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

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5 Responses to 300. Golspie to Dornoch

  1. I definitely agree this is one of your most scenic posts, with brilliant weather too. The monument in Golspie is very controversial – a massive statue of the Duke of Sutherland, one of the worst offenders in the Highland Clearances.

  2. Isobel McFarlane says:

    I was dismayed to find that you cannot now stick to the beach as you pass through Littleferry walking the coast from Golspie as the owner of Ferrymans House has fenced off the access from the beach to the pier

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks for the update Isobel, that is said to hear as it is a lovely stretch of coast and goes rather against the “right to roam” in Scotland. What a shame.

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