Dunrobin Dawdle

September 2019

After my walk from Helmsdale to Golspie I hadn’t had time to visit Dunrobin Castle (and in fact it was closed for the day by the time I walked past).

I do like visiting a castle but didn’t get chance when walking the east coast to go back and visit this castle. By now I had reached the west coast of Scotland and was in fact staying in Ullapool for this 5 day trip. Unfortunately the weather forecast was for heavy rain and gale force winds, to last the entire day (which turned out to be accurate). That wasn’t the sort of weather that makes for a pleasant walk, so unfortunately I’d abandoned plans to do a walk and decided to have a “day off” walking so was in search of an “indoor” option for the day (There isn’t much indoors around Ullapool and I didn’t want to waste the day sitting in the hotel room, not helped by the fact the hotel was not very good).

It occurred to me that the north of Scotland is much less wide then the rest of Britain, so travelling between the west and east coast does not require covering the huge distances it does further south. So I decided that it was feasible to drive from Ullapool to Golspie and visit Dunrobin Castle for the day. The weather forecast on the east coast was to start dry, with the rain not arriving until later in the afternoon so I should at least keep dry for some of the day.

The journey took about 1 hour 40 minutes with many deep puddles to go through. Most of the roads that go west-east in the north coast of Scotland are single track with passing places, as was the case here, but the views were stunning (despite the rain) and there wasn’t much traffic so I didn’t have to stop too often.

I parked in the car park in front of the impressive castle and paid my admission to go in (this being the days, prior to 2020, when it was possible to just turn up at a visitor attraction, pay money and go in rather than being told you have to book in advance as seems to be the case at most places now). The admission ticket included access to the interior of the castle, gardens and a falconry display, which would be taking place in the gardens later on.

Whilst I had seen the castle from the coast the view from the front was equally impressive.

Dunrobin Castle

Given the forecast was for the rain to arrive later and it was currently not raining I decided it was a good idea to start with the gardens.

The first view of the gardens is from the terrace, with the formal gardens below and heading down to the coast.

Dunrobin Castle Gardens

They are impressive though I suspect more colourful earlier in the year (spring).

Dunrobin Castle Gardens

From the terrace I headed down the steps to explore the gardens more closely.

The gardens are extremely well kept and despite the wind, the fountain was running.

Dunrobin Castle Gardens

Dunrobin Castle Gardens

The gardens, Dunrobin Castle

The gardens however offered the most wonderful view of the impressive castle.

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

At the far end was a sort of walled formal garden.

The gardens, Dunrobin Castle

The gardens were large and impressive. As I had been advised when buying my ticket there was also a falconry display and at the far end I found the birds which would likely be a part of this display. Apologies if I get this wrong but I think I’m right in saying that first off is a Peregrine Falcon.

Peregrine Falcon, Dunrobin Castle

Next, a Gos Hawk.

Gos Hawk, Dunrobin Castle

Next an Eagle Owl.

Eagle Owl, Dunrobin Castle

Next a Harris Hawk.

Harris Hawk, Dunrobin Castle

Finally, a golden eagle.

Golden Eagle, Dunrobin Castle

All the birds had names, which unfortunately I did not note down and I have now forgotten.

I was glad to see the rain had held off so rather than go around the house I decided to watch the falconry display. 3 of the birds took part in the display and they were wonderful to watch.

Gos Hawk, Dunrobin Castle

Peregrine Falcon, Dunrobin Castle

Harris Hawk, Dunrobin Castle

The falconer flew the birds one of which (the Harris Hawk) particularly enjoyed the windy weather and flew way out of the castle grounds. If it was mine I’d be worried it might not come back, but of course it did and he explained that the bird loves the windy weather and was enjoying flying. One thing I hadn’t realised is that stately homes such as this used to employ several falconers and they would be used to catch rabbits for food as well as kill vermin such as rats. I hadn’t ever really though about the food aspect, but it makes a lot of sense. 

All in all it was impressive to watch and the falconer allowed us to take some close up pictures of the beautiful birds too.

After enjoying the falconry display it was time for lunch, which I had in the castle cafe. After lunch I explored the interior of the castle. Although originally built as a defensive castle, it was significantly remodelled in the early 1800s to become essentially a stately home, owned by the Duke of Sutherland. During World War II it was used as a Naval hospital. After World War I and II the castle found use as a boarding school until it was opened to the public in 1973, though the Duke of Sutherland still rents some rooms as a private residence.

All remnants of the boarding school seem to have been erased with the rooms that are open to the public restored to their original use.

You can see from this photo of one of the internal courtyards how the older medieval castle has been combined to form part of the more modern house.

Dunrobin Castle

Inside it was an impressive grand home.

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

My favourite room was the children’s play room with lots of old toys, a few of which I remember.

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

In the ground floor and basement were the kitchens and house keepers quarters. 

Dunrobin Castle

I actually remember my mum using a variant of that yellow Hoover vacuum cleaner (hers was blue and white, but other than that looked the same).

Having explored the open parts of the house there was also a museum in the grounds. Sadly one part of this displays the trophy heads of animals shot by family members on safari. I was warned about it before going in and it was indeed grim (I am reminded of the scene from the film Ace Ventura Pet Detective film where such a room was described as a “room of death” which seems accurate to me).  However it also had some archaeological artefacts including some Pictish stones.

Pictish stone, Dunrobin Castle

Pictish stone, Dunrobin Castle

Having explored the house, museum and grounds I went for a short walk down to the shore where I had walked 3 years earlier.

The coast beside Dunrobin Castle

The coast beside Dunrobin Castle

The wind had increased in speed but the rain held off. It was a little more bleak than when I had seen it last but it was nice to at least see the coast today – and without having to shelter from rain.

Having finished exploring the castle and grounds I headed up the drive and decided to look at one more thing before I left. When railway lines were built over private land it was quite common for the landowners to request (or sometimes) demand a station be built for their own use as a condition of allowing the line to be built over their land.

That is the case at Dunrobin Castle with the station opening in 1870 (and rebuilt in 1902). For most of it’s existence it was a private station, for use by the Duke of Sutherland and family. The station closed in 1965 but was re-opened in 1985 now becoming a public station with the primary purpose of serving visitors to the castle. It is almost unique on the British railway network in being a station that is only open during the summer months (corresponding with the opening dates of the castle) and even then trains stop only by request.

The station was featured in the 4th and 5th Harry Potter films as Hogsmeade station. Since it was just across the A9 from the castle I decided to have a quick look before departing.

Dunrobin Castle station

The station is small but very pretty. The yellow steps are I believe because the platform is very low and to help any passengers get on or off the train. The waiting room is a railway museum though when it opens I have no idea, so I had to make do with peering in the window.

The waiting room, Dunrobin Castle Station

Dunrobin Castle station

I really enjoyed my visit to Dunrobin Castle and was very pleased I had managed to find the time to come back and explore it properly, rather than simply see it from the outside.

As it was still only mid afternoon I had picked up a leaflet about the “Golspie Big Burn Walk” in the castle. Since Golspie was only a mile or so away and I would have to drive through Golspie anyway I thought it was worth a look (though the name did sound rather american). I parked in Golspie and walked to the start of the walk.

This turned out to be well worth a look. The walk is a couple of miles long, a circular walk along the valley of the Golspie Burn.

The burn and walk soon head under the railway line, which crosses the burn on an impressive viaduct.

Far North Line

The valley is wooded and the burn fast flowing.

The Golspie Burn

There are also a couple of small waterfalls you can get close to thanks to some bridges and board-walk paths.

The Golspie Burn

The Golspie Burn

The Golspie Burn

It is really beautiful and I suspect the river was a bit swollen from all the recent rain.

At the far end of the walk was a large waterfall, rather more impressive than the one I had passed earlier.

Waterfall on the Golspie Burn

The return route, along the eastern side of the burn was easier and much of it raised up and through woodlands.

Big Burn Walk, Golspie

Golspie Burn

The Golspie Burn

It was nice to get a bit of a walk in and I was lucky that it stayed dry still. It was a lovely short walk through a beautiful valley with a surprising variety of scenery, so it was well worth stopping to see.

Now I returned to the road and headed back to the car (I hadn’t realised there is actually a small car park by the start of the walk, so had parked a bit further down the road in Golspie). As I did so the first spots of drizzle began to fall, which soon became rain (fortunately, after I had got back to the car). 

The drive back to Ullapool was all through rain, soon becoming heavy and the road was now very wet with numerous puddles having formed after a day of seemingly solid heavy rain. I was glad to make it back to Ullapool as it was not a pleasant drive through all that water. Ullapool was certainly wet with deep puddles everywhere now (especially around the hotel, with it’s numerous leaking gutters) so I was glad to have spent the day on the east coast where the weather was drier (and better than forecast with the rain not coming until late afternoon).

Here are the complete set of photos for this visit : Dunrobin Castle | The Big Burn Walk.

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301. Helmsdale to Golspie

October 2016

This was Monday and the 3rd day of my visit to Scotland. I had walked most of the east coast of Scotland in order but for this trip my next two walks would both require me to take a bus to Portmahomack and these buses only run on weekdays. So I had done other walks at the weekend and intended to head to Pormahomack today. However first I headed to the Tesco supermarket a short walk from my hotel. This proclaimed itself to be open “24 hours a day, 7 days a week”. It was closed. This was a surprise and on reading the notice stuck in the window I was told it was closed due to a local holiday.

This was new to me. Apparently in Scotland there are bank holidays which only apply in certain parts of Scotland rather than the whole country. In this case, it turned out that today was a local holiday in Inverness. My planned bus would begin it’s journey in Inverness (where it was a holiday) and head up into Easter Ross, where it wasn’t. Would that mean it would be running to the “Sunday and Public Holiday” timetable or the “Monday to Friday” timetable? Well I had no idea but I suspected the former, which would mean no buses on the route I planned to use (I later found out that that was the case). So instead I decided to do another walk I had planned to do on Wednesday as I could use the train for that walk. I could check via my phone that the train was still running the usual weekday timetable, as was the case, so that was good. So for that reason I ended up swapping my planned walk for today.

Being able to use the train now feels like a great luxury, now I am north of Inverness. However there is a rail line from Inverness to the towns of Wick and Thurso on the north coast of Scotland, know as the Far North Line. This probably followed the original route of the A9, going around the various Firths’ on route. In the intervening years the A9 has been improved with many new bridges built much closer to the coast, but the rail line has not been so lucky, which means it often heads along way inland. However the line does hug the coast between Golspie and Helmsdale which meant I could use the train for this walk.

The services is not frequent (4 trains per day) and wanting to get the public transport done first the timetable worked best if I took the train to Helmsdale and then walked back, rather than the other way around.

So I drove up from Inverness to Golspie. It is an easy journey on the A9 north of Inverness as traffic is light and the speed limit is mostly 60mph, in fact Golspie is the first village you actually have to pass through on the A9 (the rest having been bypassed). As a result I made good time and parked in a car park near the sea front on the right hand side of the road.

The beach at Golspie
Golspie
The beach at Golspie

The shorter than expected journey meant I had time to buy lunch from the shop next to the car park before I headed to the station.

On reaching the station, despite the sparse service on the line, some Amercian tourists were also waiting and came to speak to me as they were confused about “the schedule” and when the next train would run (despite being shown on an information display). I explained the times of the trains to them and in the end they opted to go to Wick and return on the train leaving an hour after they got there. It seemed a long journey for such a short visit (though I later found, when I got to this part of the coast that an hour in Wick is probably enough!). Still the train arrived only a couple of minutes late. I sat on the right so I could follow my route back along the coast, and it looked lovely. The tide was out and I could see cormorants basking in the sun on some of the rocks as we headed north along the coast.

Helmsdale marks the point where the railway line turns inland for a while so the station is a short distance up the valley. As I got off the train I was surprised to see another train, but it seems they are scheduled to pass each other at Helmsdale.

Helmsdale Station
Helmsdale Station

Heading down the station approach road the valley I was now in was stunning. It was a clear sunny day, with a little mist still hanging in the valley and steep hills rising in every direction ahead whilst a large graveyard was just ahead. The valley looked a worthwhile place to explore, but the coast was my destination for today.

Helmsdale
Helmsdale
Helmsdale
Helmsdale

Helmsdale is really split into three villages – West Helmsdale on this side of the valley where the station is, Old Helmsdale to the north and east of the valley and East Helmsdale near the coast. From the station I followed the access road down to the road and turned left to cross the lovely old bridge over the river Helmsdale. Rather than immediately head for the coast I decided to cross the river and turn right through the town centre. I passed the bank (open for a few hours, 1 day a week, it has since been closed entirely).

Helmsdale
Helmsdale

On reaching the A9 I turned right and follow the road over the newer bridge – this is after all the more coastal route, which gave me a lovely view back up the dale.

Helmsdale
View back up Helmsdale

However I had a problem with this route – I did not want to walk alongside the A9, the road was high over the coast (where I planned to walk along the beach) and I could not find any way back to the coast. So I headed through a car park to the right of the A9 and followed a footpath alongside the edge of the field eventually coming to steps down to the river, where I could turn left, under the A9 and back to the coast. Here I found a good quality path over short grass at the back of the beach. Things were going well.

The beach at Helmsdale
Path south of Helmsdale

I followed this but after about 500 metres the path ended (where the was a bench) and joined a track which turned left under the A9 and the railway to head inland.

The coast south of Helmsdale
End of the path along the shore

So I decided to continue along the beach rather than turn inland. There was a little bit of sand near the shore, but it was hard work since it was also mixed in with a lot of shingle and pebbles.

The coast south of Helmsdale
The beach south of Helmsdale

Soon the beach was mostly pebbles and very hard to walk on.

The coast south of Helmsdale
The beach south of Helmsdale

At each small little bay there seemed to be lots of pebbles and then a small stretch of sand before back to shingle and pebbles. It would be very easy to twist and ankle and the hard terrain made progress slow and awkward. In around half a mile I reached a small river.

Portgower near Helmsdale
River south of Helmsdale

I could possibly climb up to the A9 to cross it but in the end it turned out it was easy to get over just stepping over a few pebbles, as the river mostly flowed under the pebbles on the beach by the time it reached the shore.

Onwards, it was more difficult walking on the pebbles of the beach. At some point an attempt had been made to put a wire fence across the beach for some reason but it was now almost all destroyed so I could continue along the beach.

Portgower near Helmsdale
South of Helmsdale

More difficult walking was ahead along the beach and soon the noisy A9 turned inland.

Portgower near Helmsdale
The beach south of Helmsdale

Now I only had the railway line to my right and this was hardly a problem for noise since there were only 4 trains a day! A few houses had to my surprised being built on the coastal side of the railway at Portgower. But this was good for me because it meant I could head up there to the road if needed, so I knew by this point I would not need to go back.

Past this village it was more tough walking over the pebbles and shingle.

The beach near Lothmore
The beach south of Helmsdale

This lasted for almost 2 miles further and so it was slow and difficult walking. But my reward was to reach this lovely sandy beach near Lothmore. It was a huge relief to be walking on sand rather than shingle and as the tide was out there was plenty of firm sand to walk on, too.

The beach near Lothmore
The beach at Lothmore
The beach near Lothmore
The beach at Lothmore
The beach near Lothmore
The beach at Lothmore
The beach near Lothmore
The beach at Lothmore

Inland too the views were wonderful with the grass and heather hills rising steeply away to my right.

The beach near Lothmore
View inland near Lothmore

There was a stream to the south of the sandy beach here which I was a bit concerned about crossing, but it caused me no difficulty as it was very shallow.

The beach near Lothmore
Stream to cross at Lothmore

Onwards the beach remained a mixture of sand and shingle until I reached the rocky headland east of Crackaig Links. I could see a caravan just to the right of the beach so sensing it might be private I continued along the beach and had to climb over a few pebbles and rocks to head around the corner into Crackaig Links.

The beach near Lothmore
Approaching Crackaig Links

However I soon found a good grassy track just above the beach which was much easier than the beach, which had briefly become shingle again. I passed another caravan, seemingly abandoned.

Caravan at Crackaig Links

As I headed along there were more caravans and I realised this was a very spread out caravan site. I presume many of the caravans are left here and only occupied for a few weeks of the year, as many had grass growing around them. Once the beach became sandy I dropped back down onto the beach to continue south (you can see the caravans along the back of the beach in the view below, looking back where I had come).

Crackaig Links
Crackaig Links

Near the south edge of the bay and past most of the caravans I stopped for lunch. Despite being October I was comfortably warm in just a T-shirt.

Crackaig Links
Crackaig Links

I rounded a few rocks at Lothbeg Point and then approached Loth Burn.

Crackaig Links
South of Crackaig Links

This was a wider stream (Loth Burn) than those I had encountered so far, in fact it was more a river.

Loth Burn
Loth Burn

Getting across and keeping dry feet would be difficult (the bridge you can see above is a railway bridge). Worse, I had an audience, a man sat on a chair and another person who seemed to be looking for something (shells?) to collect on the beach (you can see them with a carrier bag above). So having a quick look to see if I could step over the rocks I decided it was best to take my shoes off and wade through, which I did. It was cold but not too deep and at least I had not embarrassed myself by trying to keep my shoes on and getting wet feet or falling in!

Loth Burn
Having crossed Loth Burn

Beyond it I could continue along the lovely sandy beach once more.

Kintradwell Links
Near Lothbeg
Kintradwell Links
Near Lothbeg

Soon I heard odd noises and looking to my left I realised there were a number of seals on the rocks near the shore line, a lovely sight. Some were on rocks, some were swimming and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Seals near Kintradwell Links
Seals near Lothbeg

It was wonderful to watch them. Soon I was passed the rocks and into another lovely sandy beach, Kintradwell Links. The beach was deserted and mine the only footprints in the sand.

Kintradwell Links
Kintradwell Links
Kintradwell Links
Kintradwell Links

The railway line was again to my right but I only realised this when one of the few trains passed me.

Scotrail train near Kintradwell Links
A train passing Kintradwell Links

A few small streams on the map looked as if they might give me trouble but in fact all had enough rocks around them I could just step over, but there were some much larger bridges to carry the railway.

Kintradwell Links
Stream and bridge near Kintradwell Links

Sadly there were more sections of pebbles to battle over again here between the sandy stretches, it is odd how the coast can vary so much in such a short distance.

Kintradwell Links
Kintradwell Links

Soon though all the stones went and I reached glorious sandy beach at Glaslochan and I could follow this all the way south to Brora.

Kintradwell Links
The coast north of Brora
Kintradwell Links
The coast north of Brora
Near Glaslochan
The coast north of Brora

There were soon people on the beach ahead, a sign I was nearing civilisation again! Though it was far from crowded I think everyone was just enjoying these wonderful sandy beaches.

After a mile or two I reached the mouth of the river Brora and the village of the same name.

Approaching Brora
Approaching Brora

Here the river was certainly too wide and deep to try wading, so I could see that I would have to head up into the town to cross the road via the A9 bridge.

Brora
The RIver Brora at Brora

I began to wish I had not planned such a long walk as I was getting quite tired now, time was getting on and there was not that much day light left, but I still had a long way to go.

I found a path up steps to the edge of a golf course and then followed the track leading towards the A9, my route intermittently signed as the Brora Village trail and, oddly, signed with the logo of a brick (is that the best logo they could think of?!).

Brora
Brora

I soon passed under the railway line and could then turn left on the A9, just inland of it, to cross the river.

The River Brora
The rail bridge over the Brora river

Beyond it I passed an old grass-roofed shed which reminded me a bit of Iceland.

Grass roofed building at Brora harbour
Grass-roofed shed

Just past this there was a small harbour, the reflections were lovely in the very calm waters of the harbour.

Brora harbour
The River Brora

I followed the road along it’s south side, soon reaching the mouth of the river at the south side, looking across to where I was a short while before.

The coast south of Brora
The mouth of the river Brora

Here I came across another welcoming sign – a footpath signed to Golspie, though the less welcome news that it was still 6 miles away!

Golspie 6 miles
Golspie 6 miles

Still at least there was a proper path now. The path headed up past a track to what looked like a military site that was closed off, but it turned out to be a caravan site, which looked more like a prison and a truly awful place to stay. Whilst the grass was neatly mown and I could see electric hook up points there were no caravans there so I was not the only one to take this view! I followed a narrow path around the side of the fence and back down to the beach level again.

The coast south of Brora
Beach south of Brora

The path along the back of the beach was in the dunes, but they had eroded and in places the path had a very step camber and was really awkward. I soon gave up with it and headed back to the beach preferring to make my way between the rocks and pick out the firm sand.

The coast south of Brora
Beach south of Brora

As the beach became rocky in places I returned to the path which was now a bit better and went a bit highher on the low sandy cliffs.

The coast south of Brora
Path south of Brora

There were even a couple of small waterfalls on my right though at the point near the shore where I was there was hardly any water to step over.

The coast south of Brora
Small waterfalls down the cliffs

It was a lovely walk. I rounded the corner at Starthsteven and was now heading west.

Near Doll
Strathsteven

Ahead I had the most magnificent view, Dunrobin Castle, surrounded by trees turning yellow with autumn and looking like a French Chateaux moved to Scotland (sadly I blurred the picture)!

Approaching Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle ahead

A short distance ahead though I came to an interesting old hill fort to my right. Whilst time was getting on and I was tired I wanted to have a look around this too. I was pleased to find it freely open (once I found the gate into it) and could have a look and climb up onto the walls of the old fort, so it was nice to get a view of the coast from a little higher up (it is actually a Broch).

Carn Liath Broch
Broch near Dunrobin Castle
Carn Liath Broch
Broch near Dunrobin Castle

Beyond this I returned to the grassy path at the back of the beach which was fairly easy to follow again. I knew that Dunrobin Castle was open to the public, so I wondered how much of the grounds was open to walk through without paying and if I would have to divert inland around it. As I approached the woodland, the answer became clear. The coast path continued alongside a stone wall right at the waters edge and with wonderful views of the castle.

The beach near Dunrobin Castle
The coast near Dunrobin Castle

I suspected if I turned right through one of the stone arches I would be in the gardens of the castle, but not having paid I didn’t want to push my luck. Instead I admired the view of the beautiful castle perched on the hill with it’s gardens below. What a place – and a shame I did not have more time since I would like to visit, but it was already closed for today.

Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle

As I passed the castle I could glimpse back and see the last few rays of the now very low sun reflecting off the castle, it was lovely.

Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle

Heading through woodland again I was soon out of sight of the castle but back on a good grassy path just above the beach. In places there was still sand.

The beach at Dunrobin Castle
The coast near Golspie
Dunrobin Castle
Last view back to Dunrobin Castle

The sun was setting now, making shadwos of the footprints on the sand.

Near Dunrobin Castle
Near Golspie

Goslpie was now only a short distance ahead. I continued along the grassy path to reach Golspie. Here there was another little river (Golspie Burn) to cross. The road was a ford, but thankfully there was also a pedestrian footbridge so I could cross and keep dry feet.

Crossing Golspie Burn
Crossing the Golspie Burn

I now followed the track ahead which soon became the end of the road. It was initially quiet but I was soon back alongside the still busy A9.

Golspie
Gosplie
Golspie
Golspie

Rather than try to find along the beach I stuck to the main A9 road through the village, stopping only to use the toilet before returning to my car. Earlier in the day when I left, a man had been sitting on a seat in the car park, which looked far too cold. When I got back, many hours later he was still there! Most odd, and he must have been frozen since I have found that at this time of year the temperature quickly drops come around 4pm, and I was now needing to wear a coat.

This was a long but really fantastic walk. Everywhere I had been on this walk had been utterly beautiful. The tough first few miles were soon compensated for by the beautiful sandy beaches that I had ahead, backed by the pretty hills. The villages I had passed through had been nice to and Dunrobin Castle was a wonderful end to the day. A great walked, helped by perfect weather!

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

Scotrail Far North Line / North Highlands Line : Inverness – Beauly – Muir of Ord – Conon Bridge – Dingwall – Alness – Invergordon – Feam – Tain – Ardgay – Culrain (request stop) – Invershin (request stop) – Lairg – Rogart (request stop) – Golspie – Dunrobin Castle (request stop, open summer only) – Brora – Helmsdale – Kildonan (request stop) – Kinbrace (request stop) – Forsinaird – Altnabreac (request stop) – Scotscalder (request stop) – Georgemas Junction – Thurso – Georgemas Junction – Wick. 4 trains run per day Monday – Saturday and a single train runs on Sundays. It takes approximately 25 minutes to travel between Golspie and Helmsdale.

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

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300. Golspie to Dornoch

October 2016

For this walk I was staying in Inverness. It was also a Sunday and I’m now getting far enough north along the coast that public transport is few and far between which is especially a problem on Sundays, as it was today. There was just 1 train per day on the North Highland line north of Tain and not at a suitable time, so the train was not an option. Fortunately I managed to find that there is a bus that ran about 4 times a day to Dornoch to Golspie on a Sunday and the first bus was at a good time for me (this is the reason I did this walk north to south). (Note that this bus still runs but has greatly reduced in frequency since, see the current timetable at the bottom).

I drove up to Dornoch and parked in the large car park just off the road into the town which, like most car parks in the area, was free. I had allowed plenty of time (more than needed) which gave me time to look around Dornoch on this beautiful sunny morning. It is a lovely little town, though there was nothing open for me to buy lunch, which was annoying.

Dornoch

Dornoch

Dornoch

Dornoch

I soon headed back to the square to take the X99 bus on to Golspie. The bus arrived on time and I was pleased to see was operated with a modern coach rather than the usual rattly bumpy bus. It was therefore a nice comfortable ride up to Golspie where we arrived on time. I found a shop to buy my lunch in Golspie which was good then headed down to the pretty beach.

Golspie

The beach at Golspie

The tide was reasonably low as it looked like there was just a thin strip of sand at high tide, so I was lucky the tide was out.

The beach south of Golspie

I turned right and headed towards the small harbour. Well it was just a pier really but I assume it serves some sort of purposes to shelter boats, it looked quite recent.

After that I dripped down onto the lovely firm sands along the shore.

The beach south of Golspie

The beach south of Golspie

It was a beautiful sunny day with barely a cloud in the sky. I was soon alone on this wonderful beach. What a great start to the day. To my right I could see some sort of monument on the top of the hill. I bet it’s a nice view up there, but I had a long walk ahead of me so didn’t have the energy to go and find out.

Golspie

I continued along the beach which was a lovely walk and soon had golfers on my right as I was alongside Golspie Links. I am convinced there must be a law in Scotland that every town must have at least 1 golf course! I saw one golfer on the beach looking for his ball, who had obviously made a bad shot.

The beach south of Golspie

The beach south of Golspie

On the map ahead there was a karting track marked, but I thankfully could neither see or hear it. Mine were the only footprints on the beach now and all I could hear was the sound of the sea to my left, it was wonderful.

The beach south of Golspie

The beach south of Golspie

There were a few bits of shingle and small pebbles in places, but not enough to trouble me. As I approached the little village of Little Ferry I began to find pools of water on the beach (I know to keep “inland” of those as it is easy to get cut off by streams flowing out of them). So I kept close to the shore where it had become a little more tricky because of more rocks.

The beach south of Golspie

The beach south of Golspie

As I neared the mouth of Loch Fleet the beach seemed to widen. I rounded the corner to head towards the Loch where the beach started to become a little more muddy.

The mouth of Loch Fleet near Golspie

This is one of those slightly frustrating walks in that ahead I had the stream at the mouth of the Loch. Less than 100 metres away was where I wanted to be. But there is no longer a ferry over the mouth of the Loch, so I had no choice but to walk around. In the end, it turned out to be rather lovely.

Rounding the corner into the Loch I was immediately taken with the beauty.

Loch Fleet, Golspie

The water was a deep blue. There were a few light coloured houses, area of pine woodland and the hills beyond. Only the power lines spoilt things a bit.

Loch Fleet near Littleferry

As I stopped to take a photo I also spotted a seal swimming in the Loch, the icing on the cake really. I stopped to take many photos before continuing.

Loch Fleet near Littleferry

Loch Fleet near Littleferry

My way onwards was to continue along the beach but it was more awkward now as it is mostly pebbles rather than sand.

The beach at Loch Fleet near Golspie

I continued along the beach which soon became a slightly muddy sand rather than shingle to approach the little village of Littleferry. I can guess how it got it’s name but sadly there is no longer a ferry, little or otherwise.

Loch Fleet near Littleferry

Littleferry

Littleferry

So I had a long walk to get around the Loch as I needed to get to the A9 bridge, which is the first crossing. I was not sure what the walk would be like but my plan was to keep as close to the shore as possible, with a fallback of some tracks through the woodland. But crossing the railway ahead looked like it might be a problem. The nearest crossing was at a place called Pingrove Cottage, a mile or so inland and even that might be private. But I was not going to let that worry me just yet, for it was so beautiful.

At Littleferry I stopped for a refreshment stop at the old pier. I pondered my route ahead. It seemed my onwards route was either the beach or to follow the road north. I opted for the beach despite the tricky terrain, crunching over the pebbles to approach another remote house along the shore.

Littleferry

It was a hard walk over the pebbles to the house and they had the most wonderful view. As I approached the house, (actually I suspect it was several in a terrace) the front door was open and I could hear the sound of vacuuming inside.

Littleferry

There was a lovely bench out the front and I wondered if the steps at the side of the house were the only access to the upper floors or whether there were also steps inside the house. I was also wondering if it was holiday lets or private. Either way I continued onwards and was pleased to see that now the woodland had started there was a narrow but usable path just along the edge of the grass above the beach. Much easier than the shingle.

Loch Fleet

This soon climbed as there were little grassy cliffs now and gave me a stunning view over the Loch. There were now large sand banks forming in the centre of the Loch as the tide was going out.

Loch Fleet

Loch Fleet

Loch Fleet

Rather annoyingly, and as happens so often in Scotland, the path ahead abruptly ended. There was now a wire fence ahead into the woodland but a very old lichen-covered seat the other side of the fence. So I climbed over the fence into the woodland. Here I found a path I could follow around the edge of the woodland. Looking through the trees to the Loch I soon spotted more seals out on a sandbank. It was lovely to see them. I stopped to take a few photos.

Loch Fleet

Loch Fleet

I stuck to the surprisingly good path which initially stuck more or less to the edge of the woodland and turned out to be nice and easy to walk.

Loch Fleet

As the grassy cliffs dropped back down to the Loch level the woodland began to thin out and here I returned to the shore.

Loch Fleet

I headed to the right of the beach which formed a little spit over the sand, which was a mixture of half mud and sand really. Beyond this I continued on the shore where I found a good path and soon the trees were thicker to my right again. Soon they ended and I was now very close to the minor road. I soon headed to briefly join it. In Scotland I’m always relieved to reach a road when walking on un-marked paths as it least it means I won’t have to go back the way I have come!

Loch Fleet

I followed the road for a short distance and then took the track to the left back to the shore as the road went a little inland again. A short distance ahead I had the Culmaily Burn to cross.

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

But I was hopeful this would be easy because a footbridge was marked on the map. When I got to it, it wasn’t really a bridge at all!

Culmaily Burn, Loch Fleet

Perhaps there was once a bridge but now there were only a few rotting posts sticking out of the river. Thankfully it wasn’t deep and stones had been piled up to form a sort of stepping stone bridge over, which I used.

Culmaily Burn, Loch Fleet

Culmaily Burn, Loch Fleet

Onwards there was what I though was a path until I crossed and realised it was a muddy channel that fills with water. However to the left of this I soon found another good path. This initially went over part of the beach but then was a well-worn path over the back of the marsh just in front of the trees.

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

It was not marked on the map but it seemed well used.

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

This was confirmed when in about 15 minutes I could see a wooden building just in the woodland which turned out to be a bird hide.

Bird hide in Loch Fleet

As I suspected though the path did continue a bit past this but then reached the shore and went onto the beach and there was no obvious path ahead.

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

The way on land was blocked by gorse and heather, so I dropped down onto the shingle again. It was hard going, but after a while the gorse ended and I could alternate between the grass and the beach, the latter was also becoming more sandy.

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

I followed the shore line around to the south western tip of Balblair Wood.

Loch Fleet

There was a track marked on the map in the woods but I could not see it on the ground (perhaps it was a bit further inland). So I stuck to the shore but soon headed out a bit away from the shoreline (where it was shingle) out into the bay which was a mixture of mud and sand, but seemed firm enough to support my weight and was much easier underfoot.

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

I didn’t really have a plan now but though I would head to the railway line around the bay if possible. I hoped I might find a crossing or, alternatively with only a single train scheduled I might be naughty and walk over the tracks. Ahead though just beyond the railway line I could see the rocky cliffs at Creag Bheag which would make it difficult to walk behind the railway. So I decided to head more or less straight for it over the muddy bay.

The northern shore of Loch Fleet

A few little streams flowed out here so I had to head further out than I would like, where the water had spread over a wide enough area to be shallow, but was still deeper than I would like and the ground softer than I would like. It was pretty hard going and I was nervous I might suddenly find a wet muddy area of quick sand. Thankfully this did not happen and I soon reached the edge of the railway line.

I decided to follow the shore as close as I could to the railway line. I knew the tide was now coming in and the bay would be filling quickly. But I also knew the railway line was just to my right so if necessary I could climb up onto it to safety. My plan now such as it was, was to follow the bay to the A9 bridge and hope I could find a way over the railway to get onto the bridge (it is high).

In addition as I approached the bridge the water was getting much wider. Rounding the corner I was faced with this. What was that ahead at ground level?

The A9 bridge at Loch Fleet

It is marked on the map but unnamed. Was it the old bridge? Or worse could it be some sort of weir or dam? It looked like there might be flaps on it that could open up and let water through. If that happened I would be in serious trouble, and was getting worried now.

The A9 bridge at Loch Fleet

But as I approached I could make my way along the shingle and boulder beach. Just under the bridge I could climb up onto a low stone wall. From there I was able to climb up the sloping rocks right under the bridge towards the roadway.

My route up to the A9

Where had the railway gone I wondered (I think it must go under this slope)? I was expecting to have to cross it. But as it turned out I could climb up the steep slope under the bridge towards the roadway. At the top there was enough space to get around onto the land alongside and climb up to the roadway itself. Having established this was possible I was heartily relieved. But ahead I had a long walk beside the A9, which was not going to be fun.

So I sat on the ground just beside the bridge for lunch. I was under the traffic and out of sight but could certainly hear it. I enjoyed the views over the Loch and noticed a small car park beside that dam or bridge to the right and a few people wandering about.

Loch Fleet from the A9

The Alders and River Fleet, Loch Fleet

Once I’d had lunch I headed onto the A9 and turned left. Almost immediately there was an access road off to the right down into a small car parking area, with information signs. I headed down to read this which told me I was now on the Mound, a 1000 yard long embankment completed in 1816 which bypassed the last ferry crossing between London and John O’Groats. This did have the rather worrying statement that due to a problem “the bridge and sluices were not completed until July 1815”. So those were sluice gates. Thank goodness they didn’t open!

The Alders and River Fleet, Loch Fleet

The Alders and River Fleet, Loch Fleet

The Mound

The Alders and River Fleet, Loch Fleet

It was used for traffic until 1983 when the present A9 bridge opened. In addition the bridge used to carry a railway line to Dornoch too, but this closed in 1960. Having found out where I was there was nothing for it but to take to the A9.

This is a major trunk road, but thankfully major is relative – I’m north of the last city in Scotland (Inverness) and the only sizeable places north of here are Wick and Thurso, so it was not too busy. The road was wide so in most places I could keep right to the edge of the road or on the verge. Soon on the right was a long parking lay-by so I could walk on this until it ended. At the far end of the Mount I came to the minor road off to the right to Torboll. The map here suggested there was a track away from the road closer to the shore. Perhaps the old route of the road, but I could see no sign of it, or access down. So I had no choice but to stick to the A9 as it turned right. This bit was not so pleasant. The road was no longer wide and straight, but became hilly and twisty with no verge for much of the way so it was a bit of traffic dodging, which was not great. I only had about half a mile to go now until I could turn off the A9 but it felt longer. So it was a relief to finally get to the minor road to Skelbo and Embo.

Loch Fleet

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

I turned off to this and in places there was a track I could follow just to the left of the road, marked as the old railway line to Dornoch. In other places I had to stick to the road, but there was not much traffic (it had single track sections). As I continued there was still more traffic then I expected but it seemed a lot of it was sight-seeing. It was obvious why, the view of the Loch was simply stunning and the weather just perfect to appreciate it.

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

In around 1.5 miles I came to the remains of Skelbo Castle up to my right. I stopped to take more photos and followed the road which turns a little inland here and climbs a little. There is not much to be seen of the castle really, so I didn’t bother to climb up for a closer look and stuck to the road, which soon turned back to the shore.

Skelbo Castle

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

Ahead though I could see from the map the road would turn to the right, to a place called Fourpenny. Just before it was another road to Knockglass but to the left of this was another track which seemed to follow the shore. I followed this and found it well used by dog walkers.

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

It did indeed follow the shore and ahead I could see across to Little Ferry where I was several hours earlier. Sometimes this would frustrate me, but this walk had been so beautiful I was quite glad to have had to make this diversion around beautiful Loch Fleet. I could see the rotting remains of the jetty too where presumably the ferry once ran from.

The southern shore of Loch Fleet

Littleferry across Loch Fleet

Littleferry across Loch Fleet

When the track ended I could find a path through the dunes. This went over the mouth of a little area where the sea had cut into the dunes, but it was still far enough out to be dry.

Littleferry across Loch Fleet

Rounding the corner I was now on the home straight heading south alongside Coul Links. Once more I could walk on a beautiful beach along the firm sands and at least this time I knew I could follow it all the way back to Dornoch.

Coul Links

Coul Links

I had seen hardly anyone since I left Golspie so it was a bit of a shock to find the beach ahead got quite busy.

Coul Links

This is because of the village of Embo, but as I found just south of that are many caravans.

The beach at Embo

The beach remained sandy all the way to the old pier at the south of Embo, though there were a few rocks to walk around as I got nearer.

The beach at Embo

The beach at Embo

The pier it turns out was derelict and barriered off. I am not sure what it would have been for originally, presumably launching boats.

Embo harbour

(I snuck behind the barriers to take the view above).

The caravans ended about here and the beach was still sandy. A track was marked just inland but I didn’t need it as there was enough beach between the grass and the rocks to walk on.

The coast south of Embo

The coast south of Embo

The shadows were getting low now and I came across this odd wooden post. Tossing the Caber perhaps?!

The coast south of Embo

The beach became more sandy again as I approached Dornoch and soon I recognised the steps I had used the previous day to gain access to the beach. It was a bit of a shock at the top with barking dogs everywhere so I hurried through on the road over the golf course to the club house.

Royal Dornoch Golf club

Here I followed roads back into Dornoch and stopped for a takeway before driving back to Inverness where I was staying.

This was a brilliant walk, one of the best I have done. The weather was perfect and the scenery both varied and stunning! I took way more photos than usual on this walk because the scenery was so beautiful the whole way. The walk was a challenge in places but I’m glad I managed to find a coastal route rather than have to divert inland on roads, even if there are questions about how safe it was! Dornoch too was a lovely town in which to end.

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

Stagecoach Highlands route X98 and X99 : Inverness – Alness – Invergordon – Tain – Dornoch – Golspie – Brora – Helmsdale. 4 buses per day Monday – Friday (with some long gaps between buses), 2 buses per day on Saturday and 1 bus on Sunday. It takes around 15 minutes to travel between Dornoch and Golspie.

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

Posted in Sutherland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

299. Dornoch to Tain

October 2016

This walk my first days walking of a 5 day trip up to Scotland. As I mentioned in previous posts I didn’t walk this stretch of coast quite in order. I was now far enough north that I was getting into more remote areas where public transport was far more limited. Some services only ran on weekdays and as today was a Saturday and the bus to get to the point I finished on my last trip to Scotland only ran on weekdays I opted to do the walks on this trip out of order to work around this.

I had got a bit of a bargain for this trip with return flights (from London Luton, though) to Inverness and 5 days hire car for the grand total of £119.37. I drove to Luton Airport and parked in the long-stay car park and transferred to the terminal in time for the 7:40 flight to Inverness which got me to Inverness airport for 09:05, in time to get a good days walking in.

The flight was about 10 minutes late and I made a mistake on arriving at the terminal of not going straight to the car hire desk, but stopped at the toilet. When I did arrive at the car hire desk (I had no luggage to collect, it was hand luggage only) my name was put at the end of what was now a quite a long list (I’ve learnt this lesson since) and it was explained that due to a previous flight also running late they had a bit of a backlog. The rather camp man that seemed to be in charge kept calling names, but by this time an hour(!) had passed and I was getting frustrated because he had told me it would be no more than half an hour when I arrived. He explained it was taking longer than expected, apologies and was a pains to point out that it was because of late running flights (though all of them on the board were shown as arriving within 15 minutes of schedule).

The manager soon disappeared and since no names had been called for a while, I went back to the counter to enquire. This time I was told they had a delay preparing some of the cars, profuse apology for the long wait and told me they will get me a “really nice car” as compensation (I had booked the cheapest) followed by “can you drive an automatic?”. Well actually I never have driven an automatic car before, but since it less work than a manual, I said yes. Then I was told my “really nice” car was a Skoda. I nearly burst out laughing because I remember from many years ago that Skodas used to be terrible. However I didn’t really care by this point as long as it worked (though I was also aware that Skoda no longer had the terrible reputation that it used to).

I was soon given the keys to a Skoda Octavia and could at last set off (and driving an automatic is indeed easier, as long as I remembered not to press the brake forgetting there was no clutch pedal). Despite my initial reservations I was quite really impressed with the car. Performance I thought was pretty good (certainly better than my ageing Renault Clio), fuel consumption was excellent (again better than my smaller Renault Clio) and I was surprised to find when I returned it, that it was in the £0 tax band. Cars have certainly progressed a lot in recent years! Anyway this blog is meant to be about walking and the coast, not cars, so on with the walk.

I drove up to Tain intending to walk to Dornoch, as there are buses between the two towns on a Saturday (as it was). I was pleased to find when I got there that parking was free. After the delays though, by the time I reached Tain though it was just gone midday. I found there was a bus to Dornoch in about 20 minutes. So I decided that I would buy lunch and then take the bus to Dornoch, so I could walk back in my own time.

Tain is quite a pretty town.

Tain

Tain

This arrived a few minutes later and soon had me round to Dornoch, which looked to be a nice town.

Dornoch Square

Dornoch is not directly on the coast but the centre is around 1km inland so I followed the road from the main square where the bus dropped me down on the road over the golf course and down to the beach.

Dornoch golf course

And what a beach it was. Glorious sandy beached backed my a large area of dunes.

The beach at Dornoch

The beach south of Dornoch

After all the travelling I could feel I was immediately relaxing with the smell and sounds of the sea and the wide expanse of sand, it was promising to be a good walk.

The beach south of Dornoch

I headed down to the beach and turned right, soon heading away from the town. I was soon alone on the beach and there were only a few footprints too.

The beach south of Dornoch

There were a few little streams of water to negotiate but all were small and shallow enough I could step over them or into them without getting wet feet.

The beach south of Dornoch

I soon stopped for lunch in the dunes, enjoying the views over to the hills I hoped to be walking past in a few days time.

Dornoch Point

As I neared Dornoch Point, the beach started to get a bit more sea weed. Rounding the corner, I was now heading west and into the Dornoch Firth. As I suspected the sand now became a little muddy, though was still firm under foot. I enjoyed looking at the patterns the waves had made in the sand as the tide went out earlier in the day.

The Dornoch Firth

Patterns in the sand

The beach south of Dornoch

It soon dawned on me I had no idea if the tide was going in or coming out, but suspect it was quite near low tide. As I headed west there became more areas of water on the beach to get past. I kept reasonably close to the shore, but it was also a bit marshy there so I kept on the firmer sand a bit away from the high tide line.

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

Heading further up the estuary I started to get area of marsh and grass in amongst the sand. Thankfully I could see a few dog walkers near the shore so hoped there was a path should I need it.

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

Soon I was picking my way over areas of marsh and decided this was not such a good idea and to head back to the shore, where there was now a beach, pebbles at the back and sand a bit below, so I walked there.

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

Sadly I soon lost the sand and had nothing but pebbles to walk on – hard going.

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

So I walked on the grass just behind these instead, thankfully it was now grass, not marsh. I could see the Dornoch bridge ahead which was where I was headed.

The north bank of the Dornoch Firth

As I neared there became a good wide grassy path in the back of the dunes.

The Dornoch Firth near the bridge

As I approached the bridge I went through gates and soon had fences on both sides.

The Dornoch Firth bridge

 

I passed under the bridge but could find no way up the path being enclosed with gates. In the end I ended up finding a bit of fence bent down where others had climbed it, and follow suit, to climb over it and then make my way up the slope to the road above, climbing over the crash barrier.

The Dornoch Firth near Dornoch

Once on the A9 I was pleased there was pavement, albeit it a narrow one.

The Dornoch Firth bridge

This bridge is like many others over the Forths in Scotland and is long but low, over a mile long in fact. There were good views from the bridge but also a lot of noise from the traffic. It was opened fairly recently, in 1991 and the map shows the minor road just inland of it on both sides, heading along a spit of land to the point where a ferry, the Meikle Ferry used to run but now no longer does since the bridge means there is no need.

The bridge also sees the point I cross from the country of Sutherland (where I started the walk in Dornoch) to Easter Ross (or strictly, Ross and Cromarty). So by the end of the walk, I will have completed walking the coast of Easter Ross. (The west coast of the county of Ross and Cromarty generally being known as Wester Ross). Sutherland, like Devon has two sections of “unconnected” coast in that continuing north I’ll later cross into Caithness and once I continue west along the north coast of Scotland, back into Sutherland. So this is only the first time of four that I’ll cross the border with Sutherland.

As I neared the land on the south side of the bridge, it was decision time again.

I could stick to the A9 all the way into Tain, but walking on a trunk road did not appeal. Or I could try to find my way along the shore but there did not seem to be a path visible on the map and the railway line was also between me and the A9, which would prove a problem if I had to cut inland to the A9 as railway lines are usually fenced, for one thing (and there are typically few if any legal crossing points). The first point I could cross it was Tain itself (at least, so far as I could see). But on the bus over earlier I had noticed there did seem to a be a bit of beach along the side of the estuary, so I decided to try for this route.

The first bit of land I came to was really just giant boulders with water on either side. To make matters worse, the pavement had now ended so I had to walk on rough grass and pebbles beside the crash barrier. I continued south until there was proper land on my left. There was no easy way down but I knew if I continued on the bridge I would end up the wrong side of the railway line. So I made my way very carefully down over the giant boulders, which is quite tricky as there are big gaps between them. I made it down to a rather unpleasant looking black beach but then climbed up onto the marshy land to the right, to the surprise of the sheep grazing there.

The Dornoch Firth near Train

I followed the strip of land between the beach and the fence on my right, mostly along the beach but having to make my way over some marshy areas in places.

The Dornoch Firth near Tain

When the fence on my right ended, I turned right with it to now head south as Ardjachie Point is a marshy dead end.

The Dornoch Firth near Tain

After a while I had more marshy areas to cross. Thankfully all the areas of water were narrow enough I could step over them (just). As I rounded the little “bay” the terrain gradually became less marshy. To my left I soon was right next to the railway with the farm house of Ardjachie to my right beyond it. Once the railway line was right next to the coast the terrain became more tricky as the only real option now was to walk on the pebbles of the beach – hard going. The tide was coming in now too and in places the beach was only a few metres wide. I could follow the beach until I was along side the Glenmorangie Distillery on my right. It seems that in Scotland every town must have at least 1 golf course and in the case of larger towns, a distillery too!

It was however not at all pretty, really just a load of industrial warehouses and a few chimneys visible from the coast. However I soon came to the glen itself. Here a good path ran inland under the railway line. It looked like this was part of the visitor area too, since it was fenced.

The Glenmorangie distillery

The Glenmorangie distillery

So I could cross the Glen easily here and also knew that if I needed to head to the road I could likely use this path under the railway and follow the access road onto the A9 if needed, which was good. Ahead once over the glen itself, via a nice little bridge, I seemed to be in a garden. I suspected this is also either for the staff to use or for the public visiting. So I hurried over this and soon back down to the beach. Once again I was on shingle beaches, but the views of the very calm waters of the Firth were lovely to my left.

The Dornoch Firth near Tain

The Dornoch Firth near Tain

The beach was now very narrow and there was soon a stream to cross. Thankfully it was narrow enough I could step over it. But soon further ahead I was beside the Sewage works. Here water came out of a pipe. Thankfully, it did smell like water, rather than something else (but the map does show “Sewage Outfall”, so I’m not sure how treated it was). This proved much more tricky to get over

I tried to cross over on the landward side right by it, but the rocks either side were incredibly slippy. I couldn’t risk it, I could see myself slipping and ending up face down in the sewage outlet! So I headed out further onto the muddy beach where I was finally able to find a place where it was narrow and shallow enough I could step over, whilst keeping dry feet. It was a relief to be over this (there was also sorts of other rubbish here too like bits of cars and tyres) and head back beside the shore. Thankfully just past this was a park (right next to the sewage works?!). I headed up into this. I could head inland to Tain, but I decided to head up to the lovely little suspension bridge at the mouth of the River Tain.

Alexandra Bridge, Tain

A nice plaque next to the bridge commemorated the re-opening of the bridge by the HRH The Princess Royal in July 2016 (around 3 months earlier). I was glad therefore that I had timed it after the bridge had re-opened rather than before!

The Dornoch Firth at Tain

Alexandra Bridge, Tain

From here I followed a tarmac path away from the shore and down to the car park. I then followed the road which crosses the railway line and then goes up steeply back to the high street, so steep in fact that there are steps next to the road in places. I could then return to my car and head to my hotel in Inverness for dinner.

It had been a beautiful day and a lovely walk and, other than the outfall at the sewage works, a pleasant walk with a fairly easy route to follow, though I am not sure how easy it is to follow at high tide.

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

Stagecoach Highlands routes X98 and X99 : Inverness – Alness – Invergordon – Tain – Dornoch – Golspie – Brora – Helmsdale. 8 buses per day Monday – Friday. 4 on Saturdays. No service on Sundays. It takes around 15 minutes to travel between Tain and Dornoch.

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

Posted in Easter Ross, Sutherland | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

298. Portmahomack to Tain

October 2016

For this walk I was staying in Inverness and this was also the last day of this trip, as I’d not done the walks in order due to Portmahomack only having a bus service for 2 of the 5 days I was in Scotland for this trip. This meant I had to make an early start, because Portmahomack has a very limited bus service so I wanted to catch the 08:45 bus, which is one of the few that runs every day, regardless as to whether it was the school holidays or not. By getting the bus journey done in the morning I would then be free to walk back to Tain and my car in as long as it took. The other reason was that because this was the last day, I also had to catch my flight home that evening so I would prefer not to be waiting around for a bus and end up having to call a taxi if it did not come (or come on time).

I drove up to Tain which took around 45 minutes as once out of Inverness it is a fast road (the A9) all the way, and quite a scenic drive, too. I parked in the same car park I used previously which is free, as they all are in Tain as far as I know. I then had time to make a toilet stop and buy lunch before heading to the bus stop. Today the bus arrived on time and to my surprise it was a double decker bus. Only me and one other person, who I suspected to be a “bus spotter” got on. My hunch was right, as the only other passenger spent the whole journey sat in the front seat or stood up next to the driver talking to him. He bought a return ticket and never even got off the bus when we got to Portmahomack, but waited for it to go straight back again. A curious hobby, if you ask me! A double decker bus seemed overkill for the driver and 2 passengers, but it was nice to be able to spread out! The bus actually arrived early, because we had a speedy driver (or perhaps he was trying to impress the bus spotter!).

Today the weather was mostly cloudy, but with a few sunny spells and once again proved to be dry throughout! I like Portmahomack. It is not a large place, but it is very pretty and also very peaceful being quite remote at the end of a peninsula.

Portmahomack harbour

Portmahomack beach

I stopped on a bench to have a drink, sort my map and camera out and then set off. I initially followed the road from the harbour, which had the rocks and beach to my right.

Portmahomack

I soon came across steps down to the beach and took these so I could then walk across the firm sand on the beach. The village is lucky to have such a nice beach right behind the main street. It was only me and a single dog walker on the beach.

Portmahomack beach

It is not a long beach and at the other end caravans rather than houses were now behind the beach.

Portmahomack beach

Soon there were houses again, the last of the village. I did wonder if there was a path behind them but decided since I was not sure to just keep on the beach. Although now there were rocks about there was still enough firm sand at the back of the beach to make for a comfortable walk.

Portmahomack beach

Portmahomack beach

When I came to the last of the houses I suspected from the map there was a footpath. There was, a, sign told me it was 3 ½ miles along the footpath to Inver. Perfect. The beach had quite a few rocks and shingle now so I opted for the path, hoping it would be easier. It was initially grass, damp from the dew overnight, but in about 30 metres the path just went straight back down onto the beach. I decided to give up with the path, maybe it resumed later, but the beach had enough sand I could make it along, although it was now softer.

The coast west of Portmahomack

The coast west of Portmahomack

Soon the rocks and pebbles began to end and the beach returned to wider sand, making for easy and pleasant walking, with the hills I had been walking by earlier in the week visible on the other side of the water.

The coast west of Portmahomack

There were numerous tyre tracks all over the beach so I was a bit concerned I was about to be joined by youths on motorbikes or quad bikes at any point. It was in fact the school holidays in this part of Scotland, which was a surprise to me. Thankfully I didn’t see any vehicles, or people, for that matter.

The coast west of Portmahomack

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Instead it was a beautiful walk over the unspoilt sandy beach, backed by dunes and fine views across the water. It was also wonderful peaceful, at least most of the time, there was the occasional sound of a distant jet (it sounded like a military sort) though I don’t know where from.

Arboll links near Portmahomack

Arboll links near Portmahomack

At Arboll Links there was a stream marked on the map so I wondered if it would be easy to cross. It turned out to be very small and I could just step over it on the pebbles.

Arboll links near Portmahomack

Onwards, I now had the Inver Channel on my right. I had toyed with seeing if it was possible to wade over this to the sandy beach on the other side. But the red flags made it clear the bombing range was in use today and the tide was high making a wide expanse of water – quite impossible to try to wade across.

Inver links near Skinnerton

So I continued along the shoreline. As I headed further up the beach became more estuary and less beach like, with more pebbles, rocks and seaweed and the sand becoming more mud and less sand. The tire tracks continued all the way.

Inver links near Skinnerton

As I approached Inver I could see the houses right back on the beach.

Inver links near Skinnerton

At high tide an area of rock armour had been put in presumably to help reduce erosion and the water came right to the back at high tide. It wasn’t high tide but I was not quite sure if I would be able to get around. At a slipway I decided to head up this and found a grassy path along the back of the houses but I wasn’t quite clear if it was a public footpath or part of the gardens of the houses! Ahead I could see one house hold had a fence going right down to the shore, so I abandoned this path and returned to the shore, now a bit more awkward with the rocks.

I had now rounded the corner and was now heading south and soon there were steps up to the minor road on my left, which serves Inver. I had been here an hour or two earlier as the bus comes down to Inver, where it turned and returned, having picked up or dropped off no one. Inver was a small village and the pub seemed to be more a “working mens club” sort of place (I noticed it was only open Friday – Sunday). I followed the grass on the coast side of the road and there was soon a warehouse ahead. I went the coast side of this where there was a dog walker ahead.

Inver links near Skinnerton

I have found that the people in this part of Scotland to be friendly, but to be honest, that can be a mixed bag. Because it usually means people want to stop and chat, ask you where you are going, where you have been etc. However this man did not seem so friendly, he kept turning around to look at me which made me suspicious he was up to something and waiting to see if I’d gone.

Just past this warehouse there was another little stream (Inver Burn) which I could cross on the road and then headed down over marsh to pick up a path marked as continuing along the shore on the map. The man with the dog stayed on the marsh the other side, continued to stare at me and said nothing (I was half expecting to be told that it is a dead-end, as I suspected). But he said nothing and here I could find a good sandy path near the shore (again, with tire tracks in) between areas of what was now marsh.

The coast west of Inver

It was an easy path and by now the sun was coming out. I had nice views back over Inver but I noticed that now whilst I could barely see the man if I zoomed my camera in on him he was still standing there staring at me. Most odd.

The coast west of Inver

Ahead another little stream was crossed by a wooden bridge. Most Scottish paths seem to barely exist at all so it was nice to see a bridge it must be a well used path. As I headed further up the estuary the land around became more marshy too and soon turned to salt marsh.

The coast west of Inver

As marked on the map the path I had followed came to a dead end with just salt marsh ahead.

Inver bay

I knew I could not get across the river easily and the army land beyond was in use, so I would now have to head inland. I spotted a nice bench just inland, which I could make my way over the marsh too. But not wanting to fall in the bog I decided to follow on the western side of the fence heading towards a house at Summerton. There were a few muddy boggy bits of marsh but they were all narrow enough I could step over them. Beyond this though things became a bit more tricky. I could go through a gate into the field beyond, but there was an area of boggy tusky grass to get through first. There was nothing for it than to just plough through it, the grass coming up to my waste and numerous water channels below hidden by the long grass. It was not pleasant, but to my surprise, I managed to keep dry feet.

Inver bay

Beyond this thankfully small area was more normal grass, this time only ankle deep! I headed straight ahead aiming for a field boundary ahead. Here I found a gate (left open) so I could go into either of the two fields ahead. I opted for the left of the two since I could see gates at the end leading to the road. It also had sheep in who had kept the grass nice and short!

I was able to follow the edge of the field, with the fence on my right to the road where I could climb over the gate. I was relieved to have made it to the road without too much difficultly but not looking forward to the route ahead. This was because I estimated I had about 2 miles of road walking to come and with no pavement either. But I was relived to find the road was pretty quiet (as you’d expect given this is a peninsula with no large settlement) and for the most part there was also a grass verge if I needed to take refuge, but most drivers were very good in moving over to give me plenty of space. It was only 1 truck driver who did not move far over and the rush of air as it passed was very unpleasant. I monitored progress by checking for the two roads to my left. To my right was a disused airport as marked on the map. It looked to have been quite a big place once, with a lot of now derelict buildings. They all looked of World War II vintage so I expect they date from then.

Disused airport at Fendom

Some of the buildings did look to still be used for something though and further on there were signs for a motorbike club. I wanted to get to the woodland that was along the coast north east of Tain, which was marked as having public access and tracks leading through it, so I hoped to walk through this to the beach. The disused airport marked the outer edge of the bombing range, so I had considered trying to take a shortcut over the airport. But the distant sound of motorbikes and the odd mix of derelict and seemingly used buildings made me change my mind. Instead I continued with another road (part of cycle network 1) joining the road I was on. Soon I passed the end of the runway and just beyond where 3 houses on the right (the first not marked on my map). Here I spotted a track on the map leading past a house called Northwilds another (unamed) house and then a track leading over woodland to the large area of woodland I was aiming for.

I found this but was not really sure if it was private or not. It was signed for some sort of horse riding centre (I forget the name of it). Soon I passed a field with some large shire horses grazing on my left. Then the track split, which was odd, because there was only 1 track marked on the map. So I went left, since this seemed to match my map passing a few “park” homes on the right (also not on the map). I continued and this did indeed take me to Northwilds, where there were several stables as well as the house. I continued on the track which really felt like a private drive now, and had to climb over a metal gate just by the house. The track continued, now with grass down the middle but I was glad to be heading away from the house in case anyone came out to tell me off! There was another house (and collection of out buildings) ahead and I passed to the right of this where I joined another track (also coming up from the road) and turned right along it. This soon got narrower, with the woodland on the left and became quite a sandy track.

Woodland north of Tain

Approaching the woodland there was a gate with a sign but the sign was warning motorbikes that if they proceeded they would be breaking the law (as I suspected, motorbikes on the beaches and woodland is a problem here). Thankfully walking in the woodlands is fine. So I turned right and followed the wide sandy track heading east into the woodland.

Woodland north of Tain

I was hoping to take the first track off to the left (as marked on the map) but somehow missed it and ended up taking the second, a grassy track still damp from overnight. On reaching the main track I through the middle of the wood, I turned right along it heading for a place marked Cnocan Mealbhain (no idea how to say that)! I turned left off this to follow another track and reached the edge of the woodland and also the bombing range. I turned left, expecting to reach the sea. Initially the path was heading in the right direction but I was confused because whilst I was on the edge of the woodland, as expected, with the trees on my left (also expected) the sea should be on my right – and it wasn’t. Consulting the GPS I realised I was heading west but was still a 100 metres or so from the shore line. I could not work out how I had gone wrong and a check on Google Earth shows that whilst this is marked on the map as all woodland, there is an area of open land, where I now was on the ground (why isn’t it shown on the map?). After a while I decided to just make my way across this rough ground to reach the shoreline.

Woodland north of Tain

I made it to the shore which was nice but a bit muddier than I had hoped and expected, as well as the remains of a freezer and parts of a car on the beach, a shame to see this rubbish washed up.

The coast nort of Tain

It was beautiful and peaceful though. I decided to turn right to the edge of the firing range first. When I neared that, I stopped for lunch. Then I turned left and followed the shore heading towards Tain.

The coast nort of Tain

I saw no one and it was easy following the beach just outside the woodland where there was firm sand and mud and little low sandy cliffs and dunes to my left.

The coast nort of Tain

The coast nort of Tain

At the end of the woodland it was a little odd in that there were areas of stones with gaps between them and a muddy path going behind these. Some sort of defensive works to prevent erosion perhaps? Not sure, it was odd, and once again the tire tracks were all over the mud, but thankfully no signs of whatever had created them.

The coast nort of Tain

The coast nort of Tain

I followed this until I reached the lovely litle suspension bridge over the River Tain mouth (Alexandra Bridge). This had a weight restriction, even for pedestrians (2 people max). The tide was out so the river was in fact mostly mud!

Alexandra Bridge, Tain

River Tain

This led me into a park and then I followed the road over the railway line and up the hill into the town.

Alexandra Bridge, Tain

I was quite early for my flight and considered driving down to Loch Ness, but in the end I decided to head into Inverness for a little while before heading on to the airport. After doing that, I returned my hire car to the airport and then waited for my flight, which was quite a late flight but thankfully only running about 15 minutes late. I got to Luton about 22:15 and back to my car by around 22:45 as I had to wait for a bus to the car park. I got home around midnight.

This was a walk that had a good start and a good end but a poor section along a straight wide, boring road over mostly flat ground past the derelict airport. But the beaches at either end, particularly at Portmahomack and west from there to Inver were lovely. It would be nice if it was possible to walk along the beach around Morrich More, but it is an army bombing range and I think usually out of bounds. In any case much of the area is marked as marsh and crossed by numerous streams so I suspect the going would be very hard if you could get here. So it’s probably best to stick to the road!

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

Stagecoach Highlands route 24 : Tain – Lochslin – Inver – Portmahomack – Inver – Lochslin – Tain. 4 buses per day, Monday – Friday only. No service at weekends. It takes around 20-25 minutes to travel between Tain and Portmahomack.

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

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297. Portmahomack to Shandwick

October 2016

After my previous walk along this part of the coast turned into something of a trial with my attempts to find my own route not very successful, I was hoping for better luck this time.

My last trip to the north east coast of Scotland had been in June. 4 months later and I was back though due to limited public transport I hadn’t done all the walks “in order” on this trip so today was actually the 4th day of this trip. (I’ll explain why, shortly).

For this trip I was staying in Inverness, at the Inverness East Premier Inn. In hindsight that was probably a mistake, as it was a bit far from the coast I was now walking, so it meant some long drives north out of Inverness. I should probably have booked a hotel in Tain but hotels north of Inverness are limited, which tends to mean higher prices and often poorer quality so I had stuck with the known quality (and cheaper prices) of the Premier Inn.

This walk required a bus that was at the time only running Monday – Friday. I had arrived for this trip on a Saturday which meant the earliest I could do this walk was on Monday. Except I didn’t. One advantage of staying in a city is better services. Just opposite my hotel was a large Tesco store that claimed to be “Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” (there being no restricted opening hours on a Sunday in Scotland) so I stopped there first to get lunch. This is why I ended up doing this walk out of order! Today is Tuesday. Yesterday was Monday. When I went to this “never closing” Tesco to get lunch yesterday, it was closed. Apparently (I learned from the notice in the window) Monday was a “local holiday” in Inverness so the store was closed.

A local holiday is a new concept to me, we don’t have this in England. Essentially, it’s a bank holiday but one that only applies in that one city (or area) and not all of Scotland. So yesterday was a “Local Holiday” in Inverness. This caused some confusion to me with transport. The walk I was doing today depended on a bus that only runs Monday – Friday (excluding public holidays). Since I was waling entirely outside of Inverness in the area I was walking, it was not a public holiday. However the bus I wanted to use started from Inverness, where it was a public holiday. Which therefore begged the question – would the bus be running to the “Sundays and Public Holiday” schedule (which meant no buses) or to the normal Monday schedule? (Given it was only a public holiday on part of the route)! I couldn’t find anything to help on the Stagecoach website, so instead I’d done a walk the previous day (Monday) that used a train instead (avoiding the need to worry about if the buses were running, as I was able to verify the train was running), so having arrived on Saturday today was the first day I could be certain of the bus I needed for this walk running!

After getting lunch I drove to Tain and parked up, to await the bus to Portmahomack (this time I’d hired a car from Inverness Airport rather than rely on the buses for all my transport needs, after my poor experiences on my last trip). The time the bus was due came and went, with no bus. Around 5 minutes after it was due another local came over to the bus stop to tell us she had seen it earlier going the other way so it was definitely running “unlike yesterday”. This confirmed I had made the right choice the previous day then! It did arrive, a little over 10 minutes late. It was not very busy on the bus and it took us a slightly meandering route via Inver before arriving at the harbour at Portmahomack.

I had never been to the town before but immediately liked it, as we descended past attractive houses to the harbour. It is a small harbour with a sandy beach alongside and was very peaceful. I had a quick look around the harbour area and beach and then set off on the walk.

Portmahomack harbour

Portmahomack beach

Portmahomack harbour

There is an ornate drinking fountain behind the beach on the grass.

Portmahomack

Initially I followed the road north out of the town but as this ended I was pleased to find a sign indicating a footpath out to Tarbat Ness lighthouse, as I had hoped and suspected from the map.

The coast north of Portmahomack

This ran just above the low rocky cliffs, in amongst areas of heather and gorse.

The coast north of Portmahomack

These were mixed in with interesting rock formations and coloured rocks. The path was rather Scottish in that at times it was over lose rocks and not very visible on the ground.

The coast north of Portmahomack

Further north near Port Uilleim the path headed down onto the beach. Though there was sand near the high tide line nearer the shoreline it was now mostly salt marsh.

The coast north of Portmahomack

Soon it was back to a path along the low cliffs past a rather attractive little rocky bay.

The coast north of Portmahomack

At one point I was not sure if I was meant to continue low alongside the shore or higher on the cliffs. I opted for the lower route. I was wrong. So I had to head back and up into the field above. Here I kept struggling to find the way until near the end of each field I spotted the gate or stile that took me into the next field.

The coast became increasingly rugged and rocky as I headed north soon with the lighthouse in sight.

Tarbat Ness lighthouse

I followed the rough path through a field of cows and on the top of the low cliffs to approach the lighthouse. Once again I was not sure if I was meant to go high or low. I again opted low and got it wrong as there was no way around other than climbing around very slippery cliffs covered by the water at high tide. I made my way up to the lighthouse but was a little surprised to find it is now a private house.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse

There was however a sign indicating a “ramblers route” through the grounds of the lighthouse, but I could not gate the gate to open and had to climb it. I was followed the route on the sign but it still felt like I was trespassing in a private garden. However once through this I was on a “proper” path with information signs and everything. This side of the lighthouse was more rugged too.

Near Tarbat Ness

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse

I headed out to the heather covered cliffs at the far end of Tarbat Ness. This is the most north easterly point of Easter Ross. I was looking out over the very wide Dornoch Firth to almost the north eastern point of Scotland. I enjoyed it here but did not want to linger too long.

I headed along the track back to the lighthouse and beyond it, really the road that serves the lighthouse. At the end of the drive to the lighthouse I came to a car park. I decided to turn left along it, and back to the cliff edge.

Tarbat Ness

I was not sure the best route to take onwards from here.

Port a'Chait near Tarbat Ness

In the end I found a rough and feint path around the coast on the outside of a wall. However soon I had a house below me and the path became narrow and steep. It was also quite wet with the long grass so I decided to head down the steep grassy bank to the track. I was not sure if I was on a private drive to the house but I decided to turn left and follow it down to the shore, but as I approached the door of the house opened as there was building work going on, but the owners were friendly and as I said hello I also spotted an onwards footpath sign. It also turned out there was a Bothy near here and this was the car park for it, so they were welcoming to walkers.

I was pleased to find an onwards footpath so I went through the gate. This is one of those raised beaches I think where there are now 3 levels, the current beach, a grassy flat area below the cliffs (the former beach I think) then the cliffs behind.

Port a'Chait near Tarbat Ness

The path went along this grassy area, now above the high water line but below the cliffs, it made for easy and flat walking. It was beautiful too passing a mixture of sandy and rocky beaches, with the lighthouse a constant but increasingly distant companion.

Port a'Chait near Tarbat Ness

Port a'Chait near Tarbat Ness

In places the path climbed near the top of the low cliffs and descended again.

The coast south of Tarbat Ness

The coast south of Tarbat Ness

The only downside is that under what looked like grass there were often pebbles or rocks, so it was a bit hard on the ankles and the long grass was still damp. The rock formations were interesting but I’m afraid I’m not a geologist, so I don’t know what I was looking at.

The coast near Rockfield

Soon I passed a lovely looking building marked as Ballone Castle (restored) on the map, it was a lovely looking house.

Ballone Castle near Rockfield

Ballone Castle near Rockfield

It felt like I was walking through the garden briefly here with neatly mown grass and a few old sheds in one corner below the house, but it was soon back to the rough grassy path and for a while along the edge of the beach.

Ballone Castle near Rockfield

The path soon became a wider track and then, rather abruptly became a road into the small village of Rockfield.

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In fact I went through the gate and had to basically walk along the drive of a house, but this is the footpath. I then followed the road through this small village and did the same walk along someones drive at the far end, to resume my route along the grassy path below the cliffs.

The coast south of Rockfield

It was an easy and interesting walk onwards, with a few sea birds to watch on the rocks. I passed what I think is Tarrel Bothie, but it did not look to be still used or open (or very welcoming).

The coast south of Rockfield

In places the path headed the inland side of a few rocks but the path was never steep.

The coast south of Rockfield

As I got nearer to Hilton of Cadboll the path got wider until there were two wide tyre tracks I could follow.

The coast south of Rockfield

The coast nort of Hilton of Cadboll

This was welcoming as at last I could see what I was putting my feet on (before it was often rocks or shingle under the long grass).

The coast nort of Hilton of Cadboll

The cliffs to my right became taller, now topped with pine trees. I passed another run down probably derelict house though the tyre tracks suggested someone did come out to it fairly often.

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It was an easy walk for the next couple of miles along this track with the villages ahead gradually getting closer.

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The coast nort of Hilton of Cadboll

 

I soon came across a rare thing, a Scottish footpath sign! I was now only 1km from Hilton (I’m not sure why the signs here are all shown in KM rather than the more usual miles).

Jessie Port near Hilton of Cadboll

As I neared the village there was another of the Pictish stones and an old hill fort to explore.

Jessie Port near Hilton of Cadboll

Pictish slab (replica) at Hilton of Cadboll

I had a look around these and continue past the first house of Hilton, which looked to be derelict.

Hilton of Cadboll

I was not really sure of the onward route and whether I would have to stick to the road, but a footpath seemed to continue around the coastal side of the houses, along walls at the bottom of peoples gardens. The villages of Hilton of Cadboll, Balintore and Shandwick seem to merge into one and it is difficult to know where one ends and the next start. In fact they seem to be generally referred to as “The Seaboard villages”, and even the bus lists that as it’s destination! I soon passed the “Seaboard Memorial Hall” – I was intrigued to see it did not try to claim which of the villages it was in! For some reason there is also a mermaid on the rocks here too (you can see it below).

Balintore

I briefly had to join the road here but there was soon a route onwards back along the coast through a pleasant little garden. Once this ended though I was briefly back along the road to pass the small harbour.

Balintore Harbour

Balintore Harbour

I expect this would have once been full of fishing boats but there were only a few leisure boats there now, and the harbour was very sandy. In fact when I finished my previous trip to Scotland at Shadwick Bay it was lovely and I had though there would be more sand to walk but in fact it was only at the end of this harbour that I came to the south end of this lovely beach.

Shandwick beach

Shandwick beach

Having been walking roads for a while I was keen to return to the beach so headed down onto the firm sand and walked along the beach.

Shandwick beach

I was now trying to remember the point I left the beach before and soon spotted it. I followed it back up to the bus stop I remembered before where I had ended my last trip to this part of Scotland a few months previously. It was much colder than yesterday and I had a little over 20 minutes to wait for the bus so I walked back down to the beach and sat at the back of the beach for a while. The path continued south and I remembered the frustrations I had had the previous time trying to walk from Nigg to here along the shore. I had had to abandon it and take to tracks furher inland in the end because it was impassible, but the path looked quite good ahead. I wondered how far you could get before it deteriorated. Though checking the map the track marked soon fizzled out, as I suspect, did the path.

Once it was time for my bus I headed back up to the road. The bus arrived on time and there was one other passenger on it. She soon got off it and after that I was the only passenger all the way to Tain! I must admit to being pleasantly surprised as to how frequent the bus is to these villages (and that they even had one).

This turned out to be an easier walk than expected with a footpath all the way even if it was a bit variable in standard! This meant I made good time. It was a lovely peaceful section of coast with the lighthouse at Tarbart Ness a particular highlight, as well as the long walk along the raised beach south of there. The coast is now beginning to feel quite remote!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. It is necessary to change buses in Tain.

Stagecoach Highlands route 24 : Tain – Lochslin – Inver – Portmahomack – Inver – Lochslin – Tain. 4 buses per day, Monday – Friday only. No service at weekends.

Stagecoach Highlands routes 30A / 30B / 30C : Tain – Arabells Crossroads – ShandwickBalintoreHinton – Hill of Feam – Tain. Route 30C runs in the opposite direction and between the 30A and 30C there is broadly an hourly service (but with some gaps), Monday – Saturday, no service on Sundays.

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

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Faroe Islands Special: Nólsoy

August 2019

This week is another special post from my holiday in August 2019 to the Faroe Islands.

Easily visible from the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, the island of Nólsoy is only a couple of miles away, separated from the capital by the Nólsoyarfjørður, a short ferry crossing is all it takes to get there.

Today was Saturday and after breakfast at the hotel I headed down to the bus station, which is also alongside the ferry terminal from where ferries go to many of the islands that are south of the capital, including Nólsoy. Nólsoy has a population of 227 (in 2018) all of whom live in the main village on the north east of the island. The lower house prices and 20 minute ferry ride from the capital mean it can be attractive to those who want to live somewhere less built up but still accessible to the capital.

As this was a weekend the ferry service is more limited so I took the first ferry of the day which was at 7:45am, the next one not being until 12:30. Whilst waiting for the ferry I picked up some sort of free newspaper which was also in English. On the front was the headline “Strandfaraskip ferries need replacing”. Strandfaraskip being the name of the public transport operator on the islands, who run the buses and ferries. Underneath was the picture of Ternan, the ferry that serves the island of Nólsoy. Built in 1980 the ferry was now almost 40 years old and the story stated.

On Wednesday, the crew of Ternan noticed that the hull of the ferry had started leaking due to corrosion but there was no imminent danger for crew or passengers because the ferry is double hulled meaning water only leaked into a sealed compartment and not into the rest of the ship. (You can read the full article, in English, here).

So the ferry I was about to get on was corroded so badly it was leaking and badly in need of replacing. That’s exactly the sort of thing you don’t really want to read just before getting on the exact ferry in question. Oh well, I wasn’t going to abandon my plans despite the apparent poor state of the ferry.

The ferry was very quiet. Myself included there were 8 passengers and 1 car! So it didn’t take long to load up and we were soon on the move. There was an outer (open) deck on the top, which I went out onto a few times but it was very windy and cold so not somewhere to linger. Here is the view departing from Tórshavn.

Tórshavn harbour

Inside the ferry were some tables and given how few people there were each party could have a table to themselves. I sensed everyone else on the ferry was local and several were knitting!

Soon we were approaching the island and it looks rather spectacular. (From this angle, it actually reminded me a little of Worms Head on the Gower peninsula in South Wales).

Nólsoy

The crossing was smooth, it being a calm (but cloudy) day and so soon the ferry was pulling into the harbour on the island of Nólsoy and I was relived the ferry had not sunk on the way!

The harbour was pretty with the colourful houses of the village right behind the harbour.

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Here is the ferry, safely arrived at the harbour.

Ternan, the Nólsoy ferry

I started by looking around the village and my first impression was how quiet it was. Other than the small number of people on the ferry, there was no one about.

Here is the post office and shop (closed at this time of day) with it’s colourful tables outside.

The shop, Nólsoy

There was also a helpful sign directing me to the apparently large number of attractions of the island.

Nólsoy signs

This is a small island and the village only occupies a small part of it, so the scene beyond the harbour was dominated by the large hill that occupies much of the island.

Nólsoy harbour

The church was a simple but attractive affair.

Nólsoy church

The buildings were mostly wooden framed, though often with stone foundations, some with grass roofs.

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

However at this time on a Saturday morning, everything was closed and there was no one about, so I didn’t spend long in the village. Instead I had planned a walk. As I mentioned in previous posts about the Faroe Islands, unlike much of Scandinavia there is no “right to roam” and a lot of the paths that exist are private which has led to a lot of landowners charging a “hiking fee” in order to use them. These paths are primarily circular routes or those to specific beauty spots. However routes that link communities (or historically did) are classed more as a right of way (I don’t know the exact laws) so there is a right for the public to use them for no charge. That was the case with the main path and the one I intended to follow, which runs more or less the entire length of the island to the lighthouse at the far end, Borðan. Once a few people lived there but it’s uninhabited now.

I was using the “Hiking Guide” published by the islands tourist board, Visit Faroe Islands. This stated the return walk was 13-14km provided a basic map and directions so that would be enough for me to follow the route (I hadn’t been able to find any good walking maps, but I think this guide covers most of the main paths anyway).

The path began by climbing out of the village on a wide stony track.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

All was quiet at this time, but when I returned this area was a hive of activity with the grass being cut on the fields on either side and the cut grass being loaded into vehicles parked on this track, I think to be used to feed animals in the winter months.

I had soon passed the last of the buildings and gained enough height to get a lovely view back to the village and harbour.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

Ahead I could see the terrain was going to get more demanding. This is the mountain of Høgoyggj and the highest point is 372m.

Høgoyggj, Nólsoy

The path continued to gain height, giving me better views as it did so. The path doesn’t go quite to the top of the hill, instead skirting around it’s right hand side.

This gave good views of the island but also the other islands that surround it.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

View back to Nólsoy harbour

It is clear that the village is on a lower piece of land that is almost separated from the main island as at one point the land is only a few metres wide (an isthmus) and I’m told waves can break right over it in winter!

As I gained height so it got more windy and cold, but I was reward for that with ever improving views.

View back to Nólsoy harbour

View back to Nólsoy harbour

After a while the path levelled out (and in places was hard to spot), but was marked intermittently with some cairns.

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

The land around was now flat (and in places marshy), dotted with these “cotton top” flowers (I’m sure that’s not their real name).

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

At one point I took a wrong turning as the “path” I was following seemed to fizzle out and I realised I was too far south. I headed back to get back on course and soon I could see some buildings ahead.

View from the path to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

This must be Borðan so I was nearing the southern end of the island (the other clue being I could see sea ahead again).

As I approached the lighthouse I was surprised to hear noise. I thought this place was meant to be un-inhabited?

Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

As I got closer, it turned out to be a diesel generator running in one of the buildings. I presume to provide electricity for the lighthouse, though I am not certain. In fact according to the guide two of thew houses here were built by the British during World War II to fool the Germans (presumably into believing this was the village). Another was a school as when this village was populated the island school alternated between here and the main village of Nólsoy, but it’s not used now.

Soon I reached the lighthouse itself, right at the very end of the island.

Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

What a spectacular location it was. I stopped here for a limited lunch. I say limited because I had to make do with what I’d bought the previous evening because I left Tórshavn before the shops had opened and the only shop on Nólsoy was also closed. I had hoped to be back to the village in time for lunch, but the walk was quite hard and had taken longer than expected so I knew that wasn’t going to happen now!

Still this was a stunning spot with the sound and sights of the sea crashing over the rocks below the lighthouse.

Now actually at the far end of the island there are two lighthouses, not one. The other is around a mile away at Øknastangi. The walking guide suggested you could walk to the harbour nearby so I planned to do that.

There was a somewhat feint path so I set off in that direction.

Near Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

Soon there was a fence and the line of the fence went down to the small harbour here.

Near Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

I followed the path beside the fence down to the harbour and on to the other, much smaller and less impressive lighthouse.

Tumbin beacon, Nólsoy

Still what the lighthouse lacked in grandeur the scenery more than made up for, as I could see right along the western coast of the island.

The east coast of Nólsoy

The west coast of Nolsoy

It looked spectacular but sadly with no path along it and no right to roam I didn’t want to risk trying to walk back along the coast.

I headed back however a little nearer the shore and here you can just see the little building at this southern “harbour” and the small slipway behind it.

Near Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

This looked to still be used though how often and for what reason I don’t know. To deliver diesel for the generator for the lighthouse is likely one reason.

Returning to the small abandoned village at Borðan. Whilst these buildings might not be lived in any more they are clearly well maintained so are presumably used for something, but I’m not sure what.

Borðan lighthouse out buildings

I am not sure what they are I suspect one is the former school and the other perhaps was the house for the light house keepers, but there were no signs or names to give any clues.

Now I had explored the area, it was time to make my way back, soon climbing back to the marshy interior of the island.

Footpath to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

I had seen not a single person since I left the village of Nólsoy but on the way back I did come across these sheep.

Footpath to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

Going back seemed to (and probably did) take less time than going, as often seems to be the case.

Footpath to Borðan lighthouse, Nólsoy

I could also look across to Tórshavn over on the island of Streymoy.

Tórshavn from Nólsoy

I could also look over to the island of Eysturoy and I think this is the village of Strendur on the southern tip of that island.

The southern tip of Eysturoy from Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Soon I had come over the top of the hill and was looking back to the village of Nólsoy. It was only here I met other visitors, this time clearly tourists who had come over on the next ferry (at 12:30) and wanted to know if this was the right way to the lighthouse, so I was able to confirm to them that it was! It had been nice to feel like (and quite possibly be) the only tourist on the island for a few hours, but it was clear there were more people here now (I passed quite a few people walking in the other direction now, as I headed back).

Nólsoy

Now it was largely down hill all the way (this photo is looking back from where I had come).

Nólsoy

Now nearing the village here are the villagers cutting the grass, as I mentioned at the start. All seemingly done by hand!

Nólsoy

Now back at the village I could admire the stunning scenery of the Isthmus. On the right is the sea and that grey building on the left is the ferry terminal, so it is clear just how narrow the Isthmus between the two parts of the island really is.

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Nólsoy

Now back at the village there was much more activity. Importantly, this included the cafe, Maggies Cafe, where I headed now for a late lunch. This is clearly more a bar/pub than a cafe really and was looked to be set up for a band to be playing that evening (or, given the logo for the cafe is a guitar perhaps the locals play most evenings). Anyway it was nice to have a sit down in the warm and a filling lunch.

Now refreshed I explored the rest of the village.

Nólsoy

One thing that did surprise me is how many cars there are. The village is small, the population is only a little over 200 and the only roads are those around the houses of the village themselves. Most of the island doesn’t have any roads, so it seemed odd to me how most seem to have cars and there was a car ferry even though everywhere you could go by car was within a short walk. I suppose it is for commuting over to the other islands.

Having said that at the far south of the village a few of the houses are more remote, but still not a long walk away.

Nólsoy

I also found a track heading over to the south of the island, though it is not far.

Nólsoy

Once back in the village I had a look in the visitor information centre and there was also someone setting up for a film shoot of some sort in front of some of the buildings. So here are a few views of the village and harbour.

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy

Note on the one above the sign on the hill above the harbour “Nollywood”. I wondered if this was to do with the filming but no, it seems to be a permanent feature of the island, which I thought was a bit out of place.

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy harbour

Nólsoy

Having finished exploring the island it was sadly time to leave on the ferry back to Tórshavn.

Ternan at Nólsoy

Tórshavn harbour

Tórshavn harbour

This had been a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring this wonderful island. It was nice too to be able to walk almost the length of it and feel I had properly explored rather than just stick to the village as many other visitors do. The island was very picturesque with some very varied and rugged terrain but the lighthouse at the end, miles from anywhere else, on the remote tip of the island really had a special atmosphere about it and I was glad to have made the effort to get there.

The ferry service to Nólsoy typically runs between 5 and 7 times per day in summer and the timetable can be found here. The exact schedule varies each day and the crossing takes around 20 minutes. When I was there there was no need for foot passengers to book but whether Covid restrictions have changed that I am not sure.

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296. Cromarty to Shandwick

June 2016

This was the last day of a 5 day walking trip to the Highlands. I packed up all my stuff and left my Hotel, having to carry 5 days worth of clothes with me for this walk. I walked to the bus stop and took the bus into the centre of Inverness. Here I stopped at the Co-Op to buy lunch.

The previous day I had some problems with a bus that was listed in the timetable, on the Stagecoach website, on Traveline and on the bus station departure board as departing from the bus station. However it turned out that despite this it does not in fact depart from the bus station, it departs from outside Farm Foods, as I found to my cost the previous day. So today I was trying to catch the same bus. This time I had found Farm Foods, so let’s see what happens. Well the good news is that this time the bus actually came and it was a double decker so I got good views. The bad news is that it only went as far as Fortrose. The good news was that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (only) there was an onwards connecting bus to Cromarty, which is where I wanted to go and today is Wednesday so it should be running. (Why it only runs on some days of the week I have no idea).

So on reaching Fortrose, I changed and hoped that the next bus would come. A few minutes after it was due, as I was beginning to give up hope that it was going to come. However then an empty Stageocach bus tried to turn right round the corner. It was a tight turn and after messing up the first attempt at making the turn, it reversed back and tried again this time just making it (but only by mounting the kerb). The front display on the bus showed “000 Not in Service” so I didn’t bother to flag it down (assuming, not unreasonably, this meant it wasn’t in service), but despite this, it did stop. It turns out this was my bus and the driver stopped because he saw me waiting (why he hadn’t thought to set the display to something useful, I didn’t like to ask). More un-professionalism from Stagecoach Highlands, sadly.

The driver asked me where I wanted to be dropped of as we approached Cromarty (I was and had been the only passenger throughout) and I told him the ferry. He advised me that the bus didn’t terminate directly at the ferry, so to get off at the end of the route and walk over the grass to the other end. I did as instructed, watched closely by the bus driver the whole way (I guess he didn’t have a lot to do until it was time for the return service).

This green in Cromarty seems to double as an unofficial campsite, as wild camping is permitted in Scotland, but Dutch campervans seemed to be the most common. I could see the ferry already heading out so knew I had just missed one and would have to wait for the next ferry, at 10:00am instead. Still Cromarty looked to be a pleasant enough village.

Cromarty

Cromarty

Cromarty

I sat on the beach beside the slipway and waited and soon it made it’s way back.

Cromarty

Cromarty

Cromarty

I was the only passenger, though it also took a van, the only vehicle that was waiting, but it did not look like there was room for anything else on it anyway!

Aboard the Cromarty ferry

(As an aside, is Arnold Clark the richest man in Scotland? I’ve certainly noticed that about 2/3 of cars in Scotland have an Arnold Clark dealership sticker on the back window…)

In fact I’d heard this is the smallest car ferry in Britain, which I could well believe. As a not very interesting fact I actually travelled on the vessel that formerly operated this route when I travelled from Weston-super-Mare to Flat Holm island when the former Cromarty ferry (Cromarty Rose) had been sailed down to the Bristol Channel and renamed Westward Ho, to operate the service over to Flat Holm island from Weston-super-Mare (though that too has also closed down since).

The crossing cost £4.50 (one way for a foot passenger) which I thought a bit expensive (it’s less than a mile), but given there was no other public transport to Nigg I was happy to pay it.

Now the ferry had arrived  I travelled over on the deck, I think you can also go inside. It was not a fast crossing, but it was nice to enjoy the views. The only other passenger was the driver of the hired van. She was a bit nervous about getting the van off, as it is a tight squeeze and you must reverse off, and she was not used to driving a van. She made it fine though, with the ferryman waving her up the narrow slipway.

Now I had arrived at Nigg, the Cromarty Firth was beautiful. It was a calm day and the sea looked more like a pond.

The beach at Nigg

Nigg was an odd place. There was some industry about, but it was totally silent and once the van and ferry had gone, there was no one else about at all. I had had some trouble planning this walk because of no obvious footpath beyond. There was a path up the cliffs to Castlecraig, but after that only a few farm tracks heading inland. The coast also had a few waterfalls and streams, which were likely to be a problem crossing and areas of woodlands with lakes in. All in all, it looked tricky. So having found the official coast path on the Black Isle yesterday actually followed the rough beach most of the way I decided to try that here too. It looked like there was a rocky beach at low tide as far as North Sutor and a bit east of there it looked to become a bigger shingle beach which should be easier. So if I could get around the cliffs at Noth Sutor I should be OK. I think the tide was going out too.

I initially followed a path behind houses (the pub marked on the map here is closed and looks to have been converted to … something). This headed out into an area of grassed over sandy dunes. So I set off east along the paths, but soon headed down onto the beach itself, which was now sandy.

The beach at Nigg

The beach at Nigg

It’s a beautiful beach too, backed by low dunes. It was a clear sunny day and it was deserted, it reminded me a little of arriving on the Isles of Scilly.

I followed it to the eastern end where the beach turned to shingle, then pebbles and finally rocks. The going was now hard as I picked my way over the large rocks and avoided the gully’s between them. There were now quite high cliffs above me and the going was tough making progress slow. I got a couple of hundred metres but was then faced with this.

The beach at Nigg

The coast at Nigg

It might be possible to get around if the tide was lower. I think it was going out but I would likely have to wait a couple of hours for that to happen, which I didn’t have. So I reluctantly headed back conscious I had wasted about 40 minutes so far and got nowhere. Returning to the dunes, I followed the road heading up the cliffs. This is a private road signed as belonging to a petroleum company, but in Scotland this does not apply for walkers, so I followed it. It was a steep climb and hard work with my heavy pack. Near the top I spotted that rare thing in Scotland, a footpath sign!

Nigg

It showed the path to the right was “Castlecraig Circular Path”. I was hoping for coast path but it would make a good start, but without an obvious circular route on the map, I had to guess where it might go. Initially there was a good path over the short grass near the coastal edge of a field, but set a bit back from the coast. Stiles were provided at each field crossing, though I had to avoid the cows.

From the top I had fine views back to Nigg and the Cromarty Firth, and it’s many old oil rigs.

The Cromarty Firth at Nigg

The Cromarty Firth at Nigg

As I approached a line of trees, I passed on the coastal side of them and passed various old World War II concrete buildings, now in a state of dereliction. There was probably quite an encampment here!

Old World War II buildings near Nigg

The cows had run ahead of me to the end of the field so I was glad to be able to climb over the gate to be rid of them. Ahead was a valley and I seemed to have run out footpath signs. But just as I got the fence I spotted a stile and was able to cross it heading down to the small valley where I could just step over the stream and head back up the field. From here I was in another field of cows!

These two ran along the path near me keeping to the coastal side of a plantation. There was another old World War II building at the end and I climbed over the gate to get away from the cows.

Old World War II buildings near Nigg

I now had a good path along the edge of the field ahead but assumed that the circular walk had now headed inland. Ahead was another valley which I was again able to cross by stepping over it. Ahead was another field which I crossed and led to another valley.

The coast north of Nigg

Ahead now were areas of gorse and broom so I headed inland over the field to keep the landward side above them, my path now largely disappeared. I could see ahead the next stream had cut quite a valley so I would have to head inland to get around it anyway. I managed to pick my way around the gorse and near the top of the valley were – yet more – cows. The area was very boggy and I had to climb over the gate to the area where the cows were. I eventually managed to find a dry enough route over the bogs to cross and then could resume my route over the fields. I headed back to the coast and was surprised at the end of the next field to find a stile (though no footpath sign).

The coast north of Nigg

The coast north of Nigg

Sadly the land beyond was overgrown and the left of the stile was just another fence. So I used the stile to help me over the fence and along the south edge of the next field. So far, I had been all alone but as I neared the next field edge I could see a van parked a little further up the field where I think the man was working on the fence. I had hoped not to be seen as I climbed over the fence and I was forced to do that I would no doubt incur the wrath of the farmer who would tell me that is how the last fence got damaged! Thankfully I was far enough down I don’t think he noticed me and in any case a gap had been left at the bottom of the field I think for a gate, so no climbing required.

I followed the path along the coastal edge of the next, large, field. Things were going well until I reached an area of woodland between me and the next valley. Here the field ended and there were two gates. More excitingly, there was even a footpath sign – signing me straight ahead into the thick bracken, heather and trees.

It was really impassable, but having come so far I managed to pick my way steeply down hill over the heather and bracken into the woodland. Here I ducked under the trees and made my way down keeping trying to convince myself I could see a bit of a path. At the bottom of the steep valley, I came to a stream. There was no bridge, but I could cross it by stepping on some of the rocks, as it was shallow.

I did here consider trying to follow the river down to the beach, but it was very wet (rivers usually are….) and a steep sided valley so I decided against it. It was a real scramble up the other side through woodland and then to more thick bracken. I could not see what was ahead or how much bracken there was so I just crashed through it as best I could. The ground was very uneven and full of roots, making it really hard work. So I was relieved that it was only a fairly small area and I soon burst out into a field, sweating, and with a fine view back.

The coast south of Shandwick

To my left now was a lot of bracken and gorse, but ahead was grass. I continued over the grass until ahead I had a wall of gorse and bracken. I could see no way through. I tried a few paths which soon fizzled out. I couldn’t face going back down that valley, so I decided again to try and push through the gorse. It was so hard work with no path and thick gorse, over my head in places. It scratched my arms, tore at my clothes (and claimed my camera lens cap). After a while there was even a fence on my right, but it was totally within the gorse. Who had built it and why?! It was torture but I pressed on for about 10 minutes. The gorse was still thick, I could not see a way out ahead, I was not sure if there would be a path and I was now thoroughly demoralised and with my arms all scratched from the gorse.

I stopped to check the map and spotted a track near the top of the field on the map. Rather than try to continue forward, I would try to head back and make for that. Going back was even worse, I fell over several times and really just wanted to collapse and sit down for a while. However today I did not have the luxury of time. I was booked on a flight home from Inverness Airport that evening and in order not to miss that I had to get a bus at 3pm from Shandwick.

I could not afford to waste any more time, I had to forgo lunch and I had to find that track. If I could not get to the road in time I would call a taxi when I could reach the road.

So I crashed back through the gorse, getting more cuts in the process and getting thoroughly annoyed both with the terrain and my own stubbornness. Why hadn’t I turned back or headed inland earlier? This was a stupid decision. It took what seemed like an hour to get out of that gorse, each step was such an effort and I often tripped. I was also a bit worried if I was even going the right way and I would be stuck in this gorse. So it was such a relief to eventually emerge from it, sweating and scratched. I had to stop for a drink I was so hot.

(Frustratingly when I later downloaded my route from my GPS and put it onto Google Earth I could see I had got about 90% of the way through the gorse when I turned back…).

This done I was pleased to spot the track up out of the gorse, it was steep but at least it was clear. Ahead I approached a farm fence and was not so pleased to see the farmer around the gates I needed to climb over. I asked him if this track headed to the road and if he minded if I followed it. He seemed surprised to see anyone but said it was OK to climb the gates and follow the track to the road. I am sure a better route, closer to the coast and off this track could be found. But I had had enough of going “off piste” and could not afford to waste any more time. So I followed the track that twisted and turned back down past some barns and eventually the road came into view.

The track emerged at the road just west of the house at Wester Rarichie. I was so glad to see the tarmac (not often I say that!) and back to civilisation.

Wester Rarichie

I hate road walking, but at least the road was quiet, wide and I knew where it went! I checked the time and concluded I had enough time to make it Shandwick if I walked quickly. So I did. A few minutes later a bus passed me (going the other way to the way I wanted to go). I was not sure of the route so was glad to see that the bus did follow this road, as if I did not make it to Shandwick in time there was a good chance I could flag it down as I went. I followed this road passed only by about half a dozen cars and a cyclist to reach the turning for Shandwick and a sign welcoming me to the “Seaboard villages”. (The villages of Shandwick, Ballintore and Hilton of Cadoll form an almost linear settlement along the coast here and seem to be collectively known as the “Seaboard Villages” but given they are far from the only villages on the east coast of Scotland I am not sure why these villages specifically seem to get this distinction).

Shandwick

I followed this down and came across a surprising sight. An old standing stone, perhaps like Stonehenge just off to my left. There were no signs but some information boards which had been removed with the promise of “new signs coming soon”. I approached it and found it covered in the most intricate carvings. It had been enclosed in a glass building, presumably to protect it from the weather (and possibly vandals).

Pictish stone near Shandwick

It was quite beautiful but I was a bit disappointed to not know what it was I was looking at. I later found it was one of a number of Pictish Stones probably over 1000 years old. Quite amazing. (It is marked on the map as Shandwick Stone, Cross Slab).

I followed the road down soon descending into the village.

My thoughts turned immediately to the bus, I had 20 minutes before it was due thanks to my fast walking along the road, but I didn’t want to take any chances so I stuck to the road until I found the bus stop. I checked the timetable, it matched the printed one I had (always a bonus and not always the case!). So now I knew I had a few minutes to spare, I took the path to the beach. And what a beautiful beach it was, a lovely sandy beach backed by dunes.

Shandwick

Cromarty

I had originally considered walking today all the way from Portmahomack to Nigg (for the ferry to Cromarty. But I couldn’t make the transport links work without a very early start so decided to make this a shorter walk. In the end I only just made it, so I was very glad I had made that decision, but looking out to sea I knew this was a place I would be happy, and could look forward to, returning to in future for my next walk.

I returned to the bus stop and got chatting to a local lady who had grown up here and lived in the village her whole life. She told me about all the wildlife they saw (and still do see) and how lovely it is here. I could see exactly what she meant! This passed away the time until the bus came (and I was glad it came on time) and I was surprised to see the bus was a double decker again and took me into Tain.

The lady was keen to direct me to the bus onwards to Inverness but I explained I planned to take one of the (rare) trains, so she instead directed me to the station. This is because of all the issues I had had with Stagecoach buses on this walk, I knew from my phone that the train was running and on time and considered it a less of a risk than the bus, which might not be.

In the end I returned to the High Street to take a few photos first, since I turns out Tain is a beautiful town and I had 20 minutes, so had time to explore a little.

Tain

Tain

Tain

Tain

Once done I followed her directions down to the station. The station building had an odd sign “Platform 1864” under the entrance but I went in and found out it was converted to a restaurant (with the odd name presumably being when the station opened)!

Tain station

I asked (rather optimistically) if I could buy a train ticket here but was told it was not the station any longer but I could buy a ticket on the train as there was also no ticket machine at the station.

If I was hoping that information about the trains would be simpler and less likely to be wrong than the bus, I was to be disappointed, since the electronic information display at the station was not too helpful.

Tain station

Instead I consulted the sign to tell me which of the two platforms to go to. That wasn’t much easier to understand either, with it’s list of various exceptions!

Tain station

Having found the right platform I waited for the train.

Tain station

The train did turn up when expected and it was a beautiful (but pricey) journey back to Inverness.

I had time to have dinner in the Whetherspoon pub and when I left the weather had taken a turn for the worst and it was now pouring with rain. I made my way as quickly as possible to the bus station. My flight left from Inverness airport at 20:55. I could take the bus at 18:20 (arriving 18:50) or 19:20 (arriving 19:50). That last one was a bit tight I thought so planned for the 18:20. As it was raining really hard I waited in the waiting room inside at the bus station. At 18:15 I was turfed out of the bus station building by a rather rude lady coming over to me and announcing “we close at 18:15, you’ll have to leave”. My impression of Stagecoach Highlands was not improving!

Now I had to stand in the rain because all the shelters were full. Well I half sheltered under the building but it did not provide much shelter.

18:20 came and went. So did 18:25. So did 18:30. At 18:35 the bus finally arrived. I was glad to see it, and at least it was a coach. The driver drove rather aggressively and was obviously trying to make up time. In fact, dangerous would be more appropriate. He wooshed through puddles of water at the side of the road, spraying pedestrians. When we reached the A96, he simply didn’t wait at roundabouts if vehicles on the roundabout would be able to stop in time if he pulled out, so he’d do just that, to be met with the blaring of horns from the drivers that had right of way but had been forced to stop anyway (and he did this at most of the roundabouts).

I was very glad to reach the airport after the dangerous drive here. I checked in and found my flight was 35 minutes late. This gave me time to reflect. On previous trips to north east Scotland I had hired a car. This time I hadn’t bothered deciding that after consulting the timetables and maps, using entirely public transport would be sufficient for this trip. After all the problems I had had on this trip with buses however, I decided not to do that again. Next time I’d hire a car and only use the bus to get back to the car, rather than to get to both the start and end of my walks. Stagecoach had let me down so many times on this trip (and the final, dangerous drive was the last straw) and I felt I couldn’t trust them and didn’t want to use them any more than needed in future. (A later Google search confirmed my hunch – with a news article from late the previous year indicating Stagecoach had been fined £20,000 and had their operating license restricted due to a known defective bus being put into service which then caught fire with school children on board and another bus crashing into a bridge whilst the driver was on his phone. Despite this seemingly they hadn’t learnt anything from that because this news article, around 6 months later and just a few days before I did this walk stated Stagecoach had been fined a further £10,000 after a wheel came off one of their buses).

Having decided this, the delay to my flight grew to 45 minutes by the time we left (having used this specific flight several times subsequently I found out that this is not at all unusual and this flight is almost always late). We landed at Luton at 11pm but then had to wait to get off the plane because there were no buses. After 10 minutes or so a bus arrived, we could begin to get off. But soon, and before I could get off the plane, we were told the bus was now full so they had to stop people getting off the plane until another bus came. We were told the disruption was because Stansted Airport had been closed for an hour or so earlier in the day and some planes had diverted to Luton, causing a shortage of buses. A second bus located we eventually got to the terminal. I was through there quickly and got the bus to the long stay car park and my car (once I had found it, because I forgot to note down the area I parked in). I eventually got home just before 1am. I went more or less straight to bed, as I had to be at work the next day. It had been a long and tiring day!

This had turned out to be a rather frustrating walk. My attempts to keep as close to the coast as I could had been fairly disastrous, leading me to dead ends on the beach and later trying to plough through gorse which was almost head-high in places! It was exhausting, time consuming and not a sensible solution – I’d have to be a bit more pragmatic with choosing routes in future! Despite these difficulties and frustrations, the scenery had been lovely and the beach and Pictish stone at Shandwick had made for a lovely end to the walk and somewhere I could look forward to coming back to.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Unfortunately at the time of writing (August 2020) the Cromarty to Nigg ferry is not operating at all during 2020 and there is no bus to Nigg. However the ferry is expected to resume in 2021. Without the ferry this walk is not possible without using a taxi etc. However the details below show the buses that could be used if the ferry was operating and you would seemingly need to take bus 30A, 30B or 30C from Shandwick to Tain, bus 25X from Tain to Inverness and bus 26/26A from Inverness to Cromarty (and the ferry to Nigg if it was running).

Stagecoach Highlands route 30A, 30B  and 30C : Tain – Arabella Crossroads – Shandwick – Balintore – Hilton – Hill of Fearn – Tain. 30A and 30C between them run a loop in opposite direction and services the villages in the opposite order. Between them the service runs approximately hourly Monday – Saturday (no service on Sundays).

Stagecoach Highlands route 25X : Inverness – Evanton – Alness – Invergordon – Saltburn – Barbaraville – Milton Village – Tain. Broadly hourly, Monday – Saturday. No service on Sundays.

Stagecoach Highlands route 26 and 26A : Inverness – Munlochy – Avoch – Fortrose – Rosemarkie – Cromarty. Broadly hourly Monday – Saturday with some additional services running between Inverness and Fortrose only.

Highland Ferries Cromarty to Nigg Ferry (suspended in 2020): Cromary – Nigg. Every 30 minutes, summer only typically from 1st June to 15th September but not in 2020.

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

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295. Cromarty to Munlochy

June 2016

This walk did not get off to the best of starts with some transport issues. However things soon improved and this turned out to be a lovely walk along the northern edge of the Black Isle.

I started the day in my hotel (the Inverness Fairways Travelodge) on the edge of Inverness. I walked to the local bus stop to take the first bus of the day into Inverness. From there I had a short walk to Inverness bus station to catch another bus on to Munlochy where I planned to start this walk (having ended there yesterday). I had made an early start and so was in time to catch the 08:35 bus to Munlochy where I would start the walk. Oddly this bus terminated at Fortrose rather than Cromarty (I had considered starting from Cromarty and walking south to Munlochy).

The bus I wanted to catch to Munlochy was displayed on the electronic display on the bus station wall. I also double checked the printed timetable on the bus stand at the bus station and the PDF file I had downloaded from the Stagecoach website. But the time of departure came and went but the bus did not arrive. A bus to Dingwall was by now on the same stand as the bus to Munlochy was meant to go from and I asked the driver of that bus if he knew where my bus was – but he didn’t and thought it must have already gone. By this time it was 10 minutes late so I headed into the information office at the bus station to ask where it was. The response surprised me. I was told “Oh that bus doesn’t go from here, it goes from outside Farm Foods”. I was fuming! I went to protest but the women sensed what was coming next “Oh I know it says in the timetable it goes from here but it doesn’t. The inspector keeps an eye out for people waiting and should have come to tell you”. So I had missed the bus because none of the information about where it went from was actually correct. I was also surprised to hear about bus inspectors still existing (I had visions of Blakey from On the Buses). Another problems is – where was Farm Foods in Inverness anyway? I could spend ages wandering Inverness trying to find it. (this does irritate me with bus timetables that simply list the departure point as a shop or sometimes a pub but no street leaving you to try to find where that shop/pub actually is)!

I went back outside but decided I was annoyed enough about this to make a complaint. It should not be hard to indicate (correctly) where a bus actually departs from, especially in a staffed city-centre bus station and I was annoyed it had disrupted my plans. I did explain that I was not local so rely on information being correct (no doubt regular users know where the bus actually goes from). My complaint was duly lodged.

As an aside, the next day I was at the bus station again and saw the timetable on the bus stand being amended by staff – with a biro. When the staff doing so left I went over to take a look and now an asterisk had been marked next to the 08:35 departure and a hand written note below indicated asterisk meant “goes from Farm Foods”. Stagecoach then sent me a reply a few minutes later by email telling me my complaint had now been “resolved”.

However this was not very professional, the bus was still on the printed timetables in the information centre, on their website and still even on the electronic displays as departing from the bus station when it didn’t. I don’t think that in any way “resolves” the issue, someone like me, using the internet to find out would not realise they were wrong until they got to the bus station and might not then have enough time to get to Farm Foods, wherever it was, to get the bus.  (When I got home after this trip, I raised the complaint again with “Bus Users UK” when I got home which did illicit a written response from the local manager at Stagecoach who promised it would be corrected by the bus now reverting to departing from the bus station as indicated in the timetable and stated it was a “scheduling error”. Whether it did or not I don’t know)

So I had a delay but at least it was only half an hour (and I had passed most of that making complaints!). The next bus did arrive and this one went all the way to Cromarty (some run shorter only to Fortrose), so I reverted to the plan to start from Cromarty and walk south as at least I could then walk pick up the more frequent bus service south from Fortrose back to Inverness at the end of the walk

By the time we reached the bus terminus at Cromarty I was the last passenger on board! The bus dropped me a little south east of the harbour, near the school.

The Cromarty Firth

The Cromarty Firth

There is a ferry service from Cromarty to Nigg which I planned to use the next day. So rather than turn south immediately, I decided to head up to the ferry slipway to confirm it was actually running (as it had not run at all the previous year due to some issue with a mooring) and had only resumed services a few weeks prior to going here, with a new operator. (It’s stopped running again as of 2020, this time apparently due to Coronavirus so whether it will run in 2021 is anyone’s guess).

It was a bit of a shame that the nice grass between the bus stop and the harbour seemed to have become an unofficial motor home park, which had turned much of the grass to mud. Despite this though it seemed a nice town and I soon reached the ferry. I was very glad to see that yes it was running – because it would really mess up my plans for the next day if not!

Cromarty Ferry

I headed down to the beach and looked over the Cromarty Firth, where I would be walking later in the week. The beach was a mixture of pebbles and sand and the views over the Cromarty Firth were lovely though I was a little surprised to see some large oil rig type structures (I later found the Cromarty Firth is used to store mothballed oil rigs as it’s wide and deep).

The Cromarty Firth

It was time to get underway with the walk!

I returned back towards the bus stop passing the attractive lighthouse on the right. Cromarty seemed a nice traditional village (or small town) with attractive stone cottages and some lovely views.

Cromarty

This time rather than head along the grass I followed a slightly raised path behind it alongside the houses.

The Cromarty Firth

At the end of the grassy area I followed the road along the coastal side of the houses to Shore Street.

Cromarty

Here the road turned a little to the right away from the shore and alongside a scrubby area on the right. At the end was a lovely (and substantial) stone building made of attractive red stones that reminded me of Devon. It was now “The Old Brewery” but I thought it was a shame it was seemingly no longer brewing.

Cromarty

It was now an arts, education, conference centre and accommodation, according to the signs. In front of this an encouraging sign titled “Black Isle Path Network” indicated there was a footpath all the way from here back to Munlochy. Excellent.

So here I could turn left and follow the footpath which headed back to the shore. I was surprised to find I was passing an archaeological dig, I seem to recall it was something to do with the University of Aberdeen.

Cromarty

The path was initially good following along the edge of a grassy area to a house.

The beach at Cromarty

Cromarty

From here the path ended up going into woodland. With the route not clear on the map at one point, after some steps the path narrowed and then split. I took the more coastal route. But this path soon deteriorated and became increasingly hard going until it became a dead end near a derelict house, now lacking a roof or windows.

Abandonded building

I would either have to retrace my steps though I first tried to climb up. This proved further hard work, taking me past a derelict and vandalised old car and along the inland side of the house before I had to admit defeat that I could not get through and return back to the junction and take the other path.

By now I was hot, sweaty and frustrated after my wasted walking and then the steep path up from the woodland to the road behind. I was hoping for a good path but had so far spent an hour to do about 2km. Still, finally emerging from the woodland I was in a car park (probably the source of the vandalised car) with fine views over to Easter Ross.

Sutors of Cromarty

There was the remains of an old world war II artillery battery occupying the far north eastern corner of the island, but there was no access to these. I could spot a track marked on the map heading broadly south over the fields for about 1km, after which it abruptly ended. Hmm the route ahead might be an issue. The path was initially good heading over fields, but soon began to deteriorate into a very rough and uneven path over thick tufts of grass and sometimes bracken and gorse too.

Near Cromarty

The ground, wet from the dew, meant I soon had wet feet, too. When this official track ended I could continue ahead into a field with crop in. I turned left to follow the edge of the field back to the coast. Here I was very pleased to find a rough but fairly obvious path along the coast. The path proved to be extremely variable.

In places it was wide and had been used enough to wear the grass away making an obvious route. In others it was a squeeze between almost head-high gorse and bracken with only the merest trace of a path below my feet, which I mostly couldn’t see. Just as I was about to give up, it seemed to clear and improve again. I soon reached a line of trees where a path headed inland, but I managed to cross through the trees and take what looked to be a better path ahead along the coast. This soon disappeared to more or less nothing again. At one point it became so overgrown I had to go further inland to get around it.

After passing another area of woodland I came to a valley marked on the map as St Bennets Well. Getting round this would mean heading a few hundred metres inland, which I didn’t really wan to do. If the path onwards was as bad I would likely give it up and head inland to the minor road. As it was though there seemed to be a path heading down to the beach. I had just had a heavy but brief rain shower so the ground (and long grass) was now wet too.

I decided to see if I could make it down to the beach. The tide was far enough out I would be able to walk along the beach. After about 1 mile (by the Eathie Fishing Station) there was a proper footpath marked along the shore on that information board I saw earlier. So if I could get down I would then be able to follow it south all the rest of the way. To be honest it was stupid to do this. The “path” (which was by now more wishful thinking then any sort of actual path) soon became so steep I had to use my hands and sit down in places to get down. It was over slippery wet mud and bracken so it would be very easy to slip and fall. But I made it. And I was so glad to be down on that beach!

Beach south of Cromarty

Although rocky there was mostly an area of sand I could follow. Although a little uneven and rocky in places it was mostly much better and I was now making better progress.

Beach south of Cromarty

The next challenge would come in about 1 mile. Here I had to get across a river (Eathie Burn) that formed a deep valley marked with waterfalls on the map (Castledownie). As it turned out this turned out to be easy. The valley was very pretty, lined with trees and vegetation (with the small waterfall just visible in the distance).

Eathie Burn

It had started to rain again though. At the point the river met the beach though it mostly flowed through the gaps in the pebbles on the beach so what was left was a thin stream I was able to simply step on a pebble to get over and keep dry (ish) feet.

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Things were getting much easier now. Soon the beach was backed by a lovely area of pine woodland. But there was a line of firm sand between the trees and the rocks nearer the shore so the walking was much easier. I had not seen anyone for more than an hour. I was now beginning to feel that I was really in a remote area of coastline now, as I expected the Highlands to be. Soon I could see the “Fishing Station” as marked on the map.

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

This turned out to be a stone building with a corrugated metal roof. The door was wide open and I think it is now a Bothy, though I did not go and take a look (perhaps I should have).

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Looking back where I had come the cliffs had got a lot higher too, with area of scree on them too.

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

The geology was, once again, amazing. Although the beach was mostly sandy there were occasional large rocks in the middle of the beach often brightly coloured, many covered with lichens, too.

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

I suspected I was on a raised beach too as there was now an area of grass between the beach and the base of the cliffs where the sea had retreated. It was beautiful and very interesting too. In places it looked like the route ahead was a dead end with a wall of rocks but there was always a gap through, often only visible at the last minutes.

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

About 15 minutes after passing the bothy I was surprised to see a group of 4 coming towards me. They wanted to know if you could get to the end of the beach and I told them you could but the path up was very difficult. They did not seem phased by this and carried on too. The coast was now rugged and wild with a real untamed beauty to it. The hand of man now felt a long way away here.

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The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

In places the amount of sand was now small and I wondered if you could do this walk at high tide. Ahead too I could see the cliffs were now getting lower. I was nearing Rosemarkie.

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

The beach north of Rosemarkie, Black Isle

Soon I rounded the corner. The cliffs now had gone, with trees coming right down to the shore (I suspect it is not possible to walk at high tide).

Rosemarkie, Black Isle

I could also see the houses of Rosemarkie ahead so at least I knew I could get through and would not have to go back. I initially followed the firm sand along the shore but when I reached the edge of town headed back onto the promenade.

Rosemarkie, Black Isle

It was nice to have an easy route to walk! I had now covered about 10 miles. After my earlier problems and the difficult path I was tired and did consider heading around Channonry Point and then calling it a day at Fortrose. Munlochy was still a long way. But it would leave gap, which I’d have to come back and fill on another date so I decoded to press on. It was also only mid afternoon (though still later than I would like for how far I got). So I stopped for a rest and then, refreshed, headed on. I followed the path until it came to the golf course.

Chanonry Ness

Here I dropped down onto the beach. I could follow this right to the end of the headland.

Chanonry Ness

But it was exposed here and soon became quite cold and windy. Having seen few people up until now, the beach was busy with dog walkers and other walkers as there is a road here. I was surprised as I neared the end (with it’s lovely well kept lighthouse) how many people were here. All sheltering behind the wall from the strong and cold wind, many had large cameras.

Chanonry Ness lighthouse

They told me they had been watching dolphins. But I only had a thin coat on and it was too cold for me to hang around, so I continued my walk. I went around the coastal wide of the lighthouse but here the sand of the beach ended, to be replaced with shingle.

Chanonry Ness lighthouse

It was hard going so I headed up onto the grass behind which had been mowed, so was much easier to walk on.

Fortrose, Black Isle

I could follow this until it soon came to a road, the edge of Fortrose. When the road turned a little inland there was a path ahead along the shore rejoining the road further up. I then followed this road into the centre of Fortrose. I was surprised to come across the remains of a cathedral! I had no idea Fortrose had been so important or was so attractive. The grass had been cut and I wandered around the outside of the remains of the cathedral (Sadly the inside was out of bounds).

Fortrose Cathedral

Fortrose Cathedral

I was rather taken with Fortrose. On reaching the main road I was tempted by the bus back to Inverness. It was now a little after 4pm. I had been walking more than 6 hours already. However I decided to go at least as far as Avoch. My initially planned route ahead was on the A832. But it was a busy A-road and it had no pavement (as I had seen from the bus earlier). I had spotted an old railway line marked on the map that ran just behind the road so was pleased to see steps leading up to it. It turned out to be a lovely foot and cycle path. By now the weather had picked up, the sun was beginning to come out and I had warmed up. So it was a nice flat walk through the woodland. I could hear the traffic below me and got the odd view but mostly it seemed to be an oasis, a lovely green corridor.

Avoch to Fortrose railway line

As I approached Avoch there were houses now on the left and the raised railway line gave me a nice view over the village.

Avoch

I soon passed the lovely old station, now The Station Hotel. A shame the trains don’t run any more but at least the building is still in good repair.

Avoch Station

Once I approached the church I could descend from the railway line down passed the church to the main road. Here I cross it and continue along Rosse Street. Here there was a bridge over the Avoch Burn. Once over this I could follow a minor road the coastal side of some houses.

Avoch Burn

Avoch

Avoch

When the houses ended the road turned inland but there was a track onwards. I think it is footpath and I was reassured to see a dog walker on it ahead. So I folllowed it. Sadly it seemed to just end at a sewage works. I considered my options. I did not want to go back. The alternative was the minor road but I would soon take me to the A832 again and leave about 2 miles of walking on that busy road into Munlochy. So I tried to follow the beach instead. Quickly I could see the beach ahead ended.

Avoch Bay, Black Isle

I resorted to climbing up the low cliffs through the bracken into the woodland. I could see tracks through the woodland on the map. I wanted to get up to them. Unfortunately the woodland was really steep so I made my way through the trees, crunching through all the dead branches and sticks and it was so steep I had to haul my self up by the trees trunks in places. Hot and sweaty again, I was so relieved when I finally emerged onto a good track.

Wood Hill

I began walking on this and seemed to get a “second wind” now it was flat again. The path from the woodland soon turned inland to head towards a minor road to Ballone. This was further inland than I’d like, but I was done with trying to stick close to the coast. It was now gone 5pm. I was hungry and I reckoned it would be a good 90 minute at best to get to Munlochy. The path soon became a wide track At the end I turned left on the minor road. I was not 100% sure I could get through but from the map it seemed likely I could get to Corrachie. The road soon narrowed but also turned right and gained height heading through a lovely area of woodland. There were some old trunks cut down where I could stop for some chocolate and a rest. However I could get through this woodland and got some nice views of Munlochy Bay to my left.

Munlochy Bay, Black Isle

Munlochy Bay on the Black Isle

Soon as expected the track turned inland to go the inland side of Ord Hill. At the end I could turn right to Corrachie and then the main road. Or left where there was a short track marked on the map. I opted for left, it would avoid the main road. At the next field though there was no sigh of an onward path. I was not going back. Instead although in a field of crop I stuck to the very left and found a rough path of sorts around the edge of the field. Though soon the fence on the left turned left to head around the western edge of the woodland. I could see a stream ahead though and so I tried my best to keep straight on. This was impossible because there was no path but I followed the tractor lines through the crop. This worked until I was near the house at which point they turned away. I continued ahead the short distance trying not to trample down the crop. I could then follow the track from the house back to the old railway line, which was now parallel to the road. I could follow this easily to a small car park. Beyond this it was also easy for a short distance but then became so overgrown I had to give up and head down to the road. Still it was only about 500 metres along the road now and there was a verge for part of it, so it was not too bad. I was very grateful to be able to turn off the A-road and onto the now pavement road into Munlochy.

I was now really tired. Really, this walk was too long and too ambitious. I had made it though and I was very pleased at that. I reached the bus stop and found I had a little over 20 minutes to wait for a bus. Not ideal, but there was a big plus. The bus stop had a shelter with a seat. I was very glad of the rest on that seat! I was hoping I might have passed a pub or a shop but I didn’t. There was a small post office just past the bus stop but it was closed. I didn’t want any more walking about and was just grateful of the rest. The bus arrived on time and soon had me back in Inverness. Here I headed to a pub for dinner and a pint before taking the bus back to my hotel. I went to bed within half an hour of getting back, I was so tired!

In terms of terrain then this walk was rather challenging. But the scenery was superb and the part along the beach north of Rosemarkie especially absolutely wonderful, with such amazing geology, I was very glad to have gone down onto this beach. Chanonry Ness was an interesting peninsula, with the lighthouse as it’s end and Fortrose too was lovely. The railway line to Avoch was pleasant and a different type of scenery and easy terrain but sadly the walk on from Avoch was rather more difficult again, so I was glad to finally get there and have a rest!

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

Stagecoach Highlands route 26 and 26A : Inverness (bus station) – Munlochy – Avoch – Fortrose – Rosemarkie – Cromarty. Approximately hourly Monday – Saturday with some additional buses running between Inverness and Fortrose only. 3 buses per day on Sundays. It takes around 40 minutes to travel between Munlochy and Cromarty.

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

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Finally back to the coast

August 2020

Well finally, after almost a year since my last new coastal walk I’ve made it back to a new (to me) part of the British coast with a week long trip to the north west coast of Scotland. This time I had to drive all the way (a round trip of approximately 1200 miles) since the thought of wearing a mask for a 12 hour train journey was too much, whilst it’s impossible now to book a flight without it subsequently getting cancelled, so it was really the only option.

It was great too be back and this time I covered the coast from Lower Diabaig to the junction of the Applecross pass and the A896 at Tornapress. With no public transport running at all in this area any longer, that meant I had to either do all circular or there and back walks or use a bike (which I did for some of the walks) which meant I covered more miles than the map might suggest.

It is one of the most beautiful, interesting and remote sections of coast I have covered. It will be a while before I write up those walks here so for now here is a photo from one of the walks.

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