Day 47 – A Glorious Day on the Sutherland Coast

Brora to Helmsdale, 21Km (bus to Dunbeath, 24Km)

Rose camped last night and arrived at the Sutherland Inn this morning as I was finishing my scrambled eggs. She dumped her stuff next to mine, ready for Gary to transfer up the trail. He is proving to be the perfect luggage transfer service.

We set off with our Co-op ham and cheese sandwiches and headed for the beach but it wasn’t a seaside holiday. You couldn’t hear The Beach Boys playing in your head nor look around for a nice spot for your deckchair. We followed the waymarks of the John O’Groats trail north along the deserted golden sandy beaches, over boulders, pebbles and shingle, climbing occasional fences and fording burns. Yet again, the weather was amazing; blue skies and bright dazzling sun requiring sun glasses and lots of sunscreen.

For quite awhile we had the whole coastline to ourselves. There were so many birds: arctic terns, herons and cormorants, all recognisable to the untrained eye (me) thanks to the information board, plus seals bobbing around in the sea. We successfully negotiated our way through the viper pits of Brora and Helmsdale without so much as a dried skin on the rocks.

The main A9 came close to the coast to discharge a large number of caravans at Scotland’s only official naturist beach. We didn’t venture beyond the warning sign.

The two carriage railway from Inverness to Wick runs along the coast and we had to use a private level crossing to cross the track. We were just about to open the gate when the train sped around the bend towards us. The driver whistled and waved as he passed.

We crossed the track and soon met Murdo and his wife and he invited us into his garden for a cup of tea. I assume she was his wife. He assumed Rose and I were married. At first it seemed easier not to explain that we’d only just met but as the conversation developed, everything became increasingly awkward. “We’ll visit you both in Oxford”, he said and I replied that he’d be most welcome. I resisted the offer of a “wee dram” and we set off into Helmsdale.

It would have been nice to have walked the rest of the way to John O’Groats with Rose. She has been on the road for 108 days since leaving Land’s End. Sadly we’ve reached the stage without accommodation. We had a farewell cup of tea and then I boarded the X99 bus for the short hop to Dunbeath. At least I’ll be able to describe the cliff top path to her. That’s what’s coming my way tomorrow.

Beach walking today
At first, a footbridge
Barbed wire crossing
Fortunately the dry summer has reduced this burn to a trickle

Offense taken
Cormorants drying off
Private level crossing
A wave from driver
Final day walking with Rose

5 comments on “Day 47 – A Glorious Day on the Sutherland Coast

  1. Vicky Williamson

    Kia ora Tim, Well, the countryside isn’t as challenging as I had expected. How about you summon your inner warrior and take on the challenge of the coastal path all the way to John O’Groats!? Go on! Perhaps a nip or two of a fine single malt (I recommend Laphroaig!) will be encouraging! Ganbatte! Kia kaha, Vicky

    • It’s a pity to skip over a stage but there is no accommodation so I had to take the bus. I hope the Caithness coastline will be challenging!

  2. Farewell Rose. Even when you send your luggage ahead the load you are carrying seems quite immense (to a wee bairn like me). God speed to you both on your separate jouneys…

  3. I am jealous Tim. It looks beautiful. It must have been great to have someone to share the walk with. The wildlife looks fantastic. I love the cormorants. I like watching them on the River Dart. They are the least evolved of all sea birds hence having to rest their wings on the rocks like pterodactyls to dry them. Sadly, many young cormorants die of hypothermia in the colder months while trying to dry their feathers!
    I bet that train driver was as surprised to see you as you were to see the train coming around that bend!

    • It was a fine day’s walking along the coast. The photos suggest a simple beach walk but it was quite wild and remote. Plenty of wildlife, few people. Heaven!

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