As I mentioned in my previous post I had some difficulty deciding the best approach for this walk. The coast between the Kyle of Tongue and Hope has no paths or tracks along the coast, there are numerous lochans and streams and burns to cross. On top of that the only day there is any public transport at all along this road is Saturday and that wasn’t today which meant whatever I did, I’d have to walk back again (there are no taxis, either). So in the end, my compromise was to walk from the Kyle of Tongue up to East Strathan and back, to explore that part of the coast. Then today I’d walk west from Kyle of Tongue to Loch Hope along the road, despite it being some distance inland.
Given that it was October, daylight hours were hence rather more limited and I was staying quite some distance away, in Thurso, I didn’t think I’d have the hours of daylight needed to find a route over the moors and get back again at this time of year. I suppose I could have split it into two there and back walks starting from either end of the A838 that joined up but given the day I had already spent walking to East Strathan and back, it would mean I’d spend 3 full days walking from Kyle of Tongue to Hope which seemed too much for about 15 miles of coastline. I also couldn’t find any reports from other coastal walkers that had successfully done this route at the time (though after I did this walk Alan Palin did write up his successful walk this way – so it can be done!). So in the end I settled on a there and back walk along the A838. The downside is it would mean a total of 15 miles (7.5 miles each way) walking entirely on tarmac.
So having made a decision on how to tackle this part of the coast I drove to the viewpoint on the Kyle of Tongue bridge where I had parked twice previously (it was becoming rather familiar!)
The tide was lower today and there was a small area of sandy beach.
I parked the car and walked over the bridge, with a couple of cars passing as I did so. The road soon began to climb and I soon passed the turning to Melness on my right. Then on my left the minor road to along the west side of the Kyle of Tongue which was once the main road, before the bridge was built. The road was climbing fairly steeply uphill. However there was little traffic.
I soon passed a standing stone on the right, at least I think it was (maybe it was just a big rock) and I could hear the rushing waters of a river on the left. I went over to see the river, but it was hard to get a view through the bushes.
The road was levelling out a bit now. Though that did mean I got that song stuck in my head. You know the one by the Hollies “The road is long, with many a winding turn….”
After a little over a mile I found the route of the old road. It seems that at some point the A838 over the land between Tongue and Hope has been widended and improved. I suspect it was once single track with passing places. Now it is a two-lane road all the way but where the road was re-alligned it seems the old road had been left in place. No longer maintained but it meant a more pleasant route than the main road because there wasn’t any traffic on it.
I soon found the first area of this road and followed it. It was now quite wet and boggy and large areas of grass and moss were coming up through the middle of the road.
In the distance I could see a mountain, Ben Hope I think. The old road joined the new road, but a short distance ahead was another stretch of the old road. This was a little more strange because it seemed dead straight and it was puzzling to me that it had been replaced. I started to walk on it and there were still the remains of the old passing places and even the signs in some cases. I had not seen anyone, but ahead I soon came to a parked car along the old road. I was surprised you could even get a car along it now, such was it’s state and I was a bit nervous as to what it was doing there. There were parking places on the main road – why drive off it to park here? As I got closer I could see a man doing something on the moor and as I got closer still I realised he was peat cutting. There were large pieces of peat all piled up like bricks on a wooden pallet.
Not sure if it is legal to do it on the open moor here, but I wasn’t going to challenge him, so I just walked past. More peat was piled up further along.
After a mile or so of the old road I rejoined the new road, but could almost immediately rejoin a section of the old road, but it was in worse condition. After about halt a mile I was back on the main road. Ahead now I could see a ruined building.
The next stretch of old road was harder to join as there was a couple of metres of boggy open moorland between me and it, and I got a wet foot reaching it. But once on the road it was easy and soon headed to the derelict house. Oddly, wire fence had been put around it – suggesting someone must own it? But the house was roofless and windowless, with graffiti (though the artistic stuff) inside it.
It turns out that when the road opened in 1830 the house was built as a half way house for weary travellers. No one seems quite sure when it ceased to be used, and it still had a roof until about 20 years ago.
It would have been nice to have stopped and had a drink if it was still open as a halfway house! Onwards I was looking forward to the next part, as the old road went right past Loch Maovally. It was quite pretty as I had hoped, though the road was flooded a bit in places. It is surprising how quickly things return to nature without maintenance.
Just past this there was more signs of mans activity, with some areas of pine woodland obviously having been planted next to the road since they are almost perfect rectangles of woodland.
I left the road here and sat further down the bank from the road for lunch as it was incredibly windy on the road and this was the best shelter I could find.
Onwards I found more old road, now not marked on the map but it was in a dreadful state.
At the end of the woodland a path was marked on the map heading down to Hope. But I could not see any sign of it (the road was built originally on the route of a footpath I think, I think this might have been some of it).
As I came down to Hope it became gentler, with trees visible in the lovely autumn colours.
The road went through a rocky cutting and then began to descend down to Hope itself. I knew Hope was not a big place, but I was surprised how small it was. Half a dozen houses, perhaps – all of them seemed quite large. There were no facilities at all, just these few houses.
The river was very beautiful though particularly with the autumn colours of the trees on the right. The waters were flowing fast over the weir.
The bridge over the river itself was single track. I was conscious that for my next walk I needed somewhere to park. There was no where at all marked on the map anywhere nearby and I didn’t think parking on the A-road was a good idea. It is not a busy road at all – often it was 10 to 15 minutes before a car came passed – but what did come was often fast and I did not want to cause an obstruction. I also hate parking on the grass verge (it messes it all up). The old road around Loch Hope was too narrow to park without blocking it up unless I parked almost on the junction – also not a good idea. So I walked a bit further west out of Hope until I reached, after about half a mile, a parking area at the top of the hill. It served a walk through the local woodland which might also have been nice – but I didn’t have the time or energy to find out, it was time to head back. (It was at the first right hand bend in the road after Hope Bridge).
Now all I had to do was walk back again. I considered sticking entirely to the A838 but decided in the end to go back the exact same way. The reason is that I don’t like walking on main roads and whilst there is little traffic here when it comes it is fast so you can never really look away from the road for long, a car might come around a corner or over the crest of the hill and give you little time to get out the way if the driver is not paying attention. So I decided to stick to the old road as much as possible again.
The only difference I noticed is the peat cutting man (and his car) had gone, which I was pleased about. But other than that it was a rather boring walk now, back the way I had come – but at least the wind was behind me for the return trip!
I was tired when I got to my car. I’ve done longer distances than this, but doing such a long distance all on hard roads is harder on the feet than paths, so I was glad of a sit down before I drove back to Thurso. I had done the drive at night previously and it required a lot of concentration so I was keen to get going fairly quickly so I could get the single-track sections done before it got dark (there are also lots of deer around at night and you can’t see them unless they are in the road). I made it back to Thurso a little after 6pm, at dusk. But I was disappointed not to have seen anything very coastal on this walk.
This was not the most interesting walk because it was all on roads and the only time I saw anything that could really be considered coastal was at either end, at the Kyle of Tongue or Hope Bridge. However either side of the road was some beautiful scenery, even if it wasn’t the coast and there also wasn’t that much traffic to avoid. Navigation was also easy, so I’ve also had far worse walks. It was just a bit frustrating I had to do it twice!
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Durness bus / Far North Bus route 803. Durness – Laid – Eriboll Farm – Kyle of Tongue (Youth Hostel) – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie Bridge – Bettyhill – Armadale (Road End) – Strathay Inn – Portskerra – Halladale Inn – Reay – Isauld – Shebster – Bridge of Westfield – Janetstown – Thurso. Saturday only, one bus per day each way. Note that Hope is not listed as a stopping point, but is between Eriboll Farm and Kyle of Tongue, the bus will stop provided you stand somewhere it’s safe to stop and give a clear signal.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.