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.
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.
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 = 23.5 miles
Total distance = 5,072.5 miles