295. Great Oakley to Clacton-on-Sea

Although the weather forecast did not look that good, especially as it was down to rain for most of the day, I thought I would give the walk a go. Generally, I’ve found that the BBC forecast can be a bit pessimistic! So today would be a day’s walk in Essex, which meant for an early start. Fortunately, the drive over from Shropshire was trouble free with no road diversions in place. There was also a bus service available in order that I could get to the start of the walk.

I parked on the seafront in Clacton-on-Sea and was careful to find the free parking section using Google Street view. I then caught the 07:57 #3 bus to Great Oakley. The bus service was run by a new bus company to me – Hedinghams and I was impressed to catch a bus at this time on a Sunday morning.

I could see that the area had had a great deal of rain overnight so I selected to walk in my boots, as opposed to my walking shoes. The first part of the walk was to circum-navigate the explosives factory at Bramble Island and keep off the roads as much as possible as they have little or no verges to walk along. I made good use of the available footpaths which were not very muddy and took me ultimately to the head of Hamford Water near Beaumont Cut. I did have a couple of short footpath diversions to contend with and was totally flummoxed by the 3 page “Council legalistic speak” on the notices attached to a finger post. I just gave up trying to interpret what they said  and just followed the pointers! I soon met a local chap out with his dogs and we had a nice chat about a number of things. I stayed on the sea bank for the next hour and a half as it snaked eastwards. I did have views out to the small islands of Skippers Island and Horsey Island, with the Felixstowe Dock cranes in the far distance. At Kirby Quay, I came inland quite a bit before crossing over a concrete dam and onto another section of sea wall that took me out to Peters Point. It was not long before the footpath turned inland again, this was at the start of the tidal road out to Horsey Island. I followed a lane inland to the outskirts of the small village of Kirby-le-Soken on the B1034.

The Maybush Inn Great Oakley
Council “Mumbo Jumbo” re: a footpath diversion
The sea bank at Beaumont Cut
Little Egret at Hamford Water
Skippers Island
Dam at Kirby Quay
The tidal road out to Horsey Island

I followed the road, on a footpath, into Walton-on-the-Naze. Here, after visiting an M&S Food hall for some snacks I joined up with the sea bank at Walton Mere, following the footpath around Sole Creek and past a holiday park. The official and marked public disappeared on the map, but it was obvious the footpath continued along the sea bank towards Walton Channel and Walton Hall Marshes. I was now walking the headland that is the Naze, which juts out into the North Sea. At its NE corner, I reached the actual coast, here my left foot started playing up, in particular the flexy part between my sole and toes. To make matters worse I was now heading into quite a strong headwind, which would be against me for the next 8 miles! And it started to rain and fatigue started to creep in! Grrrrr!

I was now heading due south and soon made a quick call to Naze Tower, a square brick building built in 1720 by the Trinity House to act as a day mark. I did not linger at the tower but continued on along the cliff top, feeling tired and trying to ignore my sore foot. I passed a multitude of coloured beach Huts, 4 deep in places that extended way beyond Walton and past Frinton-On-Sea. By the time I reached the Holland Haven golf club I was now walking along the sea wall proper. With the high tide the beach had disappeared and the sea was breaking along the base of the wall.

I could now see Clacton in the distance and I was wishing the walk would end soon. I passed through the small outlier of Clacton that is Holland Haven and then into Clacton itself. It was certainly strung out and I was desperate to catch a glimpse of the pier, because I knew my car was parked about 400m from it. When I did eventually see the pier it seemed miles off and for the next hour just didn’t appear to get any closer! The pain in my left had subsided some time ago, but the wind was still there. I eventually arrived back at the car, amongst the thinning visitor crowds as the late afternoon wore on. Not a bad days walking, but became rather mundane walking along the promenade.

At Peters Point on The Naze looking across to Felixstowe in the distance
The Naze Tower
Looking back at Walton-on-the-Naze pier
Heading along the Sea Wall at Holland Haven
The pier at Clacton-On-Sea
Martello Tower “F” with old Coastguard lookout at Clacton

Distance today = 23 miles
Total distance = 5,383 miles

 

 

 

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294. Alness to Balblair

Today would be another day of walking along roads, although in actual fact I would not be walking on the roads themselves, but on footpaths and wide verges away from the roads.

My end point for the day was to reach the small hamlet of Balblair on the Black Isle. I parked at a small car park at Newhall Point which provides an excellent view across Udale Bay, part of Cromarty Firth, to the Fearn Peninsular. I had a number of public transport options in getting back to Alness and I chose to catch the 07:38 #21 bus to Duncanston crossroads on the A9 and then pick up the 08:08 #25x bus to Alness. I must admit I was rather apprehensive not only about picking up a bus from a layby on the A9, but only have 8 minutes between buses. In the end it all worked out well.

I set off from Alness on pavements and footpaths which roughly followed the B817, which broadly followed the A9 a few hundred meters away. The footpath was also the NCN1 cycle route and provided a relaxed and stress-free route. I passed out of Alness and into and through the neighbouring town of Evanton. Inevitably, I knew I would have to join the A9 some time or later. The ironical thing about walking along the A9 is that although the road is very busy and has fast flowing traffic, but it is probably safer than some of the minor roads, due to its wide and well mown verge.

I soon arrived at the Storehouse of Foulis, now a visitor attraction and housing a restaurant, exhibition and gift shops etc. The centrepiece of the site is the fully restored 18th century Grade A listed Girnal or Rent House used to store grain in days gone by. The Girnal also houses a museum dedicated to the Clan Munro.

The Cromarty Bridge came into view and it was not long before I was crossing it and stepping onto the Black Isle. I opted to stay on the road all the way to Balblair, as the rocky foreshore is very slippy underfoot.
I must admit even though I enjoyed this walk, I could not find a great deal to write about even though the scenery from the elevated road on The Black Isle was outstanding. I think it was just a case of putting the miles in and ensuring I get over The Kessock Bridge on my next trip up north.

Early morning in Alness High Street
Following the NCN 1 cycleway
I think this is a means to harvest Beech Nuts
Alongside the A9
The Girnal at Storehouse of Foulis
Looking across the Cromarty Bridge
The view eastwards from the Cromarty Bridge
Looking down on the Cromarty Bridge
The view across Udale Bay towards Nigg

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=24728

 

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,360 miles

 

293. Nigg Ferry to Alness

Today will be predominantly road walking as I make my way around Cromarty Firth. I decided  that I would leave my car in Alness and walk back to my Airbnb from Nigg Ferry.

I caught the 07:51 train to Tain; not for the first time has the guard not come for my fare and very few of these stations have ticket machines. In Tain I had just over 35 minutes to kill before I caught the 08:35 #29 bus to Nigg Ferry so I bought a paper and read it in the Rose Garden.

At Nigg Ferry I set off back down the road,  which was surprisingly quiet. With the sun  out and it was a lovely autumnal morning to be out walking. I followed the B9175 to the small hamlet of Arabella, here I turned down a minor road that was dead straight for almost two miles. The land around here is very flat with a number of small water courses to get around. The road eventually crossed the railway line and soon joined the A9 at Kildary. I thought I would have to wait to cross over the A9, but surprisingly it was very quiet.

I joined the B817 for a short distance before diverting into the small village of Milton, which in days gone by was an important staging point for drovers moving their cattle south. I re-joined the B817 which had no path or verge in most places. I had to have my wits about me as the road was not especially quiet. I passed through the strangely named hamlets of Barbaraville and Pollo. The road finally joined up with the Cromarty Firth shore and I was able to walk a short distance on the beach before I entered Saltburn and a proper footpath appeared. Saltburn is a small outlier of the larger town of Invergordon. Once a large naval base, today Invergordon is an important location for services to the oil industry. I noticed a number of very large and colourful painted murals on the gable ends of a number buildings in the town, something to do with the Invergordon “Off the wall Project”.

As I walked out of Invergordon I joined up with an excellent cycle/footpath all the way back into Alness. Even though it was nearly all road walking, it was still an enjoyable walk. Tomorrow would be more road walking as I continue my journey around the Cromarty Firth and onto the Black Isle.

Passing oil storage tanks at Nigg Ferry
Looking down the Cromarty Firth to Invergordon
A very quiet A9 at Kildary
At the Mercat Cross in Milton
Looking towards Nigg Ferry and Cromarty from near Saltburn
Heading towards Saltburn
Saltburn Pier
Mural in Invergordon
Invergordon mural
Semi-submersible drilling rig in cold storage

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=24726

Distance today = 17 miles
Total distance = 5,342 miles

 

 

 

292. Portmahomack to Nigg Ferry

 

I headed off  to Scotland again to get three more days of walking in. This trip would see a mixed bag, with the majority of the walking being done on the road, particularly the second and third days. I drove up the day before and checked into my Airbnb in Alness.

My first days walk would continue my trek around the Fearn Peninsular and be predominantly along the shoreline. I first drove to Nigg Ferry where I parked my car. Although the ferry service across the Cromarty Firth had stopped for the winter, a bus service still ran to Nigg Ferry. It was very cold as I waited to catch the 07:48 #129 bus to Tain. The bus was packed with schoolchildren as well as workers. In Tain I waited 10 minutes to catch the 08:40 #24 bus to Portmahomack.

I headed north along the shore over very level and easy terrain. I soon came to the remnants of a whale, one of the bones was massive. I think it could have been a Sperm Whale which was washed up here about 5 or 6 years ago. Sections of the bone had been removed by a saw either for analysis or just trophy hunters. I followed the shoreline for an hour towards the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness. The lighthouse is now in private hands and a sign asked that visitors keep to the perimeter fence. The grounds of the lighthouse were carpeted in a lush green lawn and I was quite startled to see two robotic lawnmowers appear around a corner! I rounded Tarbat Ness and bid goodbye to Dornoch Firth and said hello to The Moray Firth.

Drinking fountain to celebrate the arrival of piped water to Portmahomack in 1887
The massive bone of a Sperm Whale washed ashore here in 2013
The lighthouse at Tarbat Ness
Tarbat Ness

Most of the northern end of the Fearn Peninsular has a raised beach running along its eastern seaboard, this provides a good walking path for most of its way. Before arriving at the small hamlet of Rockfield I passed Tarrel’s Bothy which was all boarded up and I doubt in use as a bothy given that it had a large garage door in its gable end! I passed through the old fishing hamlet of Rockfield, nestled below the cliffs on the raised beach.

I passed below the restored late-16th century Ballone Castle and continued along the beach towards the “Seaboard villages” of Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick. I made a quick visit into the Spar shop for drink and food before continuing onto Shandwick. Here I asked 3 or 4 locals if I could get to Nigg Ferry below the cliffs, 3 people said I could ………maybe. I decided to give it a go, even though high tide was imminent. I managed to get about 400m along the shore around a couple of bluffs before I ran out of beach. Here the cliffs were very steep, with impenetrable gorse covering the steep hillside. I found a small gully and thought I could beat my way through it with a wooden stick I found on the beach. However, it would have taken me a very long time and there was no guarantee I could get through the gorse to the higher ground. My only option now was to retrace my steps back along the rocky beach before I was completely cut off by the tide. I managed to squeeze past the rising tide, which only left me with about 1.5m to get by. I knew the route south from here was covered in thick gorse and a number of steep gorse-filled ravines, which other “coasters” before me avoided by going inland.

I managed to get back onto the shore and headed into field of cattle that had calves, I don’t think they wanted me there, so I gave them a wide berth. I headed through a small disused quarry and then found a rough farm track. Time to check my map and plot a route, only to discover that it was gone along with the map case……..bugger! The map could have been dropped anywhere, including the rocky beach! There was no way I could continue over the higher ground to negotiate the gorse, ravines and forest sections, so I decided drop down to the road which was  about an half mile away. I knew this road followed the base of the Hill of Nigg and would eventually take me back to Nigg Ferry.

I had wasted about an hour trying to get along the beach and still had some 6 miles of road walking to do. Eventually I passed through the small village of Nigg and I noticed a sign for The Stone of Nigg. The stone is an incomplete Pictish carved stone dating to the end of the 8th century and is now housed in the Old Church of Nigg. The church closed at 17:00, I checked the door…locked, I checked my watch….. Ten past five! I walked around the church looking in through the windows but could not see the stone.

I continued along the road for another 2 miles to Nigg Ferry and completed the walk after walking for 9 hours. It had been a great walking day, with the gorse covered area south of Shandwick the only downside.

The Old Salmon Bothy at Wilkhaven
The route south along the raised beach
Ballone Castle
Easy going south of Rockfield
Tarrel’s Bothy
The dramatic cliffs near Geanies Point
Heading towards The Seaboard villages of Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick
The Mermaid of the North at Balintore
Heading South from Shandwick
Running out of beach
Heading inland skirting the gorse
The disused pier at Nigg Ferry
A collection of Jack-up and semi-submersible oil drilling rigs in The Cromarty Firth
Looking across the Cromarty Firth to the small town of Cromarty

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=24725

Distance today = 23 miles
Total distance = 5,325 miles