305. Keiss to Wick

May 2017

After the previous days long walk (or perhaps too long), I had a shorter walked planned for today, from the village of Keiss back down to Wick, where I was staying. I had breakfast at my hotel and then could wait in the hotel lobby for the arrival of the bus since the main bus stop in Wick was right outside the door of the hotel. I didn’t need to drive at all today.

The bus arrived and I managed to pronounce Keiss incorrectly but at least the bus driver still worked out where I wanted to go (after he had corrected me). It was a short bus journey and I was soon in the village of Keiss.

Like Lybster, where I started my previous walk the village is mostly along a single straight street that runs from the A99 half a mile to the shore. At the end of the road, the road zig-zagged down to the harbour.

Keiss Harbour

Keiss Harbour

The harbour had only a few small boats in it but some large stone buildings around it suggested it had once been a busy port.

Keiss Harbour

The main building had a sign “Keiss Harbour Building 1833 2004” presumably from when that building was refurbished or converted, but the sign was already so rusted I could hardly read it!

Keiss Harbour

Having reached the coast I attempted to follow the shore south. What looked to be a lovely sandy beach started about half a mile from the harbour so I was hoping to be able to make it along the shore in order to get to this beach. However it was hard work since I had to climb over pebbles, rocks (much of it lose), bits of rusty metal and abandoned fishing equipment, as there wasn’t a path behind the beach.

The coast south of Keiss

The coast south of Keiss

The coast south of Keiss

It was hard work and so slow going, but suddenly past a house I found there now was a good path along the grass at the back of the beach, which was welcome as it got me off the rocks at the shore.

The coast south of Keiss

Beside this path there were lines of “dragons teeth” or tank traps. These were laid during World War II in an attempt to stop any enemy tanks that might land on the beach from making it further inland (I don’t think they were ever put to the test). I think many have since been removed, but here they were still in place.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Soon there was a line of sand near the tide line, so I headed down there to walk along the beach, Sinclair Bay. It was wonderful.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

There was nice firm sand by the tide line which made for an easy pleasant walk with the sounds and smell of the sea right next to me and not a single other person to be seen on this beach, and no other footprints either.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Soon the rocks at the back of the beach ended, replaced with sand dunes. It is a beautiful beach and a lovely walk. I was making good progress too because the beach was flat and easy to walk on and there were many sea birds to watch.

However I knew from the map that about 1 1/2 miles ahead the River of Wester flowed out over the beach. There wasn’t a bridge marked on the map at the shore here so I might have to head to the A99. The other problem was immediately before the river was marked some works that seemed to stretch out right to the beach with a railway track of some sort (conveyor belt?) running inland, for about 5 miles to somewhere called “Bridge of Gravity”. All very strange, but it might mean I’d have to get around these works too.

As I neared the works there was some sort of structure built part out onto the beach but the tide was out enough I could get around it on the shore side. However I still have the river to cross. I needn’t have worried. The map showed the river as quite wide. Perhaps it is after heavy rain, but today it looked like this.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Not really much trouble to cross – it was only ankle deep! Now over the river I could continue south on this lovely and deserted beach again.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Whilst I hadn’t seen anyone else on this beach at all (in fact I’d not seen anyone since leaving Keiss) I soon came across evidence that people had been here as for some reason someone seemed to have decided to make some sort of “artwork” by putting different coloured rubber gloves on top of some bits of rusty wire stuck into the beach. As you do, of course (I don’t really understand modern art).

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

Having “admired” this artwork I continued on my way south along the beach, but the sandy area was already quite narrow and getting narrower. Soon, it ran out entirely so the way ahead on the beach was now all pebbles.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

However there was a fence just behind the beach in the dunes so I stuck to the pebble beach which was hard-going.

Soon however the fence ended so I headed up into the dunes again and this time found a rough grass path which was much easier to use.

Sinclair Bay near Keiss

This even had stiles along it and soon I came across access to the beach I think from a car park marked at the end of the road that serves Wick Golf Club (ah, I knew there had to be a golf course for Wick somewhere!). I was able to follow this wide grassy path to reach Ackergill Tower. This tower dates from the early 16th Century and was rather beautiful. At the time I did this walk it was operating as a hotel. As I neared the building the grassy path entered a more formal garden.

Ackergill Tower

I wasn’t quite sure what to do here. The Scottish open access doesn’t spread to private gardens (and one of the things they specify to look out for to identify a private garden is a mown lawn). However I had also been following what looked to be a proper path of some sort since it had stiles where fences were encountered. So I suspected and hoped it continued on, so I continued on to reach the tower.

Ackergill Tower

(The hotel closed down in 2019 and it has since been become a privately owned holiday home so that might make things trickier for anyone else wanting to follow this route, as I can’t imagine access will have got any easier as a result).

However beyond the tower all the possible routes seemed to be private drives and sensing I shouldn’t be here I headed back and turned a bit inland to get around it, hoping to be able to return to the shore later. However I soon realised I had gone a bit too far and was now heading back to the A99. So I turned left towards Ackergill Mains.

Ackergill Tower

Once at Ackergill Mains a track was marked on the map heading back to the coast, but it didn’t seem to actually exist on the ground.So I continued to the road and turned left to Ackergillshore. After about 500 metres a track was shown as heading east to Shorelands which I considered following. However it too didn’t seem to exist so I continued down to the coast at the end of the road and was delighted to find a proper footpath along the shore. Perhaps this was one that I had been following up to Ackergill Tower and following those private looking drives perhaps was the correct way. Either way though I was back on the coast now.

In fact Ackergillshore was rather lovely. There was a small harbour wall and some sort of slipway that appeared to be disused now and beautiful white sands.

Ackergillshore

I decided this was a good place for lunch (and it was). The slipway looked like it might have once been part of a lifeboat station but if it had the building had gone so the landward end of the slipway was just a dead-end, rather odd.

Ackergillshore

Now refreshed I continued east along the coast, passing a few more sandy beaches, and some rock and pebble ones.

Ackergillshore

As I headed further east the good path got less good and became quite rough, but there was always a path of sorts albeit I was never quite sure if it had been made by people or animals.

The coast east of Ackergillshore

Looking back I could still see Ackergill Tower whilst looking the other way I could also see another castle at the end of the bay – Castle Sinclair (marked as “remains of” on the map), but even if it was in ruins I could see from this distance there was still quite a lot of it left.

The coast east of Ackergillshore

Nearing the castle I came across another pretty sandy bay now with some red soil similar in colour to cliffs I remember seeing in East Devon. The geology was changing again.

The coast east of Ackergillshore

The coast east of Ackergillshore

I made my way a little higher up to get around this, at least inland was all grass so this wasn’t too bad, but the coast was changing with the low dunes and beach giving way to cliffs. Still there seemed to be a rough path of sorts around the cliffs and in front of the fences.

Near Noss Head

The coast got more and more beautiful as I approached the castle, with a few rock stacks visible and some interesting looking rocks and cliffs, which seemed to have horizontal lines on.

Near Noss Head

Near Noss Head

The castle was looking more and more spectacular too as I closed in on it. Yes it was in ruins but there was still quite a lot left and it was quite spectacular, especially since the sun was now coming out.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

I like castles a lot so I was delighted to find out it was open free of charge to look around and the ruins looked to be being well maintained now, with a bridge providing access and information boards all around the site.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The information board told me the bridge was opened in 2008 by Andrew J Sinclair and there was also a memorial to Ian Sinclair who died in 2014. Given I had been following Sinclair Bay to get here it was clear the Sinclair’s are an important family in this area.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

I really enjoyed looking around the castle but I also really enjoyed the views of the spectacular coast from it. I could see why the castle was sighted here, with views a long way north along the coast and almost as the top of Noss Head, ships could be seen approaching from most directions.

Building the castle must have been really difficult but I was so impressed about the way the natural rock features had been combined to build the castle. Looking at this it’s actually quite hard to spot where the natural cliffs end and the castle wall begins, other than the red bricks on the corner. I was impressed at how it had been blended into the cliffs.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The view of the coast from the castle was also rather good.

The coast from Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Having finished exploring the castle I continued along the shore and came across this impressive rocky inlet. Again the geology is fascinating with the horizontal lines all along the cliff face, I’ve no idea what has caused it.

The coast east of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

I stopped for a closer look and this was clearly quite a popular place for people to come, presumably after visiting the castle as people had been having fun creating stacks out of the rocks and pebbles.

The coast east of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Now heading east I found a reasonable path along the cliff tops and this bit of the coast was stunning, with numerous rock stacks and rocky inlets, all with these horizontal lines in.

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The coast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Noss Head

Ahead I could now see the lighthouse at Noss Head, which I was approaching.

Noss Head

The coast between me and it was however very indented so I had to keep going in and out to get around these, but I didn’t mind because it was pretty.

Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

Some of the inlets were wide enough to have beaches, sometimes with sand I went down to one of the remoter ones, which was lovely.

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

It was nice not to be covering so many miles today as it had given me more time to explore places like this and the castle and I stopped for a rest for a while on a sandy bit of one of these beaches.

The coast near Noss Head

The coast near Noss Head

I was now approaching the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is still in use however the buildings around it had fallen into a bit of disrepair and at the time I walked here were not in use. I gather that has since changed, they have been repaired and restored and I gather now some are let as holiday cottages whilst others are used as offices by the lighthouse board. However there was no access along the coast behind the lighthouse so I headed the landward side, past a small lake in the grass.

Noss Head

Although the sun had come out it had got very windy now, as the “waves” on this small lake make clear!

Noss Head

Noss Head Lighthouse

Once around the lake I returned to the shore and found a rough path along the cliff top again. Once again the scenery was stunning, with more impressive geology, rocky inlets and beaches and the sound of the crashing waves, it was a wonderful section of coast.

The coast south of Noss Head

The coast south of Noss Head

The coast south of Noss Head

The cliffs were gradually getting lower now and I was soon seeing the buildings of Wick ahead (actually the village of Staxigoe but this almost joins onto Wick).

The coast south of Noss Head

As I approached Field of Noss Farm a noticed warned to keep dogs under control whilst once past the farm looking back a sign along the driver showed “Walkers Welcome” which suggests the rough path the other side of the farm was a proper path of some sort out to Noss Head.

The coast south of Noss Head

I now followed the track from the farm into the village of Staxigoe and continued south to Broad Haven. Broad Haven was nice with a good rocky beach and a nice green with benches behind it.

The coast north of Wick

Beyond Broad Haven I found a track signed to the sewage works at the end of North Head signed as “North Head Footpath” so I followed this.

The coast north of Wick

The coast north of Wick

Once round the head the good path continued right along the low cliffs tops, behind the houses until it descended down to the beach where there is one of those tidal swimming pools and the harbour just beyond.

The coast at Wick

I continued along the shore to the first bridge and then the A99 bridge and continued on the path beside the Wick River, a short distance further to reach my hotel, it was nice not to have to travel anywhere once I finished the walk.

Wick

Wick

Wick River, Wick

Wick River, Wick

This had been an excellent walk. Although a few parts had difficult route finding that was more than made up for by the beautiful sandy beach of Sinclair Bay and further north the impressive ruins of Sinclair Castle and the stunning coast all around it. The walk out to the lighthouse at Noss Head was also lovely and it was a pleasant surprise to find that nice path right the way into Wick too. I was also far luckier with the weather today it being dry in the morning and with some sunshine in the afternoon. In fact it strikes me this walk has all the ingredients of a classic coast walk. Long sand beach. Check. Beautiful rocky cliffs. Check. Harbour. Check. Lighthouse. Check. Castle. Check!

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

Stagecoach Highlands bus routes 77, 177, 77A : Wick – Reiss – Keiss – Bowermadden Crossroads (77A only), Freswick – John o’ Groates. Buses then continue to either Gills Bay (ferry terminal) and/or Thurso. Approximately 6 buses per day Monday – Friday only. No service at weekends. It takes around 15 minutes to travel between Wick and Keiss.

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

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3 Responses to 305. Keiss to Wick

  1. 5000milewalk says:

    I wonder if those rubber gloves had been put on the wire to make it easier to see the wire and therefore avoid accidentally getting impaled in it? A good act of public service perhaps!

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