285. John o’Groats to Wick

It was time for another three day trip to the North of Scotland. I drove up the day before but was a bit concerned when all three lanes of traffic ground to a halt on the M6 close to the Shap summit. An Air Ambulance landed just a few hundred yards away, four fire engines  roared up the hard shoulder together with two ambulances and countless Police cars. I thought I would be stuck for a while, but the wait was only about 40 minutes. When I passed the scene of the accident it appeared to be a two car collision, but fortunately without massive damage to the cars . On my return home 3 days later I came upon two accidents, this time on the A9 and both at road junctions within a mile of each other at Tain.

I slept in the back of my car that night and drove onto Wick the following day. I caught the #77 bus service to John o’Groats. By 8 o’clock I was setting out from John o’Groats along the coast towards Duncansby Head. Today’s walk would be predominantly along footpaths, tracks and away from roads. I soon picked up trail markers for The John o’Groats Trail (JOGT), a trail I had never heard of before. This trail, as with The Cape Wrath Trail, is basically an advisory route, that is relatively new and a work in progress. The JOGT which runs from Inverness to John o’Groats predominantly hugs the coast, in particular, the narrow strip of land between the sea and farmers fences. Most of the trail has some signage and there are occasional pieces of infrastructure like a stile or small wooden bridge, underfoot there is little evidence that anyone has ever walked there before. Irritatingly, the indicated trail follows the field periphery. You could revert to the walking through the fields which is much much easier, however, you will be crossing multiple barbed wire fences – lots of them. In Caithness they seem to specialise in triple strand barbed-wires fences, most fences usually have a single or double strand of barbed wire, but three strands make it more difficult to climb over, time consuming and ultimately tiring. Where the land on the fence periphery has disappeared due to erosion, I had to make a number of excursions into fields.

Heading towards Duncansby Head

I set off from the lighthouse at Duncansby Head. Even though it was still quite early, there were many people already at the lighthouse, most them having camped there. I was now heading south, for the first time in many years! Ahead I could make out the Duncansby Stacks and I followed a wide and well-trodden path over short cropped grass out towards them. The coastline along this section is amazing and the early morning sun showed it as its best. I passed a number of other stacks and Geo’s, one in particular, Wife Geo, was an amazing feature, with a huge sea stack set within the large Geo itself.

Duncansby Stacks
Duncansby Stacks
Looking back to Duncansby Head with the stacks in the foreground and The Orkneys in the far distance

 

Wife Geo with its sea stack set within the Geo itself

I followed the JOG trail around into Freswick Bay and passed by Freswick Castle, which now seemed to be occupied. By the time I reached the ruins of Bucholie Castle I had had enough of the thigh high vegetation and it had taken an age to get this far, also the constant climbing over fences had begun to wear me down. With the road only 200 – 300 metres away I decided to make up some time and continue down the A99. I arrived at the village of Keiss and walked down to the harbour and then along the shore. Before me stretched out the sweeping 3 – 4 mile beach of Sinclair Bay. The sand underfoot was firm and I made good time. I was a bit concerned about the dark clouds forming overhead, fortunately, they did not yield any rain and after a while it turned brighter again.

Heading along Freswick Bay
The ruins of Bucholie Castle
Old and new Keiss Castle
Heading around Sinclair Bay

I crossed over the River Westerly while still on the beach without getting my feet wet. I was now heading out towards Noss Head Lighthouse. With the beach running out I transferred back onto the land and passed the restored Ackergill Tower and then onto the small village of Ackersgillshore. The JOG followed a reasonable path towards the ruins of Sinclair Castle Girnigoe. Work had been done on stabilising the ruins so I could explore the interior of the castle. From the info boards you could see that that the castle was originally a very impressive building at the beginning of the 17th Century.
I passed by the lighthouse at Noss Head and headed along a cliff footpath towards the village of Staxigoe. The rest of the walk was basically walking through the built up areas of Staxigoe, Papigoe and into Wick itself.

Ackergill Tower
Sinclair Castle Girnigoe
Sinclair Castle Girnigoe
Heading towards Staxigoe
Low tide at The Wick River, Wick

This had been a great walk along a fantastic coastline. It had taken almost 10 hours, mainly due to following the JOGT and walking around boundary fences through long grass. I will persevere with the walk tomorrow along the JOGT, but perhaps be a bit more selective. I made my way to my Airbnb room close to the harbour and with a superb view out to the open sea. I was virtually next door to the most northerly Weatherspoon’s pub, The Alexander Bain. Unfortunately the pub was put up for sale in March 2019, but as yet, not found a buyer.

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=24684

Distance today = 25 miles

Total distance = 5,178 miles

 

 

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2 thoughts on “285. John o’Groats to Wick”

  1. Gosh that’s a long way in one day! I split this walk at Keiss and even that was enough for me! Though I did manage to follow the coast all the way rather than the roads, but even that distance was very tiring with all the fences, as you say. I’ve often thought there must be a great deal of money to be made in that part of Scotland as a barbed wire fence salesman!

    The coast around Duncansby Head is stunning as you say, I really enjoyed that part, with all the rock stacks. Sad to hear about the Whetherspoon pub there. I ate there most evenings when staying in Wick as it was cheap and fairly pleasant and allowed me to escape the 1970s of my hotel dining room (I stayed at the Norseman Hotel you might have seen it since the buses stop right outside).

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  2. Hi John, yes I noted the Norseman Hotel opposite the bus stop in the car park. Hopefully the ‘Spoons will survive, it was certainly thriving when I visited it over a couple of nights……………………crap beer though. I had to send a pint of Deuchars back.
    I think the only way to stick religously to the JOGT is do smaller sections and or walk it during the Winter. Although I compared it to the CWT, its really nothing like it at all, basically with it being confined to a metre wide strip of land outside of the boundary fence. I walked less and less of it and was annoyed at being ‘corralled’ into this small corridor.

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