This was a varied and interesting walk through some beautiful scenery and lovely beaches.
I was staying in Thurso so after breakfast at my hotel I drove west to Bettyhill, taking around 50 minutes. Although the whole way was along A-roads the last couple of miles along the A836 is all single track with passing places. I do find it odd how a road that in most of the country would be a country lane (and unclassified) qualifies as an A-road in this part of Scotland (though a lot of A-roads are single track in the north of Scotland). This meant I had to drive past my end point for the days walk, but the reason I did it this way around is there is only a one bus a day each way between Armadale and Bettyhill (and even then, only on weekdays). It is basically the “workers bus” to Dounreay and so I planned to catch it on it’s journey back west (as the morning journey is at around 7am) which meant I had to walk to a deadline, since if I missed this bus my only option was a taxi (if I could find one) or to walk back. Hence I had allowed plenty of time for this walk!
I parked in the car park beside the A836 in Bettyhill. Before I started the walk I headed down the road further west a short distance to enjoy the fine views over the beach of Torrisdale Bay. As I had discovered on a previous walk (that I did, not that I wrote up) this is not actually so easy to reach, but it is lovely once you do.
I returned to the car park and then turned left just past the car park onto the minor road through the village heading downhill. I realised that whilst Bettyhill is a small place, because of it’s remoteness, it still has quite a few facilities which you wouldn’t expect in such a small place ordinarily – a secondary school, a car repair garage and a shop. At the church at the end of the road, I turned right. This soon bought me back to the A836 but just at the junction there was a path to the left through a gate which I followed down to a stream and emerging onto the lovely sands of Farr beach. The path emerges by a stream that flows out onto the beach.
I needed to turn right so I had to cross the stream but there were stones and pebbles that meant I could step across and keep my feet dry (or at least, that is what my notes from 2017 say …. the map and Google earth shows a bridge so no idea why I didn’t use it….). This was a beautiful sandy beach backed by dunes, the sort I’ve not seen for a while! It was lovely to walk along the sand by the waves to the far end of the beach and it was only me and a dog walker on the beach.
At the far end of the beach I headed back to the dunes to pick up a track that was marked on the map. I soon found it and followed it uphill and away from the beach.
As I approached some farm buildings near Clerkhill the path came to a gate and seemed to end, but there was a large sign “footpath to beach” pointing the way I had come, but no indication of the way to go ahead. Just a load of gates I couldn’t open. So I followed a stream alongside a fence towards the coast then had to climb another fence and found a rough path just outside the fences along the shore line.
Once on the shore I followed the rough and tussocky grass along the cliff top, but I was glad I did as it was a spectacular stretch of coast.
This took me to another farm at the end of the road to Farr. The farm was not much of a farm – it mostly seemed to consists of a huge collection of abandoned vehicles dumped at the end of the track on the cliff tops. I went through the gate here and walked through the gap that had been left between these cars but it ended at a field gate, taking me the wrong way. Instead I turned back and walked through the farm yard. I know your not supposed to do this under the Scottish access laws, but I could not see another way other than climbing fences and there was no one about.
Glad to be clear of the farm and back on the public road I turned inland along it. I considered trying to walk out to the headland of Ard Farr, but the only route I could see to reach it was back at that farm, and I didn’t want to go back there and I was also worried how long it would take, mindful of the need to catch my bus later in the day. So I missed it out, since there was no path, and stuck to the minor road through Farr.
I followed this for about 1 mile to the junction with the dead-end road to Swordly. Here I turned left along it. The road was signed as a dead-end, but looking at the map I was hopeful of a way through to the other dead-end road leading to the eastern side of the road since there seemed to be a track marked on the map that connected the two dead-end roads.
I headed down the road but nearing the end it was sometimes tricky to know which track was the road and which a private drive. As the road looped round I could also see workmen doing work on one of the houses and a digger. This is bad news because when lost and potentially climbing over fences, the last thing I want is people around to see me (or telling me that I can’t!). However just before the house I spotted a “path” sign pointing right on a track. This headed down past the house where the workmen were, but at least I knew there was a proper path. They were digging up the road in front of it, but did stop and let me pass. The track descended down to another couple of houses and then came to a gate.
I went through it, but the track became narrow, overgrown and boggy. I managed to get a wet foot in one of the boggy areas (for which I was grateful my hotel room had a hair-dryer later!). This wasn’t quite the track I had expected from the map, which suggested a vehicle wide track (to parallel lines). If a vehicle had been down here, it had been a very long time ago! However as I neared the end of the gorse bushes, the path emerged to an area with sheep grazing and there was a footbridge over a stream. Then a gravel track leading to a road.
I was confused now. What I was seeing didn’t seem to match up with the map. I should reach the end of the road, not end up part way along a road. I got the GPS out and realised the track I’d followed wasn’t the one I thought it was. I though a track had joined up the very ends of the roads. Perhaps it did, but it wasn’t where I went – I had turned right earlier and followed a more narrow footpath over the ford and footbridge further south from Swordly than I had realised.
I could see it on the map now so I could see what i’d done. So I’d actually emerged further south on the next road than I had realised, which meant I only had to follow it about 50 metres or so to reach what I hoped was a footpath linking it to the minor road to Kirtomy. So I was pleased that when I reached the point I thought the path should leave there was a proper footpath sign, signing me to “Kirtomy, 1.25km”.
Things were going well now. The path was a fairly wide stony track heading steeply uphill.
At the top more sheep were grazing but they ran out of the way and I emerged to the road. Kirtomy looked a pretty village in an attractive valley.
Here I had a choice to make about my onward route. Between Kirtomy and Armadale there is nothing but open moorland. A path heads part way over the moor, but comes to an abrupt end in the middle. So my options were the more coastal route over the moors – but with no path or track I’d have to make my own way, which might be hard. Or I could take the east but dull option, to head inland to the A836 and follow this A-road the rest of the way.
I checked the time and realised I had plenty of time. I had a little over 4 hours before that all important bus. I suspected if I took the road route it would take me a little over 90 minutes. Then I’d have 2 and a half hours to wait for the bus! So I decided to try my luck with the moorland route. I had enough time to turn back if it wasn’t possible.
So I turned left and followed the road through the village and turned right to follow the road over the bridge to cross the river that has formed the valley. From here the road turned left, back towards the coast and gained height. Somewhere on the right was the track that started out over the moorland. All the ones I passed looked like private drives and checking the GPS I soon realised I’d gone a bit too far north. So I turned back and took the only track it could be, which did look private but was the only option. However it took me close to a house but not through the garden, so it is OK and then I could join the track heading up onto the moor.
I followed it, passing the remains of a few bits of farm equipment. I was gaining height now with a lovely view back over the coast.
I followed the track up for a while and as it felt like I was near the top, I turned left, off the the track to follow the rough line of stones. Most of the time there was no real path. Occasionally I’d come across something that looked like it might be a sheep track, but it would soon fade to nothing. As I neared the sea I turned right to reach the top and turn right down onto the moor ahead.
There was no main path but I could see a few tracks ahead (or so I thought). But first I had to get down the almost rocky cliffs.
I made my way down with difficultly. As I thought I was nearing the bottom I slipped on a rock that had water flowing over it and had become incredibly slippery, it had looked like grass to me, so I hadn’t expected it. I didn’t hurt myself, but I realised I had to take more care.
Soon the rocky areas ended and then it was more boggy marsh. I kept having to jump over boggy areas and little streams, at time having to double back. I soon realised the “paths” I had seen above were actually the streams! I needed to head for the rocks ahead where the land climbed where it would be firmer underfoot.
I made my way slowly and carefully. I had to find my way over a little stream but found a spot where it was narrow enough to jump over and continued until at the edge of the rocks, stopped for lunch.
The main reason for stopping here is that out on the top it had become incredibly windy, but the slope of the rocks provided a bit of shelter from the wind. It was a nice rest for lunch and I wondered when someone was last here. I could see no signs anyone had been here for a long time, no tracks or footprints, no fences or buildings. As a result, I was making slow progress.
After lunch I continued up over the rocks, but had a problem at the other side. It was so steep to get down the other side it was not safe to walk, or even climb really. I had learnt how slippery some of the rocks were. It was beautiful, though.
On the map I had seen a few buildings marked at Poulouriscaig. I could now see this, the greener areas where fields had (once) been, but now the buildings were all ruined. I figured the village must have had some sort of better access to roads, so I needed to get down there, but it was too steep. So I had to turn to the right and follow the ridge as it gradually got lower until I judged the gradient to my left was gentle enough I could safely get down.
I made it down, but now it was really boggy everytime I left the edge of the of the rocks. Eventually rather than keep starting out and heading back, I would have to go for it. So I continued straight ahead but did end up with damp feet. Ahead I could see another area of rocks and opted to go right of this, where there was a small lake.
I went past this and came to a larger one ahead. I realised I was now south of the remains of Poulouriscaig but if I could just get past this second lake (loch) a track was marked on the map.
I first tried to go around to the right of the loch but it soon became to boggy and difficult. I headed back and tried the left side. Here I could just make it around without stepping in the lake. I then had another stream to cross, which I managed to eventually find a safe crossing point for. Then beyond that I finally found the track that was marked on the map.
It was feint and quite narrow but I could at least see footprints in the mud. Someone else had been here! I was relieved about that and stopped for a drink again. I could see from the map this track would take me, in just over a mile, to the end of the road at Armadale. The track proved fairly easy a bit boggy in places, but much better than the open moor.
Crossing the moor had taken me almost 2 hours! So I was glad of the track. After a while I even began to spot wooden posts with arrows on – yes a proper footpath. It seems this is another of those dead-end footpaths, but at least footprints and footpath signs meant I was confident I would get through. I had to descend into two more valleys, both with streams and both ran over the track, but in both cases the rocks and pebbles provided stepping stones over the water. I was soon coming up over the hill into Armadale where cows grazing on the track seemed surprised to see me here and reluctant to move.
Soon I could see buildings just to the left, at Port a Chinn. I followed the track now down to the road at Armadale. It was nice to be back on tarmac (not something I say often!). Here I could turn right along the road to the junction where there was a seat at what I wondered might be a bus shelter (but no buses, now) where I stopped for another rest.
The road offered lovely views over Armadale Bay just to my left.
I continued down the road to what was marked as a picnic spot on the map and I footpath down towards the beach. I found this, or at least the path, but there was no sign of a picnic spot. The path headed steeply down steps and then into an overgrown and boggy valley, but I could see it was at least used. Emerging at the bottom I followed the edge of the stream to reach the edge of the beach at Armadale. It is such a beautiful beach I was surprised to find how difficult the access was, I would have thought the people leaving nearby would like to get onto it.
Having negotiated the path I was onto the beach, but now had a river to cross. It might have been possible to pick my way across the water on pebbles, but I decided to just take my shoes and socks off and walk through.
This was a wonderful beach. Beautiful sand and dunes and the sea was now quite rough making that wonderful roar I hadn’t heard since Cornwall!
Once onto the beach proper I stopped to check the map. Last time I was here I had ended my walk on the A836 at the end of the road to Cnoc Seonaid/Lednagullin, a bit further east of this beach. So I wanted to get back there to join my walks up. In theory I could catch the bus from the end of that road too, but as I had remembered there was no visible bus stop there and I had enough time, I decided to walk there, then return to the end of the road in Armadale, where I knew there was a bus stop (and shelter) to catch the bus. I didn’t want to risk waiting somewhere for the bus that wasn’t a “proper” stop and have it go past without stopping, not when there is only 1 a day!
So I continued along the beach soon reaching the second, wider stream.
I followed this to the end of the beach. There wasn’t much sand on the beach beyond this second stream which seemed to flow almost to the end of the beach. I also realised the tide was coming in fast, and there was now only a short bit of sand between the dunes and the sea. I made my way across the stream and at the far end of the beach there was no obvious path.
Instead I climbed up the very steep grassy cliffs. It was hard going and I soon regretted it. It was steep and if I fell, it was quite far to fall back onto the beach where the tide was rapidly coming up. Thankfully the gradient soon eased up and I was safe from falling back down. Now I had reached more level ground I had another problem in how to reach the road. Between me and it were numerous fences and roads. Many of the buildings were ruined, but unfortunately the fences weren’t (how Scottish farmers love barbed-wire topped fences). There were houses nearby so I had to be careful to not damage the fences climbing them and try to choose a route that would avoid having to enter anywhere that might be a garden. Eventually I made it east of the last house at Lednagullin. The road was just to the right now but there was a low dry-stone wall and a wire fence between me and it. But I managed to find a point I could step over the wall and climb the fence to the road! Back to the tarmac again, at last!
On reaching the end of the road to Lednagullin I had joined up with the walks from when I was last here, which felt good and I also had a lovely view of the beach.
Now I just had to return to Armadale. I wasn’t going to go back the way I came! Instead I turned right and walked the short distance to the A836, joining up to where I ended my last walk beside the phone box at this junction. Now beside the A836 I turned right. The road was busier than I expected (and hoped) so the walk was not that pleasant. At the bottom of the valley was a little picnic spot where I stopped for a quick rest. Originally I had planned this to be just a rest stop but I could see a “FB” (footbridge) marked on the map ahead. I decided instead to follow the track from the picnic area into some scurbland between the river and the fields. Hay bails had been wrapped in plastic and piled here and I soon came to the footbridge. I didn’t cross it (I needed to be on this side) so continued ahead and found a rough track ahead to the tops of the dunes.
Erosion meant the dunes were almost a “sand cliff” so it took me a while to find a suitable way to get back down to the beach. Once I did I turned left and sat at the back of the dunes for a while. If I headed straight to the bus stop I would have a about 40 minutes to wait. So I stayed on the beach for another 20 minutes or so, as it was a nicer place to wait.
I then returned over the beach and back up the path I had used earlier to Armadale, then turned left to reach the bus stop at the end of the road, where it joined the main road.
This was out of the wind, which had become really strong (the bus shelter even had a little door, suggesting this is quite common)! Although the bus shelter was not right on the main road (it was about 10 metres along the dead-end road to the village), I could see the main road which twisted and turned ahead to get around those streams to the beach so I could see the road quite some distance ahead. This meant I should be able to see the bus approaching a couple of minutes before it got here.
The time the bus was due came and went and I was getting nervous. But about 5 minutes after it should have arrived I spotted the familiar colours of a Stagecoach coach heading this way so headed down to the main road. I hailed it and stopped, someone else got off here too and the driver seemed a little surprised that someone got on here! As expected, all the other passengers were in Hi-Vis jackets returning home from work at Douneray. It was nice to have a comfortable coach and I was relieved to have caught this once-a-day bus. It took about 10 minutes to get back to Bettyhill over the moors, it was quite a nice ride, as I couldn’t really sight-see when driving this way myself this morning.
I got off at the toilets in Bettyhill next to the car park, along with all the remaining passengers. To my surprise (as I found on a different day) the coach actually continues down to the bridge over the River Naver and parks up in a small parking area beside the road overnight (and all weekend). I had assumed it would return to a depot in Thurso.
When I got back in my car at Bettyhill it was bouncing around because of the really strong wind! I stopped for a quick drink and then drove back to Thurso, keen to get there before it got dark, because driving over these twisty hilly single-track roads at night is not much fun.
I had really enjoyed this walk. Two lovely beaches and some beautiful stretches of moorland. The terrain had been tough at time and I did wonder if it was a mistake to head over the open moors rather than stick to the road, but I had time to do so and made it, and the scenery was beautiful. I might not be keen to repeat it, but I was glad I had done it.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this bus.
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 10 minutes to travel between Armadale and Bettyhill.
Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 803 : Durness (only Saturday) – Laid (only Saturday) – Eriboll Farm (only Saturday) – Kyle of Tongue – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie – Bettyhill – Armadale – Strathy Inn – Portskerra – Halladale – Reay – Isauld – Shebster – Bridge of Westfield – Janetstown – Thurso. 1 bus per day on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday only. The part of the route between Durness and Kyle of Tongue only operates on Saturday. It takes 10 minutes to travel between Armadale and Bettyhill.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.