The heatwave forecast for the UK finally hit the far north of Scotland as I woke up to clear blue skies. As I was staying in Thurso, I had a long drive over to Coldbackie to catch the #803 bus service to Bettyhill. The minibus was full of school children on their way to Farr High School in Bettyhill.
After getting off the bus in Bettyhill I set off down the A836 for the short distance to the bridge over the River Naver. Immediately after crossing over the bridge I went through a gate and headed along the river out towards the estuary. The tide was well out, revealing large sand banks / dunes and unusual flora. Although I could have walked around the headland into the next bay, I opted to walk and over the Druim Chuibhe which I thought would be quicker. Descending into the next bay I could see most of the landmarks that would take me on towards Skerray. I could see the footbridge over the River Borgie, but not the bridge (which was not marked on the map) for a small stream that I also needed to cross. I was finding it very difficult to even get down to the stream, as the bracken and gorse seemed to block all ways forward. I followed the small burn upstream for about 600m before I was able to get past the bracken and gorse. I was really annoyed at not being able to find the bridge. As I retraced my steps, but on the opposite bank I was able to see the bridge amongst the bracken and gorse.
I joined a narrow road that was very quiet. The sun was now very hot and I started to think about my water consumption, I decided the remaining 500ml would see me to the end of the walk. I passed through a myriad of tiny hamlets including Skerray, Torrisdale, Torroy, Lamoig and Strathan. Skerray was the largest settlement, with a Post Office doubling up as an Art Gallery. I was also amazed to see that Skerray also had street lighting. I hopped between footpaths, green lanes and roads as I passed through these hamlets.
I eventually arrived at Strathan, where I donned my walking boots before setting off along a marked path out to the ruins of Sletell. Although the settlement may have been initially ‘Cleared’, the hamlet was certainly re-settled, as the last occupant of the three crofts left in 1960. An impressive iron cooking hearth was still set within one of the croft’s chimneys. Researching Sletell later at the B&B there are a number of geocaches at the site, including written memories of someone who actually lived there! I wish I had known at the time. It’s always very poignant, for me, when visiting these ruined houses, be they ‘cleared’ or abandoned, as they were once somebody’s home.
I climbed south away from Sletell and picked up a sheep track. The views over Tongue Bay towards Melness were amazing. The path came and went and I had to climb to get around a geo with very impressive cliffs. I descended across grassy terrain to arrive at the end of the public road at Skullomie. I could see my car parked in a layby about 600m away across a small v-shaped valley. I picked up a marked footpath which had Coldbackie 1km away. Unfortunately, for the second time on this walk I failed to pick up a small bridge which was heavily covered in vegetation. I ended up walking 2km to get back to Coldbackie. A tough walk today but some fantastic scenery.
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:
Distance today = 14 miles
Total distance = 4,981 miles