314. Kyle of Tongue to Melness and East Strathan (and back)

October 2017

How to tackle the coast between the Kyle of Tongue and Hope had been something I had been pondering for a while. After crossing the Kyle of Tongue causeway there is a road up the right hand side of the peninsula but it is a dead-end. After that it’s trackless, pathless open moorland all the way round to the river Hope and Loch Hope. There are several rivers to cross on the way and lochs and lochans to pass. It looked really tough. So I debated between trying to find a route around the coast or sticking entirely to the A838. The latter was simple but felt like a bit of a cop-out. The former might not even be possible in a day in October, given the hours of day light and would be very tough. So in the end I opted for a compromise between the two options. I’d do a circular walk from the Kyle of Hope, up the east side of the peninsula along the road through Melness and East Strathan to Strathan bay and then walk back to the Kyle of Hope. Then the next day I’d follow the A838 from the Kyle of Tongue to Hope. In this way I’d cover all the coast that was safely accessible, over the course of 2 days.

This was the first day of a 5 day trip to Northern Scotland. It was later in the year than I would have liked, October, but I had struggled to get accommodation any earlier in the year and even then I had ended up staying in Thurso and in what trip advisor told me was (at the time, at least) the worst reviewed hotel in Thurso.

I drove from home to Luton Airport, parked in the long-stay car park and then flew from Luton to Inverness where I had booked a hire car. As I mentioned last time, I was not especially pleased (and the lady extremely apologetic) to find the only car available in the cheapest “group A” I had booked was a pink Fiat 500. I really didn’t want to be driving a pink car, even for 5 days. However I also really didn’t want to pay extra for an upgrade, either, which was the only alternative I was offered. So, pink Fiat 500 it was. I had to hope no one saw me getting in or out of it! Well fortunately I felt it was more a pinky red than shocking pink, but I was still not impressed.

I drove this via the A9, then the A839 to Lairg and lastly the bit I had not been looking forward to – the A836. As almost this entire stretch of A-road, over 30 miles, was single track with passing places. I’m not sure how such a road can be called as an A-road really, but it was better than I expected. I am used to single track roads with high hedges so you can’t see far ahead. This wasn’t like that though, mostly it was wide an open, so you could actually see traffic coming towards you from quite some distance away so there was usually time for one of the drivers to go into one of the regular passing places, so no constant reversing. This took me to Tongue where I turned left and parked on the causeway at the Kyle of Tongue, at the western of the two car parks on the causeway, where I started the previous walk from.

This shorter walk made sense for today since it was around 2:30pm when I reached Tongue after all the travelling, leaving only about 4 and a bit hours to do a walk today.

Having parked up first took in the view on the Kyle of Tongue. This was a wild, beautiful and remote part of Scotland and I was looking forward to what lay ahead.

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

First I crossed the Kyle of Tongue bridge. This opened in 1971 and before that you had to drive all the way around the Loch (though there was a passenger ferry for a while, but that ended in 1956).

Once over the bridge I took the first road on the right along to Melness as this sequence of villages seems to be called. Initially I followed the road passing close to a cemetery on the right and then heading closer down to the waters edge.

The Kyle of Tongue

As I walked along the road there was a rainbow ahead as there was a rain shower around. I was expecting to get wet, but thankfully it just missed me.

Melness Road

Cemetery near Achuvoldrach

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

As the road turned away from the waters edge I was pleased to come across this sign.

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A footpath – not marked on my map. But it was the usual Scottish affair in that the only effort that seemed to have gone into the footpath was to put a sign up. I couldn’t see any sort of path, it was too overgrown, and the sign directed mt straight into some gorse bushes! I assumed perhaps the path went along the beach and dropped down onto that.

This was hard going, it wasn’t really a beach at all. Mostly rocks, with a few pebbles. It was slippery and hard to walk on, so I made slow progress.

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

I tried at times to walk on the grass just above the beach, but there were large gaps in it too and I couldn’t see them for the long grass, so I returned to the beach. It was hard work and I made slow progress, but gradually the rocks became a bit easier to walk over, or I became more used to it.

Ahead I had another pretty rainbow and this time caught the edge of the shower, but it was not heavy rain at least.

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

Soon, at long last, the beach became sandy and I could walk along that, which was so much easier.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

This was the beach below Midtown though I was not sure what Town was referred to in the name! There was a women walking a dog down here but other than that it was just us two.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

I followed the beach north which was lovely walking along the firm sand.

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As I headed north there were some low rocks and the waves were right up to the edge of them, however I could just squeeze round standing on the edge of the rocks to get around and then continue a bit further on the beach because beyond those rocks it was back to sand again.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

I passed a small cave on the left and ahead there was another area of rocks sticking out onto the beach. This time the water was too deep to go around on the beach so I had to climb on the rocks.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

To my right are a couple of islands, known as Rabbit Islands the map suggests these are linked to the main land by a sandbar at low tide but it must need quite a low tide because the tide seemed to be quite low to me now but there was no sign of any sand bar and the water between me and the islands looked deep.

Rabbit Islands in the Kyle of Tongue

Rabbit Islands in the Kyle of Tongue

I climbed my way up the rocks onto the unveven moorland on the top though it was mixed in with rocks so the going was not too hard and the views wonderful.

Approaching Talmine

I made my way around the corner and soon had a fine view of the beach at Talmine Bay.

Bagh Thalmin Beag

It was split into two with a small shingle and sand beach in front then some low cliffs and a larger beach beyond and out to my right was another small island, Talmine Island.

Bagh Thalmin Beag

I headed down onto the first beach, Bagh Thalmin Beag as it is called on the map and followed the sand near the shore.

Talmine Bay

When this ended I continued on the low rock around the coast and soon went to the left to the minor road which was now alongside the beach as there was a small stream to cross and the road had a bridge.

Talmine Bay

This was a lovely beach backed by grass and hills behind that, a ruined old boat and an old boat house with a very rusty roof which also looked disused.

Talmine Bay

I followed the road ahead which soon split and I took the right fork which is a short dead-end road leading to the harbour.

Talmine Bay

The sun was getting low now, but the light was beautiful.

Talmine Bay

I stopped to take a few photos. At the end of the bay, at the small harbour, as I hoped, I found a another footpath sign “Portvasgo 2 Miles, following coastline”, exactly as I hoped!

IMG_3494

This was initially a good track, wide enough to be used by cars, but soon it became a narrower footpath over the moorland.

Kyle of Tongue at Talmine

In places it was boggy in rough and in others quite clear but at least I could always see the route of the path ahead.

IMG_3499

I passed a memorial decorated with roses, but didn’t read it, and continued on the path. This went past various rocky inlets and undulating cliffs which got quite high.

Near Talmine

The coast between Port Vasgo and Talmine Bay

The coast between Port Vasgo and Talmine Bay

Near Port Vasgo

Soon this gave me a wonderful view over to Port Vasgo. The name suggests a port and presumably it once was but the couple of houses here were derelict and roofless. It looked like a path for boats had been cut into the rock at some point to form a tiny harbour, but whatever used to happen here didn’t happen any more.

Port Vasgo

Port Vasgo

I descended down to the beach and could then follow another track along a valley to the sandy beach which seems to be un-named (Midfield, maybe). I would like to have stopped but the sun was nearly setting – and I still had to walk all the way back, so I didn’t have time.

East Strathan

Now there was no path so I tried to make my way over the cliffs. This got quite steep but at the top I was annoyed to find a fence blocking the way. More annoyingly, the landowner had put up a sign telling walkers not to cross and tied an additional barbed wire fence on top of the existing fence and tried to make it impossible to cross. With the Scottish access laws, I knew I could legally cross as it was open land beyond. I could also see a glorious sandy beach below. The waves were getting quite big now, reminding me of the west coast of Wales and England and I wanted to get down on that beach.

Achininver Beach

Achininver Beach

Either side the ground fell away too quickly to be safe, there was really only about half-a dozen wooden fence posts before the ground fell away so I had to either go back the way I came or cross here. I tried several ways before I managed to stand on the top of one of the lower fence posts and balance my way over. I had a near disaster when I bit of wood I went to stand on gave way but I managed to regain my balance and make it over. I did make a hole in my t-shirt but amazingly, I didn’t rip my trousers. Once over the fence I could make it down to the beach, but I was annoyed at the landowner deliberately blocking access, as the Scottish access laws are clear that access is allowed and should not be deliberately obstructed like this.

Achininver Beach

Now down on the beach I walked a little way along this stunning beach where I hoped to find a path up at the far end – as I did.

Achininver Beach

I followed the steps of the path up to the road which was now behind the beach again to a tiny car park (space for a couple of cars at most) and a sign indicating this was Achininver Beach. West of here a track initially goes out onto the moor, but ends after a little over a mile.

Achininver Beach

Achininver Beach

Here I had a choice. Originally I had planned to make this a circular walk, continuing along the road here which headed inland to Dalvraid and ended. Beyond this a track was marked over the moor to Manse Bridge above Talmine Bay where the track rejoined the road and I planned to then continue south on the road back to my start point. However the sun was more or less setting. I would be walking over the moor in dark or near dark and, stupidly, I had forgotten to bring the torch I had meant to bring with me, so I would also not be able to see well. I had got as far along the coast as it was safely possible to go I felt so either way I’d be leaving the coast and walking more inland. So I decided rather than risk the moorland path I’d return on the road back to Talmine instead. There was little traffic and I soon passed the loch of Loch Vasgo on my left and came to the junction where I continued ahead.

Loch Vasgo

Loch Vasgo

The sun had dropped behind the horizon now and it was getting dark. I passed the church above Talmine Bay and then was soon down at the bay itself.

Chapel at Talmine

The sky still had a bit of pinkness from the sunset but the light was fading fast now.

Talmine Bay

I did the last three miles or so along the road through Skinnet and Midtown passing a couple of dog walkers.

The Kyle of Tongue

I did consider stopping at the pub at Skinnet for dinner but by the time I left it would be totally dark so I decided reluctantly to continue along the road to reach the main road. From here it was only a short walk along the causeway to my car on the picnic site on the causeway.

It was dark now and I had been joined by a motorhome – the drivers of these seem to park in more or less every car park along the coast overnight I have found. My irritation with this was more that I needed the toilet and was hoping to go without being seen, but that was not possible!

I didn’t enjoy the drive back. Much of the road was single-track with passing places, hilly and twists and it was pitch black meaning it took a lot of concentration. I was relieved to finally reach Melvich which was then on the road I had driven before for the rest of the way. Driving this road at night does bring home how remote this part of the country is. Very little traffic and pitch black so it was soon nice to see the welcoming “Bright” lights of Thurso appearing ahead. My hotel, the Royal Hotel was on the main road.

I had booked this as the only hotel available but it was a mistake really, it was quite a long drive from Thurso for all my walks. The hotel was also the worst rated in the town the main issue seeming to be that it was run-down and rooms on the front were very noisy, because they were single glazed and the traffic lights in front were loved by boy-racers racing around the town at night making as much noise as possible and sleep difficult. I initially couldn’t find a car park so parked in the public car park just behind and took my bag in to checkin. I was pleased to find a welcoming open-fire in the reception and on checking in and finding my room that I had been allocated a double room, not a single (which is what I had paid for) and it was over the back. The room was a bit basic and showing it’s age, but it was nicer than expected and quiet so I was fairly happy. I also found the tiny hotel car park later but although tiny (it had about 10 spaces) there was one space free, so I moved the car there then and went to the hotel bar for a late dinner and then up to my room.

The hotel was a bit rundown and sadly seemed to have been changing hands on a regular basis. When I booked, the hotel was owned by Bespoke Hotels and I booked through their website, the room also had signs with their logo on. By the time I had arrived the hotel had been taken over by MGM Muthu Hotels (I’d never heard of them), whilst the WiFi connection screen told me it was part of Swallow Hotels and the menus on the tables in the restuarant had the name Oxford Hotels and Inns on them. I suspect that’s why it had clearly lacked investment, companies buy it, find out how much work is needed and sell it on to someone else. However despite the poor rating of the hotel I found it better than the hotel I had previously stayed in in Thurso, and more centrally located.

This walk had been one of unexpected beauty. This section of coast had been astonishingly beautiful, with lots of sandy beaches, islands, rocky coves and old harbours. I also saw it in the most beautiful autumn light, with the sun low in the sky and even the bonus of some rainbows. I was also pleased to find a route closer to the coast than the map suggested even if the paths sometimes seemed to be little more than signs at either end!

Although I didn’t use a bus for this walk I was surprised to find that there is one. So here are details of the public transport for this walk:-

Transport for Tongue Melness bus : Tongue – Kyle of Tongue Youth Hostel – Midtown – Talmine – Portvasgo – Achininver. Two buses per day on Friday only. No service on any other day of the week. It takes just over 20 minutes to travel between Achininver and the Kyle of Tongue.

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

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5 Responses to 314. Kyle of Tongue to Melness and East Strathan (and back)

  1. Stunning photographs. The light and the colours are beautiful.

  2. This was so enjoyable to read and the photos are splendid.

  3. Pingback: 315. Kyle of Tongue to Hope (and back) | Round the Island

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