281. Dunnet to John o’Groats

My first job before setting out was to pop next door to the tyre fitters to check on my puncture. I was told yesterday that they would fit a budget/economy tyre for circa £65, that is expensive, but I didn’t argue. Turns out they didn’t have an economy tyre, but put a “better tyre” on – which cost £92, the words “done up like a kipper” spring to mind.

I drove to Dunnet and parked in the village hall car park. It was forecasted to be a very hot day all over the UK and as I set off towards West Dunnet there were no clouds in the sky, but a stiff warm breeze at my back. I set off across open moorland and decided to try my new umbrella/parasol. Its silver top is designed to reflect all of the direct UV rays and with its black underside to absorb all indirect UV rays. With the strong swirling breeze at my back the brolly did occasionally turn inside-out. The good thing was that it was designed to easily turn back again and this worked well. As I crossed the open moor towards Dunnet Head I used the brolly shade the entire time. I still sweated in the heat and it was tough walking over the trackless terrain.
I headed over Bloody Moss then towards Loch of Bushta before climbing slowly up the gentle slopes of Dunnet Hill (121m). The view from Dunnet Hill was stunning. To the west across Thurso Bay I could see Scrabster and in the far distance the hills of Assynt. To the North West I could see the high red sea cliffs of Hoy and the top of The Old Man of Hoy. To the east I could see the low-lying Caithness coastline disappearing towards Duncansby Head and the Isle of Stroma. The route ahead to the lighthouse at Dunnet Head was obvious. I set off towards Sanders Loch where the walking was over spongy grass, moss and heather. As I neared Dunnet Head I had to walk over old peat workings which was difficult in places. I was accompanied part of the way by a number of  Great Skuas, happily on this occassion they ignored me, unlike those that dive-bombed me when I last visited Shetland in 2013.

Dunnet Head was very busy with many tourists enjoying the extensive views across the Pentland Firth to Orkney. I walked to the top of the hill above the lighthouse to get a brilliant 360 degree panorama. I had intended to continue walking down the eastern side of the Dunnet Head peninsular, but the morning 4 miles over trackless terrain in the heat had taken their toll and I would be already struggling to make my intended bus back from John o’Groats to Dunnet.

Looking back at yesterday’s walk over Dunnet Beach
Looking west over Loch of Bushta to Thurso
Zoomed shot across The Pentland Firth to Hoy and the Old Man of Hoy
The route to Dunnet Head past Sanders Loch
Great Skua
Approaching Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head with Hoy in the distance
Looking back at my approach route
Dunnet Head
Looking back towards Thurso, the hill in the far distance is Ben Klibreck

I set off down the road towards Brough, a scattered hamlet. I was very grateful for a small cafe in Brough where I could replenish my water supplies, as the heat was quite intense now. I was now walking along quiet single track roads that ran close to the coastline and passed through a number of strung-out settlements that included Scarfskerry and Harrow. I passed very close to the Castle of Mey. It was certainly open to visitors so I doubt there were any Royals in residence. I decided to re-stock my water supplies again, so I popped into the cafe at the Castle. I did baulk at the cost of a 320ml bottle of still water which was £1.85. The young serving girls behind the counter said I could fill my water bottle up from the ice-cool containers in the cafe. I obliged and then set off along a coastal path for a short distance. I soon joined another long straight road that finally joined up with the A836.

I passed through Gills and the small ferry pier which provided a service to St. Margaret Hope on the Orkney mainland. After passing through the settlement of Huna and getting back onto the shore I could now see Duncansby Head Lighthouse and John o’Groats in the distance. Although, the real milestone was Duncansby Head (where I would begin the long walk south) John o’Groats had always been a key destination. At the familiar mileage fingerpost I got a ‘selfie’ from a Dutch chap and his family. I made my bus by 10 minutes and paid the £3 back to Dunnet.

When I got back to the Airbnb I checked out the weather forecast. It did not look good for tomorrow with thundery showers with lightening forecast from 06:00 through to 15:00. As tomorrows walk would have been over 23 miles, there was every chance that I would encounter some of these showers with little or no shelter if I did. I decided to abort the trip and drove south the following day, with cracked windscreen and through the thunderstorms that had been forecast.

Looking back at Dunnet Head
Castle of Mey
The ferry terminal at Gills
Approaching John o’Groats with Duncansby Head in the distance
At John o’Groats

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=24645

POSTSCPIPT: the windscreen made it back home ok, only ‘growing’ by 10mm. However, the Friday appointment agreed on Monday did not happen. Autoglass did not show, I had paid for the windscreen and waited an hour past my alloted time slot and was told, when I called them, that the replacement windscreen had been “damaged in transit”. No communication from these cowboys about this and I would have still been waiting now if I had not bothered to call them. I have made a complaint, for the good that it will do. Grrrr!!

Distance today = 22.5 miles

Total distance = 5,095 miles

 

 

 

 

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280. Dounreay to Dunnet

I was looking forward to this 3 day trip to the northern Caithness coast as it would finally see me heading south along the east coast of Scotland…….or so I thought!

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. From the first day, as  I awoke after a night in the back of the car I found a 16 inch crack in my windscreen. This must have occurred on the drive up and later that day, after my first days walk I returned to my car to find a flat tyre!

With the large crack in my windscreen, I decided to keep to a minimum the number of miles driving the car, leaving my car parked in Thurso. So I caught the 7:20 #82 bus to the Dounreay Nuclear plant. Most of the buses going to Dounreay are simply to ferry the workers to the site. However, they do also function as a  public bus service; but  I did feel entirely out of place being deposited at the security gates of the site and amongst the hundreds of hi-vis vested employees. I soon started to make my way back to the site entrance and the main A836 road. As this was the start of the daily shift the whole place was awash with workers arriving by bus, cars and bikes.

I reached the main road and walked for about a kilometre before heading down a farm track and then across fields towards the coast. I was heading towards the small wind farm at the Forss Building and Technology Park, developed on the site of a former US Naval radio station. This site was the headquarters as well as having 26 housing units. I could still see the remnants of a small baseball field alongside the old housing blocks. At the site I met a chap who was busy setting up a day’s clay pigeon shooting event for clients. I continued onto the small ruin of St. Mary’s Chapel, built probably in the 12th century, and  has a small burial ground surrounding it. I crossed over the Water of Forss via small footbridge and then up a steep grassy bank. I was heading for a farm track that would take me back to the coast.

Although there was no footpath along the coast, it was generally very flat. However, the long grass made sure I got totally sodden, despite wearing waterproofs, gaiters and boots. The sea cliffs here were not very high and like most of the Caithness coastline, the underlying Flagstones gently dip to the north and create cliff overhangs. I passed over the gentle slopes of Brims Hill and into a quarry, previously used for extracting the Middle Devonian flagstones. The Flagstones are basically – thinly-bedded siltstones and sandstones which cleave to give sheets of rock which have been used extensively in the past as paving, tiles and field boundaries. I passed over Holborn Hill and could now make out Thurso in the misty gloom. It had been raining most of the morning, although quite light and drizzly, I was still quite wet as I approached the ferry terminal at Scrabster.
At Scrabster I was able to get a phone signal and made contact with the windscreen replacement people. Unfortunately they were not able to fit me in until next week. So I was going to have to drive my car, with the large crack in the windscreen all the way back home. I followed the road and footpath around the shoreline into the small town of Thurso, the most northerly town on mainland Britain. I arrived back at my car and had a short rest before catching the #82 bus service towards John o’Groats and getting off at the small village of Dunnet. From where I would walk back along the coastline to Thurso.

Looking back at Dounreay
Greeny Geo
Approaching the small wind farm at the former US Naval Radio Station at Forss
St. Mary’s Chapel
Heading towards Brims Hill through long grass. Dunnet Head can be seen in the distance
Flagstone cliffs
Cliffs below Brims Hill
The flagstone provides a flat quarry floor at the disused Scrabster quarry
Looking towards Thurso from Scrabster Ferry Terminal
Approaching Thurso

I set off down the main road and shortly cut through dunes onto the wonderful Dunnet Beach. It was still quite murky and drizzly but warm. Walking along the beach was very pleasant with the sea lapping on the shore and little or no wind. After about 3km I arrived at the Burn of Garth, but could not cross without getting my feet wet. I headed inland slightly, pushing through waist-high grass and bracken. I soon arrived at the Heritage Centre at Castlehill renowned for the quarrying of Flagstone at the now disused quarry at nearby Castletown.

I set off again through a field of barley following the sprayer tracks, however, that still did not stop me from getting another soaking from the wet crops. I followed a farm track for a small distance then transferred onto the shoreline. I got about a mile along the beach and then had to climb a small cliff to get around a rocky section. I managed to get back onto the beach and continued for about another mile. I transferred back to the shoreline fields and spent the next 30 minutes climbing over a barbed-wire and electric fences. Pushing through the thigh-high soaking wet vegetation took a lot of energy and I was very glad when I reached open pasture land, which short grass. I passed over another of the three sites of the former US Radio Station. I finally picked up a reasonable track back to Thurso which had stiles for getting over the fences. I walked past the ruins of 19th century Thurso Castle and onto a small footbridge that went over the River Thurso and back to my car.

After finding my car had a puncture I managed to find a tyre depot which was only 60 meteres away and very close to my Airbnb for the next two nights.

Walking a rather murky Dunnet Beach
A route over Burn of Garth? I don’t think so!
Walking along the shoreline at Craig of Hattel
Looking towards Thurso near East Lug of Tang
The ruins of Thurso Castle

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=24643

Distance today = 23.5 miles
Total distance = 5,072.5 miles

 

 

 

279. Woodbridge to Shingle Street

I decided to do another one day trip to Suffolk before I returned to Northern Scotland. With a reasonably fine day forecasted I was hoping to get at least half way around one of the Suffolk river estuaries. Unfortunately it was a Sunday, which meant no public transport back to the car, so I took my bike along. It was a longer cycle ride today, compared to last Sunday and would involve some 9 miles from the car to the start of the walk.
I decided to drive to and park in the small rough car park at Shingle Street. I opted to get the cycling out of the way, as the roads would be much quieter at 07:30. I made very good time to Woodbridge railway station, with the help of the flat and level terrain of the Suffolk countryside. I decided that I would push my bike to a car park near Melton, which would be easier to retrieve when I later drove back in my car.

Woodbridge is a charming little town with a pretty little station housing a taxi service and cafe. I carried my bike up over the bridge across the railway lines and followed a footpath that skirted along the River Deben, which I would be walking around. The footpath already had a few people out and about on a lovely sunny morning. Just after passing Melton railway station I walked through a car park and chained my bike up to a railing. I set off along a footpath that led to a bridge over the River Deben, before turning down the B1083. I soon passed the entrance to Sutton Hoo. I had read something about Sutton Hoo, but knew little detail. Although I would be passing close to the site of the two 6th- and early 7th-century cemeteries I had intended to revisit them at a later date, enabling me to devote more time to such a significant site. I followed a signed footpath which was not marked on the OS map or was not in its exact place. Needless to say I soon lost the footpath indicators and then made a navigation error. I ended being confronted by a large pig farm. I walked around the site and could not pick up anymore footpath signs. I wasted about 20 minutes wandering around trying to get my bearings. I eventually recognised the small tree plantation patterns and managed to pick up my intended route near to Ferry Farm. However, I had missed about 2 miles around Sutton Hoo Farm and Ferry Cliff. I headed towards Methersgate passing through the hamlet and finally picking up sight of the River Deben below me. I pjoined up a riverside footpath which although overgrown in places with nettles and bracken, was well-trodden. At Stonner Point I picked-up a Sea Bank, providing me with a great view down the River Deben which at high tide was about 800m wide. The river snaked around long sweeping bends and turned towards Ramsholt, where I met and spoke to a couple out walking along the sea bank. I rarely stop for a alcoholic drink on my walks, but today I just fancied a pint! I deposited my rucksack at an outside table and went in and bought a pint of Adnams – what else? The Ramsholt Arms was very busy serving food to yacht people and those who had driven down the dead-end road.

Woodbridge Railway Station
Looking down the River Deben at Woodbridge
Looking across The Deben to Waldringfield at Sconner Point
Walking along the Sea Bank towards Rockall Wood
Looking across the Deben from The Ramsholt Arms
The Ramsholt Arms

The pint of beer did not last long, as thirst usually takes over from taste when I take on fluids on warm days. At Ramsholt there is no public footpath south along the River Deben towards the Bawdsey Ferry. I am not sure why there is no footpath along this 3 miles stretch bordering the Ramsholt and Alderton Marshes – I was tempted to try though. Instead, I set off on an inland diversion towards Alderton. When I came to the first road junction I continued straight ahead up a green lane bridle path. I had not gone far when I was confronted with a crop sprayer sending a plume of water over the track ahead. The plume was not deviating, so unless I wanted to back track, I was going to have to make a mad dash through it. Needless to say I got a right soaking! Within 20 minutes I was dry again. I passed through the village of Alderton and continued onto the village of Bawdsey. I had given thought about continuing down the road to Bawdsey Ferry, but did not fancy the walk back along the single shoreline. Instead I headed directly along a lane to the coast, where I emerged near the sight of an old WW2 gun emplacement.

I could see Shingle Street, about 3km in the distance at the end of the Sea Bank which had an excellent path running along its top. I passed three Martello Towers on my final 2.5 miles, the first tower had been restored as a residential property, with a flashy new access staircase, the second tower had not been restored but had a WW2 pill box built on the roof and the third tower was also restored as I could hear loud music blasting out through the 1m thick walls. I walked onto the shingle bank at Shingle Street, a bank that protects the row of cottages from the sea. It was hard going over the shingle – even for a short distance. I was fascinated by some of the flora growing on the shingle bank, in particular a tall 4 – 5ft stalk plant with yellow flowers – this was a Great Mullein and an impressive plant it was too. I rounded the coastguard cottages and arrived back at the car park. Just the drive home now, calling in to Melton to pick up my bike.

Time for a soaking with the crop sprayer deluge blocking my way
Back at the sea at East Lane on a WW2 gun-site looking west
Modern-themed Martello restored
Unrestored Martello with WW2 pill box on its roof
Restored Martello at Shingle Street
4 – 5ft high Great Mullein – very impressive

Distance today = 18 miles

Total distance = 5,049 miles

 

 

278. Orford to Shingle Street

I decide to do a single day’s trip back to Suffolk and continue my progress south along the east coast. As it is a Sunday, there will be no public transport to get me back to Orford, so I must make use of my bike.

I set off very early from Shropshire and drive to Shingle Street, a small hamlet at the end of a cul-de-sac road from the village of Hollesley. I leave my bike chained to a kissing gate and then drive around to Orford. I park in the small square in the centre of the village.

It is a lovely sunny Sunday morning, with a gentle breeze blowing. Although it is only 7:45, there are a number of people out and about, walking their dogs mainly. I walk down to the quay and head westwards along the sea bank. The walking is very easy, along the short cropped grass. I strike up a conversation with a chap who is out walking his dog; after a mile he returns to Orford. I am now walking along the River Ore and the land opposite me is now Havergate Island a National Nature Reserve. As I approach Gedgrave Marshes the public footpath turns inland. However, I recently read there is now a permissive footpath along the sea bank around to the Butley Ferry. The sea bank now follows the River Butley as I proceed upstream. The signage on the three gates/stiles I went through makes no mention of “permissive” but simply gives the direction and mileage to the ferry and Orford. It now has a Suffolk Council logo on. Just before I reach the ferry I notice a yacht, with people on board, that looks to have been beached – more about that later.

I reach the ferry, it not very wide and I could easily throw a ball to the other side. It’s only 8:30 and the ferry does not start until 11:00, but I have no intention of using it just yet. As there is no continuation of the footpath up the River Butley I must now follow public footpaths, roads and lanes to the first bridging point at Chillesford. I am now heading eastwards and am almost back at Orford before I head up a sandy farm track. I am amazed how sandy the soil is here. I pass multiple water irrigation pumps, essential as the soil holds little water. After passing a cricket pitch, where I see the groundsman preparing the wicket, obviously for a match later that day I meet two ladies, seated in small chairs. They tell me they are waiting for a group of children who are completing a hike as part of their Duke of Edinburgh award. They also tell me that the impressive Sudborne Hall that we are looking at, are now just expensive apartments.

Looking down the River Alde on a beautiful Sunday morning at Orford
Looking across to where The River Butley joins the River Alde
The River Butley Ferry

I continue on, walking along a lovely shaded woodland footpath. I eventually meet the groups of young walkers completing their DofE. The footpath leads out on to the B1084 at Chillesford. The road is quiet and has a footpath. It’s not long before I am heading south along a narrow quiet lane, passing through the hamlet of Butley Mills. I soon turn off down one of the many sandy tracks, used primary for agricultural vehicles. I pass through two farms before I take on Burrow Hill; at 10m high, it is slightly odds with the land around it. Burrow Hill was a fortified Saxon settlement and was an island, before the sea banks had been built. The site was excavated in the 1970’s and over 200 burials were found. The hill provided good views across the area and I could see the nearby Butley Ferry was now busy. I had now arrived on the opposite side of the river bank, to where I was a few hours before. I spoke to the ferryman and he reminded me that he finished at 16:00. I said I would return long before then.

I set off down the sea bank and passed by very close to the beached yacht I had seen earlier. The people on board gave me a wave and I asked how long they would have to wait, they said 4 hours. I continued on along the sea bank and re-joined the River Ore channel again. Speed boats and water skiers were now out on the river. I arrived back at my bike, close to the hamlet of Shingle Street. I now had to cycle back to Orford. I had already planned my return cycle route, which would make use of roads, farm tracks and the Butley Ferry, which would shave 4 – 5 miles off my cycling distance. Although my bike is foldable, I had seen earlier, full sized bicycles being ferried across. I should say also that the ferry is not motorised and requires the ferryman to row across. Butley Ferry is one of four foot ferries that operate in Suffolk

At Butley Mills
One of the large number of pig farms in the area
Looking down to the River Butley from Burrow Hill
Zoomed shot of the River Butley Ferry
At Boyton Dock with the beached yacht in the distance
Beached yacht on the River Butley
Looking across the River Butley towards Orford

Distance today = 17 miles

Total distance = 5,031 miles