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.



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.

This entry was posted in Easter Ross, Sutherland and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 299. Dornoch to Tain

  1. snowgood says:

    I’m pretty sure the people who joked about Skodas had never driven them. Even the old rear engine ones were far better than people made out. I also find the rental Octavias surprisingly good.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes it was a good car actually. It’s just my only memory of Skodas is school kids being mean to the kids whose parents owned one (or a lada) though I had never driven one before this trip.

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