305. Kinloss to Lossiemouth

Today would be an easier day with virtually all coastal walking, with little road intrusion. My use of public transport over the days of walking would involve the use of two bus services on each of the three days. In order to make use of the available daylight I had to make an early start each day. From my hotel in Buckie I drove down the coastal road and parked up in Lossiemouth. There I caught the 07:07 # 33A bus to Elgin. I then caught the 07:53 #31 bus to Kinloss. As I travelled on the bus it began to rain quite heavily. I dreaded getting off the bus and becoming soaked even before my walk began. I had successfully dried gear from yesterday’s rain overnight in my bedroom. So I was relieved to see the rain cease just as I got off the bus in Kinloss.

The 2 miles to the village of Findhorn fortunately had a good footpath all the way, although there was little see there and I was soon walking along the sea wall out of the village and on the Moray Coast Trail. I looked down onto the beach and could see very little of it, consisting only of  large cobbles making up the shoreline, which would have been murder to walk along. After about 2 miles out of Findhorn I happened to look behind me and could see the sky getting very dark. By the time the bad weather hit me I had entered the fringes of a large forested area that followed the coastline in a long sweeping curve around to Burghead, the next town on my walk.

The last remaining Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft now in private hands and based at Kinloss. This particular aircraft saw service in The Falklands War and the Piper Alpha disaster
Entering Findhorn
The view along the coastline towards Burghead
Looking back towards Findhorn and being pursued by bad weather

The Moray Coast Trail disappeared inland but I was able to keep close to the forest edge next to the shoreline for most of the way. The forest also shielded me from the worst of the showery weather that that was blowing horizontal rain and sleet. Fortunately after 40 minutes the rain ceased and the sun came out for the rest of the walk.

I re-joined the Coastal trail and entered Burghead as the wind picked up coming in very strong across the Moray Firth. The sea was very choppy splashing waves over the sea wall, along the promontory that Burghead sits on. Once the centre of a large Pictish settlement, this small town is dominated by a large malting’s site and one of the largest drum malting’s in Europe which seemed to dwarf the rest of the town. Known as “Brochers”, the people of Burghead have a number of local customs and traditions, including the Burning of The Clavie. I joined the route of the old Burghead railway, which was a branch line of the Aberdeen to Inverness line, although the line to Burghead closed recently, the section onto Hopeman closed in 1957. I followed the cycle path out of the town towards the village of Hopeman. On the way I checked out a couple of holy wells, including St. Aethan and Braemou. I also came across something I had never seen before – a bicycle repair station composed of a rack to hold the bike, tools and a tyre pump. By the time I left Hopeman I felt very confident of getting the walk done in daylight.

Heading along the forest fringe towards Burghead
Squeezing along the beach towards Burghead
A very choppy Moray Firth at Burghead
Heading past the maltings at Burghead

I was now walking along a real coastal path which made for excellent walking. I started to hear the roars of very loud jet engines which told me I was nearing RAF Lossiemouth. The coastal path rose high above the shoreline with some impressive cliffs below me. I had brilliant views across the Moray Firth and to the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness. By the time I reached the lighthouse at Covesea Steading I had dropped down to the beach and would remain on the sand all the way into Lossiemouth. This had been a great day’s walk along a superb section of coastline, with the weather in the main being sunny and the wind at my back.

On the old railway route heading towards Hopeman
St. Aethan’s Well
A bicycle repair station
The harbour at Hopeman
Braemou Well
Looking back towards Burghead and Hopeman above a working sandstone quarry
Headings towards Covesea lighthouse
Large previously inhabited caves below Covesea Steading lighthouse
Heading along the beach towards Lossiemouth

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=24782

Distance today = 19 miles
Total distance = 5,566 miles

 

 

304. Nairn to Kinloss

I decided I could just fit in a three day trip to the NE coast of Scotland before Christmas. I managed to get a really good deal with a hotel in Buckie where I would operate from for the three days. My route up to the NE, on this occasion, would not see me travel up the A90 from Perth and not the A9. I would also be able to make use of the new bypass around Aberdeen. In the end it took me a lot longer than if I had gone up the A9. I think it was the many roundabouts around Dundee, the Aberdeen traffic and the state of the A96.

As I slept in my hotel room I could hear the wind outside, it sounded really rough. The following day I drove the 27 miles down the A98 and A96 to Kinloss, where I would end my walk. I caught the 07:41 #31 bus to Forres, it was an expensive 6 minute ride costing £3.05. I got off in the centre of Forres and then caught the 08:05 # 10 bus to Nairn. This was a 25 minute ride and cost £3.50. I got off the bus in Nairn and immediately headed for the harbour. I was very pleased and relieved that I would have a very strong tailwind for today’s walk. By the time I started walking it was quite light, but I was still concerned as I had originally planned to walk 20 miles today, which would be quite tight with the light available.

After passing the harbour I made my way down onto the beach. Most of today’s walk would be along the shoreline, with some forest tracks and a few miles of road walking. I had excellent views across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle and the Tarbat peninsular, with the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness flashing at its regular beat. For most of today’s walk along the beach and salt marsh I would have the Culbin and Lady Culbin forests on my right side. There would be few physical features to plot my exact position, however I did pick up an offshore sand bar, called The Bar. Where The Bar joined the beach I would be able to pin point my position. This position I later found out marked my transition into the Moray Council Region and out of the Highland council. I had been walking through the Highland Region for over 2 years since 2017 when I passed from Argyll & Bute in Appin.

I was now walking along an indistinct path on the salt marsh and I wanted to cross the marsh area and scale the line of sand dunes that now stood between me and the beach. When I reached the dunes I was able to look down their length and see that they provided a continuous line all the way along the coast……or so it seemed! My printed out 1:25k map seemed to indicate a continuous line, but I was missing out a crucial 1km square, which I did not include my print. I took a gamble and found that the dune was not continuous but had a 150 metre section where the sea had come into an inlet called The Gut. In fact I later found out that this was the old route of the River Findhorn, which was now located 5Km to the east. So this meant walking back some 3Km back along his spit of land, before continuing along the salt marsh at the forest edge. It also meant walking into the head wind which had been assisting me for most of the morning. I was really annoyed at having to re-walk the section, but I was more concerned now because the extra 3 or 4 miles would mean me finishing today’s walk in the dark and on roads!

I walked back and after about 1.5hours was back at a similar position but this time on the opposite side of The Gut. Another 45 minutes of walking saw me getting close back to the beach, but the path had disappeared and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to get through some 6 – 9ft broom down to the beach. Here I was defeated again, not by the Broom but the Dog Rose that was growing amongst them! Dog Rose is really nasty stuff and will destroy your jacket and trousers if you get caught by their barbed thorns.

Crossing the River Nairn near the Harbour
Looking down The Moray Firth towards the Black Isle
Looking towards the mouth of the Cromarty Firth with Cromarty on the left and Nigg on the right
Heading eastwards along the beach
Easy walking along the tidal sands with Culbin Forest on my right
The offshore sand bar
Looks can be deceptive and there is break in this dune line further up
About turn!
Large area of dead Silver Birch

I picked up a path of sorts and made my way through a large area of deciduous forest where every tree, nearly all Silver Beech, where dead. The trees were just a grey/white colour which contrasted with the dark green of the nearby conifers. I found the beach again, but with time marching on I decided I needed to get through the massive Lady Culbin Forest. I followed a forest track for some distance but then came to area where logging operations where underway. It had been difficult following the tracks seen on my map, because they had long-since disappeared. After fixing my point on the map I set a bearing on my compass that would see me emerge on the western banks of The River Findhorn. Walking through the forest was very easy as the trees were all Old Scots Pine and well-spaced apart. After 20 minutes I emerged near Binsness and the track that I wanted to be on. I soon picked up the public road just as a heavy squall blowing horizontal rain hit me. I was soaked and the light was now beginning to fade fast.

I headed down the road past Mains of Moy and then onto Broom of Moy, where I picked up the Moray Coast Trail. The Bridge or rather bridges, took me to the outskirts of Forres. Here I skirted the newly constructed railway station and passed around the Distillery for Benromach. I was now on quiet roads which would take me the 3 miles back into Kinloss. It was now dark so I donned my hi-vis jacket and put my forward facing Petzl head torch to strobe and another Petzl to strobe red at my back. There were a few cars along the road, but they were not driving fast and I made it safely back to my car.

Back on the beach for a short distance
Arriving on the banks of the River Findhorn
Crossing The River Findhorn near Broom of Moy
A lot darker than it appears while looking across Findhorn Bay towards Kinloss

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=24781

Distance today = 24 miles
Total distance = 5,547 miles

 

 

 

 

301. Inverness to Nairn

Today’s walk would be predominantly on roads, some busy some not so busy.

I started early, leaving my B&B in Inverness at 06:00 and driving to and parking in Nairn. As I waited for the 07:00 #10 bus back to Inverness I could see that the A96 was really really busy particularly going into Inverness. I got off the bus at the Inverness retail park. It was still very dark so I decided to pop into Tesco’s to get some food and more importantly kill some time until it got lighter. After drinking my coffee I knew I could delay no longer. I set off from the Retail Park in my hi-vis vest and flashing head strobe. I knew the first couple of miles was along a paved footpath as far as the Milton of Culloden turn-off.

The footpath finally disappeared and I was left with verge walking, the heavy traffic had not ceased, but fortunately the verge was ok for the first mile and it was reasonably light now. Soon the available verge on either side of the road disappeared or was too narrow to safely walk on. I continued alongside the A96, albeit in the adjacent field. It was relatively easy walking through the fields that had not yet been ploughed, containing just stubble from the recent crop. The trouble with walking in fields is invariably the field boundaries have barbed wire fences or impenetrable hedgerows to get through. I was lucky and managed to get to the B9039 turn-off for Ardersier without much trouble.

I thought the walk along the B9039 would have enabled me to relax a bit. I was wrong, the traffic although not as heavy as the A96 was fast and frequent. After less than a mile on the road I decided to try and get onto the shoreline which was about 400 meters away. I turned down a track just after Castle Stuart and continued through a sort of quarry which then brought me onto Castle Stuart Golf course. I followed the links until I could no further, I faced a huge area of mature gorse. There was no way of getting through it and down onto the beach, I could either backtrack or head onto the main road. Cursing myself I cut across a field to get back onto the main road, I had probably walked twice the distance with this diversion.

I had been aware over the years that walking along roads is a dangerous business. I have always tried to mitigate the risk by being visible to motorists, whether that is what I wear, when I walk or being able to read the road ahead. The Rules given in the Highway Code for pedestrians walking along unpaved roads is at best sketchy and in certain cases could get you seriously hurt. As a walker the most crucial aspect is to make yourself visible to ALL traffic on the road, use the verge if available and always the BEST verge i.e. the widest and easiest to walk on – ignoring the rule about walking on the right. Similarly read the road ahead, the HC talks about thinking about crossing the road at “sharp” bends only, which again could get you seriously hurt. If you encounter a sharp bend or otherwise always aim for the outer apex of the curve, where you can be seen by both sets of drivers. The reason why I have given my two-pennies worth on road safety is 5 minutes after returning to the B9039 I was almost killed by some inpatient, stupid, reckless and dangerous driver. Near to Wester Fisherton, I was walking on the right hand side of the road i.e. facing oncoming traffic. The road had did not have a verge to speak of and if oncoming traffic had come towards me I would have stopped and stepped off the road or just pushed myself into bushes. However, I heard traffic coming from the rear and ignored it, as I was walking in the gutter on the opposite side of the road. The next thing I saw was a red flash of a car that overtaken two cars on this straight and passed between the second car and myself before returning to its proper side of the road. It happened in a flash, I did not record the number plate or even think about the make of the vehicle. My first reaction was shock then anger, I cursed the driver and shock my fist, but he or she was long since gone. The road here is not particularly wide and I estimate that this !$&* was only 24 to 30 inches from wiping me out, especially with the speed that they were travelling at. It took me a while to settle down as I continued onto Ardersier. I resolved to approach the driver if I passed the vehicle, but without a number or even make of vehicle I could not even contact the Police.

Walking in fields alongside the A96
Heading up the golf course at Castle of Stuart
Arriving at Ardersier

I made it ok into the village of Ardersier and found some comfort in a lovely Border collie that was very friendly, licking hands and being glad to see me. I continued along the shoreline outwards Fort George. The fortress garrison of Fort George was completed in 1769 replacing the earlier Fort George which was destroyed by the Jacobite’s in Inverness. The Fort is still an active military establishment as is evidenced by the large rifle firing range adjacent to the Fort. The rat-at-tat of machine gun fire and red flags flying told me that the large range was operational today. I took a few quick photos and retreated to a minor single-track road that ran along the range perimeter.

The single track road was quiet, which was a relief, and I could relax and enjoy the walk across the Carse of Ardersier. The odd car or two that passed me on the road were safe and considerate. At the back of my mind I knew this road would ultimately lead me back onto the A96, even though I would be only be on it for about a mile, I decided I would change my route and attempt to cross the Carse of Delnies and get onto the shoreline. To do this I turned off the minor road at Muir of Balnagowan and picked up a track through an Old Scots Pine wood. After 300 meters I emerged on a deserted wide road. This must have been a military road at some point in time, I crossed over the road and continued to  a sheepfold. I was now following the base of a scarp slope which would lead me to Hilton of Delnies and then the coast. The Carse of Delnies did not look a great place to walk across, being full of gorse, large pools, salt marsh and bog. Just as i reached Hilton of Delnies I followed a fence line that led me to a farm track that emerged on the shoreline of the Moray Firth, the beach looked beautiful. It was pure joy to walk along the beach and into Nairn. Not the the happiest days walk, just glad to be here and in one piece!

 

Looking across the Moray Firth to Chanonry Point
Fort George
At Fort George
Heading through woods at Muir of Balgnagowan
Crossing an old military road
Heading towards Hilton of Delnies along the Carse of Delnies
On the beach near Hilton of Delnies
Walking into Nairn

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=24763

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,491 miles

 

 

300. Rosemarkie to Inverness

Today should have been a simple day regarding the logistics of getting to the start of my walk at Rosemarkie, but instead it turned out to be a bit of a trial, although it all came good in the end.

I left my car at the B&B in Inverness and walked towards the bus station. I was hoping to catch the 07:00 #424 bus run by D&E coaches. I was a bit wary as the vast majority of bus services run in and around Inverness are operated by Stagecoach. The fact that the bus left from a stop just around the corner from the main bus station was further cause for concern. By 07:10 my concerns were beginning to be realised. I was slightly annoyed with myself for not getting one of two much earlier coaches run by Stagecoach, but that would have meant hanging around for almost an hour while it got light. By 07:30 I had given up on that bus coming, the only trouble now was I had to wait another 90 minutes until the next Stagecoach bus. Because of the number of miles I had planned to walk today, using the available light was key in getting the route done. I waited at the designated bus stanceat the bus station, keeping a watchful eye open for the #26C bus. Even though the bus station was extremely busy, I remained alert. At the time the bus was due to depart I was becoming concerned again. As I turned around I could see the #26C in a queue of buses that had departed the bus station and were waiting for the lights to change to join the main road! How did I miss that? I ran after the bus and managed to get the driver to open the door. The driver insisted he departed from the bus stance that I had been waiting at. Very confused I sat down and pondered how the hell I had missed that. Looking around I recognised some of the passengers that had been waiting with me. I then ‘twigged’ that the bus had come into the station under one service number and then changed its number to another service. Because I had positioned myself at the front of the stance I could not see any number change.

By the time I had reached Rosemarkie, it was almost 09:45. I knew I would struggle with the light if I kept with my original route, so I would need to shave 2 or 3 miles off my intended route. I set off along the shoreline walking towards Chanonry Point, one of the best places to view at close range Bottlenose Dolphins. Unfortunately, no dolphins were visible today. Apparently, there are certain times when you stand a much greater chance of viewing them, particularly during a flowing tide. I rounded the lighthouse and headed along the other side of the spit into Fortrose.

Fortrose sits on the southern side of the spit of land that juts out into the Moray Firth, forming Chanonry Point. I walked past the ruins of Fortrose Cathedral, founded in 1200, the cathedral has been in ruins since the late 16th century. However, the ruins still look recognisable as a church or abbey and are impressive. I knew the road between Fortrose and Avoch is not pedestrian friendly with a huge cliff on one-side and sea wall on the other with no footpath or verge available for refuge from the busy traffic. Fortunately, there is a cycleway/footpath following the route of the old Black Isle Railway which used to run freight and passenger services from Muir of Ord to Fortrose up until 1960. The footpath provided a high level walk through the trees and above the main road below. I would make further use of the old railway route later in my walk.

At Avoch I dropped down to the shore and followed a row of houses along Avoch Bay. The minor road turned inland and it was here I trimmed my first bit of the planned route. Further up the road I met a lady dog walker and asked if there was any paths to avoid having to walk along the A832 into Munlochy. She said a friend had told her of a route and what she described which was spot, albeit for the start of the route. Looking at the layout of the minor roads I had my suspicions that the course of the Black Isle railway must have passed very close to where I intended to walk. So I headed towards Ord Hill (not the Ord Hill close to the Kessock Bridge). Sure enough I managed to pick up the old rail track and from Ord Hill I could see the raised embankment running alongside the main road all the way into Munlochy. I walked through the village and then entered fields full of stubble as the road section here was treacherous with sharp bends and no verge on a busy road. I returned briefly to the road at Littlemill Bridge to cross over a small burn.

Looking NE up the Moray Firth from Rosemarkie
Looking across to Fort George from Chanonry Point
Looking towards Inverness from Chanonry Point
Heading towards Fortrose
The ruins of Fortrose Cathedral
On the route of the Balck Isle railway at Fortrose
Heading towards Wood Hill along Avoch Bay
Heading towards Munlochy on the route of the old Black Isle Railway
Approaching Munlochy on the old railway line route

At this point I cut my second section out of the route where I had planned to walk around Drumderfit Hill and then onto Craigiehowe Mains; instead I kept to a minor road through to Drumsmittal and then onto Ord Hill. Ord Hill is a popular walking and cycling hill to the active people of Inverness. I now started to pick up the constant roar of  traffic that told me I was getting close to the busy A9. Examining my OS map and Streetview carefully I could see that a footpath dropped down through the trees to the A9 at the approach to the Kessock Bridge. I emerged alongside the A9 and I knew that I had to cross over the dual carriageway to the southern side of the bridge, as the footpath on the northern side disappears at the first roundabout after the bridge. I easily managed to cross the carriageway during gaps in traffic.

The Kessock Bridge was another of those iconic bridges which I had driven over many times and wishing that I could have a “proper look” at the views. The late afternoon stroll over the bridge did not disappoint despite the incessant noise from the four lanes of traffic. I continued on a footpath alongside the very busy A9 which soon dropped down a slip road to a roundabout below the A9. Here I joined the A96. My final destination was the out of town Inverness Retail Park, where I knew had many services heading back into the centre of Inverness. With the light fading fast I caught a #10 bus back into Inverness.

I later found out that the #424 Bus from D&E coaches which had not turned up at the start of the day only ran on school days. Although today was still part of the term, it was the first of two “In-service days”, Inset or Baker days that had caught me unaware.

Looking back to Moray Firth over Munlochy Bay
Looking towards Beauly Firth from Ord Hill
Dropping down to the A9 and The Kessock Bridge
Emerging on the A9
The Kessock 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=24762

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,471 miles

 

299. Balblair to Rosemarkie

It was time to get back to the far north east of Scotland and continue with my walk around the Black Isle. I gave myself three days of walking in which I would walk over the Kessock Bridge and go some way to completing the coastal part of the Highland Region. I knew that most of the walking would be predominantly along roads, with some farm tracks and footpaths, perhaps even the possibility of some beach walking!

I drove up the day before to my very cheap B&B in Inverness. The following day I drove to and parked in Rosemarkie on the Black Isle. I caught the 07:00 #26A bus to Cromarty. I was rather annoyed because the bus arrived 10 minutes early and departed straight away! Nice, but tough luck if you arrived 9 minutes before the bus was due to depart. At Cromarty I caught the 07:25 #21 bus to Balblair.

At this time of the year the light disappears very quickly, so it is always a balancing game trying to arrive just as it begins to get light and also safe to walk. Making the best use of the available light is key at this time of the year. It was still dark when I arrived at Balblair, I walked down a quiet lane towards the Cromarty Firth.

I headed past Newhall Point and continued along the single track road to the ancient burial ground at Kirkmichael where the lane joined the main road – the B9163. The old kirk, now fully restored was a fascinating place to visit and I was able to gain access to chapel. Amazing gravestones were on display both outside and inside the chapel, spanning some 800 years. The site reminded me of my visit, a few years ago, to Kilmun, just north of Dunoon which also had a varied and interesting selection of stones on show. It would have been nice to explore the site more closely if time had allowed.

I continued along the road with my head torch flashing a red strobe. The traffic was also quite light and I was able to hop up onto the verge when any traffic approached. I called into a large RSPB hide at the roadside just before  the intriguingly named village of Jemimaville, taking its name from the wife of a former laird. I continued on towards the village of Cromarty, again it would have been nice to explore this charming little village. I passed by the small cottage of Cromarty’s famous son, Hugh Miller, stonemason and self-taught Geologist, where there is a good collection of the fossils that Miller collected during his lifetime. I headed out of the village towards the wooded hill forming The South Sutor. I noted a hand written piece of cardboard attached to the finger post, saying “Shooting in progress”. Unsure of the context of the message I ignored it. The climb up to South Sutor was a steep one, but I was rewarded with excellent views across Cromarty Firth and across to Nigg Ferry.

Dawn – looking down the Cromarty Firth towards North and South Sutor
Medieval gravestones at Kirkmichael
The Grants of Ardoch Mausoleum, Kirkmichael
Entering Jemimaville
Approaching Cromarty
Hugh Miller’s cottage Cromarty
Looking towards North Sutor from South Sutor

I headed across an unnamed hill and continued onto Gallow Hill (154m) where I had a superb viewpoint across the Moray Firth and also down Cromarty Firth. I descended the hill to join a single track road and head south westwards. I past another of the shooting signs, just as I spotted a chap firing, what appeared to be  a high velocity rifle. The farm track I was now on joined up with a quiet lane and I continued onto  Eathie Mains.

Just further on from Eathie Mains I had intended to walk about a kilometre and then descend down onto the beach to an old salmon fishing station. From there I would continue along the beach all the way back to Rosemarkie. The problem with this route was that it was tidal. I knew the route was passable at low tide, but I did not know what margin I had. I checked my watch and could see that the tide had been “flowing” for almost an hour. By the time I had walked down to the beach and then some three miles along the beach to where the tidal “pinch-point” was, the tide would have been flowing for three hours. Escaping up the steep-sided cliffs through gorse or back-tracking was not an option. I decided not to risk it. I continued along the empty road along the spine of the wooded Black Isle hills.

The minor road eventually led me out onto the busy A832, with no verge or path for the remaining two miles into Rosemarkie. However, I was now able to drop down into The Fairy Glen, descending into the wooded gorge of the Rosemarkie Burn, where a great footpath lead past a series of waterfalls all the way into Rosemarkie. This was a great way to end the walk after the disappointment of not being able to walk along the coast.

Looking over Cromarty village and Cromarty Firth – a haven for stacked oil drilling rigs
Looking SW down the Moray Firth towards Eathie Hill from Gallow Hill
Looking across a murky Moray Firth towards Whiteness Head and the Carse of Delnies
In the Fairy Glen near Rosemarkie
Waterfall in the Fairy Glen

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=24761

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,453 miles

 

 

 

 

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