304. Lybster to Wick

May 2017

I had spent the night in Wick. After a not great nights sleep I had breakfast at my hotel (which was an all you can eat buffet, so that was good). Today it was very convenient to start my walk. I planned to take a bus from Wick to Lybster so I could walk back without worrying about the time. I didn’t need to drive at all and left my (hired) car at the hotel. This meant I didn’t have to make an especially early start because the main bus stop in Wick was directly outside my hotel entrance.

So from here I headed out a few minutes before the bus was due. It turned out the bus was actually a coach which was nice, as it is much more comfortable and took about half an hour to get to Lybster. Sadly the weather was not so good, overcast and misty after overnight rain, though the rain had at least stopped.

From the bus timetable it told me the stop was “Lybster Main Street”. I took this to mean the A99, as the road into the village is basically a dead-end and this is a long-distance bus route to Inverness, so I didn’t imagine it would go along the dead-end road. So I got off the bus on the A99, but it turns out I was wrong, as I then watched it turn down the dead-end street through Lybster (and later, turn around and come back). Oh well it didn’t add a huge distance to my walk.

Another thing that surprised me about Lybster is the width of the main street. Not quite sure why it’s so wide (perhaps there was once a market down the main street) as it’s wide enough for about 5 lanes of traffic!

Lybster

I stopped at the village shop to get provisions for lunch and then set off down the main street towards the coast. I wondered about trying to find a way along the coast but I wasn’t sure if that would be possible (the road was a dead-end) and given how wet and misty it was I didn’t fancy getting wet feet from walking through water-sodden long grass so early.

So instead I decided to turn left on the minor road heading east to Hillhead, which I hoped would have little traffic. As I headed down this road I saw another couple ahead appearing out of the mist heading towards me. As we got closer they stopped. They were an Australian couple that were looking for a bed-and-breakfast in Lybster, but they did not know exactly where it was. Sadly I didn’t either, so all I could do was direct them to the main road in the hope it was along there. I did wonder later quite where they had spent the previous night and why they wanted to check in so early in the morning (it was not much after 9am!), though perhaps they were meeting someone. I also mused at how someone had come from Australia to little old Lybster. I always get a pang of guilt when someone asks me the way and I don’t know (not sure why I do … but I do).

I followed this for almost a little over half a mile to the cottages around Hillhead house. Here I had spotted a track eastwards to Mavesy which I planned to follow. However as I got there, there were several horse riders about and several barking dogs. It looked like it might be private and with plenty of people (and dogs) to make it obvious I was there, I decided against it and instead turned left to the A99.

With reluctance, I soon reached the A99, and it was back to trudging along beside a major trunk road (albeit one in a remote area). It was not good and I didn’t want this to turn into a long boring walk along the A99. I passed this derelict cottage and then continued through the mist.

Ruined cottage

The A99

After about half a mile I came to the turn off for Occumster. Sadly I could see the road here too was a single dead-end road that stopped about 300 metres before the coast (where there was a “Produce Attraction” marked as a tourist attraction at the end of the road, whatever that might be). I gave the “Produce Attraction” a miss too.

However rather than continue on the A99 I spotted that there was a disused railway line marked on the map that paralleled the A99 just to the north and it looked to join it a mile or so further up the road. So I headed north to the fence and looked for the track, but there was no obvious track and farm fences to cross. I didn’t really want to be jumping over farm fences the whole way on uneven ground, so again, I continued on the A99.

Soon I crossed the bridge of Occumster and continued another half a mile or so to the track just before Clyth Mains. This was indeed a gravelly track between dry-stone walls so I decided to follow this to the coast. After all, this was meant to be a coastal walk and whilst I might have made good time along the A99, it was hardly interesting or pleasant.

I followed this to the shore, climbing a gate on the way. Here I found a rough path along the tussocky grass along the shore. I wasn’t sure if it was a proper path but at least I could see a route so either other people or animals had walked this way. This was much better. The cliffs were tall and the waves rough. It was a spectacular stretch of coast, but sadly I could not see a lot of it, because it was still very misty.

The coast near Clyth

Whilst at times the mist seemed to clear and visibility was quite good, it would roll back in a few minutes later.

The coast near Clyth

So spectacular in fact was the sea, crashing into the near vertical cliffs that I stopped several times to just watch the sea crashing about. It was lovely, but it did remind me of the power of the sea. At one point there was a huge cave and sometimes the waves would be so high they’d sent water flowing out of this cave, which came out at quite a speed, presumably the channel the water was flowing along narrowed. Although it was early I decided to stop at this spectacular spot to have my sandwiches. It was a nice spot, well away from the road and to sit and watch the sea, though it was still early so I didn’t eat all my lunch.

The coast near Clyth

The rough path I was following continued east and I was pleased to find there were even stiles, so it did at least seem to be some sort of official path, though there were no signs.

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

I could follow this path all the way to the lighthouse at Clythness.

Clythness Lighthouse

From the map I wasn’t sure if this was a full sized lighthouse or more a little tower or something modern, but it was indeed a traditional old lighthouse, and very pretty it was too.

Clythness Lighthouse

Sadly, from the lighthouse, things became trickier. Initially there was still a sort of path along the cliff top but it was now rough tufty grass and hard going. Ahead I had a “geo” to get around, Line Geo. The fence was very close to the edge leaving just a narrow stretch of grass between the fence and a sheer drop. So I crept round carefully. The fence continued around the far side, but there was at least a little more room there. It was impressive scenery though.

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

Just past Line Geo I came to another rocky inlet, this time Sgaps Geo. Here the cliffs were sheer and it looked man made, but I think it is natural.

Sgaps Geo

The coast near Clyth

The scenery continued to be stunning as I passed the stack of Mid Clyth, where there was a small rocky island (islet?) just off shore, where one of the geos had broken right through, I assume.

The coast near Clyth

The coast near Clyth

Ahead the fence got close enough to the shore I didn’t dare risk it, so I climbed over it and walked inside the edge of the field instead.

The coast near Clyth

The fence ended at Halberry Castle, though there was not much to see. From here I resumed along the coast on the rough grass again, though the difficult terrain was more than made up for by the stunning scenery, despite the mist.

Ahead I came to the Burn of East Clyth. This was quite pretty and as I hoped was not that wide or deep. It was a steep climb down the little valley either side but I could step on rocks over the water so as to cross with dry feet (well they were already damp, but they didn’t get wetter). It was quite pretty too with a tiny little waterfall!

Stream near Clyth

I continued along the cliff tops, on these high and sheer cliffs though there was another little stream ahead, but easy to cross. Just beyond that was another large geo, which I had to head inland almost as far as the road to get around. I continued over some gorse and heather ahead to reach the top of a second geo. This was only about 30 metres from the road and it was getting hard work now. So I decided to head up on the road. Whilst I hated the traffic at least the going was easy and I was still close to the coast, as the road was only around 100-200 metres from the coast.

I followed the road for around ¾ of a mile to reach the turning for the little village (hamlet, really) of Whaligoe. Here there is a sign for Whaligoe steps and I’d heard this was well worth a brief diversion to explore. I followed the road past the half dozen or so cottages and then when the road ends the steps begin.

Whaligoe Steps

A naturally formed “harbour” existed below the cliffs and Captain David Brodie spent £8 in the late mid 1800s having 360 steps cut into the rocks to form a path down to reach the harbour.

Whaligoe Steps

Herring was then landed here, with up to 14 boats based here and the fish carried up all these steps. Eventually the work here ceased and the steps became disused and fell out of repair, but locals have made sterling efforts to repair them and keep them open in recent years. So I headed down the steps, which soon got steeper and stepper. With the mist I couldn’t see much of what was below me, but I could certainly hear it. The sea was crashing into this narrow harbour, sending huge waves up the side. It was impossible to imagine boats ever having been based here, they would have been smashed to match sticks!

As I descended I soon emerged on a flat grassy area where there are the remains of some kilns (I think) from the former industry here.

Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

However by the far most impressive was the sea itself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sea so rough or make such a noise. As each wave crashed into the rocks below, you could feel the vibrations coming up through the rock!

Whaligoe Haven

I continued down a slippery path (of sorts) to the beach. It was really just a few pebbles and rocks, but chains were attached to the cliffs here where the boats were then attached to the cliffs, presumably to keep them away from the worst of the sea.

Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

It was exhilarating being down here with the sea crashing into the sheer cliffs all around.

The coast at Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

Though the path I walked on was almost covered by the sea, so I didn’t want to linger long in case the tide was coming in, it was hard to tell!

Whaligoe Haven

So I headed back up to the grassy platform and then found a place I could climb a bit down the rocks from here to find a truly spectacular spot for the rest of my lunch. It was a very windy day, which presumably was the reason the sea was so rough, but down here I was, at last, out of the wind. So I enjoyed the shelter here watching the water crash all around me. Each big wave caused vibrations through the rocks I could feel. It rates as one of the best lunch spots I’ve ever had. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen the sea rougher than it was here!

Whaligoe Haven

Whaligoe Haven

Much as I would have liked to linger, I was starting to get cold sitting still and I was conscious I still had some way to go. So with reluctance, I left and started the long climb up the steps. It was a long climb up, as you might expect, but there were at least places you could stop.

Whaligoe Steps

From the top of the steps I couldn’t see any obvious way onwards along the coast so I returned to the A99 initially. I followed this for about ¼ of a mile then turned off right down a track just south of Ulbster. Here there were ruined houses at the end of the field and I turned left to head past these and into the field below. Here I was able to make my way back along the cliff tops. I found a feint path where the grass was shorter and followed this to the back of a house just north of Ulbster. Here I turned right over a rough area of heather and gorse, following a sort of path.

The coast near Whaligoe

Ahead though I soon came to another deep sided valley which I could not get over (Mill Burn). Instead I headed along the line of this until I was level with Mains Of Ulbster, where I turned left and then followed the minor road north.

This is because right along the coast is Loch Sarclet and I was not sure I would be able to get the coastal side of this. I followed this boring (but easy) road for about 1.5 miles to the junction. Here I turned right. The road ahead continued to Sarclet, but it was a dead-end. I might have been able to make my way along the shore from there but I was not sure. However I was getting tired and I didn’t want a long diversion along a dead-end road because I still had a long way to go (I was beginning to feel that this walk was too long). So instead I turned left to Corbiegoe where there was a proper path marked on the map (or at least, a track). So I followed the road to the end where there was indeed a track over an area of moorland. There was also a circle of stones here and I did wonder if it was the remains of a building (such as a lighthouse) or something more spiritual.

The coast south of Wick

At the end of the area of moorland there was a good path right along the coast. This reached the coast at Ires Geo, a truly spectacular place with sheer vertical cliffs though these cliffs were popular with birds, there were many hundreds squeezed onto narrow ledges in the cliffs, an impressive sight.

The coast south of Wick

Ahead the path continued past another couple of geos these too were spectacular, though not quite as much as those I had already passed.

IMG_6813

IMG_6816

I continued past a grassy valley and beyond this the cliffs soon became lower until I reached the large rocky bay at Girston.

The coast south of Wick

Here there was a large rock stack ahead and again I could listen to the sea crashing about in this large bay. It is always humbling to see the power of the sea.

The coast south of Wick

I came across another spectacular feature where the sea had cut a gap through a rock to form a little bay behind it, but there was a rocky bridge over the top. Once this collapses it will form another rock stack.

The coast south of Wick

The coast south of Wick

The coast south of Wick

The path was good because it stuck right to the coast and I could continue round numerous other rocks stacks and and inlets for another mile or so until I reached the ruins of the castle of Old Wick.

To be honest, there was not a lot left, just the outer tower still standing really but at least it was free to look around.

Wick Old Castle

Wick Old Castle

The coast south of WIck

I was also nearing Wick now, at last, and the path continued only a short distance further along the cliff until I came to a road and a car park. I followed this minor road right around the cliff tops until near the point where it turns west there seemed to be a lower path away from the road.

The coast near Wick

So I followed this, soon coming to steps that led down into some sort of quarry which still seemed to be used for something, since it was full of piles of different rock. But there was a proper path around it, and even a picnic bench. It seemed an odd contrast!

The coast near Wick

The coast near Wick

The coast at Wick

I could follow this path around the base of the cliffs to the old lifeboat station.

The coast at Wick

Wick Lifeboat station

This marks the start of the harbour of Wick. Ahead I soon found steps back up to the cliff top and followed these to find a nice view over the town and a pleasant shelter, though it was not really the sort of weather to linger.

Wick

Soon I descended back down to the harbours edge and followed the most coastal road around it to the first bridge over the river.

WIck harbour

WIck harbour

Here I then turned left and made my way back to my hotel.

Wick

Wick

WIck harbour

I was glad of a sit down (and some shortbread biscuits left for me by the cleaner) as I was really tired after this walk. To be honest it was too long to do in a day really and I was glad I hadn’t made any more diversions.

It was a shame about the weather but this was a truly spectacular walk. Whilst I had had to do some road walking on busy A-roads I was so pleased to have found a spectacular cliff path for much of the walk, as the coastal scenery around Wick is truly stunning, and is like nothing else I’ve seen on my coast walk with all these rocky inlets and sheer cliffs. A memorable walk for sure, it was just a shame the weather had been so poor, as it was misty the whole day, and I only hoped it would clear overnight to leave a better day to come.

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 around 30 minutes to travel between Lybster and Wick.

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

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4 Responses to 304. Lybster to Wick

  1. I’m sure Lybster must look nicer on a sunny day, but my goodness it looks bleak in your photo! The Whaligoe steps look worth the climb – I love to see the sea like that too. Spectacular.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes pebble-dashed houses, mist and rain don’t typically make for a welcoming scene. Lybster is not as bad as it looks there! Whaligoe is wonderful and well worth a visit. It doesn’t seem to be well known – I might well have missed it myself if it wasn’t for the fact I read another walkers account of it.

  2. 5000milewalk says:

    Spectacular photos Jon! Really looking forward to getting to this section. That must have been a good 17 miles though – it’s 14 along the road.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I overdid the miles a bit on this walk I think! However it is indeed really beautiful and I’d like to do it again sometime in better weather – too much of the coast was hidden by mist!

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