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

 

 

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

 

287. Helmsdale to Latheron

Very little to say about this section, mainly because I had decided to walk down the A9 from Helmsdale back to Latheron. It started to rain on leaving Helmsdale and did not stop until I reached Latheron. I only managed to take 6 photos because of the rain and with the clag had descending for most of the walk  there were none of the views I had enjoyed on my first two days walking. By the time I reached Latheron I was soaking wet from head to foot. It was a concern that water had penetrated my Rab walking jacket, causing my phone, camera, car key and wallet in the inner pockets to become wet. Bizarrely water had also got into my plastic map carrier and soaked my maps!

Anyway, I had parked at Latheron Community Hall and caught the early morning X99 bus service towards Inverness getting off at Helmsdale. It had stopped raining as I climbed the hill out of Helmsdale, but promptly started again when I reached the top. The highlight of this walk was meeting a fellow long distance walker and discovering that he was just three days away from completing an epic Lands’ End to John o’Groats walk. This was Richard, a 70+ year old who had reached this point by mostly using National Trails, but today was staying on the road. Richard, in his youth had climbed many of the Scottish Hills, but now concentrated on low level walking.  After 3 or 4 miles of sharing stories I bid Richard goodbye.

I was a bit worried with the roadworks around Berriedale. Berriedale is a small hamlet on the A9 where the Berriedale and Langwell Waters cut a deep channel through the surrounding hills causing a steep descent and ascent for the A9. Currently work is underway to improve the bends of the road. I was unsure what provision was made for pedestrians, in the end I just walked through the roadworks.

I continued onto Latheron, where, as I approached the hamlet the clouds disappeared and the rain stopped and I was in bright hot sunshine. Glad this section was done.

Looking back at Helmsdale
Descending into Berriedale
Walking out of Berriedale
Crossing Dunbeath Water at Dunbeath
Looking back with the sun out and arriving at Latheron

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=24690

Distance today = 19 miles
Total distance = 5,221 miles