303. Berriedale to Lybster

May 2017

Last week I posted that this was the first day of a 5 day trip and the next walk was on my last day of this trip, as I didn’t do the walks in order, due to the limited public transport. I had a flight home to catch in the evening so I had a deadline to finish the walk today. I had saved this walk for the last day of my trip (Sunday) as this is the only walk I had planned for this trip that had public transport on a Sunday. There was another reason I wanted to do this walk on a Sunday and that is because I expected a large proportion of it would have to be on the busy A9 and I hoped traffic would be quietest on a Sunday.

So today it was Berriedale to Lybster. I had breakfast at my hotel and checked out. It was not a great hotel, especially for the money because there was a lot of noise both from adjacent rooms and outside (the latter being birds singing in the tree by my window, a nice sound to hear but less welcome at 5am) which meant I didn’t sleep well. Breakfast was OK but served in a rather cold (in atmosphere) function room that was huge but mostly empty, with the tables only at one end whilst the room was watched over by a fearsome women whose only conversation consisted of the rather barked words of “Room number? Tea or Coffee?” whenever anyone entered the room. I doubt I would stay there again.

Anyway having checked out of the hotel I drove down to Lybster, which only took about 20 minutes. I parked on a layby near the centre of the village opposite the public toilets and outside what used to be a Bank of Scotland branch (I knew this only because it still had “this branch has closed” signs in the window!).

I was pleased to see the shop was open since the only food shop I could find in the centre of Wick did not open until 9am on Sundays, which was too late, so I was able to buy lunch here before setting off. I still had about half an hour before the bus (I wanted to allow plenty of time). As I wasn’t sure if my route back would take me to the harbour and I might be limited for time with my need to get back to Inverness, I decided to wander down to the harbour to take a look. I followed the road down (once I’d found the right one). I didn’t have time to go right to the end of the road so I stopped when I got to some benches on the road which gave a good view to the harbour, still a long way below.

On the way back up I found a path marked instead that took me up past an odd hotel, the Bayview Hotel. It looked open initially but there was only a derelict BMW in the car park and the door was closed with just a telephone number to call for deliveries. At this time I’d expect people to just be leaving for the day so I presume it had closed down too. (Though from the website it seems to be open again now in 2020, so perhaps it has re-opened or it was just a quiet day there). It seems there are few hotels in this area, and that number is reducing rapidly. The path took me to the end of a residential road which emerged just on the main street near the bus stop.

As with most bus stops in the area, there was no timetable just a bus stop “flag” but I knew from the previous time I came here the bus drives down the street and turns around at the end. A few minutes before the bus was due a large “Megabus” coach came down the street which just said “Megabus by Stagecoach” on the front display and no number or destination on display anywhere. Was this the bus? I concluded it probably was and flagged it down. It stopped and the driver confirmed it was indeed the X99 bus I wanted, but it would have been easy to miss, not showing any bus number or destination, a poor show again from Stagecoach Highlands (whose poor standards I have commented on before). Still at least it turned up!

I took this bus down to Berriedale and got off in the main street, which is the A9. There does not seem to be a bus stop marked in Berriedale and it is such a small place it would be easy to miss. I stopped to take a photo of the pretty bridge and river, too. The village is in such a steep valley, the A9 sweeps down via some tight bends into the valley and climbs back up the other side.

Berriedale bridge

My route out of the village was to follow the A9 up the hair-pin bends out of the village. Road works meant there were temporary lights on the road at the bottom of the valley but being Sunday it was not causing much delay. There was no pavement but not much traffic and some gravel and grass at the side of the road (I think an escape lane) I could walk on. As I climbed I began to get increasingly good views.

Berriedale

Berriedale

Rounding another bend and heading up away from the coast I saw steps up to the right signed for war graves. I followed this into a cemetery though oddly it was just graves , with no church or chapel. At the far end the only way out seemed to be to climb over a gate and then cross a fence. I couldn’t see any sort of path and whilst it might be possible to make it along the coast I didn’t really want to spend the day climbing over fences, gates and crashing through gorse, I just didn’t have the time as unfortunately unlike the coast to the south of Berriedale the map suggested there were fences at extremely frequent intervals which would mean lots of fences to climb and hence slow progress.

So reluctantly I headed back down the steps to the A9 and turned left, briefly with the rest of the layby to walk in before I rejoined the road. The view up the valley was pretty with the winding river and above, gorse giving way to heather and moorland further up. The road continued to climb as I passed another small church with a cemetery on the left, which seemed to be for the tiny hamlet of Lower Newport. Perhaps the cemetery nearer Berriedale is “overspill” from this one.

Graveyard near Berriedale

The road continued to climb and this was not a pleasant walk. Whilst for the most part there was a grass verge, the grass was damp, often long and there were ditches to watch out for. So I mostly walked in the edge of the road and moved to the grass when traffic came. Whilst there was not much traffic, it was fast when it came.

The coast near Berriedale

Near Newport

After about a mile I had a brief alternative. A minor road runs to the left, parallel with the A9 through the small village of Newport. I followed this to get a break from the A9 it was nice to get away from the traffic as only one car passed me along this more minor road. And, at last about half way along this road I finally stopped climbing! Over a mile the road had been climbing – the cliffs are high here!

Near Newport

I stopped in the bus stop at the end of this road for a quick drink and then turned left, reluctantly, back onto the A9. Despite the horrible road, the height gained meant I still had a good view of the coast and sea, even if I was not right next to it. (Though I managed to blur the photo so much I’ve not included it).

The A9 soon turned away from the coast though and I was about half a mile inland soon. A dead-end road off to the right lead to Rockhead and I considered following it in the hope I might be able to get to the coast and find a path. But in the end I decided against it, fearful it would be a dead end and so a waste of time. I passed another area marked as a burial ground on the right but there were just a few ruined walls to be seen.

Borgue

Soon I could see part of Dunbeath castle to the right and passed the gated drive leading to it. I knew just past this I could, finally, leave the A9 behind for a while. What is I suspect the old route of the A9 through Dunbeath was marked as joining the A9 on the map. I hoped to leave the A9 and follow this road into Dunbeath, which I hoped would be much quieter.

The stretch of the A9 just before this was one of the worse though, now with crash barriers on both sides, there was far less room to get out of the way of the traffic. So it was a surprise just before Dunbeath to suddenly get a pavement. Why now, after all this way? So I was following the pavement on the left of the road and looking out for the road I wanted to follow to the right, but I couldn’t see it. I checked the GPS and I was bang on the point it should be, but there were no turnings off. I crossed the road (the pavement was on the left side only) and spotted the over-grown tarmac just behind the A9. So it didn’t actually join the A9 at all any more (presumably it had been cut off at this end). I managed to squeeze through the crash barrier and then follow the old road beyond. At last, no traffic and the noise of the A9 to my left soon reduced, as I headed down through the trees and past a large house. Later on this road past a gate (of the sort you get on large private houses, I think it might have been part of Dunbeath Castle), but it was open so I walked on. Perhaps that part of the old road is supposed to be “private”.

Dunbeath

I continued down the road to the roundabout where the bus had stopped earlier, past more modern houses and the village shop and then the Dunbeath heritage centre. The old road soon turned sharply back to the left, to head under the modern A9 in a loop to cross the river. I hoped though there was a path down to the harbour avoiding this, as I could see a bridge on the map. So I was pleased to find a path down to the beach at Dunbeath and could see a footbridge I could cross the river much closer to the shore.

Dunbeath

Dunbeath

First though I headed down to the beach which I could reach via another path. I decided to have half my lunch here, where I was away from the road, since I didn’t fancy having a picnic next to the A9! So I headed down to the beach and sat eating lunch and was surprised to spot a mouse (I think) running about between the pebbles of the beach.

Dunbeath

Dunbeath

Dunbeath

I then returned to the path and headed over to the bridge over the river.

Dunbeath

Dunbeath

Crossing this I could see what I suspected was a steep path going up the valley to the A9 which I hoped I could use rather than head on the road up to the A9. This turned out to be the case, so I followed the steep but otherwise easy path back up to the A9. Here I turned right.

Back to the dreaded A9 again then, as I climbed out the village. After about half a mile I came to a place called Toremore just after which were some beautiful old thatched buildings.

Laidhay Croft Museum near Dunbeath

Laidhay Croft Museum near Dunbeath

Laidhay Croft Museum near Dunbeath

It turned out this was the Laidhay Croft Museum and tea rooms. I should have had lunch here, if I had known it existed. Ah well. I considered having a look around but I was not sure how much it was and was conscious that I needed to get on. It was 1pm and I need to be back to Lybster by 4:30pm.

So back to the A9, passing the remains of a ruined Broch on the left on the hill. There was a brief “loop” road behind the A9 I could follow just past this, where I think the A9 had been cut into the rock and I was likely following the older route of the road, past a single house.

Near Latheronwheel

On rejoining the A9 there was a brief stretch of old road again on the right I could follow rather than keep on the main A9. But then it was back to the A9 once again, as the road began to descend towards Latheronwheel. I was trying to gauge where I was because I could see a barn ahead before the turn for the village, but it was not on my map (it looked quite new, and I don’t think the OS updates the maps for Scotland very often). I had wondered whether to divert down to Latheronwheel or stick to the A9 and by-pass it, since it is a dead-end.

But I estimated if I stuck to the A9 I would be back in Lybster in 2 hours. I had about 3 hours. So I decided I had time to head down to Latheronwheel. Just as I reached the woods at the top of the valley I was pleased to come across a “Path” sign with a path signed down to the harbour at Lathornwheel. This turned out to be a delightful path, through woodland.

Path near Dunbeath

It was well maintained and easy to follow and descended through lovely woodland with the fast-flowing river to my left. At the bottom of the valley there was even a nice picnic bench.

Burn of Latheronwheel, Caithness

Burn of Latheronwheel, Caithness

This emerged from the woodland by a lovely old bridge, now grassed on the top which seemed to head up to a path along the cliffs on the other side of the valley. Hmm I wonder if I had missed a good coast path there?

Latheronwheel

Anyway I continued down the road to the pretty little harbour. The harbour was empty of boats and there was a derelict and now roofless cottage behind. Perhaps once a working harbour it does not seem to be used at all now.

Latheronwheel harbour

Latheronwheel

Latheronwheel

It was a pretty pebble beach though, with a rock stack and the remains of some sort of building at the top of the cliffs on the other side. I stopped to apply some sun cream, as despite the weather forecast, for rain for most of the day it had been dry but cloudy, but the cloud was now going too, and the sun coming out.

I headed back up the dead-end road from the harbour and just near the top of the hill when the road turned left just before the first of the houses, I spotted a white arrow painted on a fence post pointing right, back to the coast. A proper cliff path at last?

There were no signs so I was no idea how good the path would be and how far it went, but I decided it was worth a try, since I was not looking forward to more trudging along the A9. Initially the path was excellent, mown grass even. At the top of the cliffs I had a wonderful view back along the coast. It looked so beautiful, I regretted now not trying to find a route along the cliffs. Still I had rectified that now for the rest of the walk.

The coast near Latheronwheel

I had a stile into the first field and a gate into the next. The path seemed to be marked with either white-topped fence posts or a square of white pain painted onto the side of one of the posts. The path had now deteriorated over rough, tufty grass, but it was still visible on the ground and the white posts continued. There was soon a shingle beach ahead, with a lovely rock stack, too.

The coast near Latheronwheel

I wondered if the path was just down to this beach, but no it continued behind the beach, past some gorse. Although rough underfoot the path continued ahead to the valley of Burn of Latheron and there seemed to have been a route made through the gorse.

The coast near Latheron

The coast near Latheron

However now, as I feared, the path was turning inland to follow the left edge of the valley. It was also very black inland, one of the heavy showers forecast was about and looked to be heading for me (in fact, just a couple of drops fell, it just missed me, because I could see it raining hard just inland).

I assumed the path was now taking me along the valley back to the A9 at Latheron. But just before the top of the valley I was signed to the right, down a rough but visible path into the valley, where I could cross the stream via some rocks (I’d not go so far as to call them stepping stones). Then up the other side, the white-post path continued along the cliffs.

The coast near Latheron

Another small valley was crossed this time the stream being narrow enough to step over and a stile provided at the fence. The path, continued right along the cliffs to the valley of Port na Muic.

The coast near Latheron

The coast near Latheron

Here it continued just outside the fence, though the distance between the fence and the sheer drop of the cliffs was very narrow, too narrow really, in places. But I just avoided looking down and held onto the fence for these narrow parts.

The coast was really spectacular now. Lots of caves, inlets and small rock stacks, I was so glad I had found this path. Rounding Robbery Head it was even more spectacular with numerous rocky inlets, though again the path went close to the edge in places!

The coast near Forse, Caithness

The coast near Forse, Caithness

The coast near Forse, Caithness

Ahead was another valley. The path descended into it and this time there was even a bridge over the stream – none of this is marked on the map nor does the “core path map” of the area show any route along the coast.

Stream near Forse

Climbing back up the other side I passed the remains of Forse Castle and it was only here that I came across a couple of fences with no stile – the first yet, which I had to climb over, though they had been bent down where others had done the same.

Forse, Caithness

Near Forse

Forse Castle

I feared I’d now lost the “white post” path, but soon I spotted the familiar white squares again. I did wonder – the same landowner can’t own all the land inland surely? So who had painted the arrows and paths and put up the stiles? It was great they had but it seemed odd there was no indication from the map there was a path here.

The cost near Lybster

Just after the castle the path improved again, but now there were some wild horses on the path (I assume they were wild, anyway). This was a bit awkward as initially they walked ahead of me along the path but did move to one side eventually, I was worried I might scare them and they might fall of the cliff in panic.

Coast path companions near Lybster

Onwards I had a more “rustic” stile in the form of two plastic creates either side of the fence, but it did the job. Just past this ahead was the valley of Burn of Achsinegar.

The coast south of Lybster

The path seemed to head into this, but after a while the white posts stopped again. I was not clear if I had to head inland to the A99 or if there was a away ahead. But I could see a house on the top of the valley on the other side. It didn’t look hard to cross the river now, it was very narrow. So I decided to make my own way down to the valley and cross the stream. The other side of the valley was much steeper and getting up it was a hands and knees job, it was so steep and uneven. Eventually I made it to the top by the house. There didn’t seem to be any path along the cliff tops now, but as I passed the house I could look a little inland and spotted a proper “footpath” sign at the end of the road by the house. So I climbed the fence into the field and walked the north edge of the field to the end of the road at Achastle. Here I turned right on the track, signed as a core path to “Achastle-shore”. It did indeed take me to the shore. And I was pleased when I got there that the “white posts” continued along the shore again. Not sure what the route of this path had been, but at least I had rejoined it. I could follow this to a viewpoint marked on the map where there was a stone seat and an information sign.

I was pleased to see this since I knew there now must be an easy route into Lybster from here on. There was, once I worked out what side of the fence I was meant to be (since there was a stile into the field I realised I was now meant to be in the field rather than outside it). The path gradually improved as I continued, with Lybster harbour coming into view to my right.

Lybster harbour

The path soon descended down to the road on the western side of the harbour at Lybster. Lybster was looking beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine, such a difference to earlier.

Lybster harbour

Lybster harbour

Lybster

I made my way back on the path I had used earlier, past the (possibly) disused hotel and back to my car. I reached there at 4:25pm and had worked out that I would like to leave by 4:30pm. It was about a 2 hour drive to Inverness Airport and that would get me there just over 2 hours before my flight, which would allow some contingency for delays, and some time to refuel the car before I return it to the hire car company.

So I had enough time for a quick drink and rest and then set off along the A9 south to Inverness. Thankfully I had no hold ups at all, it was a pleasant drive and I was pleased to be driving along the A9, not walking it, though it was funny to be able to-trace parts of my walk again! I made it back to Inverness in time, but at the airport I didn’t see a sign for car hire returns, so went straight ahead, but realised I was now on a one-way road with two lanes. One for buses only, the other led straight into the car park, with a barrier along it! I had somehow missed the entry to the car hire returns, so I either had to reverse illegally along the road to get into the hire returns (on my left) or enter the car park and (I assumed) have to pay to get out again even though I hadn’t intended to park. I decided to opt for the latter. So I took a ticket and then had to go into the terminal to pay for a parking ticket I didn’t need or want, but I was in luck as the first 10 minutes of parking are free (or at least they were then), so I didn’t have to pay anything. This time I took the correct turning at the roundabout and returned the car without any problems.

I had dinner at the airport (a proper cafe serving hot food had opened since my last visit, which was nice). My flight was about 15 minutes late leaving and so I got back to my car at Luton airport at around 10:45pm. It was a little over an hour to drive home from there so I did not get home until midnight (and had to go to work the next day). But at least the late flight had meant that I had got to do a full walk – and it was a very cheap flight, too!

So this walk turned out to be one of two halves. The first part, a tedious boring and sometimes slightly dangerous walk along the A9 other than the diversion to Dunbeath. But from Latheronwheel a beautiful (if sometimes hard) walk right along the coast with some stunning scenery and in near perfect weather. A nice way to end the walk and indeed this trip to Scotland.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach buses route X99 : Inverness – Dornoch – Golspie – Brora – Helmsdale – Berriedale – Dunbeath – Latheron – Lybster – Wick – Reiss – Castletown – Thurso – Scrabster Ferry terminal. Twice per day Monday – Saturday and once per day on Sunday. It takes 15 minutes to travel between Helmsdale and Berriedale.

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

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5 Responses to 303. Berriedale to Lybster

  1. Those white waymarks were the early signs for The John O’Groats trail which you will now know links Inverness to John O’Groats avoiding the dreaded A9.
    Great photos by the way.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I actually only found out about that path when I met another coastal walker at Durness who was “testing” an early version of the guide book for that walk. Hopefully it has improved a bit now. Thanks for the commetn and I’m glad you like the photos!

  2. Beautiful, don’t know these places at all.

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