk o Banks”. Here there was not room to get between these houses and the cliffs so I had no choice but to drop down onto the beach.

Near Scarfskerry

I managed to follow the rocks at the back of the beach around the corner only to come to a fast-flowing stream (Burn of Rattar). This looked tiny on the map but it was too wide to step or jump across and the water was flowing rapidly.

The Burn of Rattar

It might have been possible to wade through, but the water was dark enough I couldn’t see to the river bed, so I decided against that. Frustrated, I headed back to the houses and followed the access road that serves them back to the road. Defeated again, I headed back to the road and turned right to cross the stream on the bridge and continued on the road heading south west along the road, passing Ratter House.

The Burn of Rattar

At the end of the road I came to a T-junction by an isolated school where I could turn right and head back to the coast to the hamlet of Ham.

Here there was a large old mill now sadly derelict.

Ham

I often wonder who owns these places and why they end up simply abandoned. Here I headed down onto the beach for a short rest and snack stop.

The beach at Ham Berry, Caithness

The beach at Ham Berry, Caithness

It was again nice to get off the road and out of the wind. Whilst I sat and planned my route again the bus again went past. My planned route was to continue west along the road to Brough and the B855. Here I had a decision to make. I could make this a short walk by turning left along the road and in a little over a mile I’d be back at Dunnet. Or I could turn right and try to make my way around Dunnet head, but there was no path marked. In truth the short option meant a walk that was a little too short whilst the route around Dunnet head was really too long.

I set off, deciding on the way. It was a rather dull walk west along the road. As I was walking along I was caught in another heavy shower. As I was nearing the first of the houses of Brough I sheltered in the edge of some low trees and bushes in the right under my umbrella. As I did so a car came past, but soon stopped, then the reverse lights came on and they reversed back to me to offer me a lift! (This is something that I’ve since found happens quite often in the Highlands). I thanked them very much but said that I thought it was about to stop raining so I was fine, which they accepted and drove on. Shortly after the rain did ease and so I set off again, but shortly after I’d set off, another car went past me, stopped, then came back to offer me a lift again! This time I explained I was about to turn off the road anyway so there was no need.

Whilst I was genuinely grateful I was also a bit concerned I was now going to find every car passing stopping to offer me a lift if the rain kept up! Soon I had reached the B855 and turned right along it, signed to “Dunnet Head Viewpoint”.

The A836

Although a B-road it was not much busier as it only went to Dunnet head, which is a dead-end. To my right I soon passed a pretty little bay with high cliffs, a few rock stacks and an old pier.

Near Scarfskerry

It seemed unnamed and I’m not sure what it was for, though at the end of the bay a little dead-end road headed down to the base of the cliffs and the sliproad.

This also marked the point where the road turned left, away from the coast. If I wanted to get to Dunnet Head the easy, but boring way, is to follow the road to the end (at the lighthouse), and come back the same way, but I was hoping to take a more coastal route. So I was very pleased to come across a proper footpath sign pointing north and signed as “North Highland Way”. Well I’d heard of the West Highland Way so assumed this was another long distance walk. So I followed this.

Things started well enough as I found a narrow and rather overgrown path. However ahead I reached a fence where there was no path ahead and a crossing of a fence left. I decided to keep ahead and soon reached a small little stream, Burn of Sinnigeo. Here there had clearly once been a bridge, which was presumably the route of the footpath. I say once though as the planks going left to right had entirely rotted away, leaving only the north-south planks at either edge of the bridge, now decayed and rotting too. I gingerly made my way across hoping it would not give way under me. It didn’t, but by now I’d lost all confidence this was a well walked path as the only hint of any path at all was this broken bridge.

I struggled on for a while with no visible path through overgrown heather and long grass making slow and difficult progress. Can you see a path? Neither can I!

Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head

I felt like I was getting nowhere and when I could see higher ground to my left I made for it in the hope I might spot some sort of path. If not, I was either going to have to head back or cut inland to the road. I found a very feint barely visible path and began to follow that. I kept losing it, but would eventually spot it again. As I headed slightly more easily north the path gradually widened until it was quite obvious.

Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head

I was not sure if it was formed by people walking or sheep, but I was glad to find it. I kept to this path over the undulating hills. I had to jump across a few small streams but soon I could make out the lighthouse ahead of me. I was pleased about this as I knew if nothing else I could join the road here and walk back.

As I neared the lighthouse I could see other people about and my path widened as it ran alongside the edge of an old dry-stone wall.

Dunnet Head

Soon I head reached the lighthouse and the road leading to it. I went up for a closer look.

Dunnet Head Lighthouse

This mark another mile stone. This is in fact the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland and so I head reached another compass point – the most northerly point. It would have been nice to go inside the lighthouse, but sadly it is not open to the public. The houses that were once the keepers cottages are now all private.

Dunnet Head

Having reached the end of the road and the well walked path past the lighthouse it was time to decided on how to get back. Having found the path on the eastern side of the head I was feeling more confident. I was hoping for a similar path on the west side. First I could see a path ahead on the other side of the fence, so I climbed over the fence and continued along the path next to the remains of a sign that probably once told you not to climb over the fence.

Dunnet Head

Once again there was a very feint narrow path. I occasionally lost it, but soon spotted it again after a few metres. Now I was on the west side of the headland I was exposed to the full force of the very strong wind, too.

Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head

Soon I reached Shira Geo where a couple of waterfalls were marked on the map. This turned out to be more of a problem them I might have expected, as the wind seemed to be blowing the waterfall up and back over the ground, making it like walking through a heavy rain shower!

The west coast of Dunnet Head

Having made it over here I got caught in another heavy but brief rain shower. The going ahead was difficult as I kept coming across boggy areas and streams to cross, which took me some time to find the easiest route. I made slow but steady progress.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

The various “Geos” marked on the map turned out to be deep rocky inlets that I head to head a bit inland to get around, as the cliffs either side were near enough vertical.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

The west coast of Dunnet Head

I passed several more waterfalls blowing upwards and got pretty wet at each of these.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

The west coast of Dunnet Head

I passed the streams feeding Sanders Loch and Nether Sandser Loch which were not a problem. I felt like I should be nearing the road now but when I stopped to check the map I realised I had badly under-estimated the distance and still had miles to go. This was proving to be a hard walk, I was tired now but I estimated at the current rate of progress it would take me another 2 hours or so to get back to my car.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

At one point I ended up on a higher path and had to drop down to a lower path I could see ahead. After a while I seemed to be running along what was once a fence, but all that remained was the odd rotted wooden post.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

Ahead I could see a large loch, Loch of Bushta and was worried about getting around the coastal side of this.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

As I neared it, I again ended up on the higher path and head to make a tricky descent to a more obvious lower path. It was spectacular coast and although tired I was really enjoying it now.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

The west coast of Dunnet Head

The west coast of Dunnet Head

As it happened the water out of the loch did not prove difficult to cross. Once past this the cliffs got lower and I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice are of sandy beach ahead, it reminded me a little of west Cornwall.

The west coast of Dunnet Head

Dwarwick, Caithness

I passed through another shower whilst my path passed through some bracken to end up on the low cliffs above this lovely sandy beach with large pebbles at either end. There was a path down to this beach but I was tired now and just wanted to get on, so I continued ahead.

Dwarwick, Caithness

IMG_0292

I had one more hill to climb and then ahead was the very welcome site of the road.

Dwarwick, Caithness

Dwarwick, Caithness

I now just had an easy path to follow down to the small car park at Dwarwick Pier (I had considered parking here this morning and now wished I had). I stopped for a much needed rest at one of the picnic benches here. After a nice 10 minute rest I continued up the road.

Dwarwick, Caithness

I knew I only had a mile or so go go now. At the road junction a museum was marked. This turned out to be a couple of very pretty cottages that reminded me a bit of the Isle of Man. I presume they are now a museum and sometimes open, but they weren’t at this time, but then it was gone 6pm so perhaps no surprise. Once was called Mary Ann’s Cottage. The museum was by the road junction and here I could turn right and follow this back to the A836 and my car just beyond it.

Mary Ann's Cottage, Dunnet

I was shattered and was grateful of the warm dry seat it offered! After polishing off the last of the drinks I had left, I made the short-ish drive back to Thurso and my not very nice hotel, where I had dinner in the hotel bar (the bar was at least better) and then returned to my room for a rest. With all the rain and blowing waterfalls I had got wet feet. Fortunately although basic my room did have a hair dryer. Being I man I don’t use it for it’s intended purpose but instead used it to dry out my shoes ready for the next days walking!

Despite the long length I had walked I was pleased to have made it and to have completed such a long walk over difficult terrain. This was really a walk of two halves the first mostly along roads around the various villages, which was not that interesting and the second the difficult walk over Dunnet head, but with some really stunning scenery on the way. Despite the difficulty, it had been very beautiful scenery and a very enjoyable walk and I was very pleased to have passed the milestone of reaching the most northerly point of mainland Britain. (That means I now have the north west and west compass points to reach).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk :-

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 80 : Thurso – Castletown – Dunnet – Brough – Greenvale – Scarfskerry – Mey – Gills Bay (road end) – Canisbay – John o’ Groats. Approximately 5 buses per day Monday – Friday and 4 per day on Saturdays. No service on Sundays. It takes around 25 minutes to travel between Dunnet and Gills Bay.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

Posted in Caithness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

306. Gills Bay to Keiss (via John o’ Groats)

May 2017

This walk is a milestone walk as I shall pass another of Britain’s compass points, the most north easterly point of the UK and that also means I’ll have walked from Lands End to John o’ Groats via the coast. It also marks the completion of the entire east coast of Britain.

For this walk I was staying in Wick so I had breakfast in my hotel and drove to Keiss where I parked on the road. From here I took one of the fairly infrequent buses to Gills Bay. In fact this was a very long walk and I had originally thought of starting at John o’ Groats and walking back instead, but the bus I wanted to catch didn’t stop there (or so I thought) and it was several hours for the next one, so I settled on Gills Bay. (The bus timetable has since changed so all buses that go to Gills Bay now also stop at John o’Groats).

The bus when it arrived was a coach and though I didn’t think it served John o’ Groats it stopped at the top of the road where it is about a half a mile walk. I decided to continue to Gills Bay as planned though.

The bus goes down the road right to the pier at Gills Bay. It is a tiny place which is basically just half a dozen houses or so and a ferry terminal. In fact I think this is one of, if not the only, commercial car ferries in Scotland (most are subsidised). The ferries, operated by Pentland Ferries run to to St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay, one of the Orkney Islands.

Gills Bay ferry terminal

The bus stopped at the ferry terminal and was timed to connect with the ferry. This is the shortest distance and fastest sea route to the Orkney’s and I plan to visit – but not today. This is a ferry route that restarted in 2001 after a long gap and has proven quite successful. (A new vessel was introduced on the route in December 2019).

I followed the road back up from the ferry terminal, being the only passenger on the bus that did not get the ferry! I tried to follow a rough path along the tufty grass at the top of the cliff, but the grass was almost to my knees and damp, so it was hard going.

Gills Bay

I soon ended up at a lay-by just beside the main road a short distance away from the road to the ferry.

Gills Bay

I had a long way ahead of me and decided to abandon trying to find a route closer to the coast here and just stuck with the A836, as it was taking so much time. This road runs only 100 or so metres from the coast anyway and was not that busy, but it was a boring walk.

After about 1 mile I reached the unusual church at Kirkstyle. This is a remote location and yet it has royal connections.

Kirkstyle, near Canisbay

Kirkstyle, near Canisbay

The Queen Mother owned the Castle of Mey and loved to come here when she could (though the rest of the Royal Family did not share her enthusiasm and the castle was sold not long after her death). This was the local church to the castle and so the royal family were regular visitors, photographs outside the church show the Queen Mother here, as well as Charles and Camilla. I stopped in the church yard for a quick drink stop as I had been walking fast on the road and was now thirsty and this was a safe place away from the traffic.

From here I returned to the road passing some sort of weird electric plant or something on the left , it looked like it might be a hydro electric plant of some sort, but with electric fences and warnings not to trespass. What was odd is that none of this is marked on the map, which always makes me suspicious.

The road was boring. I could only see the sea in the distance and inland it was flat and there were few buildings, so I made quite a quick pace, despite walking into a strong wind.

Near Canisbay

At one point a cyclist passed me and said something, but I couldn’t catch it in the wind. The road turned back to almost the cliff top again at Out Skerry and Roadside Cottages where I could look over to the Orkney Islands just a few miles away.

I headed down the road to Huna here which seemed to have some derelict cottages and a derelict lifeboat station, which was a bit odd. But it was nice to be back beside the coast.

The coast at Huna

The coast at Huna

Returning to the road, I passed the dead-end road to Newton but since this was on the coast I decided to follow it. Sadly this was a waste of time as it just ended at the front garden of a house with no way to get to the coast short of going through their garden, so I had to turn back. I was pleased to see the mill just beyond it was not derelict though and looked well cared for, it was a pretty building.

Mill west of John o'Groats

Mill west of John o'Groats

From here it was just half a mile more to John o’ Groats, where I turned left on the A99 to reach this milestone. I’d not heard good things about this place – that it was a tacky run-down mess of a place that was best avoided. Nevertheless it is famous as being the far north east corner of our island (even though it isn’t). In fact, the north eastern most place in Britain is actually Duncansby Head, about 2 miles further east (which I’d be getting to later).

Here I met the cyclist that passed me earlier who couldn’t believe I’d got here so quickly. I think he was the Gordon Ramsey of cyclists because whilst he did not look like him, he certainly sounded like him with seemingly every other word being “fuck”, whether about the wind, the cold or how tacky it was here. But he seemed happy despite the swearing but I was glad when he left me alone!

I had a look around and it wasn’t so bad. The hotel I understood had been derelict for some years, but had now been restored, along with some very brightly coloured cottages alongside, which are new.

John o'Groats

John o'Groats

There were nice views out to sea and boat trips on offer to see the wildlife and to Burwick on the Orkney Islands.

John o'Groats

John o'Groats

Yes there was of course some tourist shops and the famous sign, but I thought it was far better than Lands End and less intrusive.

John o'Groats

John o'Groats

You didn’t even have to pay to take a picture of the sign or have your picture taken under it, unlike Lands End. However that did mean that it had been mostly covered in stickers. Sticking stickers on things seems to be a weird obsession of those driving the NC500 route (which I was now on), for some reason.

So here’s a picture of me not standing underneath the sign.

John o'Groats

East of the harbour I was pleased to find there was seemingly a good coast path along the back of the beach which was very welcome, so I followed that.

Robert's Haven, John o'Groats

It soon stopped being surfaced and became a rougher grass path but it did at least seem to have been reasonably well walked and the beach had some sand.

Robert's Haven, John o'Groats

Robert's Haven, John o'Groats

The path soon took me past the beach of Robert’s Haven which was lovely with some white sand and dunes behind it and I stopped here for a quick rest.

Robert's Haven, John o'Groats

Robert's Haven, John o'Groats

Continuing around the Ness of Duncansby I soon reached the next beach, Sannick. This was a mixture of sand and shingle but also rather beautiful.

Bay of Sannick

Bay of Sannick

Beyond this beach the low grassy cliffs were now rising to higher cliffs, with many rocky inlets including this impressive one with a hole in the bottom which I think is called The Glupe and is I suspect a collapsed cave.

The coast west of Duncansby Head

The coast west of Duncansby Head

I then passed a second larger inlet to reach Duncansby itself, with the lighthouse. Now this is the most north easterly point of Britain (not John o’Groats) but far fewer people come here (even though it does have a road and a car park), but it is much the better for that. In fact it made me reflect that the last “compass point” I passed was Ness Point in Lowestoft, Suffolk, a long time ago. (Though the next compass point is only a few miles ahead of me).

The Glupe, Duncansby Head

Unusually, the lighthouse tower is square.

Duncansby Head lighthouse

Duncansby Head lighthouse

A fair few tourists had walked from John o’Groats to Duncansby Head but south of here it seemed few continued as the path was now far more feint and narrow. That was a surprise really because the scenery that had already been good just got better and better.

There were more rocky inlets (or “Geo” to give them the proper name), which seemed to be higher and longer than those I had passed earlier in the walk.

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

Soon I saw the sea stacks known as Stacks of Duncansby ahead.

Looking south from Duncansby Head

Rounding a few more inlets, where the cliffs were again layered, I soon had a clear view of the bay and these impressive stacks, which are higher and larger than I had imagined.

Looking south from Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

I was fortunate too that the weather was excellent (albeit windy) and the path along the cliff tops was still pretty good. It made for an easy walk with some wonderful scenery, which is a good combination.

Duncansby Head

As well as the sounds of the sea crashing into the rocks I also had the sounds and sights of the many sea birds that seemed to be nesting on the cliff face. It surprised me that this wonderful section of coast seems to be fairly little known, or explored.

Duncansby Head

As I passed these impressive rocks stacks one of them looked to me to be a bit like the end-gable of a church though it is of course entirely natural. (The last photo below).

Stacks of Duncansby

Stacks of Duncansby

Stacks of Duncansby

This really was a stunning stretch of coast and the cliffs were now extremely high.

Stacks of Duncansby

Again I was left musing over why so many people go to John o’Groats, which is nice enough but miss out the far more stunning scenery just a few miles away.

Stacks of Duncansby

Just south of here the map showed the path I had been following as ending, which was a bit odd since it didn’t seem to end at anywhere in particular. In fact the path got fainter and fainter until there wasn’t really much of a path at all but the cliff tops were mostly covered with heather so I could still make quite easy going where it had been partly flattened down, presumably by others walking here.

The coast south of Duncasby Head

The coast south of Duncasby Head

Fast Geo

Ahead, according to the map, I know had Burnt Hill (which wasn’t burnt) and Striding Man (was that me?) and finally Red Cheek (the result of striding fast?!). Beyond these strangely named places I reached some more astonishing scenery. This is Wife Geo and it is quite amazing an almost square hold (a collapsed cave, perhaps) with the sea crashing through the rocks at the bottom.

Fast Geo

Fast Geo

I stopped here to enjoy these amazing views and for lunch. Onwards the cliffs were now becoming lower, but as a result I was nearer to the sea, which was nice as it was really crashing into the rocks below me.

The coast north of Skirza

Sadly the path was now increasingly rough with some boggy areas, but it was worth the effort for the wonderful scenery.

Sadly this wonderful part soon ended when I reached and old quarry and I could follow the track from here up to Skirza farm and the end of the public road just beyond.

Near Freswick Bay

I followed this road through the small (but spread out) village of Skirza. In about a mile there was a path on the left down to the beach of Freswick Bay.

This had rocks and pebbles at the back but there was sand at the shoreline which made for a lovely walk, and the remains of some more World War II “Dragons Teeth” at the back of the beach. At the far end too I could see a large building, marked as Freswick Castle.

Freswick Bay

Freswick Bay

Freswick Bay

As I neared it, I could see it was more stately home than defensive castle now.

Freswick Bay

At the end of the beach and before the castle is Burn of Freswick. I was able to cross this on the beach by some rocks that had been piled up and then followed a path in front of the castle.

Freswick Castle

Freswick Castle

The castle is in private ownership and I think primarily used as residence but it has a website which suggest it is also used to host events and available for hire.

Unfortunately ahead there was no clear route along the coast and the map showed many walls or fences that I would have to cross. With many miles still to cover I reluctantly decided to head for the A99 and so followed the track from the castle to the A99. I figured that at least the A99 ended at John o’Groats so it wasn’t likely to be that busy.

Freswick Castle

Track to Freswick Castle

It was quite a long boring trek along the A99, dodging the traffic and in a little under 2 miles I reach Auckegill.

Here I followed a short dead-end road from the A99 down to the shore where there was a tiny little harbour, remains of a Broch and another building.

Auckengill

Auckengill

Auckengill

From here I was pleased to find a good path south along the coast again so I could avoid the A99.

The coast at Auckengill

The coast at Auckengill

The coast at Auckengill

This soon took me to Mervyn’s Tower, a commemorative monument. Sadly beyond the monument the path became rough and hard going and I continued to struggle along the shore until I reached  a stream.

Mervyn Tower, Auckengill

The coast north of Keiss

The coast north of Keiss

Here I climbed over a gate and barbed wire fences to make my way back to the A99. Another mile or so along the road and I reached the Square of Keiss and the track leading round to the castle. I had hoped to follow this as an alternative to the A99 but it was private so instead I climbed over a gate into the next field and follow that down to the coast instead.

I could get quite close to the old ruined castle that was on the cliff top here, which looks somewhat precarious right at the edge.

Keiss Castle

From here I could look back to the more modern Keiss Castle (another stately home, really).

Keiss Castle

I continued along the coast along the grass which wasn’t too bad, passing another odd ruined structure (perhaps a sunken World War II pillbox, but it looks like it has a face) and the cliffs got gradually lower until the grass was basically the back of the stony beach.

The coast north of Keiss

The coast north of Keiss

I continued past another building built into the side of the hill to a left, which I later found is an old ice house.

The coast north of Keiss

Anyway I now had a short distance further to walk down to the harbour at Keiss.

Keiss harbour

This had been a long walk and I was really tired now. I’d probably tried to cover too many miles today but I was pleased to have now done so and made my way back up to my hired car that I had parked in Keiss for a welcome sit down!

This was a mixed walk. The first part to John o’Groats along the A836 to John o’Groats. Then I had a wonderful stretch of walking around from there to Duncansby Head. From there thinks improved even more with some absolutely stunning scenery south of there which I had to myself, as I puzzled why this wonderful bit of coast is seemingly ignored in favour of John o’Groats. Sadly when the path ended it was then mostly a fairly dull walk back to Keiss along the A99, but at least this was still close to the coast and traffic not too heavy.

This walk also passes the milestone of completing the east coast of Scotland. Now I have rounded the corner and my next few walks will be along the northern coast of Scotland, which I’m looking forward to. It was quite an achievement I felt to reach Duncansby Head and so now complete walking the entire east coast of not just Scotland but Britain (and I had also already completed the south coast, so now it’s “just” the north and west to go!).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 77 : Wick – Reiss – Keiss – Bowermadden Crossroads (77A only), FreswickJohn o’ Groats – Cainsby – Gills Bay (Ferry Terminal) – John o’Groats – Thurso. Only 2 buses per day Monday – Friday (there are other services which terminate at John o’Groats). No service at weekends. It takes a little over 20 minutes to travel between Keiss and Gills Bay.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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305. Keiss to Wick

May 2017

After the previous days long walk (or perhaps too long), I had a shorter walked planned for today, from the village of Keiss back down to Wick, where I was staying. I had breakfast at my hotel and then could wait in the hotel lobby for the arrival of the bus since the main bus stop in Wick was right outside the door of the hotel. I didn’t need to drive at all today.

The bus arrived and I managed to pronounce Keiss incorrectly but at least the bus driver still worked out where I wanted to go (after he had corrected me). It was a short bus journey and I was soon in the village of Keiss.

Like Lybster, where I started my previous walk the village is mostly along a single straight street that runs from the A99 half a mile to the shore. At the end of the road, the road zig-zagged down to the harbour.

Keiss Harbour

Keiss Harbour

The harbour had only a few small boats in it but some large stone buildings around it suggested it had once been a busy port.

Keiss Harbour

The main building had a sign “Keiss Harbour Building 1833 2004” presumably from when that building was refurbished or converted, but the sign was already so rusted I could hardly read it!

Keiss Harbour

Having reached the coast I attempted to follow the shore south. What looked to be a lovely sandy beach started about half a mile from the harbour so I was hoping to be able to make it along the shore in order to get to this beach. However it was hard work since I had to climb over pebbles, rocks (much of it lose), bits of rusty metal and abandoned fishing equipment, as there wasn’t a path behind the beach.

The coast south of Keiss

The coast south of Keiss

The coast south of Keiss

It was hard work and so slow going, but suddenly past a house I found there now was a good path along the grass at the back of the beach, which was welcome as it got me off the rocks at the shore.

The coast south of Keiss

Beside this path there were lines of “dragons teeth” or tank traps. These were laid during World War II in an attempt to stop any enemy tanks that might land on the beach from making it further inland (I don’t think they were ever put to the test). I think many have since been removed, but here they were still in place.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Soon there was a line of sand near the tide line, so I headed down there to walk along the beach, Sinclair Bay. It was wonderful.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

There was nice firm sand by the tide line which made for an easy pleasant walk with the sounds and smell of the sea right next to me and not a single other person to be seen on this beach, and no other footprints either.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Soon the rocks at the back of the beach ended, replaced with sand dunes. It is a beautiful beach and a lovely walk. I was making good progress too because the beach was flat and easy to walk on and there were many sea birds to watch.

However I knew from the map that about 1 1/2 miles ahead the River of Wester flowed out over the beach. There wasn’t a bridge marked on the map at the shore here so I might have to head to the A99. The other problem was immediately before the river was marked some works that seemed to stretch out right to the beach with a railway track of some sort (conveyor belt?) running inland, for about 5 miles to somewhere called “Bridge of Gravity”. All very strange, but it might mean I’d have to get around these works too.

As I neared the works there was some sort of structure built part out onto the beach but the tide was out enough I could get around it on the shore side. However I still have the river to cross. I needn’t have worried. The map showed the river as quite wide. Perhaps it is after heavy rain, but today it looked like this.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Not really much trouble to cross – it was only ankle deep! Now over the river I could continue south on this lovely and deserted beach again.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Whilst I hadn’t seen anyone else on this beach at all (in fact I’d not seen anyone since leaving Keiss) I soon came across evidence that people had been here as for some reason someone seemed to have decided to make some sort of “artwork” by putting different coloured rubber gloves on top of some bits of rusty wire stuck into the beach. As you do, of course (I don’t really understand modern art).

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Having “admired” this artwork I continued on my way south along the beach, but the sandy area was already quite narrow and getting narrower. Soon, it ran out entirely so the way ahead on the beach was now all pebbles.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

However there was a fence just behind the beach in the dunes so I stuck to the pebble beach which was hard-going.

Soon however the fence ended so I headed up into the dunes again and this time found a rough grass path which was much easier to use.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

This even had stiles along it and soon I came across access to the beach I think from a car park marked at the end of the road that serves Wick Golf Club (ah, I knew there had to be a golf course for Wick somewhere!). I was able to follow this wide grassy path to reach Ackergill Tower. This tower dates from the early 16th Century and was rather beautiful. At the time I did this walk it was operating as a hotel. As I neared the building the grassy path entered a more formal garden.

Ackergill Tower

I wasn’t quite sure what to do here. The Scottish open access doesn’t spread to private gardens (and one of the things they specify to look out for to identify a private garden is a mown lawn). However I had also been following what looked to be a proper path of some sort since it had stiles where fences were encountered. So I suspected and hoped it continued on, so I continued on to reach the tower.

Ackergill Tower

(The hotel closed down in 2019 and it has since been become a privately owned holiday home so that might make things trickier for anyone else wanting to follow this route, as I can’t imagine access will have got any easier as a result).

However beyond the tower all the possible routes seemed to be private drives and sensing I shouldn’t be here I headed back and turned a bit inland to get around it, hoping to be able to return to the shore later. However I soon realised I had gone a bit too far and was now heading back to the A99. So I turned left towards Ackergill Mains.

Ackergill Tower

Once at Ackergill Mains a track was marked on the map heading back to the coast, but it didn’t seem to actually exist on the ground.So I continued to the road and turned left to Ackergillshore. After about 500 metres a track was shown as heading east to Shorelands which I considered following. However it too didn’t seem to exist so I continued down to the coast at the end of the road and was delighted to find a proper footpath along the shore. Perhaps this was one that I had been following up to Ackergill Tower and following those private looking drives perhaps was the correct way. Either way though I was back on the coast now.

In fact Ackergillshore was rather lovely. There was a small harbour wall and some sort of slipway that appeared to be disused now and beautiful white sands.

Ackergillshore

I decided this was a good place for lunch (and it was). The slipway looked like it might have once been part of a lifeboat station but if it had the building had gone so the landward end of the slipway was just a dead-end, rather odd.

Ackergillshore

Now refreshed I continued east along the coast, passing a few more sandy beaches, and some rock and pebble ones.

Ackergillshore

As I headed further east the good path got less good and became quite rough, but there was always a path of sorts albeit I was never quite sure if it had been made by people or animals.

The coast east of Ackergillshore

Looking back I could still see Ackergill Tower whilst looking the other way I could also see another castle at the end of the bay – Castle Sinclair (marked as “remains of” on the map), but even if it was in ruins I could see from this distance there was still quite a lot of it left.

The coast east of Ackergillshore

Nearing the castle I came across another pretty sandy bay now with some red soil similar in colour to cliffs I remember seeing in East Devon. The geology was changing again.

The coast east of Ackergillshore

The coast east of Ackergillshore

I made my way a little higher up to get around this, at least inland was all grass so this wasn’t too bad, but the coast was changing with the low dunes and beach giving way to cliffs. Still there seemed to be a rough path of sorts around the cliffs and in front of the fences.

Near Noss Head

The coast got more and more beautiful as I approached the castle, with a few rock stacks visible and some interesting looking rocks and cliffs, which seemed to have horizontal lines on.

Near Noss Head

Near Noss Head

The castle was looking more and more spectacular too as I closed in on it. Yes it was in ruins but there was still quite a lot left and it was quite spectacular, especially since the sun was now coming out.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

I like castles a lot so I was delighted to find out it was open free of charge to look around and the ruins looked to be being well maintained now, with a bridge providing access and information boards all around the site.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The information board told me the bridge was opened in 2008 by Andrew J Sinclair and there was also a memorial to Ian Sinclair who died in 2014. Given I had been following Sinclair Bay to get here it was clear the Sinclair’s are an important family in this area.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

I really enjoyed looking around the castle but I also really enjoyed the views of the spectacular coast from it. I could see why the castle was sighted here, with views a long way north along the coast and almost as the top of Noss Head, ships could be seen approaching from most directions.

Building the castle must have been really difficult but I was so impressed about the way the natural rock features had been combined to build the castle. Looking at this it’s actually quite hard to spot where the natural cliffs end and the castle wall begins, other than the red bricks on the corner. I was impressed at how it had been blended into the cliffs.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The view of the coast from the castle was also rather good.

The coast from Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Having finished exploring the castle I continued along the shore and came across this impressive rocky inlet. Again the geology is fascinating with the horizontal lines all along the cliff face, I’ve no idea what has caused it.

The coast east of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

I stopped for a closer look and this was clearly quite a popular place for people to come, presumably after visiting the castle as people had been having fun creating stacks out of the rocks and pebbles.

The coast east of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Now heading east I found a reasonable path along the cliff tops and this bit of the coast was stunning, with numerous rock stacks and rocky inlets, all with these horizontal lines in.

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Noss Head

Ahead I could now see the lighthouse at Noss Head, which I was approaching.

Noss Head

The coast between me and it was however very indented so I had to keep going in and out to get around these, but I didn’t mind because it was pretty.

Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

Some of the inlets were wide enough to have beaches, sometimes with sand I went down to one of the remoter ones, which was lovely.

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

It was nice not to be covering so many miles today as it had given me more time to explore places like this and the castle and I stopped for a rest for a while on a sandy bit of one of these beaches.

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

I was now approaching the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is still in use however the buildings around it had fallen into a bit of disrepair and at the time I walked here were not in use. I gather that has since changed, they have been repaired and restored and I gather now some are let as holiday cottages whilst others are used as offices by the lighthouse board. However there was no access along the coast behind the lighthouse so I headed the landward side, past a small lake in the grass.

Noss Head

Although the sun had come out it had got very windy now, as the “waves” on this small lake make clear!

Noss Head

Noss Head Lighthouse

Once around the lake I returned to the shore and found a rough path along the cliff top again. Once again the scenery was stunning, with more impressive geology, rocky inlets and beaches and the sound of the crashing waves, it was a wonderful section of coast.

The coast south of Noss Head

The coast south of Noss Head

The coast south of Noss Head

The cliffs were gradually getting lower now and I was soon seeing the buildings of Wick ahead (actually the village of Staxigoe but this almost joins onto Wick).

The coast south of Noss Head

As I approached Field of Noss Farm a noticed warned to keep dogs under control whilst once past the farm looking back a sign along the driver showed “Walkers Welcome” which suggests the rough path the other side of the farm was a proper path of some sort out to Noss Head.

The coast south of Noss Head

I now followed the track from the farm into the village of Staxigoe and continued south to Broad Haven. Broad Haven was nice with a good rocky beach and a nice green with benches behind it.

The coast north of Wick

Beyond Broad Haven I found a track signed to the sewage works at the end of North Head signed as “North Head Footpath” so I followed this.

The coast north of Wick

The coast north of Wick

Once round the head the good path continued right along the low cliffs tops, behind the houses until it descended down to the beach where there is one of those tidal swimming pools and the harbour just beyond.

The coast at Wick

I continued along the shore to the first bridge and then the A99 bridge and continued on the path beside the Wick River, a short distance further to reach my hotel, it was nice not to have to travel anywhere once I finished the walk.

Wick

Wick

Wick River, Wick

Wick River, Wick

This had been an excellent walk. Although a few parts had difficult route finding that was more than made up for by the beautiful sandy beach of Sinclair Bay and further north the impressive ruins of Sinclair Castle and the stunning coast all around it. The walk out to the lighthouse at Noss Head was also lovely and it was a pleasant surprise to find that nice path right the way into Wick too. I was also far luckier with the weather today it being dry in the morning and with some sunshine in the afternoon. In fact it strikes me this walk has all the ingredients of a classic coast walk. Long sand beach. Check. Beautiful rocky cliffs. Check. Harbour. Check. Lighthouse. Check. Castle. Check!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk :-

Stagecoach Highlands bus routes 77, 177, 77A : Wick – Reiss – Keiss – Bowermadden Crossroads (77A only), Freswick – John o’ Groates. Buses then continue to either Gills Bay (ferry terminal) and/or Thurso. Approximately 6 buses per day Monday – Friday only. No service at weekends. It takes around 15 minutes to travel between Wick and Keiss.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

Posted in Caithness, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

304. Lybster to Wick

May 2017

I had spent the night in Wick. After a not great nights sleep I had breakfast at my hotel (which was an all you can eat buffet, so that was good). Today it was very convenient to start my walk. I planned to take a bus from Wick to Lybster so I could walk back without worrying about the time. I didn’t need to drive at all and left my (hired) car at the hotel. This meant I didn’t have to make an especially early start because the main bus stop in Wick was directly outside my hotel entrance.

So from here I headed out a few minutes before the bus was due. It turned out the bus was actually a coach which was nice, as it is much more comfortable and took about half an hour to get to Lybster. Sadly the weather was not so good, overcast and misty after overnight rain, though the rain had at least stopped.

From the bus timetable it told me the stop was “Lybster Main Street”. I took this to mean the A99, as the road into the village is basically a dead-end and this is a long-distance bus route to Inverness, so I didn’t imagine it would go along the dead-end road. So I got off the bus on the A99, but it turns out I was wrong, as I then watched it turn down the dead-end street through Lybster (and later, turn around and come back). Oh well it didn’t add a huge distance to my walk.

Another thing that surprised me about Lybster is the width of the main street. Not quite sure why it’s so wide (perhaps there was once a market down the main street) as it’s wide enough for about 5 lanes of traffic!

Lybster

I stopped at the village shop to get provisions for lunch and then set off down the main street towards the coast. I wondered about trying to find a way along the coast but I wasn’t sure if that would be possible (the road was a dead-end) and given how wet and misty it was I didn’t fancy getting wet feet from walking through water-sodden long grass so early.

So instead I decided to turn left on the minor road heading east to Hillhead, which I hoped would have little traffic. As I headed down this road I saw another couple ahead appearing out of the mist heading towards me. As we got closer they stopped. They were an Australian couple that were looking for a bed-and-breakfast in Lybster, but they did not know exactly where it was. Sadly I didn’t either, so all I could do was direct them to the main road in the hope it was along there. I did wonder later quite where they had spent the previous night and why they wanted to check in so early in the morning (it was not much after 9am!), though perhaps they were meeting someone. I also mused at how someone had come from Australia to little old Lybster. I always get a pang of guilt when someone asks me the way and I don’t know (not sure why I do … but I do).

I followed this for almost a little over half a mile to the cottages around Hillhead house. Here I had spotted a track eastwards to Mavesy which I planned to follow. However as I got there, there were several horse riders about and several barking dogs. It looked like it might be private and with plenty of people (and dogs) to make it obvious I was there, I decided against it and instead turned left to the A99.

With reluctance, I soon reached the A99, and it was back to trudging along beside a major trunk road (albeit one in a remote area). It was not good and I didn’t want this to turn into a long boring walk along the A99. I passed this derelict cottage and then continued through the mist.

Ruined cottage

The A99

After about half a mile I came to the turn off for Occumster. Sadly I could see the road here too was a single dead-end road that stopped about 300 metres before the coast (where there was a “Produce Attraction” marked as a tourist attraction at the end of the road, whatever that might be). I gave the “Produce Attraction” a miss too.

However rather than continue on the A99 I spotted that there was a disused railway line marked on the map that paralleled the A99 just to the north and it looked to join it a mile or so further up the road. So I headed north to the fence and looked for the track, but there was no obvious track and farm fences to cross. I didn’t really want to be jumping over farm fences the whole way on uneven ground, so again, I continued on the A99.

Soon I crossed the bridge of Occumster and continued another half a mile or so to the track just before Clyth Mains. This was indeed a gravelly track between dry-stone walls so I decided to follow this to the coast. After all, this was meant to be a coastal walk and whilst I might have made good time along the A99, it was hardly interesting or pleasant.

I followed this to the shore, climbing a gate on the way. Here I found a rough path along the tussocky grass along the shore. I wasn’t sure if it was a proper path but at least I could see a route so either other people or animals had walked this way. This was much better. The cliffs were tall and the waves rough. It was a spectacular stretch of coast, but sadly I could not see a lot of it, because it was still very misty.

The coast near Clyth

Whilst at times the mist seemed to clear and visibility was quite good, it would roll back in a few minutes later.

The coast near Clyth

So spectacular in fact was the sea, crashing into the near vertical cliffs that I stopped several times to just watch the sea crashing about. It was lovely, but it did remind me of the power of the sea. At one point there was a huge cave and sometimes the waves would be so high they’d sent water flowing out of this cave, which came out at quite a speed, presumably the channel the water was flowing along narrowed. Although it was early I decided to stop at this spectacular spot to have my sandwiches. It was a nice spot, well away from the road and to sit and watch the sea, though it was still early so I didn’t eat all my lunch.

The coast near Clyth

The rough path I was following continued east and I was pleased to find there were even stiles, so it did at least seem to be some sort of official path, though there were no signs.

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

I could follow this path all the way to the lighthouse at Clythness.

Clythness Lighthouse

From the map I wasn’t sure if this was a full sized lighthouse or more a little tower or something modern, but it was indeed a traditional old lighthouse, and very pretty it was too.

Clythness Lighthouse

Sadly, from the lighthouse, things became trickier. Initially there was still a sort of path along the cliff top but it was now rough tufty grass and hard going. Ahead I had a “geo” to get around, Line Geo. The fence was very close to the edge leaving just a narrow stretch of grass between the fence and a sheer drop. So I crept round carefully. The fence continued around the far side, but there was at least a little more room there. It was impressive scenery though.

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

Just past Line Geo I came to another rocky inlet, this time Sgaps Geo. Here the cliffs were sheer and it looked man made, but I think it is natural.

Sgaps Geo

The coast near Clyth

The scenery continued to be stunning as I passed the stack of Mid Clyth, where there was a small rocky island (islet?) just off shore, where one of the geos had broken right through, I assume.

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

Ahead the fence got close enough to the shore I didn’t dare risk it, so I climbed over it and walked inside the edge of the field instead.

The coast near Clyth

The fence ended at Halberry Castle, though there was not much to see. From here I resumed along the coast on the rough grass again, though the difficult terrain was more than made up for by the stunning scenery, despite the mist.

Ahead I came to the Burn of East Clyth. This was quite pretty and as I hoped was not that wide or deep. It was a steep climb down the little valley either side but I could step on rocks over the water so as to cross with dry feet (well they were already damp, but they didn’t get wetter). It was quite pretty too with a tiny little waterfall!

Stream near Clyth

I continued along the cliff tops, on these high and sheer cliffs though there was another little stream ahead, but easy to cross. Just beyond that was another large geo, which I had to head inland almost as far as the road to get around. I continued over some gorse and heather ahead to reach the top of a second geo. This was only about 30 metres from the road and it was getting hard work now. So I decided to head up on the road. Whilst I hated the traffic at least the going was easy and I was still close to the coast, as the road was only around 100-200 metres from the coast.

I followed the road for around ¾ of a mile to reach the turning for the little village (hamlet, really) of Whaligoe. Here there is a sign for Whaligoe steps and I’d heard this was well worth a brief diversion to explore. I followed the road past the half dozen or so cottages and then when the road ends the steps begin.

Whaligoe Steps

A naturally formed “harbour” existed below the cliffs and Captain David Brodie spent £8 in the late mid 1800s having 360 steps cut into the rocks to form a path down to reach the harbour.

Whaligoe Steps

Herring was then landed here, with up to 14 boats based here and the fish carried up all these steps. Eventually the work here ceased and the steps became disused and fell out of repair, but locals have made sterling efforts to repair them and keep them open in recent years. So I headed down the steps, which soon got steeper and stepper. With the mist I couldn’t see much of what was below me, but I could certainly hear it. The sea was crashing into this narrow harbour, sending huge waves up the side. It was impossible to imagine boats ever having been based here, they would have been smashed to match sticks!

As I descended I soon emerged on a flat grassy area where there are the remains of some kilns (I think) from the former industry here.

Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

However by the far most impressive was the sea itself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sea so rough or make such a noise. As each wave crashed into the rocks below, you could feel the vibrations coming up through the rock!

Whaligoe Haven

I continued down a slippery path (of sorts) to the beach. It was really just a few pebbles and rocks, but chains were attached to the cliffs here where the boats were then attached to the cliffs, presumably to keep them away from the worst of the sea.

Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

It was exhilarating being down here with the sea crashing into the sheer cliffs all around.

The coast at Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

Though the path I walked on was almost covered by the sea, so I didn’t want to linger long in case the tide was coming in, it was hard to tell!

Whaligoe Haven

So I headed back up to the grassy platform and then found a place I could climb a bit down the rocks from here to find a truly spectacular spot for the rest of my lunch. It was a very windy day, which presumably was the reason the sea was so rough, but down here I was, at last, out of the wind. So I enjoyed the shelter here watching the water crash all around me. Each big wave caused vibrations through the rocks I could feel. It rates as one of the best lunch spots I’ve ever had. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen the sea rougher than it was here!

Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

Much as I would have liked to linger, I was starting to get cold sitting still and I was conscious I still had some way to go. So with reluctance, I left and started the long climb up the steps. It was a long climb up, as you might expect, but there were at least places you could stop.

Whaligoe Steps

From the top of the steps I couldn’t see any obvious way onwards along the coast so I returned to the A99 initially. I followed this for about ¼ of a mile then turned off right down a track just south of Ulbster. Here there were ruined houses at the end of the field and I turned left to head past these and into the field below. Here I was able to make my way back along the cliff tops. I found a feint path where the grass was shorter and followed this to the back of a house just north of Ulbster. Here I turned right over a rough area of heather and gorse, following a sort of path.

The coast near Whaligoe

Ahead though I soon came to another deep sided valley which I could not get over (Mill Burn). Instead I headed along the line of this until I was level with Mains Of Ulbster, where I turned left and then followed the minor road north.

This is because right along the coast is Loch Sarclet and I was not sure I would be able to get the coastal side of this. I followed this boring (but easy) road for about 1.5 miles to the junction. Here I turned right. The road ahead continued to Sarclet, but it was a dead-end. I might have been able to make my way along the shore from there but I was not sure. However I was getting tired and I didn’t want a long diversion along a dead-end road because I still had a long way to go (I was beginning to feel that this walk was too long). So instead I turned left to Corbiegoe where there was a proper path marked on the map (or at least, a track). So I followed the road to the end where there was indeed a track over an area of moorland. There was also a circle of stones here and I did wonder if it was the remains of a building (such as a lighthouse) or something more spiritual.

The coast south of Wick

At the end of the area of moorland there was a good path right along the coast. This reached the coast at Ires Geo, a truly spectacular place with sheer vertical cliffs though these cliffs were popular with birds, there were many hundreds squeezed onto narrow ledges in the cliffs, an impressive sight.

The coast south of Wick

Ahead the path continued past another couple of geos these too were spectacular, though not quite as much as those I had already passed.

IMG_6813

IMG_6816

I continued past a grassy valley and beyond this the cliffs soon became lower until I reached the large rocky bay at Girston.

The coast south of Wick

Here there was a large rock stack ahead and again I could listen to the sea crashing about in this large bay. It is always humbling to see the power of the sea.

The coast south of Wick

I came across another spectacular feature where the sea had cut a gap through a rock to form a little bay behind it, but there was a rocky bridge over the top. Once this collapses it will form another rock stack.

The coast south of Wick

The coast south of Wick

The coast south of Wick

The path was good because it stuck right to the coast and I could continue round numerous other rocks stacks and and inlets for another mile or so until I reached the ruins of the castle of Old Wick.

To be honest, there was not a lot left, just the outer tower still standing really but at least it was free to look around.

Wick Old Castle

Wick Old Castle

The coast south of WIck

I was also nearing Wick now, at last, and the path continued only a short distance further along the cliff until I came to a road and a car park. I followed this minor road right around the cliff tops until near the point where it turns west there seemed to be a lower path away from the road.

The coast near Wick

So I followed this, soon coming to steps that led down into some sort of quarry which still seemed to be used for something, since it was full of piles of different rock. But there was a proper path around it, and even a picnic bench. It seemed an odd contrast!

The coast near Wick

The coast near Wick

The coast at Wick

I could follow this path around the base of the cliffs to the old lifeboat station.

The coast at Wick

Wick Lifeboat station

This marks the start of the harbour of Wick. Ahead I soon found steps back up to the cliff top and followed these to find a nice view over the town and a pleasant shelter, though it was not really the sort of weather to linger.

Wick

Soon I descended back down to the harbours edge and followed the most coastal road around it to the first bridge over the river.

WIck harbour

WIck harbour

Here I then turned left and made my way back to my hotel.

Wick

Wick

WIck harbour

I was glad of a sit down (and some shortbread biscuits left for me by the cleaner) as I was really tired after this walk. To be honest it was too long to do in a day really and I was glad I hadn’t made any more diversions.

It was a shame about the weather but this was a truly spectacular walk. Whilst I had had to do some road walking on busy A-roads I was so pleased to have found a spectacular cliff path for much of the walk, as the coastal scenery around Wick is truly stunning, and is like nothing else I’ve seen on my coast walk with all these rocky inlets and sheer cliffs. A memorable walk for sure, it was just a shame the weather had been so poor, as it was misty the whole day, and I only hoped it would clear overnight to leave a better day to come.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach buses route X99 : Inverness – Dornoch – Golspie – Brora – Helmsdale – Berriedale – Dunbeath – Latheron – Lybster  Wick – Reiss – Castletown – Thurso – Scrabster Ferry terminal. Twice per day Monday – Saturday and once per day on Sunday. It takes around 30 minutes to travel between Lybster and Wick.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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