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.