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

IMG_2752

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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