310. Strathy to Reay

August 2017

This walk would see me complete the coast of Caithness and return to the (historic) county of Sutherland, though I’m not exactly sure where the border is.

The logistics of this walk were a little tricky due to the now very limited bus service. A single bus a day (weekdays only) runs in each direction between Strathy and Reay. It is essentially the “workers” bus for Dounreay and runs from Bettyhill to Dounreay in the morning and back from Dounreay to Bettyhill in the evening. I was staying in Thurso so to drive to Strathy in time for the morning bus would make for a very early start and mean missing breakfast. So instead I’d be walking from Strathy to Reay in order to catch the evening bus on it’s way back to Bettyhill. That meant I could avoid a really early start and have a cooked breakfast at the hotel to set me up for the day. Another reason is that the previous day finding somewhere safe, legal and not likely to cause an obstruction in Reay looked a little tricky whilst a car park was marked on the map at Strathy, so I hoped parking would be easier in Strathy.

After breakfast I drove to Strathy and parked in a small car park on the left just at the start of the dead-end road out to Strathy point, which was also by the bus stop which was handy for my return journey.

Strathy

I was puzzled to note the bus shelter contained a pair of immaculate looking wellington boots. I wondered who had left them here and why!

From the car park I headed back down to the main road, the A836 to Strathy Bridge, passing the Strathy Inn and a war memorial and then crossed the River Strathy.

The Strathy Inn

Strathy War memorial

Although a road walk there is not much traffic so it was not a problem and the road is quite wide, albeit with no pavement. On the eastern side of the river there looked to be a footpath on the map, heading north which I hoped to follow to reach the sea. I found a gate which looked to be the start of the path but someone had attempted to block it by placing the parcel shelf from a car across the gate. I removed this and then found a reasonable path along the edge of the field and soon out into the dunes and finally to the beach.

Path to Strathy Bay

This is a stunning beach too. Fine golden sands backed by dunes and with low rocky cliffs on either side. I stopped for a quick rest and to take in this beautiful scene – I was the only one on the beach and mine were the only footprints.

Strathy Bay

The beach at Strathy Bay

The sea too was a beautiful turquoise colour, it was wonderful. I walked along the beach but sadly it is not very wide and soon I had reached the other end.

The beach at Strathy Bay

Starthy Bay

Starthy Bay

At the far end of the beach I found a rough and steep path off the beach which I followed until I emerged onto the minor road that provides access to the beach car park.

Starthy Bay

I followed the road and tracks down to the main road, the A836 again where I crossed a cattle grid and joined the main road. However this time it was only for about 200 metres as I then turned left on the road into Baligill. I didn’t go right to the end because it’s a dead end and the road didn’t even lead to the coast anyway so I followed the loop of the road to return to the main road at Strathroy.

It was about twice the distance but at least gave me a break from the traffic. Ahead there didn’t seem much alternative other than to continue on the A836 as there were no paths marked along the coast so that is what I did. Oddly I found that the road over this land used to be single track with passing places but was upgraded at some point. The old road still exists in places but is not marked on the Ordnance Survey maps, so I was able to follow parts of this to avoid the traffic.

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

It was a boring trudge along the road really but after about half a mile at the northern most point of the road the road had been straightened out and a view point constructed on the old “loop” of the road. I stopped here but it was surprisingly crowded, so not for long, I was glad to be away from the road and the traffic. However I really didn’t want to walk on the road the whole way so I decided from here to try to walk across the moor to my left nearer the sea.

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

In fact I stuck close to the road initially, just a few metres down to the left but where I could find a reasonably flat route, mostly along the grass verge next to the road. Just that short distance from the traffic makes such a different to how pleasant the walk is! I could see from the map there were a couple of valleys and streams to the left so I stuck with the road until I had crossed the second of these, just west of the first road to Portskerra.

Heathland between Strathy and Melvich

Here I turned left off the road to the open moorland as I was to sea the coast west of the village where natural arches and beaches were marked – it looked like it was spectacular and I was missing out. I found a reasonable route over the moor, but as I approached the village so the fences started and I had to climb a couple of fences but at least these were not barbed wire as they so often seem to be! I was glad I did for the views over this rocky little bay were spectacular and it was only me and the sheep enjoying it.

The coast west of Portskerra

The coast west of Portskerra

I continued along the rough path along the cliff tops to the end of the rocky inlet at Rubha Ghoiridh where I could follow a route back to the road where I could find a gate to take me to the road at some sort of water company compound.

The coast at Portskerra

The coast at Portskerra

The coast at Portskerra

The coast at Portskerra

At the eastern end of this road where it turned right to head south again I was pleased to find a proper coastal path signed off to the left. It was nice not to have to be climbing fences and walking over rough ground again.

The coast at Portskerra

I followed this and it was lovely along the cliff to a small car park I could continue along it to a jetty overlooking Melvich Bay. Well it was more a derelict harbour, the jetty was fenced off as unsafe with just a small slipway still open.

Old harbour at Portskerra

This was the end of the footpath so I decided to drop down onto the beach to make my way around Melvich Bay. It was rocky and shingle to start with but I could see that it became sand further on and there was a car park marked on the map so I was confident there would be a way up off the beach from there if I hit problems. It was very hard going initially with slippery lose stones to walk over and I made slow progress.

However soon I started to come across sand and then it became much easier.

The beach at Melvich

Once again this was a gorgeous sandy beach and I was pleased to get to the sand where the walking was much easier.

The beach at Melvich

I followed the beach which was quite busy by the standards of northern Scotland. Near the eastern edge of the beach I cut inland on an obvious path to the dunes where a bridge was marked on the map. As I hoped this was a long footbridge so I could use it to cross the river.

Footbridge over the Halladale River, Melvich

This took me to a house marked as Bighouse (how imaginative).

Footbridge over the Halladale River, Melvich

There was access to the road here but I faced a decision on the onwards route. The easiest route was to follow the road from here back to the A836 and then the road all the way from there to Reay. But that would not be a pleasant walk or really a coastal walk so I decided to try an alternative.

The house was large and imposing so I managed to follow a path beside the edge of the river to get passed it where I could then climb back up to the open land to the east.

The Halladale River, Melvich

The Halladale River, Melvich

Approaching the farm just up the hill (served by a second road) I went to the left of this climbed over the fence and tried to follow a track I could see heading north on the map. When this ended I was pleased to find a kind of sheep track over the grass. I don’t know if other people had walked this way or if it was just sheep but it was fairly obvious and whenever it looked like I might lose the path I’d spot it continuing a bit ahead.

This was more like it, a proper coastal walk right along the spectacular cliff tops.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The scenery was spectacular as the cliffs became high and there were numerous rock stacks and sheer areas of rocky cliffs.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

It was especially pretty with the tops covered in heather still partly in flower. There were a number of valleys marked on the map and streams. I had to head quite far inland to get around some of these but just as I began to lose faith in the path I’d spot it again.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

It was boggy and a bit muddy in places but at least it was there. I passed some truly stunning coast and was in a good mood knowing that few people had likely ever been here to this stunning place.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

This biggest problem was at Geodh’ Eisgiadh where I could see there was a steep valley stretching almost back to the road. Thankfully I didn’t have to go as far inland here as I had expected that I might have to and was soon able to resume a route along the coast. There was clearly an issue with soil erosion here as the valley was showing evidence of a lot of slippage.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The spectacular scenery continued as I headed east with numerous little rocky bays and inlets.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

I passed Loch na Moine which was a big pond really and there was not much water flowing out.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

There was another large rocky inlet just past this where again I had to head a bit inland.

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

The coast between Fresgoe and Melvich

Just after this I came to the first major problem. A very high fence had been built right along to the coast here. There was a rusty gate but it was really high (over head height) and locked with a very rusty padlock. To make it worse wood had been attached to the top of the gate in an attempt to make it impossible to cross. I was frustrated by this. After all that lovely walking and out hear on a remote bit of moor someone had decided to build a fence and block people from walking. (In fact I believe the fence was constructed to keep deer out – who can jump, and that is probably why it was so high).

Well I was not to be defeated and did managed to climb over it and get over the other side. Oddly once over there was a good path onwards again to the next valley, Geodh Sheumais. Here to my surprise was a little stone bridge covered in grass so I could cross this stream with ease.

IMG_0067

I headed back up the other side of the valley and back to the moor and soon alongside the stone wall alongside a field which was marked as a path heading east to Fresgoe where there was a little harbour and a car park marked. It is always a relief to be back to a road or village where I know I won’t end up having to re-trace my route over the rough moorland!

Path to Fresgoe

From here I could follow the road along the west side of Sandside Bay past what was once a busy little harbour by the look of it, but largely deserted now.

Fresgoe Harbour near Reay

Fresgoe Harbour near Reay

Fresgoe Harbour near Reay

Soon I came to a little car park and toilets where I could head down to the beach which was another beautiful one though signs warned of radioactive material having washed up here and not to touch anything which was a little worrying, presumably from nearby Dounreay.

Sandside Bay, Reay

Sandside Bay, Reay

I continued along the beach crossing two little streams and the wider river at the eastern end (Burn of Isauld).

Sandside Bay, Reay

I tried to head inland to where a footbridge is marked on the map but it was really hard through brambles, nettles and having to climb wire fences. I made my way along the overgrown field edges passing a pylons and power lines to emerge on the road just south of Isauld Farm Cottages

Here I turned right along the road through Reay. I headed through this linear village looking for the bus stop. I didn’t find one and I passed a telephone box and soon the pavement ended with a little grassy area ahead with a war memorial near the school where there was a track heading inland. I decided this was the best I was going to find and hoped that the bus would stop here. This was one issue with this walk. I normally prefer to get the transport out of the way first so I can walk back to my car which means at least if where I wait turns out to be somewhere the bus doesn’t stop I’m not stranded. Now however if the bus didn’t stop I would be in real trouble as I also had no mobile signal (perhaps it was a good idea I was waiting next to the telephone box!).  It was a relief to soon spot the familiar colours of a Stagecoach coach making it’s way along the coast road towards me and I was lucky that it did indeed stop. I think I was the only passenger that did not work at Dounreay! 

I was surprised on the way back to find the driver negotiated the tight and narrow looping route around Portskerra, rather than stick to the main road. He did very well to get this large coach around the right bends, parked cars and narrow road. Sadly it was all in vein as no one got on or off there! Back on the main road it continued west to Bettyhill, the end of the route but I got off at the Stathy Inn just down from the car park, relieved to have made it back.

The last bus

When I got back to the car park (mine was the only car when I arrived) I was surprised to find it was more or less full. As I got closer most of the people standing in it seemed Spanish and soon a couple of them came over to ask where Strathy head was. They seemed to think this was the main car park and they had to walk the rest of the way. I pointed that they were still some distance from Strathy Point and showed them on the map, where we were, where Strathy Point was and that there was a car park there. They seemed surprised the road was in fact a road and not a track having assumed the cattle grid meant it was private! I assured them it was the public road and so they set off on their way. 

This had turned out to be a wonderful walk. I was pleased at having found a mostly coastal route when the map had suggested I’d be spending most of my time walking on the roads. Instead I had found a cliff top path taking me past some stunning scenery. There were lovely sandy beaches too, something I’ve not seen much of in this far north of Scotland. Though it had been quite tiring and I had a quick dinner and retired to my room.

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

Stagecoach Highlands bus route 274 : Thurso – Forss Business and Technology Park – Dounreay – Isauld – Reay – Melvich – Portskerra – Strathy – Armadale – Bettyhill. 1 bus per day, weekdays only (no weekend service). This bus takes a little over 10 minutes to travel between Reay and Strathy.

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

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4 Responses to 310. Strathy to Reay

  1. Very beautiful. I’ve been to Strathy Point a couple of times and Bettyhill, so must have travelled the road between.

  2. 5000milewalk says:

    Lovely photos Jon, and a good choice of route. I’ve been thinking of coming up with some sort of invention – like roll of thick leather to wrap round the top barbed wire of a fence to help get over. If I come up with something I’ll post you one!😊

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