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.