291. Great Oakley to Manningtree

I had a free Saturday and so decided to do a day’s walking in Essex. Like parts of western Scotland, you can do a lot of walking only to appear on the opposite side of a loch or river estuary. So today I would appear less than a mile away from Felixstowe, which I passed through some 3 walks ago!

I drove very early from Shropshire and parked  in Manningtree. I caught the 07:35 #104 bus service and got off in the small village of Great Oakley. It was slightly overcast and slightly chilly when I started to walk out of the village assisted by quite strong tail-wind. I walked past Great Oakley hall and then cut around a fieldto geton the main road for 100 metres before following an access road down to the marshy shoreline. The reasons why I had to come so far inland was due to the access restriction of walking around the Bramble Island area due to the previous manufacture of explosives and lack of alternative footpaths.

It was not long before I joined up with the sea wall, which soon met the Essex Way, a footpath that I would spend most of the day on. I continued into towards Harwich walking past a series of brightly coloured beach hits. Harwich’s position at the mouth of two rivers gives it a prominent position in terms of maritime and naval history. Passing two recently restored cast iron lighthouses I soon came upon two more – the High and Low Lighthouses; with the High lighthouse the grander of the two being built from brick. In fact, Harwich is somewhere I would like to return to particularly in visiting the historic sites around the town. I turned the corner around Old Harwich and headed back into the town. I was heading for The Hangings, a cycleway that follows the line of the old dismantled railway track into the town and which avoid walking along the busy A120.

Heading down to the shoreline near Little Oakley
Heading towards Harwich with Felixstowe Docks in the distance
Restored lighthouses in Harwich
Stena Hollandia setting out from Parkeston Quay bound for Hook of Holland
The Low Lighthouse now used as a Maritime Museum
The High Lighthouse
The Treadmill Crane in Harwich
The Ha’Penny Pier
Looking across The River Stour to Shotley Gate
The Hangings

I emerged close to Parkeston Quay, where much of the land is taken up by Port of Harwich. I continued down a road that headeing towards the Ferry terminal, a destination for  the Hook of Holland. Before I entered the ferry teerminal, I turned left and followed the Refinery road past a security barrier(this was a right of way) and then along a rough track between the oil refinery / rail track and a golf course. I opted for minimising the amount of road walking on this trip, as the roads appeared to be busy and had little or no verge. I headed slightly inland to the village of Ramsey, before turning back along fields towards the nature reserve at Copperas Wood. I joined the River Stour and could see that the tide was well in and I could not walk along any of the shoreline. In some places the Stour is over a mile across and is very impressive.

Where I had a tailwind walking in to Harwich I now had a strong headwind walking out! So much so that the Stour was very choppy. The walk along the Stour riverbank was very easy, although I had to divert slightly again inland to Wrabness, as a number of signs indicated that the public footpath had been washed further up and that hut owners wanted their privacy respected. I passed the charming church of All Saints, with a wooden cage housing a church bell cast in 1854. The original roof and tower were destroyed in the 17th century. After the churchyard I had seen a sign adverting Woodland Burials, I did not think anything of it at the time, but a mile further on, while walking down an avenue of young trees I noticed a series of small plaques with the names of deceased. The size of the plots meant that these were the final resting place for people that had been cremated.

It would have been nice and a lot shorter to stay on the shoreline all the way back to Manningtree, but looking ahead I could see that I would run out public footpath and the ability to walk on the shoreline. I could join up with the road, but decided against that. Instead I followed the Essex Way into the village of Bradfield and out again passing over fields to the small hamlet of Mistley Heath. From there I followed a good footpath across fields skirting a large new housing development on the main road in Mistley. Mistley was once a large grain processing centre, but today the Edme flour mill and Crisp malting’s are the only remaining representives. I arrived at the odd-looking Mistley towers, odd until you get up close and see that the main body of a church has been removed with the addition of a set of columns to give the towers a symmetrical appearance.

I arrived back in Manningtree glad for the walk to have finished, as it taken me 7.5 hours; still, I was pleased to have done a minimal amount of walking on main roads and it had remained dry all day!

 

Continuing along Refinery Road through the security gate
Looking across the Stour in full tide to the Royal Hospital School on the opposite bank
The Bell Cage in All Saints churchyard Wrabness
The 1854 bell within the bell cage
Woodland burial plots near Wrabness
The Mistley Towers

Distance today = 23 miles
Total distance = 5,302 miles

 

 

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290. Tain to Portmahomack

Today was forecast to be very sunny and hot and so it turned out to be!
I had intended to do at least twice the distance as I actually did, and I did set off fully expecting to cover at least 18 miles. However, I made the fatal mistake of parking my car more or less at my half-way point at Portmahomack and with the heat and accumulative exertions over the last two days I thought that’s enough this trip and began the long drive home.
Anyway, that morning I made the short journey from my Airbnb at Cadboll to Portmahomack. I parked in one of the free car parks facing out onto the Dornoch Firth. I then intended to catch the #24 bus, but the Stagecoach school bus came along sooner, so I caught that into Tain.

I set off down the road out the town back towards Portmahomack. I would be on the B9174 for half of my walk today, as the coastal route is blocked by a large RAF bombing range. I had checked before online and it seemed like the range was open, although I did see a number of red flags flying, so I kept to the road. I passed by the ruins of the old Tain RAF base closed in 1947 and now with a large plinth dedicated to those that served there during and after the Second World War. The bombing range covers a huge area called The Morrich More made up of dunes, salt marsh and water channels.

The road was quite busy with people going to work and I was glad to reach the turn-off to the small hamlet of Inver, situated on the Dornoch Firth shoreline. From Inver itself it was quite confusing to see where the Dornoch Firth began, as The Morrich More sits between the Dornoch Firth and Inver. Also there is the  Inver Channel, which when I arrived at low tide I was able to walk some distance from the shore alongside the Channel. At Inver I changed into my walking boots and gaiters, expecting to walk through the adjacent fields. Instead I was able to walk the entire distance to Portmahomack on the beach itself. I read at Inver that from 1943 -1944 most the villages on this Tarbat peninsular were evacuated in order for the Americans to practice their D-Day landings.

It was midday when I arrived in Portmahomack, as I passed my car I had second thoughts about doing an additional 8 miles. After considering what I had already done over the last two days I decided to call it a day.

 

The Murray Monument Tain High Street
Well, not quite yet!
Tain airfield memorial
Ruined buildings at Tain airfield
The Munro, Ben Klibreck some 36 miles to the west
Looking back towards Tain from near Inver
On the beach heading towards Portmahomack
Following The Inver Channel
Arriving at Portmahomack

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=24713

Distance today = 10 miles
Total distance = 5,279 miles

 

289. Golspie to Tain

The forecast today was to be mostly overcast and dry, the good news was that it turned out to be sunny and dry all day!

I drove the short distance from my Airbnb to Tain, where I parked at the railway station. I caught the 08:19 heading north towards Wick, which was bang on time. I baulked when the conductor asked me for £9.85 (with a senior railcard) for a single journey to Golspie. I quickly realised that this train journey involves travelling inland along the Dornoch Firth and Kyle of Sutherland, before reaching Lairg and then turning back eastwards down Strath Fleet back towards the coast, quite some distance! The journey time took an hour and offered some amazing views particularly north of Invershin passing through the gorge of the River Shin looking down at the Falls of Shin.

I set off from Golspie railway station heading for the shoreline and began walking south along the beach on firm sand. I was heading for the small hamlet of Littleferry which sits on the northern shore of the opening to the sea at Loch Fleet, a large tidal inlet and a large nature reserve. After LittleFerry I would be walking around this loch and would now need to start walking north for a mile along a minor road. I crossed a small burn via some stepping stones and headed alongside Balblair Wood and the loch shore. I joined up with a long straight track which took me across the railway line and onto the A9. This would be the first of two occasion where I needed to use the A9 to cross a water obstacle. The A9 was very busy, but had a reasonable verge. I headed towards The Mound, built by Thomas Telford, a causeway and bridge carrying the A9 across  Loch Fleet. After some 4km on the A9 I turned off down a minor on the southern shore of Loch Fleet, following the route of the dismantled Dornoch Light Railway.

I was now more or less on the opposite side of the loch to Littleferry, where I had been almost two hours before. As I looked out onto Loch Fleet by the ruins of Skelbo Castle I could pick out large groups of Harbour seals basking on sandbanks in the middle of the loch. I followed the route of the old railway towards Embo, a small village. I decided to make a slight detour and visit the small town of Dornoch a small seaside resort on the northern shore of the Dornoch Firth. Dornoch, infamous for being the site of the last legal execution of a witch in Britain, saw a local woman Janet Horne, burned alive at the stake in 1727. I headed out of the town towards a grass airstrip and heading for Dornoch Sands.

Heading south towards Littleferry
Loking up Loch Fleet at low tide
Crossing Loch Fleet on the A9 at The Mound
Looking across Loch Fleet north towards Golspie
Looking across Loch Fleet to Littleferry
The old Light Railway station in Dornoch
The Jail, Hotel and castle from the Square in Dornoch
Walking along the grass airstrip at Dornoch

I reached Dornoch Sands and could now look across Dornoch Firth to the opposite bank some 3 miles away and see Tain and the Glenmorangie distillery. But I still had some 7 -8 miles of walking to do before I arrived back in Tain. I set off along the northern shore of the Dornoch Firth, the tide was well in by now, but I still had a reasonable amount firm sand to walk along. The Dornoch Firth Bridge came into view, I knew I had to get onto a minor road from the shoreline about a kilometre away from the bridge, as I had noticed there were large swathes of gorse which may have blocked me getting directly onto the bridge from the shore.

I picked up the minor road which lead through a couple of hidden gates, through the gorse to the A9. It was just as busy as I had left it some hours before. I was able to walk on the other side of the Armco barrier, which gave a reassuring feel. The late afternoon sunshine was a real treat and I was rewarded with great views down the Dornoch Firth. At the far end of the bridge I passed from Sutherland back into Ross and Cromarty, which I had left back in April. The last 3 miles along the A9, past the Glenmorangie distillery and into Tain was a bit of a struggle, especially in the late afternoon heat. A very rewarding day and great to visit areas that I had only previously read about.

 

Looking across the Dornoch Firth towards Tain
Looking westwards across Dornoch Firth towards Bonar Bridge
Crossing The Dornoch Firth Bridge

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=24711

Distance today = 27 miles
Total distance = 5,269 miles

 

288. Helmsdale to Golspie

With autumn moving on I needed to continue with my walk around the Scottish coast and so headed north for a three day trip to Sutherland. Although I drove up the day before, on this occasion, I did not sleep in the back of the car, instead preferring to stay a night in my chosen Airbnb at North Cadboll.

The following day I set off from Cadboll, about 6 miles from Tain, and drove to Golspie station where I parked. I waited for the 9:18 train to Helmsdale, which although signed as on time turned up 15 minutes late.

The weather forecast was not looking good, as it was down for light rain until midday, in fact, it drizzled on and off for most of the day. I got off the train at Helmsdale with the low lying cloud and mist covering the surrounding hills. I was amazed to still see a number of Swallows flying about, as I think they had disappeared from where I live a few weeks back. I walked towards the A9 and picked up from where I last walked a few weeks ago. Fortunately, I would only be on the A9 for half-mile a mile, before I crossed the railway line and joined the rocky shoreline. I actually spent the rest of the walk on the foreshore and did not emerge back onto the A9 until I reached Golspie, which was very pleasant and not a single barbed-wire fence to cross!

I soon found a line of good firm sand to walk on, punctuated by occasional rocky sections. Other times I transferred onto a feint grassy foreshore track which was soaking wet and ultimately seeped through my boots after about 10 miles. The low cloud ensured I had few views which meant few photos especially as it meant tediously taking my camera out of its plastic bag and case because of the rain.

I was accompanied for most of my route by the single track railway line, which saw little traffic – only a couple trains passed me all day. The A9 had disappeared about a mile inland and occasionally re-joined the shoreline. I had a few burns to cross, which presented no problem, however, near to Lothberg I had to cross outfall from The River Loth. I tried a number of ways to try and cross the outfall, including dumping a number of rocks into the river to make some stepping stones, this idea failed miserably. I could have walked inland a short distance to pick up the railway line and then cross over via the railway bridge, but decided as my feet were already wet to just go for it! Surprisingly my feet did not get too wet doing this.

At Clynemilton, both the A9 and the railway came right up alongside the shoreline, but with high tide still an hour away I was able to squeeze past on the rocky foreshore. I reached the outskirts of Brora and continued along the golf course boundary. I walked to the mouth of the River Brora and turned inland a short distance into the town. I crossed the river via the old bridge, which was adjacent to the A9 and set off again for the shoreline.

At Helmsdale station with my train departing for Wick
Crossing the tracks onto the shoreline (NB the darkened surround effect was an unintended camera setting)
The route ahead
Looking back at the River Loth, which was harder to cross than it actually looked
Jurassic Sandstone-Breccia was quite common along the shoreline

 

Arriving at the River Brora

Back on the shoreline I surprised myself by coming upon a small group of Harbour Seals. I managed to divert around them, not wishing to disturb them. After a short distance I met another walker who was heading north along The John o’Groats Trail. He was carrying a full pack and wild camping along the way. I advised him of some of the difficult sections further north.
I could now make out Dunrobin Castle in the distance, which coincided with a flat section of land which had a set of farm tracks that made walking very easy. I visited the substantial Broch at Carn Liath, sitting alongside the busy A9. The broch was very impressive and I could get a good idea of its height and scale. I continued into the grounds of the dramatic Dunrobin Castle, the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland. After being used as a boarding school for seven years, it is now open to the public. The path to Golspie skirted the Castle grounds and I continued through a field of unharvested oats into Golspie.

It had been a tough day days walk with an even tougher day planned for tomorrow.

Harbour seals near Brora
Carn Liath Broch
Looking back north over Carn Liath Broch
Dunrobin Castle
Crossing the Golspie Burn

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=24708

Distance today = 21 miles
Total distance = 5,242 miles