313. Bettyhill to Kyle of Tongue

October 2017

This was my first full day in Scotland (of a 5 day trip) having done only a short walk the previous day due to the time it takes me to get from home to this part of Scotland. For this walk I was heading between the Kyle of Tongue and Bettyhill. Logistically this is a tricky walk since there is a only a bus service between these two 3 times a week (on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). So I was doing this walk on a Thursday when the bus is running.

I drove from my hotel in Thurso to the Kyle of Tongue where I parked at the picnic site part way along the causeway, since there didn’t seem anywhere else suitable. There was no one else there and I was glad no one saw me get out of the car because I was having a bit of “car embarrassment” on this trip. I had booked a hire car with Europcar at Inverness Airport as part of the flight booking (as you got a good discount) and as usual selected the smallest car (group A), which was listed as Fiat 500 or similar. I had done the same on previous trips but always ended up with a larger car (often a Vauxhall Corsa). This time I did get a Fiat 500. Unfortunately I knew there was a problem when the women serving me when getting the keys, muttered “oh dear” and her face fell. I asked what the problem was. The answer was that “it’s the colour – it says it’s pink”. She promised to see if she could find me another car and went to speak to a manager. Unfortunately it was bad news. This car was the only one in Group A they had left. I could have a different car (in Group B) if I deemed it not suitable, but I would have to pay a supplement for the “upgrade” if so. I decided to go and take a look. Well it was not the shocking pink I feared it might me. More a pinky shade of red I felt. Here it is, at the Kyle of Tongue.

IMG_3655

 

So by now you’ll have realised that I wasn’t prepared to pay the upgrade. I just had to hope no one saw me getting in or out, to save the embarrassment (though I could tell from the history of the devices that had been “docked” via bluetooth to the car stereo I was not the only male driver to have had this car).

I then headed back along the causeway and followed the main road west to Tongue a short distance to the Kyle of Tongue Youth Hostel (this is marked on the map as Tongue Lodge). This is the point the bus was listed as starting it’s journey from (except on Saturday when it runs through from Durness). The next bit of confusion was that the bus is listed as starting at 10:20 if it’s a schoolday and 10:10 if it’s the school holidays and I wasn’t sure which it was today. A quick Google gave me the local term dates and confirmed that it wasn’t a school holiday.

I had allowed more time than needed to get here so once I had found the Youth Hostel I headed back a short distance down the road where I could stand by the waters edge and enjoy the view rather than stick to the road outside the Youth Hostel. The Kyle of Tongue was an incredibly beautiful place.

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

When it was around 10am, I headed back up to stand outside the Youth Hostel, which seemed very quiet. It was not a great place to stand since there was nowhere to wait that wasn’t either in the car park of the youth hostel or in the road. 10:10 came and went and no sign of a bus. But at 10:15 what I initially thought was a van (but turned out to be a Ford Transit mini bus) headed towards me and it was only when I saw the “803” board in the bottom of the windscreen did I realise this was in fact the bus, so I flagged it down. I did wonder where it had come from, since it seemed an odd place for the bus to go into service.

I was the only passenger and the driver seemed surprised to have anyone on board at all. Despite the fact I had got on at the place listed as a stop in the timetable (and the place the bus begins it’s journey from), he decided it was not safe to stop on the road here to issue me a ticket, so suggested he’d drive on to the centre of Tongue and issue me a ticket there. This he duly did. Another confusing aspect of this bus route is that according tot he timetable, it serves Skerray only if it is the school holiday. It wasn’t, but the driver went that way anyway. It was a bit of a preview of my walk since I would be following the same roads we were driving over! It took about 35 minutes to reach Bettyhill during which no one else got on or off, so I was the only passenger for the entire journey.

Having been a little nevervous about the bus journey I was glad to arrive in Bettyhill (where the driver continued with the now empty bus) with the rest of the day ahead to walk back to the Kyle of Tongue. Bettyhill felt a bigger place than it really was. I guess this area is so remote that these small villages still serve as a bit of a centre, with a secondary school, shop, police station and hotel amongst the facilities. I stopped to use the toilet and the began my walk.

I initially followed the A836 which soon gives me a wonderful view of the sandy beach of Torssidale Bay ahead of me.

The River Naver

This is where I want to be – but there is a problem – the river Naver, which separates me from the beach. It is too wide and deep to cross directly so I need to head to the nearest bridge which is about a mile further inland. I could try and cut across fields but I don’t see the point as the road is so close to the waters edge and although an A-road there is little traffic (stretches of it are only single-track anyway). It’s a pleasant walk and it is rather beautiful. The river seems, oddly, to get wider as I head further south.

The River Naver

I stop at a viewpoint to take a photo where a car pulls up and the occupants do the same.

The River Naver

 

Soon the road heads down to the bridge. I’m not sure what I was expecting really – but it wasn’t this.

The River Naver

What I see is an ugly bridge that looks more like a rail bridge than a road bridge and only wide enough for one car at a time. I cross and continue along the road for another couple of hundred metres to the turning for Invernaver.

The River Naver

The River Naver

This is a small village on a dead-end road. I follow this to the centre of the village (a hamlet, really) and continue broadly towards the estuary. I’m not 100% sure where to go so am pleased to find a gate that has a sign pointing that it is the way to the beach. Ah good. This takes me into a grassy field where there is no obvious path. I head towards a derelict and abandoned house by the river. I find a lot of abandoned houses around this northern part of Scotland though this one looks to have been more recently abandoned.

I headed behind the house and found a pebble and shingle beach. This was hard going because it was a mixture of large pebbles and small rocks. But to my left were large gorse bushes so there seemed little alternative.

IMG_3553

Soon this widened and I came into a little sandy bay where water had just retreated, with high hills behind. I walked across this.

Torrisdale Bay

There was a stream flowing out over the sand but the water was shallow enough I could just step through and keep dry feet. At the other end of this little bay I came to a strange area. A sort of sand dune island. It was clearly once home to a community because there were all sorts of cairns, stone circles and enclosures marked on the map but I could see none of that from the beach. Rather than try to climb onto the dunes I went around to the right where I was back next to the river Naver and the rough pebbly beach.

Torrisdale Bay

Soon the shingle and pebbles began to give way to sand and I could make quicker progress.

Torrisdale Bay

Soon I was at the beautiful sandy beach I had seen earlier, but it had taken a while to get here.

Torrisdale Bay

Over an hour since I left Bettyhill and I was about 300 metres away (as the crow flies)! Still it was then a lovely walk west along the beach. There was no one here. In fact there was not even any sign anyone had been here as there were no footprints in the sand.

Torrisdale Bay

Torrisdale Bay

Part way along the beach there were some small rocks but I was (just) able to go in front of them as the tide was going out.

Torrisdale Bay

At the other end of the beach was another river, this one the River Borgie. I knew I would again have to head inland here to get around it but at least this one had a footbridge marked.

Torrisdale Bay

The scenery was spectacular with high rocky and gorse covered cliffs with a few houses in front of them. I couldn’t find the exact way to go so simply turned inland along the sand close to the river. As I got further south the land became a bit boggy and muddy rather than sand so I followed close by the edge of the river.

Marshes by the river Borgie

As I got closer I could pick up the path which was a bit muddy in places but mostly good and there were even some areas of board walk. To my right now was an area of marsh land criss-crossed with all sorts of little water channels.

Marshes by the river Borgie

Marshes by the river Borgie

Marshes by the river Borgie

Marshes by the river Borgie

There were a couple of smaller bridges over these and then just as I was beginning to lose faith I would find it, I found the larger footbridge over the main water channel hidden behind trees so I did not see it until I was almost there.

Marshes by the river Borgie

I crossed this and then headed up steps to the road, where a campervan was parked (these get everywhere in northern Scotland).

The River Borgie

The River Borgie

On reaching the road I turned right. It was only a minor single-track road with little traffic.

Torrisdale Bay

The road headed downhill towards Airdtorrisdale. I had to pass a few BT workmen doing work to install fibre broadband. It is nice to see this is finally happening in remote areas. I passed their van and continued along the road.

Torrisdale Road

The road on this side is all single-track and the crash barrier is painted alternatively with white then black rectangles, making it look a bit like part a grand-prix circuit!

Torrisdale Bay

A short distance ahead I came to a small car park and a minor bridge over the stream. I was amused to see the bus stop here, that I had passed earlier had basically been taken over by someone as their own green house!

Bus shelter greenhouse

Sadly drizzle began now but I continued along the road passed a small cemetery. Here I could fork right on the minor road to Airdtorrisdale, but it stretches only for a couple of hundred metres before ending, so I decided to just continue ahead towards Achtoy. I passed the lovely old telephone box with an old blue and white enamel “telephone” sign post on the adjacent lamp post, it did feel like this part of Scotland had not changed for years! Just passed this I came to the odd tin-roofed church.

Achtoty church

It looked more Nordic to me and I was surprised how big it was for such a small place. It did not look in good condition but was I think still in use. Just beyond it I came to a footpath sign pointing right.

Well that was nearer the coast, so why not. I followed this rather awkward path up through the trees and towards the gorse where it improved. Soon it was a track above the houses of the village and nearer to the coast, though still out of sight of the sea.

Achtoty

I followed this behind the houses and at some sort of farm I was a bit confused as I had put the map away because of the rain and thought this was now a road. As I did so I found a signed footpath heading north towards Port an Fheadairigaig. So I followed this. It was initially muddy and boggy but soon improved and bought me down to a pleasant little rocky beach.

Port an Fheadairigaig

At the end of the path when it reached the coast there was a stile onwards. I used this as a handy seat to have lunch before I crossed it!

Once I had eaten I continued onwards over the stile. Initially the path was steep but soon it descended down to almost sea level. To my right is Coomb Island. Now un-inhabited it was clearly once lived on but isn’t now. (It’s the land beyond the sea, as it’s not entirely obvious from the photo below that is an island).

The beach at Skerray

The beach at Skerray

I believe monks used to live there but in more recent years it has only be used to graze sheep but this does not happen anymore either. It looked rather nice and soon I was able to follow a good grassy path just behind the pebble beach.

The beach at Skerray

The beach at Skerray

I could continue on this around the corner to the beach at Skerray. This was a small little bay but had a little harbour and wall at the far end with a couple of small boats moored up.

Skerray

The beach at Skerray

A sign told me seals could often be seen on the beach, but there weren’t any today. I walked along the beach to the harbour wall.

Skerray Harbour

I walked up to this hoping to find an onwards footpath behind the wall, but there wasn’t one. So I either had to turn inland along roads or find my own way. I opted for the latter. It looked like a few people had made it up onto the cliffs behind the harbour wall but it was too steep for me. So I followed the steps a little further along the wall onto the top of it and then found my way over the rough moorland. There was a sort of sheep track for a while and I had thought it might be a fairly easy walk to Lamigo ahead.

Skerray Harbour

Neave Island

But soon I came to a a steep almost cave ahead, with a narrow inlet of sea water, so I had to head right up and over this as it was too dangerous to try to cross at sea level.

Near Clashbuie

This was quite a tiring climb. At the top I got a beautiful view over Lamigo but it was tricky trying to find a way back down as the bank was very steep and the ground a bit damp.

Near Clashbuie

Lamigo Bay

Lamigo Bay

Once down I was able to follow a track around to Skerray where I joined the road. But after only a short distance there was a path on the right which I could follow over the moors. This climbed up over the moors and then descended down to a wooden footbridge over the river.

Near Skerray

I followed this but once over the bridge there was no obvious path other than into someones garden, so I had to go left over the rough ground behind the houses to reach the road behind.

Skerray

Here I could turn right and just before the end of the road take a footpath off to the left over the moorland. I was doing well for footpaths today!

Near Skerray

This passed a couple of small lochans. The path was variable sometimes good, sometimes a boggy mess.

Near Skerray

Near Sletell

Rabbit Islands

Near Sletell

Sletell

But after about ¾ of a mile I reached the abandoned village of Sletell.

IMG_3627

There had clearly once been a small settlement here but now the houses were all roofless and the walls falling down. Despite this the grass was quite short suggesting someone still came here (or perhaps just grazed sheep here). There was a small lochan here and a stream. The latter proved more tricky to cross than I expected but once over I headed down to the shingle beach.

The beach at Sletell

I stopped here for a rest. I now had to head just over a mile south to the end of the pubic road at Scullomie, along open moorland with no track or path marked and I was not looking forward to it. Thankfully, as often seemed to be the case there was a bit of a path but I suspect it was worn by sheep rather than people.

Between Scullomie and Sletell

It undulated over the moorland and at times I had a choice of paths or found I was on a higher path further from the coast than I might have liked.

Between Scullomie and Sletell

Between Scullomie and Sletell

As I rounded the corner I soon had a lovely view of the Kyle of Tongue.

Near Scullomie

I gained increasing amounts of height not really by choice but it was where the path went.

Scullomie

The views were lovely, but it was a relief when the buildings of Scullomie came into view. I headed down into the valley here towards the houses where I reached a small bridge and then a gate onto a track. Well to be honest I wasn’t quite sure if it was someones gardens or not and worse I could see someone was out in the garden of the first house.

Fortunately he turned out to be welcoming and asked me what it was like walking over the moors today because the weather was not good but I had still enjoyed it. I was relieved though to reach tarmac ahead and be back on the public road. I followed this out of Scullomie setting dogs barking in one houses.

Near Coldbackie

As the road turned to the left I found the path I was hoping to take on the right, heading down to Strathtongue Burn. I followed the path over moorland and gorse and soon entered the trees where there was a good path.

Near Coldbackie

I crossed the river via the footbridge and climbed back up the other side to the main road. There was briefly a pavement as I passed through the village of Coldbackie, which is only a dozen or so houses along the main road. Soon the pavement ended again and I continued on the road with a nice sandy beach just below to my right.

Coldbackie Beach

I continued along the road to round the corner into Rhitongue and descended towards a small settlement marked as Woodend.

Woodend

Here the houses were on a loop road off the main road which I followed in preference to the main road. At the end was a small parking area and then I could follow a narrow road off to the right. The road layout here is odd. The main road, the A838 turns to head inland for more than a mile to the village of Tongue, then turns steeply back north for another mile to return to the coast. But a small road links these two parts of the main road, a handy shortcut. I presume this was once the main road but it had been by-passed but it was not too bad and a shorter route. I passed no traffic and soon was alongside the Kyle of Tongue.

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

Here I could continue along the minor road with Tongue House to my left largely out of sight to the old house and pier.

The Kyle of Tongue

This pier (above) was once used for a passenger ferry over the Kyle of Tongue before the causeway was opened. Traffic had to drive all around the Kyle but now this is no longer needed after the causeway opened in the 1970s.

The Kyle of Tongue

I could then follow this minor road around the edge of the Kyle to the junction with the A838 and follow this back to the picnic spot on the causeway where my car was parked.

This had been a lovely walk and I was pleased to be able to follow more footpaths than expected and the stretches over the open moors had not been too bad either. The scenery had been lovely and extremely varied too. In fact given how good it was I surprised to see so few people. It had been hard going though and had taken longer than expected, so I stopped for a quick drink before driving back to Thurso where I was staying. I managed to do the single-track sections of the A-road before it got dark but the rest of the way it was dark and it was a tiring drive over the twisty turny road at night. I was glad to be make it back to the “bright lights” of Thurso.

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

Durness Bus /Far North Bus (they seem to use both names) route 803 : Durness (Saturday only) – Laid (Saturday only) – Eriboll Farm (Saturday only) – Kyle of Tongue Youth Hostel – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie Bridge – Bettyhill – Aramadale Road End – Strathy Inn – Portskerra – Halladale Inn – Reay – Isauld Bridge – Shebster – Bridge of Westfield – Janetstown – Thurso. One bus per day in each direction on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday only. It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Kyle of Tongue and Bettyhill.

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

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3 Responses to 313. Bettyhill to Kyle of Tongue

  1. We’ve stayed in Tongue a couple of times. It’s beautiful up there.

  2. 5000milewalk says:

    Hi Jon, a good section that one – looking forward to walking it! How far was this do you think? My plan (using your route) says about 13.3 miles, is that about right?
    I’ve just ordered an electric bike from Amazon, so when the public transport gets scarce like on this section (and it’s already doing so for me in northern Cumbria at weekends) I can still get to the start of the walk. Looking forward to that coming 🙂

    • jcombe says:

      I think it’s slightly more than that, I came out at about 15 miles. Good idea on the bike, I am sure it will help to get up the hills (of which there are many!)

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