I got breakfast where I stayed the night and then went down to Lybster Harbour and watched two fishing boats set out to sea for the day. The weather was lovely and the sea was calm for the fishermen. Throughout the day I saw quite a few boats fishing along the coast. I went as far along the coastal edge as I could before being diverted up onto the road where I passed an oil pipe gas flare. Then along the A9 towards Helmsdale. I had recently put new insoles in my walking boots which effectively change the position and walking action of my feet. Although they were exactly the same brand and model as the previous version, because they were new and unflattened by walking, they were causing my feet to rub in new areas. I had strapped and padded up the areas which were vulnerable, but they still hurt. I got to Berriedale and decided to stop for the day, and whilst waiting for a lift to take me up Helmsdale, I enjoyed a cup of tea from my flask and leant over the bridge to gaze into the pool below in the ‘Langwell Water’ river. About 40 metres downstream of where I was standing was a small, natural weir, and as I gazed down I noticed a hump of water being forced up over it and my immediate reaction was that I might be witnessing a run of salmon coming into the pool. Moments later and trout of various shapes and sizes starting leaping around the pool… hotly pursued by an otter! I got a glimpse of him as he stuck his head out of the water and looked at me, before vanishing in a stream of bubbles. I scanned the river upstream and down steam bit that was the last I saw of him. I could barely contain my excitement. What a thing to see. This was my first sighting of an otter in a river as all my previous encounters had been along the shores of sea lochs and coastline. After I had calmed down, I got a lift to the ‘Navidale House Hotel’ on the outskirts of Helmsdale.
This was the first day of this leg of the walk. I had travelled up to Inverness yesterday and then taken a bus onto Wick. It was a much colder day compared to what I have recently been used to, with occasional rain showers passing through but there were sunny spells as well. I walked along the A99 from Wick to Lybster and saw whales off the coast along the way. Along the way I met a girl called Catherine Yarrow who was near to completing her Land’s End to John o’Groats walk for charity. Good on her! Lybster is a quiet village and like so many communities in this part of the country, is struggling to cope with the economic and financial pressures during these challenging times. I arranged to stay in a local ‘hotel’ which was showing the stresses and strains of the current business climate. Tourism has declined over recent years in these areas. Where once tourists would stop and stay a night en route to their final destination, now they are either no longer visiting Scotland, or if they are, they aren’t stopping off in these smaller villages. This decline in passing trade is certainly having a serious impact on these communities. They weren’t serving food in the place I was staying until breakfast so I headed to a café. The lights were on but I discovered that they had problems with their electricity supply to their kitchen tonight, so they weren’t able to cook any food. So I visited the main hotel back on the main road (which is where I should have stayed with hindsight) and had dinner. The management there confirmed that times were very tough, although they had plans to refurbish the hotel in 2013 to try and catch the passing trade once again.
Today was the last day of walking on this particular leg. I left the hotel at John o’Groats and decided to continue along the main road towards Wick taking a few rest breaks along the way. At one point there was a rain deluge and I donned my waterproofs but it cleared again later and the sun came out. I met a guy called Phil who was on the last day of his Land’s End to John o’Groats walk and had been on the trail for 10 weeks. He had been sleeping in a bivvy bag and busking his way up to earn a few pennies, so not only was he carrying a rucksack but also his guitar! Good on him! I walked a couple of miles along the lovely beach on Sinclair’s Bay. Gannets were diving for fish in quite shallow water and it was amazing to watch them fold up their large wings and spear into the water. Soon after I re-joined the road to the north of Wick airport. I arrived in Wick in the late afternoon and was grateful to the management and staff at ‘Mackays Hotel’ for a wonderful night.
Gales and rain today! But on reflection, the first bad weather I’ve had in a long time. I saddled up and walked along the A836 towards John o’Groats via a café that lured me in for shelter, soup, bread, Victoria Sponge and tea. Then back out again in the rain and gales and arrived in John o’Groats. Naturally I was elated to reach this milestone, but as a place it’s a little disappointing. The classic sign post was not in use today (it is privately owned by the way) so I took some self-portraits (rubbish ones at that!) at the public signpost. Then, having checked in at the ‘Seaview Hotel’, I walked on to the stunning Duncansby Head to complete the occasion. So, I have now walked from Land’s End to John o’Groats via the west coast of Britain!
Today I walked up to the most northern tip of mainland Britain - Dunnet Head. It was a lovely clear and sunny day and I made the most of it as the weather forecast for tomorrow is for rain. It was satisfying to look westwards back along the coast from where I had come, and I could clearly see Cape Wrath in the distance. I had a lovely view of the Orkneys and the Old Man of Hoy and John o’Groats off to the east.
I set off along the coast road and then farm tracks through fields next to the shore, and finally onto the beach at Dunnet Bay. I arrived at the Northernsands Hotel where I will stay for the next couple of nights as it is well located for me to do the ‘out and back’ to Dunnet Head – the most northerly point on the British mainland.
Rest day in Thurso.
Rest day in Thurso.
Woke up to rain. Walked along the A836, past Dounreay ‘nuclear power development establishment’ which is in the process of being decommissioned and was a hive of construction activity. The landscape is changing. It’s becoming more rounded and mountain-less, with fields of sheep and cows. The road is becoming busier in the direction of Thurso and the east coast, but still quiet in the direction of the west coast. I can feel my walking environment changing, leaving the west highlands scenery behind. I arrived in Thurso in the late afternoon and found accommodation, and enjoyed a curry for dinner. I have chaffed the inside of my thighs! So plenty of Savlon applied!
I woke up to rain, but it soon cleared from the coast but was lingering just a couple of miles inland. I had a chat with the owners – a father and son. The father told me he is a helicopter pilot in the armed forces and also operates as a forward air controller. He generously offered to take my kit to my next accommodation along the coast in Melvich. It arrived at 7.45 pm that evening after I had arrived ! I had time to explore the local Halladale River and beach and saw salmon leaping.