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

 

Advertisements

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

 

 

267. Kinlochbervie to Daill via Cape Wrath

I’d been waiting to do this walk for a while, just over 3 years in fact, ever since I did my first Scottish coastal walk back in 2016. I was a bit apprehensive though, wondering whether my legs would hold up, whether the range would be closed (even though it was planned to be open) or would fatigue set in? I usually only walk for 3 days then go home, this trip could potentially see me walking for 5 consecutive days.
The plan was quite simple, leave the car in Durness, get the #806 Far North Bus to Kinlochbervie, walk to Cape Wrath, round the lighthouse, walk out towards Durness and see how far I could get before pitching my tent. I was carrying a very light pack with my sleeping bag, Terra Nova Zephyr 1 tent, some cold snacks, no cooking equipment and 1 litre of water.

I waited at the Spar shop in Durness for the bus. The shop was not open until 9 on a Saturday morning, which was a shame as a cup of coffee would have gone down well. I was joined by three other walkers who had finished the Cape Wrath Trail the day before and were now heading home. The #806 service is basically a minibus and you are required to book a seat. The bus was late arriving, but soon made the time up by going at break-neck speed southwards. I was the only passenger getting off in Kinlochbervie, but there were a large number of other people getting on. The bus departed and I was left on my own.
I now had 3 or 4 miles of road-walking as there is no public transport out to Blairmore – where the track out to Sandwood Bay begins. Most of this land is owned by the John Muir Trust, who also own a number of other estates including Knoydart, Quinag, Ben Nevis and parts of Skye. Here the Trust works in close partnership with Crofters who actually manage the land. After a couple of miles I kept a look out for the Lighthouse at Cape Wrath. When I do get a glimpse its almost 10 miles away and will be out sight until I am virtually upon it. I arrive at Sandwood Bay and immediately head through the dunes and onto the beach. It’s hard going on the soft sand, but thankfully the beach is not that long as the tide is in. I get an excellent view back to the Am Buachaille sea stack and pass the remains of a large whalebone, apparently it was a Killer whale that beached back in 2008. It looks amazingly like a large birds head with beak! I pass a tent and speak to a lady that is doing the Cape Wrath Trail and will walk to the lighthouse tomorrow.

Heading along the wide footpath to Sandwood Bay
Almost 10 miles as the crow flies to Cape Wrath
Arriving at Sandwood Bay
Sandwood Bay
Looking back to the sea stack of Am Buachaille
The remains of an Orca Whale beached in 2008
Looking back at Sandwood Bay

After crossing the outflow from Sandwood Loch I climb up off the beach. As there a few, if any paths on towards the Lighthouse I follow my own route of least resistance between the low-lying hills. I cross over the Amhainn Strath Chailleach River and over gentle slopes. The going is tough though, even with ground very dry  my feet sink into the soft grasses and moss. I can see about half a mile away to the east,  Strathchailleach bothy which I did at one stage think about staying in. It was sapping work and after making a slight route adjustment, because I had strayed too far east I could now see the boundary fence and markers of the MOD land. I crossed the Keasgaig River and climbed slowly to the shallow bealach between Sithean na h-lolaireach and Cnoc a’Ghuibhais. Here the grass and moss gave way to a Tundra-like landscape. From the bealach I thought I would be able to look down on the Lighthouse, but no was hidden by a small hill – Dunan Mor.
I set off from the bealach and shortly after wards could see two of the white mini-buses making their way from the Lighthouse to the ferry. I stayed to east to avoid a deep gulley and almost out of nowhere I was joined by another walker! It was quite a shock to have somebody appear about 20 meters away. Anyway, we both continued on towards the Lighthouse, he was into his 17th day of walking the Cape Wrath Trail, so it was really nice to share the experience together. I was getting very fatigued by this point, but it did  help having someone to talk to. We dumped our bags outside the Ozone cafe and walked out past the lighthouse. It was a fantstic setting on a gloriously sunny day with the sea a beautiful deepblue.

Crossing the Amhainn Strath Chailleach River
Crossing into MOD land
Looking towards the Lighthouse hidden behind Dunan Mor, the minibus can be seen winding its way slowly along the road
Cape Wrath Lighthouse
The foghorn

Back at the cafe we were joined by a Dutch guy who had also walked part of the CWT. They were both staying in the bunkhouse that night and would get the minibus out the following day. After consuming multiple soft drinks, coffee and a large piece of gateau I was ready to depart. I spoke to the guy who manages the Lighthouse who was cleaning out the rainwater storage tanks, a job that had not been done in many a year. I also spoke to his daughter, who was very helpful in advising where I could pitch my tent towards Durness.

After a 90 minute rest, I felt like I had a new set of legs and headed off down the road. I made excellent time and had a notion that given enough daylight I could get back to the car that night! However, as the miles wore on and so fatigue began to rear its head. Because I do not use ferries I would have to walk around the Kyle of Durness along trackless terrain and this meant I would have to pitch my tent somewhere. The miles of the road wore on and I finally dropped down to The Daill River and camped next to the bridge there. I was very tired and every bone and muscle ached.

 

Heading back to Durness looking towards Sandwood Bay in the far distance
Camping spot at Daill

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=24548

Distance today =  28 miles
Total distance = 4,850 miles

 

266. Scourie to Kinlochbervie

It froze in the night causing a thin layer of ice to form on the outside of my tent and car windscreen. I did not sleep in my tent at Scourie campsite I just stored stuff from the car in it. I actually slept in the car, which was warmer, more comfortable and quieter than the tent. I woke up to a gloriously sunny and still morning.

After clearing the ice off the windscreen I set off to drive to Kinlochbervie and parked in the memorial car park. The car park forms part of a War Memorial to both World Wars and has a separate area dedicated to a local man – Robert McBeath who was awarded the VC for his actions in 1917. He was only 24 when he died, but he did not die in France. He survived the war, married and emigrated to Vancouver, Canada where he joined the Police Force. He was shot by a drunk American in 1922. His story is quite fascinating as it is tragic.

The Memorial Car Park Kinlochbervie
The story of Robert McBeath

I walked to a bus stop and waited for the #806 bus, run by “The Far North Bus” or simply The Durness Bus, which would take me back to Scourie.

Back in Scourie I immediately set off down past the campsite heading for a path that would take me up and over moorland to the isolated settlement of Tarbet. The footpath was reasonably easy to follow, snaking its way between small lochans. Apart from the start of the path, which had a section of gorse to negotiate, the path was easy to follow and had small regular cairn piles. I had great views across the Sound of Handa to Handa Island which is run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Handa is a very important reserve as a breeding area for seabirds with up to 100,000 birds, made up of Guillemots, Razorbills, Great Skuas, Terns and Puffins.

I descended steeply into the small settlement of Tarbet, which provided a small foot passenger ferry service across to Handa. A number of people were waiting for the next boat. I followed a steep road out of Tarbet and went along the shore of Loch Gobhloch. The road continued to other isolated settlements of Fangamore and eventually Foindle. Only a single car passed me on this road and it was a delight to walk along.

Shortly after leaving Foindle I left the road to cut across pathless terrain to meet up with the A894 saving me about 1.5 miles of road walking. However, the rough underfoot conditions meant I got little advantage form this shortcut. Back on the A894 the traffic was not that bad. I had a good verge to walk on and the views across to a snow-capped Arkle and Foinavon were amazing.

The route ahead from Scourie
On the footpath to Tarbet
Looking across to Handa Island
Looking down on Tarbet
Looking back to Tarbet
Loch Laxford in the distance near Fangamore

The A894 road has long straights or sweeping curves and you can see the road miles ahead, which can be a bit dispiriting for how far you will have to walk. I knew I had some 9 miles to go once I had got to Laxford Bridge, so I was quite happy when I finally reached this quite inconspicuous but important little bridge. I sat down beneath the bridge, making use of the shade available, listening to the occasional traffic above me.

After restocking my water supply from the River Laxford, and adding a purification tablet, I set off down the main road. I passed through some road cuttings which showed some remarkable dykes cutting through the 3 billion year old Lewisian Gneiss. The dykes were predominantly pegmatites with large crystals of feldspar, quartz and mica, I collected a few samples.

Arkle
Foinavon
Below Laxford Bridge
Pegmatite dykes running through Lewisian Gneiss with bore holes for blasting on this road cutting

I arrived at Rhiconich and hoped to get a cold drink at the Public bar in the hotel, unfortunately it was closed. I turned onto the B801 and continued on through the small hamlets of Achriesgill and Inshegra, both were littered with a collection of used industrial plant and cars – in fact a scrapyard. Close to the end of my walk I passed through Badcall and noticed a small shop The London Stores, mentioned in other people’s reports as a place to get anything! I bought some cold squash and a diet coke which went down very nice in the heat of the late afternoon.

By 5 o’clock I was back at the car and soon heading north to Durness where I would park for the night.

Looking down Loch Inchard
Looking back at the less flattering views of Foinavon(l) Arkle (c) and Ben Stack (r) from near Achriesgill

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=24545

Distance today =  19 miles
Total distance = 4,822 miles

 

 

265. Gleann Ardbhair to Scourie

No public transport ran east of Drumbeg towards the A894 at Kylesku and only a seasonal bus further on from there. So it was looking like I was going to have to do and out and back with my bike, something I was not looking forward to. Kenny, the bus driver from the previous day had given me a name, Harvey, who apparently drove a school bus from Scourie to Drumbeg each day to collect children and ferry them back to the main road where they would get the main bus to Ullapool. I made some enquiries at The Anchorage, the cafe/bar attached to Scourie campsite, and got a phone number. I called and spoke to Harvey’s wife, who said a lift would be no bother and to be outside the campsite at 06:45 the following morning. Harvey duly arrived and we sped off along virtually deserted roads towards Drumbeg. I got off the bus above Gleann Ardbhair and bid Harvey goodbye, after he refused any offer of money, what a guy!

As I set off the morning was very sunny and still. I could see the mountains had had a fresh dusting of snow overnight. I followed the twisty/turney road towards the A894 at Kylesku. Mercifully the NC500 brigade had not risen yet which made the walk very enjoyable. I soon realised that I had not packed any water in my rucksack, which was a pain, as there would be no opportunities to buy water further ahead. The walk was only 17 miles which I thought I could manage ok?

As the twisty/turney road joined the main road I was afforded spectacular views up to gullies of Quinag, a mountain with superb views which I can vouch for having climbed the hill some 10 years ago. The main road was  quiet and had a flat and generous verge for most its way. I walked into the small hamlet of Kylesku, just off the main road, in the hope of buying some water, but no joy. I remember crossing over on the ferry from Kylestrome to Kylesku back in 1974; but today Kylesku has a superb bridge, which was built in 1984.

I continued up the A894 where the traffic began to slowly increase, with large groups of bikers completing the NC500. A few miles on from Kylesku a walker passed me on the opposite side of the road at speed. I was quite surprised and decided to hang onto his coat-tails which I barely managed to do! I was hoping he would going a good distance as he was a great ‘pacer’, so we continued on for a few miles withme  a couple of hundred meters back. Then he disappeared without trace….probably hiding from me. LOL. My pace slackened and my thoughts returned to getting hold of some water.
I had intended to make a couple of small diversions off the road, although there were few if any paths towards the coast and all stopped at dead ends. I was glad to reach Scourie. With a water supply now available I could have gone on, but with tomorrows walk starting off on a remote footpath, it would have been difficult and impractical to continue. I simply rested.

The twisty-turney road in Gleann Ardbhair
Looking east towards Quinag
The double buttresses of Quinag, Sail Gharbh (left) and Sail Ghorm (right)
Looking down Loch Glencoul with the Stack of Glencoul (centre)
Quinag from a tranquil Kylesku
Crossing the Kylesku Bridge
Looking towards Quinag over Loch a’Chairn Bhain
Looking back at the Kylesku Bridge
Some of the impressive road cuttings through Lewisian Gneiss
At Scourie looking across to a snow-capped Arkle

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=24544

Distance today =  17 miles
Total distance = 4,803miles