277. Strathy Inn to Dounreay

I was very relieved to see that the forecasted temperatures for today were considerably cooler than yesterday. In fact, it was overcast when I set off from Thurso on the drive to Strathy Inn where I parked.

I set off down the main road for a short distance until I reached Strathy Bridge where I took a signed footpath towards the beach, here I continued through very steep-sided sand dunes, climbing some difficult barbed-wire topped fences. I eventually reached the cliff-tops and walked through fields of machair, climbing more fences as I went along. The cliffs were very impressive, but difficult and dangerous to get a closer look at. I did drop down to the beach near to Baligill, close to the ruined Dun Mhairtein, where eroded sandstone had formed a thin arête-like sea stack – that just begged to be walked along! It was a great opportunity to test my nerve and I managed the highest and largest of the pinnacles before I turned around, not wishing to chance my luck any further. I continued along the cliff top walking out towards Rubha Beag. At Rubha Beag I headed south over boggy terrain towards Portskerra, but two steep ravines or geo’s pushed me further and further inland. In fact I was almost back on the A836 when I got to the second ravine, either caused by the stream cutting steeply through the sandstone layers or as a result by ancient action of the sea. After getting past this ravine I headed for the main road into Melvich.

At Strathy Inn looking eastwards
The arete stack near Dun Mhairtein
On the top of the arete
The arete stack near Dun Mhairtein
Complex coastline near Rubha Beag
Steep ravine near Portskerra

I was not on the main road for long as I turned off down a signed footpath that took me to Melvich Bay and Bighouse, the Estate Lodge. I crossed over The River Halladale via a footbridge, which the Highland Council advised me against. The bridge looked perfectly fine, except they perhaps should have warned against a group of Artic Terns, who continually dive-bombed me until I reached Bighouse. They did not make contact, but came very close! I spoke to one of the Estate workers who was repairing a gate and we chatted a while.

I climbed over a few fences and continued around Rubha an Tuir. There was a footpath that came and went, running across the cliff-tops. I came to more Geo’s, the larger of which was Geodh Eisgiadh which required a 600m detour to get around. I could now make out the Dounreay Nuclear Station or to give it is new name The Dounreay Nuclear Power development Establishment. I passed around more geo’s and arrived at the small harbour of Fresgoe. I joined a narrow road and continued into New Reay and onto the A836. Because, walking is not permitted around the decommissioned nuclear plant I would be on the main road for the next 3 or 4 miles. I reached the main gate of Dounreay and returned back to Reay where I was able to catch an afternoon bus back to Strathy Inn.

Bridge over the River Halladale near Bighouse
Dive-bombing Artic Terns on the River Halladale
Looking back at Bighouse and Melvich
The route ahead eastwards
Kittiwakes and Guillemots at Geodh Ruadh
Nesting birds at Geodh Ruadh
Interesting sea stacks at Geodh Eisgiadh
Walking around Geodh Eisgiadh
Looking towards Dounreay and Sandside bay
Looking towards Dounreay at Fresgoe

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=24629

Distance today = 17 miles

Total distance = 5,014 miles

 

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276. Bettyhill to Strathy Inn

The forecast for the North West Highlands was a staggering 29 deg C! I had hoped that this forecast did not include the northern coast of Sutherland…..but I was wrong! By the time I had driven along the A836 from Thurso, the early morning fog had been burnt-off, leaving bright blue skies. By the time I reached my parking spot near The Strathy Inn it was very hot. With no cloud in the sky I was rather apprehensive about the days walk, as I never really like walking in the searing heat.

I caught the #800 bus, which although primarily a school bus service, is also available to the general public. The bus was heading for Bettyhill where I would start my walk. Before leaving Bettyhill I popped into the Post Office stores to get another 1ltr of water to supplement the 2.5lt I was already carrying. I walked a short distance along the A836 until I set off down a signed path to the empty beach. I walked to the end of the beach and picked up a grass track leading to Clerkhill. At Clerkhill I took a wrong turn and it was about 600m up a steep hill before I realised I had gone the wrong way. With the heat already having an effect on me I decided to stay on the road until it met the A836, something I had not planned to do. The heat, even though I had only been walking for an hour had become very fierce.
I decided I would try and get back on course by continuing along the A836 for another 2km and then turn off up to a radio mast on Cnoc Mor. This would put me closer to my intended course and more importantly maybe offer some shade! As I neared the summit the heat was intense and I was relieved to find buildings to give me shade. It was 11:15 and I decided I would stay put for at least 2 hours and recover in the shade of the main building. I made myself at home, making myself a seat and removing my boots and my sweat-soaked top, which I put out in the sun to dry! A gentle breeze finally got up and helped me to cool down. My water situation was very good and by 13:20 I was ready to go again.

Heading towards the beach at Bettyhill
The beach at Bettyhill
Heading up towards the transmitter tower on Cnoc Mor
The view westwards with Arkle and Foinavon in the far distance
Looking eastwards towards Hoy and Mainland on the Orkneys

 

I decided to set a bearing of due east on my compass to take me directly to Armadale over trackless terrain. After about 30 minutes I was overlooking Armadale Bay and could easily see my route ahead. I picked up a signed footpath down to an empty Armadale beach. Although two footbridges appeared on the map, they were not needed, as I walked over the two river outflows on the beach without getting my feet wet.

 

Looking towards The Strathy Peninsula from above Armadale, the Orkneys can be seen in the far distance
Armadale Beach
Crossing over Armadale Beach

I was now walking on the western side of the Strathy peninsula. Although trackless I was able to keep to the shoreline on the cliff-tops by simply walking through machair grass covered fields. I eventually arrived at the hamlet of Brawl, which I bypassed, and headed up the small rise of Cnoc Dubh (114m). I could now see my route ahead out towards Strathy Point. The ground I was on was still recovering from wild fires some years back. Although some vegetation had grown back I was mainly walking on blackened earth. Only a few weeks before, 5 miles away, wild fires had flared up and closed the A836.

I passed close to the hamlet of Aultivullin and then headed NE across boggy terrain to Totagen, near Strathy Point. I did not have the energy to do an out and back to the lighthouse, and so decided to head south 3km along the road back to the car.

A very tough day and glad the heat will not be as great tomorrow.

Heading up the western side of the Strathy Peninsula
Collapsed blow-hole Geo with natural arch near Aultiphurst
Looking back from above Brawl on Cnoc Dubh
Heading towards Aultivullin
Looking east towards Dounreay from near Strathy Point
Strathy Point
Cut peat drying

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=24628

 

Distance today = 16 miles

Total distance = 4,997 miles

 

 

275. Bettyhill to Coldbackie

The heatwave forecast for the UK finally hit the far north of Scotland as I woke up to clear blue skies. As I was staying in Thurso, I had a long drive over to Coldbackie to catch the #803 bus service to Bettyhill. The minibus was full of school children on their way to Farr High School in Bettyhill.

After getting off the bus in Bettyhill I set off down the A836 for the short distance to the bridge over the River Naver. Immediately after crossing over the bridge I went through a gate and headed along the river out towards the estuary. The tide was well out, revealing large sand banks / dunes and unusual flora. Although I could have walked around the headland into the next bay, I opted to walk and over the Druim Chuibhe which I thought would be quicker. Descending into the next bay I could see most of the landmarks that would take me on towards Skerray. I could see the footbridge over the River Borgie, but not the bridge (which was not marked on the map) for a small stream that I also needed to cross. I was finding it very difficult to even get down to the stream, as the bracken and gorse seemed to block all ways forward. I followed the small burn upstream for about 600m before I was able to get past the bracken and gorse. I was really annoyed at not being able to find the bridge. As I retraced my steps, but on the opposite bank I was able to see the bridge amongst the bracken and gorse.

Looking acros to Torrisdale Bay from Bettyhil
Heading to the bridge over the River Naver
Heading up the shore of the River Naver
Heading across the Torrisdale Estuary
Looking towards Skerray across The River Borgie from the Druim Chuibhe
Looking out towards Torrisdale Bay

I joined a narrow road that was very quiet. The sun was now very hot and I started to think about my water consumption, I decided the remaining 500ml would  see me to the end of the walk. I passed through a myriad of tiny hamlets including Skerray, Torrisdale, Torroy, Lamoig and Strathan. Skerray was the largest settlement, with a Post Office doubling up as an Art Gallery. I was also amazed to see that Skerray also had street lighting. I hopped between footpaths, green lanes and roads as I passed through these hamlets.

Street lighting in Skerray
Verdant scenery near Skerray

I eventually arrived at Strathan, where I donned my walking boots before setting off along a marked path out to the ruins of Sletell. Although the settlement may have been initially ‘Cleared’, the hamlet was certainly re-settled, as the last occupant of the three crofts left in 1960. An impressive iron cooking hearth was still set within one of the croft’s chimneys. Researching Sletell later at the B&B there are a number of geocaches at the site, including written memories of someone who actually lived there! I wish I had known at the time. It’s always very poignant, for me, when visiting these ruined houses, be they ‘cleared’ or abandoned, as they were once somebody’s home.

Looking towards Port an t-Strathain
Looking westwards to Melness and Ben Hutig across the Rabbit Islands
Ruined croft at Sletell
Sletell
Fireplace and stove at Sletell

I climbed south away from Sletell and picked up a sheep track. The views over Tongue Bay towards Melness were amazing. The path came and went and I had to climb to get around a geo with very impressive cliffs. I descended across grassy terrain to arrive at the end of the public road at Skullomie. I could see my car parked in a layby about 600m away across a small v-shaped valley. I picked up a marked footpath which had Coldbackie 1km away. Unfortunately, for the second time on this walk I failed to pick up a small bridge which was heavily covered in vegetation. I ended up walking 2km to get back to Coldbackie. A tough walk today but some fantastic scenery.

The island of Eileann nan Ron
Heading south along Tongue Bay with Ben Hope in the far distance
Heading towards Skullomie
Looking across to Coldbackie with the impressive peak of Cnoc an Fhreiceadain behind

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=24625

Distance today = 14 miles

Total distance = 4,981 miles

 

 

274. Coldbackie to Hope Bridge

As the southern part of the UK braced itself for a heatwave I headed north to Sutherland to continue walking along its northern coast. I had managed to book a B&B, at an affordable rate, in Thurso for 3 nights giving me four days of walking. I had calculated I would still not reach John O’Groats on this trip, but at least I would be heading south down the Scottish East coast on my next trip to the far north. The logistics of the four days was quite complex, having to change direction of walking and using buses and my bike.

I drove up the previous day and just about reached Tongue before I pulled over for the night and slept in the back of the car. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring my thermal air bed, which made for a slightly uncomfortable night. As the Summer Solstice had only recently passed it remained very light and hardly got dark at all.

The following day I drove to a small pull-in just north of Hope Bridge and got on my bike. The road was very quiet when I set off towards Coldbackie. I had chosen to cycle in this direction because most of the cycling was to be downhill. I left my cycle in Coldbackie and started walking back up the A836. About a mile from Tongue I turned off down a narrow road which took me down to the shoreline of The Kyle of Tongue. The road continued back onto the A836 and then onto the impressive Tongue Bridge, which was basically a barrage or causeway, with a bridge at the far end, allowing the sea to enter further into The Kyle estuary. I leftthe main road, which had been very quiet, and taken a minor narrow road out to the hamlets of Melness, Midtown, Skinnet, Talmine, Achnahuaigh and East Strathan. The high position of the road offered brilliant views across Tongue Bay out to the uninhabited Rabbit Islands. With not a single car passing me I left the public road at Achiniver and took to a rough track that climbed onto the open moor. The track soon ended at Loch na h-Uamhachd and I set a compass bearing for Loch nan Aighean across open moorland. The going, although wet in a few places, was not difficult especially with the short vegetation. I was heading towards Whiten Head walking over the North-West shoulder of Ben Hutig (408m), which I had thought about climbing, but this would have extended the day somewhat. In the far distance I could make out the small forestry plantations close to the A836 where I had left my car that morning. Between me and it was a number of miles of gently rolling terrain, boggy in places, with numerous streams to cross. I set another bearing for the forestry and proceeded over boggy terrain. In what seemed like an age I finally reached the A836 a few hundred metres away from my car. Looking back at my route I could see that the cloud had come down and Ben Hutig was now in cloud.

I now had the long drive over the Thurso and my Airbnb for the next three nights.

On the A836 crossing the Tongue causeway
Looking out towards The Rabbit Islands
Achininver Beach
Looking back to Strath Melness with Ben Loyal in the background
Loch na h-Uamhacdh
Heading towards Whiten Head with Durness and Faraid Head in the hazy far distance
On the NW shoulder of Ben Hutig
Looking back eastwards towards The Rabbit Islands
Looking westwards towards Durness
Heading south over gently rolling grass and bog

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=24624

Distance today = 19 miles

Total distance = 4,967 miles

 

272. Laid to Hope Bridge

I had spent the night in the car, in a small off-road parking slot that shielded me from the worst of the winds at the head of Loch Eriboll. I wanted to get an early start on the road, so was up and away by 06:30.
Today’s walk was along the A838 and because of the absence of public transport I would have to do an out and back using my bike. The early start would mean I would have the road to myself for the first couple of hours, before the NC500 brigade finished their breakfasts and put foot/hand to throttle. I must admit I don’t mind road walking, it’s generally dry underfoot and you can make good progress as well as enjoying some amazing scenery, it’s just when you are constantly verge-hopping that it becomes a pain. I drove to a small pull-in I had detected on Streetview on the open moor about a mile east of Hope Bridge. This would be point where I would set off across the moorland towards Whiten Head on my next walk, but today was getting around Loch Eriboll. I got the bike out of the car and set off back down the road towards Laid.

I arrived in Laid, by the tea rooms and immediately turned around. The weather had improved slightly with a drop in wind, but the persistent showers continued. I started pushing my bike along the A838 towards Hope Bridge. Most of the higher hills around me where still cloaked in cloud. I started thinking and planning how I would tackle the remaining sections to John O’Groats. It looked like for most of the way I could keep off the main road and after reaching Tongue public transport would not become an issue.
After passing through the small hamlet of Eriboll and just approaching Ard Neakie, a small piece of land connected to the shore by a narrow isthmus, the camper vans and motorcycle convoys began. The road climbed steeply out of Loch Eriboll and eastwards down towards Loch Hope and Hope Bridge. By the time I reached my car I was soaked and a bit cheesed off.
I drove into Tongue to get a drink and contemplate what to do next. The persistent showers continued. As I waited in a car park on the Tongue Bridge, with the rain continuing and the forecast of more of the same tomorrow, I decided to call it a day and headed home.

Near the head of Loch Eriboll looking east
Looking north up Loch Eriboll
A piebald Cob near Eriboll
Looking back down Loch Eriboll
Limekilns and small quarry on Ard Neakie
Looking down on Loch Ach’an Lochaidh from Torr na Bithe
At Hope Bridge looking towards Loch Hope
Looking back westwards towards Loch Hope

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=24605

Distance today =  14.5 miles
Total distance = 4,926.5 miles

 

271. Durness to Laid via Faraid Head

It was time to begin the walk eastwards along the ‘roof’ of Scotland, but first I needed to walk around Faraid Head. I also had to arrange some transport, as between Durness and Tongue there was a gap in public transport availability. Fortunately, The Durness Bus Company provided a dial-a-bus service that operated within a fixed radius of Durness, which I could utilise for a part of my journey. A few days before I travelled north I booked to be picked-up from the small strung-out village of Laid, on the western shore of Loch Eriboll, and to be dropped off at Keodale, at the road end to the Durness Ferry.

As I usually do, I drove up from Shropshire the day before and reached Rhiconich before pulling over and sleeping in the back of the car. There were some fearsome winds during the night which rocked the car. The following morning I drove through Durness and onto Laid, where I parked near to the tea rooms.The Dial-a-Bus arrived bang on time at 08:00 and Sarah, the driver, dropped me off at the road end to the Durness Ferry. The journey cost me the princely sum of £2.05!!

I set off along the ferry road and continued on past the slipway. I was able to follow a well-trodden footpath along the low-lying cliff-tops that rise above the Kyle of Durness. This is Durness Limestone country and the walking is dry, well drained and grassy. The Cambrian limestone is actually a Dolomite and an important marker in understanding the complex geology of the area. With the receding tide I get down onto the beach to walk, but large pools soon block my way forward and I am forced to return to the cliff-top. I enter Balnakiel Bay and walk through the Golf Course.
I head out along the white sandy beach of Faraid Head. The walking underfoot is easy, but I am walking into a strong headwind, which brings in persistent rain showers. Most of the Faraid Head peninsular is overlain by sand and large sand dunes. As the beach runs out I head up through the sand dunes and pick up a narrow tarmac access road. The road services the MOD facility, with its large control tower for the Cape Wrath bombing range. Faraid Head itself is fenced-off and no access is permitted. I follow the security fencing to a cairn on Cnoc nan Sgliat which offers  great views down to a very rough sea and the impressive twin sea stacks of Clach Beag/Mhor na Faraid. I head southward through 2 miles of high sand dunes. I visited the ruined broch of Seanachiasteal Dun and head over Aodann Mhor where I picked up a green lane which lead me into Durness.

At the Durness Ferry
Heading along The Kyle of Durness
On the beach for a while
Approaching Balnakiel
On the beach heading towards Faraid Head
MOD land at Faraid Head
The control tower at Faraid Head
Heading south through the sand dunes
The twin Sea stacks of Clach Beag na Faraid and Clach Mhor na Faraid
Looking back to Faraid Head across very rough seas
Durness

In Durness I pop into MacKay’s for a coffee and a snack. I continued along the A838. I pass a sign for the John Lennon Memorial Garden. Intrigued to know what the connection with Durness is I investigate. I find that as a young boy John Lennon spent many holidays with his cousin, Stan Parkes, in Durness. According to his cousin, Lennon referred to his time spent at Durness in his song “In My Life”, which he co-wrote with Paul McCartney. The garden is now a bit tatty and looks rather run down.

Further on I pay a quick visit to Smoo Cave, which I last visited 16 years ago. It is still a very impressive natural feature and well worth a visit. I notice it has lighting now and guided tours to the deeper recesses.

I continue on along the road leaving Durness and the roadside footpath behind. I arrive at the site of the abandoned township of Ceannabeinne, emptied in 1842. Like many other sites I have visited in Scotland a victim of The Clearances. At Ceannabeinne Beach I come across the 230m long Golden Eagle zip line which runs over the Allt Chailgeag. With the ride being completed in 15 -20secs, the £12 charge seems rather expensive. The zip line ride was shut when I arrived.

The rest of the walk was along the A838 which now headed south as it entered Loch Eriboll, a large sea-loch which I must walk around. The afternoon traffic of the NC500 is still present, in particular, the motorbikes which were particularly noisy. At Laid I popped into the nearby tea room. I was not particularly looking forward to the next day’s walking which was all road and more rain forecast.

The John Lennon Memorial Garden
Entrance to Smoo Cave
Smoo Cave with blow hole visible
Ceannabeinne township
Golden eagle zip line at Ceannabeinne Beach

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=24601

Distance today =  19 miles
Total distance = 4,912 miles

 

 

 

268. Daill to Durness

I must admit I never really like sleeping in a tent, I’ve done it hundreds of times over the years but prefer sleeping in the back of the car or in a bothy. I had quite a fitful night’s sleep, trying to find a comfortable position that did not aggravate aching feet/legs/hips/shoulders. The aches subsided but it was quite a noisy spot with the surf from the nearby Daill beach and some bird that was creating quite a racket all night, the cuckoo started at 03:00!

I set my alarm for 03:30 and had everything packed away by 04:00. The legs seemed good and the spirit high. The sun had yet to rise, but it looked like it was going to be another lovely day. I set off along the road towards the ferry house with great views across the Kyle of Durness to Durness and The Orkneys beyond. Of course it was no ferry for me as I had to walk around to the first bridging point on the River Dionard. Just before the ferry house I took a rocky track that climbed steeply up the hillside, leading to a disused quarried area. The track stopped suddenly, which I knew from my map beforehand. I then set a bearing on my compass to the bridge over the River Grudie 2 to 3 miles away. I intended to follow the bearing and stay high over the rough ground. This was quite easy to do and the underfoot conditions were good. It was quite light when I reached a point above the Grudie River where I found the footbridge to cross. To be fair, there where multiple places to cross over the river if the river was not in spate.

I crossed over the slopes of a small hillock and walked along the Dionard River through the farm and across the footbridge to the A838. The road at this time of the morning was empty and I set off towards Durness, very pleased that I walked for 5 days and reached a major milestone in my walk around the coastline of Great Britain.

 

Looking towards Faraid Head across Diall Beach
Looking back towards Diall on the quarry track
Looking across the Kyle of Durness above the ferry house
The route ahead towards the Grudie river bridge
Looking across to Durness with the Orkneys in the distance
Looking down on the River Dionard and River Grudie
The bridge over the River Grudie
The bridge of the River Dionard
Looking back down the Kyle of Durness

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=24551

Distance today =  10 miles
Total distance = 4,860 miles