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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7 Responses to 295. Cromarty to Munlochy

  1. Yes, an ambitious walk, but what a lovely coast and with red sands too. Glad you complained (twice) about the bus timetable. I’ve been caught out a number of times in Scotland and Wales with idiosyncratic timetabling and changed stopping places.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I think I probably planned on covering too much distance on this day. That beach walk is really amazing though, so I’m sure you will enjoy it too. As to buses I quite agree. I’ve had a number of issues like this on walks (including one on my most recent trip).

  2. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, well bizarrely the bus in question was still departing fromaround the corner from the Bus Station last November. To be quite honest I thought Inverness Bus Station had a feeling of organised chaos about it. I got caught out waiting for a bus at the correct stop, only to find the bus had come into the stop under one number and then changed numbers. Unfortunatley you could not see this change from the back of the bus stop. As the bus pulled out the number became visible and I managed to flag it down.

    • jcombe says:

      Oh that’s disappointing to hear. I guess my complaint fell on deaf ears again then! (Or they’ve gone back to their old bad habits). I do agree the place is chaotic!

  3. The first part of your post would actually make a very good On the Buses script!

  4. Pingback: 296. Cromarty to Shandwick | Round the Island

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