272. Laid to Hope Bridge

I had spent the night in the car, in a small off-road parking slot that shielded me from the worst of the winds at the head of Loch Eriboll. I wanted to get an early start on the road, so was up and away by 06:30.
Today’s walk was along the A838 and because of the absence of public transport I would have to do an out and back using my bike. The early start would mean I would have the road to myself for the first couple of hours, before the NC500 brigade finished their breakfasts and put foot/hand to throttle. I must admit I don’t mind road walking, it’s generally dry underfoot and you can make good progress as well as enjoying some amazing scenery, it’s just when you are constantly verge-hopping that it becomes a pain. I drove to a small pull-in I had detected on Streetview on the open moor about a mile east of Hope Bridge. This would be point where I would set off across the moorland towards Whiten Head on my next walk, but today was getting around Loch Eriboll. I got the bike out of the car and set off back down the road towards Laid.

I arrived in Laid, by the tea rooms and immediately turned around. The weather had improved slightly with a drop in wind, but the persistent showers continued. I started pushing my bike along the A838 towards Hope Bridge. Most of the higher hills around me where still cloaked in cloud. I started thinking and planning how I would tackle the remaining sections to John O’Groats. It looked like for most of the way I could keep off the main road and after reaching Tongue public transport would not become an issue.
After passing through the small hamlet of Eriboll and just approaching Ard Neakie, a small piece of land connected to the shore by a narrow isthmus, the camper vans and motorcycle convoys began. The road climbed steeply out of Loch Eriboll and eastwards down towards Loch Hope and Hope Bridge. By the time I reached my car I was soaked and a bit cheesed off.
I drove into Tongue to get a drink and contemplate what to do next. The persistent showers continued. As I waited in a car park on the Tongue Bridge, with the rain continuing and the forecast of more of the same tomorrow, I decided to call it a day and headed home.

Near the head of Loch Eriboll looking east
Looking north up Loch Eriboll
A piebald Cob near Eriboll
Looking back down Loch Eriboll
Limekilns and small quarry on Ard Neakie
Looking down on Loch Ach’an Lochaidh from Torr na Bithe
At Hope Bridge looking towards Loch Hope
Looking back westwards towards Loch Hope

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24605

Distance today =  14.5 miles
Total distance = 4,926.5 miles

 

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271. Durness to Laid via Faraid Head

It was time to begin the walk eastwards along the ‘roof’ of Scotland, but first I needed to walk around Faraid Head. I also had to arrange some transport, as between Durness and Tongue there was a gap in public transport availability. Fortunately, The Durness Bus Company provided a dial-a-bus service that operated within a fixed radius of Durness, which I could utilise for a part of my journey. A few days before I travelled north I booked to be picked-up from the small strung-out village of Laid, on the western shore of Loch Eriboll, and to be dropped off at Keodale, at the road end to the Durness Ferry.

As I usually do, I drove up from Shropshire the day before and reached Rhiconich before pulling over and sleeping in the back of the car. There were some fearsome winds during the night which rocked the car. The following morning I drove through Durness and onto Laid, where I parked near to the tea rooms.The Dial-a-Bus arrived bang on time at 08:00 and Sarah, the driver, dropped me off at the road end to the Durness Ferry. The journey cost me the princely sum of £2.05!!

I set off along the ferry road and continued on past the slipway. I was able to follow a well-trodden footpath along the low-lying cliff-tops that rise above the Kyle of Durness. This is Durness Limestone country and the walking is dry, well drained and grassy. The Cambrian limestone is actually a Dolomite and an important marker in understanding the complex geology of the area. With the receding tide I get down onto the beach to walk, but large pools soon block my way forward and I am forced to return to the cliff-top. I enter Balnakiel Bay and walk through the Golf Course.
I head out along the white sandy beach of Faraid Head. The walking underfoot is easy, but I am walking into a strong headwind, which brings in persistent rain showers. Most of the Faraid Head peninsular is overlain by sand and large sand dunes. As the beach runs out I head up through the sand dunes and pick up a narrow tarmac access road. The road services the MOD facility, with its large control tower for the Cape Wrath bombing range. Faraid Head itself is fenced-off and no access is permitted. I follow the security fencing to a cairn on Cnoc nan Sgliat which offers  great views down to a very rough sea and the impressive twin sea stacks of Clach Beag/Mhor na Faraid. I head southward through 2 miles of high sand dunes. I visited the ruined broch of Seanachiasteal Dun and head over Aodann Mhor where I picked up a green lane which lead me into Durness.

At the Durness Ferry
Heading along The Kyle of Durness
On the beach for a while
Approaching Balnakiel
On the beach heading towards Faraid Head
MOD land at Faraid Head
The control tower at Faraid Head
Heading south through the sand dunes
The twin Sea stacks of Clach Beag na Faraid and Clach Mhor na Faraid
Looking back to Faraid Head across very rough seas
Durness

In Durness I pop into MacKay’s for a coffee and a snack. I continued along the A838. I pass a sign for the John Lennon Memorial Garden. Intrigued to know what the connection with Durness is I investigate. I find that as a young boy John Lennon spent many holidays with his cousin, Stan Parkes, in Durness. According to his cousin, Lennon referred to his time spent at Durness in his song “In My Life”, which he co-wrote with Paul McCartney. The garden is now a bit tatty and looks rather run down.

Further on I pay a quick visit to Smoo Cave, which I last visited 16 years ago. It is still a very impressive natural feature and well worth a visit. I notice it has lighting now and guided tours to the deeper recesses.

I continue on along the road leaving Durness and the roadside footpath behind. I arrive at the site of the abandoned township of Ceannabeinne, emptied in 1842. Like many other sites I have visited in Scotland a victim of The Clearances. At Ceannabeinne Beach I come across the 230m long Golden Eagle zip line which runs over the Allt Chailgeag. With the ride being completed in 15 -20secs, the £12 charge seems rather expensive. The zip line ride was shut when I arrived.

The rest of the walk was along the A838 which now headed south as it entered Loch Eriboll, a large sea-loch which I must walk around. The afternoon traffic of the NC500 is still present, in particular, the motorbikes which were particularly noisy. At Laid I popped into the nearby tea room. I was not particularly looking forward to the next day’s walking which was all road and more rain forecast.

The John Lennon Memorial Garden
Entrance to Smoo Cave
Smoo Cave with blow hole visible
Ceannabeinne township
Golden eagle zip line at Ceannabeinne Beach

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24601

Distance today =  19 miles
Total distance = 4,912 miles

 

 

 

270. Southwold to Aldeburgh

I thought I would follow up my recent trip to the Suffolk coast with another visit. Although this walk would be longer the logistical problems of getting back to my start point were much harder. There was no direct public transport between Southwold and Aldeburgh and unless you wanted to start your walk around mid-day, the options for a morning start required some thought. After much deliberation I opted for the drive to and park at Southwold, continue my walk south along the coast to Aldeburgh, get the #64 bus to Saxmundham, then get the train to Beccles and finally get the #146 bus back to Southwold. In the end this is not what happened!

I set off from Shropshire at some ungodly hour, with the benefits of traffic free roads but in the knowledge that my travel plans required me to finish my walk before 13:00. I set off walking at 05:45 on a lovely still sunny morning. It was not long before I arrived at the banks of the River Blyth and headed inland for about a mile to a bridge over the river. I retraced my steps albeit on the opposite side of the river and emerged on the shingle shore near to the village of Walberswick. The Suffolk Coast Path, which I ignored, disappeared on one of its many detours inland.

The route ahead was very clear with the Sizewell B Nuclear power station dominating the view southwards. I searched for and found my ‘sweet’ walking spot close to the water’s edge, a narrow band of firm wet sand. Walking over the shingle would have been murder. The beach was quite deserted, a good job really, as I had an urgent ‘call of nature’ and with no cover, it was needs must!

Looking south from Southwold with Sizewell in the far distance
At Gun Hill, Southwold
Crossing the River Blyth near Walberswick
Heading along the beach towards Dunwich

I was making excellent time and soon arrived at the small village of Dunwich. Here I decided to walk along the cliff-tops, as it can get a bit boring just walking along the shoreline. I was joined by the Suffolk Coast Path, which I followed for a little while. I passed the ruins of Greyfriars Abbey, a Franciscan monastery founded in the 13th century. The location of the original Abbey suffered coastal erosion and was transferred slightly inland in 1289. I continued on through a lovely mature woodland and emerged on a quiet road that led to Dunwich Heath. I passed the coastguard cottages and dropped down to a well-worn track that lead along and above the shingle shore. I dropped down onto the shore line and continued on towards the Power station.

Decommissioning of Sizewell A Nuclear Power Station began in 2006, while Sizewell B is still generating and will continue until 2055. While another Power Station – Sizewell C is currently planned. After passing Sizewell I head back to the shoreline and continue onto towards Thorpe Ness. Here I come across some council signs that said that due to coastal erosion of the sea defences, access along the beach towards Thorpeness was prohibited until 2020! I took a diversion along the cliff-top and headed into the village of Thorpeness. As a forerunner to holiday camps, Thorpeness was developed with this in mind by its landowner, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie. Annoyingly, I was unaware of The House in The Clouds (basically a decorated water tower), but did get a good view of the impressive Westgate Tower, a cross between a church tower and mock-Tudor building!

The ruins of Greyfriars – Abbey Dunwich
The Coastguard Cottages at Dunwich Heath
Sizewell A & B Nuclear Power Stations
Jack-Up rig just offshore
Sea Kale near Sizewell

I continued over a grassy expanse of dunes towards Aldeburgh. As I approached Maggi Hambling’s The Scallop, a bus pulled up and emptied its young passengers who immediately descend on the controversial sculpture. I continued into Aldeburgh and terminated my walk at the far end of the town.

I had made excellent time and was desperately trying to go over my travel options in getting back to Southwold. I had not planned on completing the walk this early. I decided to get a #64 bus to Saxmundham, get a train to Halesworth, the catch a #99A bus to Southwold. I did have a long wait in Halesworth, but I was back in Southwold at 14:15.

Local ‘Yoof’ gathered near the Scallop
The museum in Aldeburgh
Fort Green tower mill, then a residential property

Distance today =  19 miles
Total distance = 4,893 miles