294. Inverness Airport to Munlochy

June 2016

An airport might not seem the best of places to start a walk from but in fact it made sense here as Inverness airport terminal is less than half a mile from the coast and has a regular bus service from the city centre (and was also where I finished walking the previous day). I was staying on the outskirts of Inverness (at the Inverness Fairways Travelodge) so I first took a bus into the centre and then another bus on to the airport. It felt odd to be going to an airport and not flying anywhere.

Inverness Airport Terminal

The airport was very quiet as it only has around 10 or so flights per day and some of them are only small planes to and from the various islands. I bought lunch from the WH Smiths at the airport, only realising, once I came to pay, that airport (and railway station branches) of WH Smith seem to charge almost double the price for sandwiches and drinks compared to what is charged in their town centre branches. But at least I would not go hungry now.

From the airport I headed through the car parks and down to the main road, where I turned right and followed this down to the B9039. Here I followed the same route as yesterday back down to the coast. That is, turn left on the road. Just after the woodland started I headed into the woodland and made my way through it, battling through the undergrowth, as there was no real path. On reaching the end of the woodland I climbed over the fence and then headed down to the far side of the field, joining the track that led from the farm house (Scottish access laws says you should avoid farm yards, gardens etc). I then followed the track marked on the map to the area of scrub beyond the field, where I headed down to the shore, climbed over the fence again and ended up on the beach where I left it yesterday. The beach would not win a blue flag, it’s mostly sea weed covered rocks mixed in with mud, though thankfully firm mud rather than squidgy mud. 

The coast near Inverness Airport

I decided my onwards route to start with was along this beach, so I turned left, but going was tricky right from the start. Most of the time there was no sand or mud visible, only the seaweed covered rocks, which I slipped and slided along. 

The coast near Inverness Airport

Thankfully the tide was out so at least it was possible. After a while of battling along the shore I became aware that there was now a golf course on my left. This was not marked on my map for some reason but I decided rather than continue along the beach such as it was, I would walk along the edge of the golf course instead as it would be easier, which is permitted under the Scottish access laws. [The golf course actually opened in 2009 but the Ordnance Survey do not seem to update many of their Scottish maps very often so it wasn’t on my map even though it was only a few weeks old)]. As I did so it fairly soon began to rain. There were tracks marked on the map over the golf course and so near the end of the little spit of land I found the track heading up and over. Here I met a groundsmen for the golf course, riding a quad bike but thankfully he just said hello rather than question my presence on the course (strictly speaking I’m doing nothing wrong, but it often does not feel that way). 

At the south end of the golf course I continued along the track which had gained a little height so I could look over the marsh land below, as I had now turned to the left.

Marshes by Castle Stuart

I continued on the track which soon approached a house. Beyond this I Initially went though a gate, presuming it to be a road but then realised it was a private drive. Realising my mistake I returned and headed through the church yard of a sadly derelict church (the windows were boarded up, though the rest of the building did not look too bad).

Disused church at Castle Stuart

Heading through the church yard I reached a track beyond. Hoping this would take me to the track I found my way down and indeed it did. From here I could follow this path (after a brief shelter from the worst of the rain, which had now become heavy), I continued along the track. I had fine views of the grand Castle Stuart a short distance away.

Castle Stuart

Castle Stuart

I was surprised to reach the end to see this was the location of the Scottish Open Golf Championships, due to take place in a couple of weeks and a sign warned No Entry, though I think it applied only to cars.

At the road junction ahead I turned right and followed the B9039. The reason is that I had to get over a stream that went into the marshes ahead and the road had a bridge over this. I hoped the road would not be too bad to walk, but it was a horrible walk. The road was very wet and there was lots of traffic, which tended to kick up spray too. 

I followed the road as it turns to the right after a farm and then as it turned left towards the railway line, I continued ahead on the track leading to Lonnie, hoping I would find away along the shore because the alternative was a walk alongside the A96 – yuck! 

This track then turned to head towards the house (as I expected, from the map) but it gave me another problem since I did not want to end up in the garden of the house (also not allowed, quite rightly, under the Scottish access laws). So just after the field boundary on the left I headed into that field. I headed around the edge of the field and past the clump of trees to the far western end of the field. Here I turned right and followed the field edge. There were crops close to the field edge and very long grass to walk through. As it was sodden from all the rain I was soon soaked from the waste down. With difficulty I managed to climb the fence into the second field and continued down that, where I again managed to climb the fence to reach the shore again.

I’m not sure what this bay is called (the map doesn’t say), but I planned to follow it west to a place called Alturlie Point. After making my way over the rocks and shingle I was pleased to seem some rather muddy but fairly firm sand I could follow.

The coast east of Alturlie

Reluctant to head out into the bay I kept as close as possible to the shore. I stopped for part of my lunch, now it had stopped raining before continuing after which I got caught in another short but heavy shower as I headed west. I soon reached the village of Alturlie (well, hamlet really). It was mostly a few bungalows around a village green though by now my camera had steamed up from the rain so the photo is terrible. 

Alturlie

I followed the minor road south from the village, thankfully this one with very little traffic since it is a dead-end that only goes to Alturlie. It was an odd sort of road with the traffic split into two lanes separated by grass down the centre for a while.

Near Alturlie Point

Near Alturlie

Near Alturlie

After about a mile though the road turns left, to rejoin the A96 again. However beyond it there was soon another minor road to the coast at Milton, I just had to reach it, because between that and me was a sewage works.

Near Alturlie

The alternative was the A96 which wasn’t very attractive. So I decided to see if I could make it along the shore behind the sewage works. I got so far but then came to a stream flowing out. I suspect it was treated sewage (it did not stink) but I certainly didn’t want to touch it or get any in my shoes. I managed to make it around keeping dry by climbing up on some rocks behind it. 

I was pleased to be past the sewage works now (and free of sewage) but there was soon another problem. I had missed from the map that just beyond the sewage works was another larger stream, Cairnlaw Burn flowing out into the bay. I didn’t want to get wet feet but it was too deep to and too wide to step over. So I headed further out into the bay where it began to split into separate channels, which were shallower. After trying a few routes and with a few rocks, I managed to find a way over whilst keeping dry, though out here it was quite muddy and there were ruined parts of a car and old lorry wheels in the mud! 

Once around this at Milton I could turn left to reach the road. This is always a relief when I’ve had a hard part of the walk since I know then I won’t need to turn back! As this road turned inland I could again see a track along the shore that looked like it headed to the A96 roundabout on the edge of Inverness. Right at the start a car was stopped there with the engine running and the driver seemingly watching my every move. I was immediately suspicious as to what they were doing. But a short distance beyond there was a tent, so I presumed they were wild camping.

Old road

I had read a previous walkers report of this stretch (that of Rosemary and Colin Fretwell) that they had followed this road it and found it to be a dead-end. But it looked obvious that it joined the roundabout to me, so perhaps they had made a mistake, it also looked too well walked to be a dead-end. As I headed further west I began to relax, it was an easy walk, right by the shore, it was peaceful and there was lovely views.

The coast near Inverness

Weirdly near the end I passed a small porta-cabin type building. The track then crossed the railway began to narrow and – came to a dead end (just as I had read…). Hmm. The fence was too high to climb and in any case beyond it was the main rail line, I knew I could not legally at least (or easily) cross that, it was well fenced on both sides. There was also a pile of rubble here fly tipped, or for works on the railway I was not sure which. The trouble was I had just crossed another railway too on the bridge (the line to Nairn). So I was basically on a bit of waste ground between two railway lines. I assumed this road had perhaps once been the A96 and a new improved road was built to the south, cutting this one off. To the south though was a thin bit of woodland and behind that the A96, now a dual carraigeway. I decided this was my best option, I didn’t want to head back again.

I eventually managed to find a way over the fence but ripped my trousers a little in doing so. I made my way with difficulty through the woodland to the top of a steep grassy embankment above the A96. I made my way with great care down this bank (it was steep, it would be easy to slip and end up in the road) and followed along the edge of the road (thankfully it was quite wide) up to the roundabout with the A9. On reaching the roundabout, with the A9 above, I was surprised to find a traffic light controlled pedestrian crossing. I was less pleased to find that it was broken (and looked to have been so for a long time) and with grass was coming through the pavement. So I made my way with care over the off-slip of the A9 then around the roundabout and up the side of the on-slip, where the was a pavement.

The route ahead was unpleasant. Walking right next to a major trunk road but at least there was a separate pavement, it could have been worse. I followed this, with the roar of traffic to the next roundabout. To my left was a huge industrial estate, so the alternative was no better. At the roundabout with the A82 I was a little irritated to have to be directed quite a long way down the A82 before I could cross at the pedestrian crossing, as fences forced me to go this way. However I did pass a sign welcoming me to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.

Welcome to Inverness

Once over I turned right, back along the A82 to the roundabout and continued along the A9, thankfully there was a pavement. The road was climbing now to the Kessock Bridge. This is a long bridge that crosses the Beauly Firth (I’ve since driven over it a number of times on my way further north so it now feels familiar).

Crossing the Kessock Bridge

I was near the centre of Inverness and began to get good views now. But up here it was seriously windy. My hair was blowing everywhere and I was almost deaf from the sound of the wind in my ears, it was so windy, it was quite a struggle to stay upright! But from the top of the bridge it was a fantastic view. I could see Inverness and some large hills beyond.

Crossing the Kessock Bridge

Crossing the Kessock Bridge

Crossing the Kessock Bridge

I could soon look back and see the entrance to the Caledonian Canal too. This is the fault line that separates the true Highlands from the rest of Scotland (technically I’d already entered the Highlands but I feel the fault line is the more natural border). I was a long way north now.

Crossing the Kessock Bridge

Another thing that crossed my mind is that I was now leaving the city of Inverness. Since I entered Scotland I have passed through quite a few cities (Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and now Inverness). However it occurred to me that going round the coast anti-clockwise as I am (mostly) if you don’t use any ferries (and I probably will use ferries), the next city you reach is Glasgow. That is a very long way away. If you do use ferries (as I probably will), the next city you’d enter would actually be Carlisle in England! It does highlight how remote the stretch of coast now ahead of me will be.

I was pleased to soon be nearing the edge of the bridge not because I hadn’t enjoyed the crossing (I had) but in the hope I could get out of the wind.

Crossing the Kessock Bridge

Crossing the Kessock Bridge

The Kessock Bridge

Once over the bridge I found a bus stop on the other side of the road so crossed to this. Here I found a road down but it turned out to be for maintenance and was a dead-end. So I continued down between the wooden fence down a very steep bank. As it got steeper and the fence ended someone had erected a rope. I could use that to help me down to the bank and end up on the road far below the bridge at the lifeboat station! (I guess I was not the only one to have been frustrated by the dead-end service road). It had been an adventure to get off the bridge!

The Kessock Bridge

Here I turned left, heading back under the bridge. I soon found a rock to sit and have the rest of my lunch, looking over the beautiful view.

North Kessock

The Kessock Bridge

The coast ahead was now going to become wilder and more difficult. In fact having crossed the Beauly Firth I was now on the Black Isle, so called because it isn’t an island and it isn’t black. So having cleared up the name, I continued along the road and was pleased to soon spot a footpath sign for Kilmuir (2.5km) along the road to Croft Downie. That was where I wanted to get, so it was great news. 

IMG_6558

Initially this followed a private road but this soon ended and I took a path into the road. Sadly my hopes of an easy walk were soon in tatters. A sign warned the path ahead went along the shore and was now a “tidal path”. Oh good. It wasn’t actually a path at all then, merely a signed route along the beach. So I made my way along the rocky beach and then tussocky grass, intermixed with boggy areas.

Kilmuir

Kilmuir

It was hard going and at times there was no obvious path. Just as I began to doubt it was the right way at all I spotted this half fallen over sign in the gorse to my left. So I was on the path! 

IMG_6573

It was a relief then after a while to come to the little village of Kilmuir.

Kilmuir

Eventually I emerged from behind houses onto the road. I liked Kilmuir. It was a quiet village with a nice grass verge between the road and the shore.

Kilmuir

Looking back there was quite a big hill behind too making for a nice backdrop. At the far end was a red telephone box to complete the picture!

Kilmuir

Here the road turned inland a bit so I continued over a stile along an area of grass. This was an easy path for a while, but soon it became very hard underfoot. The grass kept ending, revealing boggy streams I had to step over. I was back to really hard walking along the shore.

The coast north of Kilmuir

I battled along the shore for about half a mile but it was hard work and really tiring. When I spotted a track up to the left I decided to follow it and find an easier route since the map suggested it might not be possible to keep on the beach much more. This was a steep climb and zig-zagged up but I was surprised and pleased to come to a footpath sign part way up. I made my way up to reach a road by a house (Taindore).

IMG_6581

Here the tracks all split but they all seemed to quickly become a dead end. I decided to give up sticking as close to the shore, it was too hard and there were streams to cross. Instead I began to follow the tracks inland to near the end of the public road. Here I followed a track north to Craigiehow Mains. The track turned left just before this and then sharp right past a small lake and then past Craigiehowe Mains

Near Munlochy

I then followed the track north west towards the ford marked on the map. This was tiny and so small I could simply step over the stream!

IMG_6584

Once over I turned right back to the shore and was pleased to see another footpath signed. I followed this to the shore at beautiful Munlochy Bay and then at the end, turned left and follow it west towards Bayhead.

Munlochy Bay

Munlochy Bay

Munlochy Bay

It was very boggy in places, as it was a track but had been churned up by cattle. However I could make it past the worst bits by walking on the grass at the edge.

The coast near Inverness

I came to a road just after Bayhead and I could follow this onwards to the B9161. Then I turned right along this. I crossed Littlemill Bridge and continued on the road, but it was horrible, a busy road and no pavement. I was glad to reach Munlochy, turn with the road to the right and come to the bus stop. I had 15 minutes to wait for the bus which wasn’t too bad. Sadly when it did come, it was 10 minutes late (I was about to give up and look for a pub!). I was very tired as this was a hard walk and as a result  I nearly fell asleep on the short journey back to Inverness!

This had been a rather challenging walk, with a lack of paths causing it to take longer and be more tiring than I had expected. However I’d made good progress, kept close to the coast and it felt a real milestone to cross the Kessock Bridge onto the Black Isle with the Highlands now ahead of me. The parts of the Black Isle I had so far seen had been lovely (with the exception of the B9161) and I was looking forward to seeing the rest of this peninsula. Though I had now left large towns and cities (and their comforts behind), I was also looking forward to the wilder and more remote parts of the coast that lay ahead.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. To return from Munlochy to Inverness Airport, you will need to change buses at Inverness bus station.

Stagecoach Highlands route 26 and 26A : Cromarty – Jemimaville (not 26A) – Rosemarkie – Fortrose – Avoch – Munlochy – Inverness (Bus Station). Hourly, Monday – Saturday. 3 buses per day on Sundays. It takes around 15 minutes to travel between Munlochy and Inverness bus station.

Stagecoach Highlands route 11/11A : Inverness (Bus Station) – Inverness Shopping Park – Balloch – Inverness Airport – Ardersier (11A) – Tornagrain (11) – Nairn (11). Generally hourly but with some additional buses, Monday – Saturday and once every 2 hours on Sunday. It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Inverness and the airport.

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

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6 Responses to 294. Inverness Airport to Munlochy

  1. owdjockey says:

    That was a tough days walk Jon and well done for sticking to the coast so well. I once asked a local about the name Black Isle, he said it was due to the rich black fertile soil of the area. Just back from Kent after a very early start 4:15 actually! This morning I saw the sun rise over the North sea and could see France from Broadstairs!! Amazing!! At the moment very very tired.

    • jcombe says:

      Ah thanks for the information regarding the Black Isle. I did check Wikipedia which also suggested no one really knows why it’s called that!

      I’ve just read your report about Kent and sounds like you had a good time. A lot of miles to cover and some very early starts, but looks like it was worth it. I’ve seen France from parts of Kent but not that far north. In fact a week weeks back I walked around there and was sitting on St Margaret’s Bay beach. I checked the time on my phone and was surprised to see how late it was. Of course a bit later I seemed to have travelled back in time. Of course you’ve probably worked it out by my phone decided to connect to France (and so adjusted the clock 1 hour forwards) and later when I re-connected to the UK it went an hour back again (later I found the “welcome to France” text message). Thankfully we don’t have stupidly expensive roaming any more.

  2. Hmm, not such an appealing walk, this one!

  3. 5000milewalk says:

    Well done Jon, tough one that! How far was it?

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