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

 

 

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