Day 92 Wednesday 28 July. John o’Groats to Dunnet Head

Miles walked today 15.5 cumulative 1406.3

If I hadn’t been doing Lejog I would have looked out of the window then pulled the duvet back over me and gone back to sleep. Although it wasn’t actually raining the sea fog was down and visibility was less than 100 yards. The forecast was just as bad for tomorrow, I had the option of splitting the walk into two days but there seemed little point in prevaricating so I had a quick breakfast and set off.

There are few paths along the north coast and the whole walk was on road. I had expected some sea views but these were lost in the mist. I was hoping to see Castle Mey, once owned by the Queen Mum, but it was closed to the public.

I will keep it short. I walked down the A road to Mey then along minor roads to the bottom of Dunnet Head. I Then walked up the single track B road. There was no visibility at all. I though I would be the only madman going up to the head but there was a steady stream of traffic going up to see the fog in the car park then coming back down. Each time I saw lights coming I had to get off the road. What an anticlimax to the walk!

I reached the top and saw nothing except the sign. Even the lighthouse was lost in the mist. I then had 5 extra miles to walk back down to the village. Anyway, I made it.

Day 91 Tuesday 27 July. Keiss to John o’Groats

Miles walked: Today 13 miles Cumulative 1390.8 miles

I saw no point on in walking back to Keiss so I set off up the A99. After about a mile I turned off down a track to rejoin the JOGT just past Nybster broch. There is a monument here created by the sculptor John Nicholson. A similar monument is seen about 200 yards further north, I was unable to find why he created these works.

The monument is situated above an old fishing port (Helberry). Looking at all the rocks visible at low tide I cannot understand how the fishermen managed to manoeuvre a boat into harbour. It was very peaceful here and although I had only been walking for about 20 minutes I stopped and watched the sea.

Two images of Helberry harbour (you would expect an ex radiologist to supply two images taken at different angles, an “in” joke)

I set off up the cliff path. It was easier walking than on the cliffs south of Wick. The vegetation underfoot was grass or heather . The cliffs were lower but there were still several geos, all beautiful.

After a while I came to the ruin of Bucholly castle

It was built by the Mowat family in the 1400s. I have been unable to find anything more about its history. It is in an unbelievable setting. On a stack connected to the land by a narrow isthmus.

I dropped down off the cliffs, past Freswick house and on to the white sands of Freswick beach.

The JOGT has been diverted from the end of the beach to Skirza harbour because of concerns over safety so I left the beach on a minor road. I took a shortcut by continuing on the road and then a farm track to reach a quarry north of Skirza head.

For the remainder of the way walking was very easy. I was walking either on short grass or over moorland. In wet weather this maybe boggy but, as is the norm on this walk, the ground is very dry. The path was also very clearly defined. The cliff scenery remained spectacular

Wife’s Geo. A complex system of caves, channels and tunnel

I climbed the Hill of Crogodale and I could see the Atlantic Ocean to the north of Scotland and the Orkneys for the first time. I thought I could also see Dunnet Head, my ultimate destination.

Looking north from Crogodale hill. I think the island is Stroma.

The Orkneys were originally Norse but became Scottish when James III married Margaret, the daughter of Christian, the king of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. 50 000 florins were due as a dowry and the Orkneys were pawned in lieu. The dowry was never paid so Scotland got the islands.

I could also see Duncansby Head and the Stacks of Duncansby but these were much more impressive when I got closer.

There was now only one more geo to walk round, the Geo of Sclaites. I then climbed up on to Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point on the British Mainland. I met a lad who had decided to do a walk and chose the JOGT. He couldn’t have picked a tougher start to long distance walking! He only bought his boots a few days before he set off and had blisters from day 2. I encouraged him not to abandon the hobby and have another go at another walk. He told me he is meeting a friend and driving to Fort William to climb Ben Nevis. I dropped down to the north coast and walked above the Bay of Sannick and the Ness of Duncansby

This had been another tremendous day of cliff walking and was a fitting climax to the JOGT. After another half a mile I arrived in John O’Groats. The village is named after a Netherlander, Jan de Groot, who was appointed in 1496 to run a ferry from Caithness to the Orkneys.

I know I should have been expecting it but it was a shock to see how many people were at John o’Groats. Probably more than I saw at Lands End. I got an ice cream then I queued at the signpost to have the obligatory photograph

I wished I was stopping here. The cliff walking was superb. I thought it would be good to finish the walk as I had started in Cornwall two years ago. I enjoyed the JOGT even though I missed bits out. The instigator (Jay Wilson) is trying to create an off road walk from the GGW to John o’Groats. There are few paths in the Black Isle and I think he did well to mainly keep to minor roads. I really enjoyed the beach and cliff days.

If you are doing the Trail as a stand alone walk then you would not miss much if you started from Tain. If you are doing Lejog you may want to consider your timing so that you do not do this in mid-summer when the undergrowth is high.

Day 90. Monday 26 July Wick to Keiss

Miles walked: Today 12.7 cumulative 1377.8

I cannot complain. Low pressure is moving over the British Isles. I think yesterday was my last day of sun. I have been incredibly lucky with the weather. It rained on the last day on the GGW and there was a bit of drizzle one day in the Southern Uplands. Otherwise it has been dry and often sunny.

Scottish insects have made National Radio. On Radio 4 this morning there was a short article about the relative absence of midges in Scotland this year. While I did encounter some in the West, they were not as bad as usual. What they did say, and I can confirm, is that clegs (horseflies) have been much more prevalent this year. They don’t fly round your face like midges but, in my opinion, their bite is more painful. Also, they don’t dislike Smidge as much as other insects so I have had to keep spraying my exposed skin.

It was a heavily overcast day. I set off on the north side of the harbour. There is another tidal pool here. There were two women swimming in it. I asked if it was cold. “It’s no’ bad” I was told.

A little further along the path there is a war menorial

This is unusual in that it dates from before the First World War and it is a memorial to all natives of Cathness killed at land or sea in conflicts from the late 18th century to the Boer War. The battles and campaigns are listed on several panels. Most pre-1919 memorials are to an individual or to a single campaign.

I joined a road at North Head that took me through the fishing villages of Papigoe and Staxigoe. These were both peopled by refugees from the Highland Clearances. Staxigoe was the first port to salt herring and at one time it was the largest herring station on the coast but as boats got larger they needed a deeper harbour and the industry moved to Wick

Staxigoe harbour

On the headland, excavation work was in progress. Apparently it is for a high voltage DC power cable that will be used to bring “green” electricity from Shetland. There was a green wire leading towards the sea but it was only about 1cm thick, I don’t think that will be enough. I now followed fieldpaths over the cliffs to the lighthouse on Noss head. This had a green Georgian letterbox with an unusual notice

I now entered Sinclair Bay which runs in a semicircle to Nybster about halfway to John O’Groats. it was misty but I could just see the outline of the north east coast and Duncansby Head. I walked along the lighthouse access road and then took a footpath to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe.

The castle was the ancestral home of the Sinclair family from the 15th to the 17th century, they became the Earls of Caithness. When Oliver Cromwell was in power it was his northern stronghold. The castle fell into ruin after an inter clan battle

There was now an easy section over grass topped cliffs as the path descended to the beach. There were several impressive sea caves along this section of cliff. I passed a sea stack with a long flat section on which cormorants or shags were lined up. Even birders find it had to separate them. Christopher Isherwood didn’t even try: The common cormorant (or shag)/lays eggs inside a paper bag/the reason as you have no doubt/it’s to keep the lightening out.

I walked through the small village and harbour of Ackergillshore and came to Ackergill Tower. There has been a tower here since the 1400s. It has been much altered over the years and is now a luxury hotel.

The path led through scrub to emerge on a track at Wick golf course. The track led to the long beach that occupies about a third of Sinclair Bay.

Apart from a couple of dog walkers the beach was deserted. The tide was just going out but there was plenty of room to walk between the sea and the tall dunes. I amused myself by watching the sandpipers. They wait for each wave to recede. Then they run into the sand to peck at any wormholes for food. As soon as the next wave arrives they run back so their feet don’t get wet and the cycle starts over again.

About a third of the way along the beach the River Wester enters the sea. This normally requires wading and if there is a particularly high tide or the river is in spate a detour inland may be required. Today, the dry weather meant I didn’t even get my boots wet. There must have been Arctic tern nests in the dunes here. The adult birds flew close over my head, squawking, trying to chase me off.

Just after the river there is the Subsea 7 construction site. Here oil and gas pipelines together with controlling cables are encased in a single pipe and made into 7km sections. They can then be launched into the sea on railway tracks.

Towards the end of the beach the waves were a little bigger and there was a lone surfer. The swell wasn’t that big and he could only ride the waves for a short distance. I was not sure it was worth all the effort of swimming out. Near Keiss there were remnants of anti-tank fortifications placed in 1940.

When Germany invaded Norway Keiss beach was thought to be susceptible to invasion. As well as the fortifications the beach was mined, machine gun posts were built and flamethrowers installed at the Wester Burn. An RAF base was set up at Wick (where my father was stationed as an aircraft engineer for part of the war).

I left the beach at Keiss. I had not done due diligence on selecting a B&B and it was about a mile north of Keiss. This didn’t matter as it was a mile less to walk the following day. However, it was a mile to and from the pub. Both the “A Castle View” B&B and “The Village Inn” were good and the walk was worthwhile. “A Castle View” was aptly named

Old and New Keiss castles

The “old” Keiss castle dates from the late 16th century but soon was allowed to fall into ruin. It was one of the strongholds of the Earls of Caithness and was used to defend Sinclair bay. The “new” castle is a mansion house which was modified in the 18th century.

Day 89 Sunday 25 July. Lybster to Wick

Miles walked: Today 17.5. Cumulative 1365.1

This was a long day but the walking was excellent. When I woke up there was not a cloud in the sky. I stayed at the Portland Hotel which is a lovely old building at the crossroads at the top of Lybster. Lybster was founded by General Sinclair and he named the crossroads where the hotel is situated “quatre bras” after the preliminary battle to the Battle of Waterloo, in which his sons fought.

I knew I would struggle to do an eighteen mile cliff walk with all the ups and downs, so I decided to walk as far as Whalligoe on the road. The A99 was not busy and there always always a grassy verge to walk on when a car came along. The road ran parallel to the cliffs and I had a good view out to sea. There were usually farms close to the road. Further inland I could see the moors of the flow country. I made good time and arrived at Whalligoe just after 11.

There are about 360 old steps, the Whalligoe Steps that go down to the old fishing harbour. The path was closed for repair and the cafe had not reopened after lockdown so I set off on the Trail.

I climbed steeply up a narrow path between bracken and tall grasses to reach the top of the cliff. The cliffs here are a bit like those in Cornwall, with deep narrow inlets with near vertical sides. Here they are called geos. In Cornwall they are known as zawns. I could see back into Whale geo.

For most of its length, the path runs between the outside of the field fences and the cliff edge. When I was walking above Berriedale I found this challenging as it was difficult to see the cliff edge because of the bracken. Here, the undergrowth was less severe and the gap between the fence and the edge of the cliff slightly wider and I felt much safer. I did slow my pace to ensure I did not trip.

Like in Cornwall the path undulates and I found at the end of the day I had ascended (and presumably also descended) over 1300 feet. The next geo was Ellen’s Geo which was very narrow. There is a waterfall tumbling over the edge, but as the weather has been very dry over the last 6 weeks it was just a trickle today.

Ellen’s Geo

After the next geo the cliff becomes sheer so the path deviated inland around a ridge. I rejoined the cliff by a blowhole, where the sea enters an enclosed space through a channel passing under the cliff

A little further of there was a sea cave

As you can see, the water was incredibly clear and, because of the clear blue sky, looked Mediterranean.

The cliff top was more level now but I continued to wind round several more geos until I came to Sarclet Haven. This used to be a herring fishing port in the nineteenth century. Eventually boats used Wick instead. The harbour was destroyed in a storm.

Sarclet Haven

I continued along the cliff top path, passing more geos. There is a huge natural arch at Ashy Geo called the Needle’s Eye

The cliff scenery continued to impress with geos, sea caves and arches. There are farms on the landward side of the fence. Cows were more common than sheep. I passed a field of alpacas, there are a long long way from home. As I got nearer Wick there were several sea stacks

Stack o’Brough

Just before I got to Wick I passed the ruined Castle of Old Wick. This was thought to have been built in the mid 12th century by Harold Maddadson who was half Norse. At that time the far north of Scotland and the Western Isles were controlled by the king of Norway and Maddadson was an important magnate.

Castle of Old Wick

I joined a track and the a road that ran into Wick. I passed a tidal swimming pool (the Trinkie). Wick was originally settled by the Vikings. It became a boom town in the 19th century as the herring fishing industry expanded and in the 1860s it was the busiest fishing port in Britain. Herring fishing declined in the 20th Century as stocks were depleted; fishermen turned to white fish but only about 30 boats are now based in Wick. I understand Wick was used as a base to supply to oil rigs. As I passed through the harbour I noticed boats owned by an offshore wind power generating company, so hopefully this industry will support the local economy.

This was a tremendous walk with probably the best cliff scenery I have seen. I would recommend it, but be aware you are very close to the cliff edge in places so you need a good head for heights and proper footwear (and, of course, make your own risk assessment). It may be better to attempt the walk earlier in the summer so there will be less undergrowth.

I had one final surprise. I arrived at my B&B, the Nethercliffe Hotel. I hadn’t planned where to eat and the owner told me they were doing “Scottish High Tea”. It was a small menu, but haddock and chips followed by rhubarb crumble was just fine. Then I was offered tea or coffee. To my delight this came with cakes, which is all part of the high tea experience. There was a scone (with butter and jam), a small eclair, a shortbread biscuit and a piece of cake. I am afraid I couldn’t manage it all.

Day 88 Saturday 24 July Dunbeath to Lybster

Miles walked: Today 6.9. Cumulative 1347.6

I had heard very bad things about today’s route on the JOGT. There was a lot of bracken to plough through and several barbed wire fences to cross. The man I met a few days ago said it is passable but very time consuming. I have a long day tomorrow so I ducked out of the trail and followed the road. The haar was down again so this did not make for an interesting short walk.

I set off on the A9. There was more traffic than yesterday. The verge was not as wide as before and slightly more uneven. I did not feel in any danger but I often stopped to let cars go past rather than continue to walk on the verge. The road goes through farmland. The inland hills were hidden by mist as was the wind farm I saw out to sea yesterday.. the few villages I passed tended to be strung along side roads

Latheronwheel

I think that the village used to house herring fishermen who used the harbour by the sea as a base. I should have done my research a bit better as someone has built “fairy houses” in the Glen here and I would have had time for this quirky walk.

About a mile further on, at Latheron, I said goodbye to the A9 and joined the A99 which continues up,the east coast. The walking was not much different. There is an isolated church in Latheron that is no home to the Clan Gunn heritage centre, closed this year because of COVID

Latheron church

A little further on I thought I had stepped into the final scene of “The Birds”

I arrived in Lybster well before 12:00. Tomorrow is a long day so I considered continuing down the road to Whalligoe, where I will rejoin the Trail. There is no accommodation there which is why I am staying n Lybster. I would have had time to do the walk and catch the bus back to my pub for the night but there was no bus to take me to Whalligoe tomorrow because it is a Sunday.

Instead I walked through Lybster. It has an unusually wide Main Street which was almost deserted this morning. I followed it and turned down the road to the harbour.

The village and harbour were built by the Sinclair family in the early 1800s to develop the herring industry. This waned and in the 1900 there was a thriving white fish fleet. This too has now gone and there are just a few shellfish fishermen left. According to the national press the shellfish industry is now under threat due to delays with exports to the continent as a result of Brexit.

I planned to sit here for the afternoon but the breeze was slightly to chilly so I returned up the hill to the Portland Hotel for a lazy afternoon.

Day 86 Thursday 22 July Brora to Helmsdale

Miles walked: today 12.7 miles cumulative 1322

I forgot to mention that I got my revenge on the “wee beasties.” I stopped in the ice cream shop in Brora and bought a scoop of midge flavoured ice cream. I enjoyed biting into the little b%@#£&s which gave a satisfying crunch (it was actually candied chocolate, and very nice)

I started today by walking back to the beach via the small harbour

Just before the beach there were two Glaswegians who were wild camping. They were doing JOGT hoping to finish a day ahead of me. I walked on to Brora links. I have really enjoyed the gentle undulations in the dunes by the sea. The paths are good and the walking is easy and relaxing and the sea is close by. There were signs asking walkers to keep to the path through the dunes as there were nesting arctic terns. As there was a picture of a tern I can now identify another seabird.

Looking north from Brora beach

The tide was going out so at the end of the links I walked along the beach. The path then ran through fields. The beach became stony and the railway came almost down to the sea. The tide had not fully gone out so I was forced on to the embankment which consisted of rocks and bushes. I noticed the tail of a snake disappearing under a rock. Moments later the head of an adder appeared on the other side of the rock as it slithered off to get further away from me. These snakes are timid and will usually feel the vibration of you approaching and disappear. Nevertheless I was very careful where I put my feet from then on.

Railway embankment near Brora

After the embankment the railway diverted away from the sea and there was beach to walk along. Some rocky outcrops emerged from the tide and there was a small seal colony on them or in the water.

The path left the beach and ran through ferns and long grass to reach the Lothy burn. A stoat ran across the path. I know there is a joke about the difference between stoats and weasels. I am not going to repeat it here, it is bad even by my low standards. You tell them apart because a stoat has a black tip to its tail. The burn usually requires wading across but it was so low I was able to use some stepping stones and I kept my feet dry

Lothy Burn

I then climbed steeply uphill to the top of a bank that overlooked a naturist beach. The beach didn’t look very nice and there was no-one on it. Instead there was just a middle aged (i.e my age) naked man sitting in his camper van. We said hallo and I carried on to a caravan site. This was quite nice. It wasn’t regimented rows of vans, they were all nicely spread out but there were not many people around. There were also quite a view buildings scattered here which were remnants of a world war II radar station and look out post.

After the caravan site the path ran through tussocky sand dunes. I returned to a particularly beautiful beach which ran for a couple of miles. It was deserted apart from an elderly runner. We remarked on the beauty of the beach. He had been coming here for 60 years and there are never many people on it.

At one point on the side of the beach there was a curious collection of rubbish and I wondered whether someone had picked up flotsam and arranged it into a sculpture.

Out to sea, I could see two oil rigs and an enormous wind farm. As I approached Helmsdale the beach became rocky. Here the path crossed the railway line at a small level crossing and climbed to the road at Portgower. I crossed the A9 and started uphill on a lane. Here, the two lads I saw this morning caught up with me and we walked into Helmsdale. The path went quite steeply uphill, crossed the Garbh Allt. We had a view down into Helmsdale

We crossed the river. The lads went to find some food and were planning to head on up the path to find somewhere to camp for the night. I went to the Bridge Inn, sadly no longer a pub but still a nice B and B.

Next door was a fish restaurant called La Mirage. One of “The Two Fat Ladies” described it as one of her top 6 fish and chip cafes in the UK and she was not wrong. I had a large fish dinner which came with bread and butter and a pot of tea. Very 70s, some rather dodgy 70s ornaments were there as well. This was the best fish and chips I have had on Lejog.

Day 87 Friday 23 July. Helmsdale to Dunbeath

Miles walked: Today 18.7 cumulative 1340.7

I knew today was going to be a long day so I got up and had breakfast early. I have usually been given an attic room as I am on my own and they tend to be smaller. I was rushing a bit so when I stood up,after putting my boots on I hit my head on a corner of the ceiling. Being hirsutely compromised I cut my head and spent the next 10 minutes applying pressure to stop the bleeding. I can’t see it in the mirror but every time I accidental knock it or dry my hair with a towel it starts to bleed again. So much for a fast getaway.

I finally left at nine. The draft guide book to JOGT says the first 5 miles are “challenging” and everyone coming the other way says it is really overgrown with head high bracken. So, being a wimp, I took to the road. In his book, Martin Moxon detested the A9 so full credit to Highways Scotland as they have improved it for walkers. There was always a tarmac or hardcore verge of about 2 metres width and usually a 2 metre wide grass strip outside that which had been mown and was walkable. They must have done this recently as there wasn’t even much rubbish on the verge. In some places I was even able to walk on the outside of the crash barrier

It was still tedious walking. The haar (local term for sea fog) was down so visibility was poor. A pity because the road is quite high so there may have been good views. The road climbs to the Ord of Caithness, a band of granite that rises to about 200 metres above the sea.

Mist covering the Ord of Caithness

The road used to run in the edge of a precipice and was notorious for accidents until Thomas Telford built a new road in the early 1800s. It was also a common site for attacks on stagecoaches and their occupants, including sexual attacks on women. A posse was set up to apprehend the perpetrators and they were caught, tried and hung on the Ord.

It is said that it is unlucky to cross the Ord wearing green on a Monday because the Sinclair regiment did so on the way to the Battle of Flodden Field and none survived. Unfortunately I have only just read this and I did have a green top on, fortunately it is Friday so I expect I will be OK.

Although there was no view from the Ord I did see a sign informing me I was entering my final county

After another couple of miles I turned off the road to go down a path to Bradea Clearance Village. This was set up at the end of the 18th century to house tenant farmers evicted from their lands to make room for sheep farming. The remains of the cottages can still be seen

The men worked as herring fishermen in Berriedale and there was enough space to keep a few animals and grow oats and barley. It is said that the gales were so bad that children and chickens had to be tied down to stop them being blown off the cliffs that lie just to the east. When the herring industry collapsed at the end of the 19th century the village was abandoned, many emigrating. In 1911 the son of one of the emigrants to New Zealand erected a memorial that lists the names of the villagers

Bradea memorial
A plaque is on each face of the memorial, listing the inhabitants of the village

I set off across the moor to Berriedale. Although the mist as down it was pleasant walking through the heather which was just coming into flower. As I dropped down to Berriedale the Dukes Candlesticks came into view

I thought they looked more like chess pieces. They were set up on the instruction of the Duke of Portland in order to guide ships into Berriedale harbour.

Just above the road I had a good view of the small shingle beach and a row of fisherman’s cottages by the harbour

I stopped at the River Bothy for lunch, which was excellent. I had to follow their advice

The two Glaswegians were just finishing their lunch. They had also walked along the road. They were planning to continue along the A9 but I decided to give the cliff top path a go. I walked down to the harbour and crossed a very wobbly footbridge

I walked between the fisherman’s cottages then up a very steep grassy path. It then turned into thick bracken. I walked past the path the first time and had to turn back as it was almost completely overgrown with bracken. I thought I would try the path for a bit longer but it was hard going. Most of the time it ran between a fence and the cliff edge. Eventually it emerged by some gorse bushes and I thought I could follow a line above the undergrowth. There were two large beasts on guard duty

I retraced my steps. I knew a bit further on I could cut up to a road through a field if I had to. Suddenly there was a section where someone had chopped a path through the bracken. Thank you Friends of the JOGT. I continued carefully on the path and came to the two cliff top highlights of the day. First was An Dun and its sea arch

There are lots of ledges on the rock and these were filled with sea birds, the noise was deafening. A little further on the path was a sea stack called the Clett

The path was all but impassable beyond this point because of thick bracken. I retraced my steps for a few yards and crossed into a field. I now climbed without difficulty up to the A9. I then followed this for several miles to Dunbeath. The verge was not so wide here so when cars approach I had to get up on the low grassy bank and wait for them to pass. Eventually I came to the small village of Dunbeath

The pub and my B&B were about half a mile further up the road so I have a head start on tomorrow’s walk

Day 85 Wednesday 21 July. Golspie to Brora

Miles walked: today 7 cumulative 1309.3

This was a superb walk, even though it was only half a day. The weather was warm but overcast. I walked down the high street and then joined the coast path at the north end of the village. I followed the sea shore and had a good view back to Golspie

The beach was mainly stony here with trees on the landward side. There were a few dog walkers out. I stopped to talk to one. I haven’t got any better about getting names, but I think the dog was called Sparky. We agreed that long distance walking is a form of meditation. He (the man) told me that there is fine walking along the north coast, a possibility for another trip.

After about a mile I seemed to enter fairyland. First there was a tunnel of trees

Then through the white gates at the end to the fairy castle

Or maybe it should be the Evil Lords castle because this is Dunrobin castle, ancestral seat of the Dukes of Sutherland (see yesterday’s blog regarding the first Duke’s role in the Highland Clearances). The original 14th century keep can apparently still be seen in a central courtyard. The current facade is mid 19th century, designed by Sir Charles Barry, who also was the architect for the Palace of Westminster. He and the second Duke wanted the castle to resemble a French chateau. In non-COVID times I might have looked round it but today I pressed on.

I left the estate through a beautiful deciduous wood consisting mainly of old, large silver birches to return to the coastline.

There was no wind and the sea was really flat. After another mile I came to Carn Liath Broch

Brochs are iron age structures. No one knows why they were built. Theories include that they were forts, fortified towers or status symbols for tribal chiefs. Theyare unique to Scotland, where about 700 remain in various states of disrepair. The most complete example is in the Shetlands which is 44 feet tall.

No one knows how tall Carn Liath was. The wall consists of a double layer of dry stone. It would have been covered with a thatched roof and would have had several wooden platforms making the upper storeys. It has a single entrance with a chamber to one side that may have been a guardroom.

View into the broch from the top of the bank

I returned to the shore. Low cliffs began to appear on the landward side. I was meant to stay on the shore and cross a burn but markers appeared directing me into the foot of the cliffs. I followed it in case there had been a route change but it turns out this was the alternative path to take at high tide. I missed the crossing of a burn below a waterfall but I later learnt that it has been so dry that it has reduced to a trickle. The tide was starting to go out now exposing rocks. I could see a few seals sitting on the rocks

Then, after walking another 100 yards, there seemed to be seals everywhere. Some were on rocks, some were swimming just offshore and others just poked their heads above the sea. This was the largest colony I have seen in the UK.

I left the seals behind and the path started getting rougher and more undulating. I took to the shore and walked the rest of the way to Brora on hard sand and shingle.

There were two pairs of day walkers on the shore. One of the walkers remarked that she is gradually seeing more trekkers attempting the trail as well as a steady number doing Lejog.

As I approached Brora I passed a rather nondescript concrete building

This was an important radio station during the second world war, the aerials have long been removed. It was used to intercept German communications. Later, during the Cold War, it was used to eavesdrop on Russian radio transmissions.

Brora is a small town that once has the most northerly deep coal mine in the UK. Some of the coal was used to heat sea water to extract the salt that could then be used to preserve fish or meat.

I arrived in Brora in time for lunch (Cullen Skink) and a glass of wine. Then it was down to the beach for a doze in the, rather hazy, sun.

Day 84 Tuesday 20 July. Dornoch to Golspie

Miles walked: Today 15.3 cumulative 1302.3 belligerent cows 1 herd

I have always thought that a golf course near the sea was a “links” course. Now I know better. According to the Scottish National Dictionary, a links is “the sandy, undulating ground generally covered with turf, bent grass, gorse etc which is frequently found near the sea shore on a flat part of the coast” i.e sand dunes. So not all courses near to the sea are links and not all links are golf courses. Links are often common land owned by the nearest town. Presumably, originally, the land was used for golf because it was not fit for crops or grazing.

Anyway, enough preamble; I started today’s walk by returning to the seashore and walking across Dornoch Links which, incidentally, has a rather fine golf course on it. I wandered down to the beach for a final look across the sea towards the north Moray coast.

Dornoch Links
Dornoch Bay from the Links.

At the end of the Links I turned inland to join a disused railway which took me to the village of Embo and Grannie’s Heilan Hame caravan park. I have no idea who Grannie is but what a great name for a holiday park.

The path was rough and in places I had to push through high gorse or bracken, a taste of what is to come further north. It crossed Littleferry links (no golf course). There were views towards Ben Bhraggie, this would dominate the skyline

Old railway signalman’s hut and Ben Bhraggie. The overgrown path (not so bad here) runs to the left of the hut.

A lot of effort has been put into waymarking the route (still incomplete) and cutting back the undergrowth but because of the remoteness of the Trail and with COVID it has been difficult for the organisers to get volunteers. Also not enough people walk the path yet to keep it well defined. Typical me, always moaning. When I walked the Pennine Way I grumbled that too many walkers were causing erosion of the moorland, here I want more. It also costs money to maintain a path. This is the sort of thing the EU would fund to try to develop tourism……..

The path joined a farm track and then a minor road . To the left I could see the ruin of Skelbo Castle

This is a thirteenth century castle that has played its role in Scottish history. It was probably built on the site of an older Motte and Bailey castle that was used to defend the east coast from Norse invaders. Latterly, it gave protection to the ferry that crossed the loch before Telford built the embankment (the Mound) to take a road across the head of the loch.

The road dropped down to a car park by Loch Fleet. This is an important nature reserve for wading birds and seals. There were several twitchers in the car park with binoculars. I would love to give you an erudite description of the birds I saw but I am no ornithologist. There were definitely oystercatchers, I can recognise them. There were some “gulls” and “ducks.” I did see some seals in a sandbank exposed by the low tide.

Loch Fleet

The road ran alongside the south side of the loch. I delayed the inevitable union with the A9 by continuing along the old railway but it was heavily overgrown here. I bowed to the necessity of walking along the A road and, to be honest, it was not to bad. The grassy verge has been mown, there was not too much detritus that had been thrown from cars (why do people do it, why not just take it home?) and there was a pavement in the bridge. As I crossed, two fish leapt completely out of the water to catch insects.

Looking north from The Mound

I left the road to pass through a wood and cross farmland. In the last field before I turned on to a track there was a herd of cows. “No problem” I thought, “I will stick to the field edge, at least 30 yards away and they will ignore me.” At least three of them fixed me with an icy stare. They must have known I ate a steak pie the other day and they wanted revenge. The whole herd ambled towards me in a menacing manner. Call me a wimp, I know cows are not predators like lions but they are big and heavy and can trample you. I think more people are killed by cows each year than are eaten by sharks. “No problem” I thought “I am only 10 yards from the level crossing. I will nip over the fence and walk along the railway (I must point out this is illegal and potentially dangerous, but there are only about 4 trains a day here).”

So I crossed the fence and…. there was a deep drainage ditch between the fence and the railway. The cows (and bullocks) were now lined up against the fence. Fortunately they got bored and wandered off….. to the gate through which I wanted to leave the field. So, am I a man or a mouse? Throw me a piece of cheese. I retraced my steps, crossed an adjacent field to get back to the A9, walked down the road to the farm track and crossed the level crossing.

It was worth it though. I walked through a lovely wood. It was pine but the trees were thinned out so there was undergrowth and I could see the adjacent hills and the loch. It brought me out on to a links south of Golspie (with golf course) I was now close to Ben Bhraggie and I could see the Sutherland monument on top.

The monument is dedicated to the memory of the first Duke of Sutherland. There have been debates about whether to remove this statue since the 1990s as he was responsible for some of the Highland Clearances, where tenant farmers were forcibly removed to make room for sheep grazing. He claimed he wanted to settle them by the coast where they could make a better living fishing. However, those that refused to move were forcibly and violently evicted and one of the factors was accused, but later acquitted, of murder. This is an oversimplification of what went on, the full story sounds dreadful and not dissimilar to today’s ethnic cleansing, but you will have to look it up for yourself.

All that remained for me to do was to walk along the golf course, down to the beach and into Golspie, this was the best day so far along the JOGT

Approaching Golspie

Day 83 Monday 19 July Tain to Durnoch

Miles walked: Today 8.5 cumulative 1287

“I must go down to the sea again/ to the wonderful sea and sky/ I left my shoes and socks there/ I wonder if they are dry“ – Spike Milligan

Today I reached the east coast. It was a short walk today, the alternative was 22 miles to Golspie. I set off early hoping to cross Dornoch Firth before the A9 got too busy. I followed a B road out of Tain before joining the A9 for a short distance. I then turned off the main road and entered the Morangie estate, not being tempted by the Glenmorangie distillery at 8:30 in the morning. The tarmac became a track after the few houses at Tarlogie, then a narrow path as I crossed a small rise to Dornoch Firth. The way ahead looks quite flat

I rejoined the A9 to cross the bridge. When it was opened, in 1991, it was the longest bridge in Europe to be built by the “cast and push” method, where it was assembled on the south bank and then pushed into position.

As I crossed the 800 metre bridge there was a shoal of fish jumping out of the water to catch insects. There was a good view up the Firth to the hills in the distance

After the bridge I dropped off the embankment and followed a path running alongside the Firth. This soon turned inland, between gorse bushes before crossing farmland to reach a minor road. I passed Tom and Elaine in the field. Now in their 70s they are walking the JOGT north to south, having done Lejog in one go a few years ago. They promised me the cliff top views further north are superb but the path is non-existent with head high vegetation. To be fair, the web site and draft guide do say it gets overgrown in the summer. Jay Wilson (the creator of the trail) will even lend you equipment to cut the bracken down. I imagined myself going along the path with a machete, like an old Victorian explorer in the movies. The consensus was that as I am doing relatively short stages I should be OK although for my two long days I may have to do some road walking.

We parted company and went our separate ways. After the road I entered Camore wood. The trees were not too close together so this was a nice walk. There are hut circles dating back to prehistoric times in the wood. One is indicated by a sign but all I could see was bracken.

As I came out of the wood I could see a megalithic standing stone

I could not approach it because of the barley crop. I could find very little information about it apart from a dragon is said to be buried here.

It was now a short walk down the road to Dornoch. This was pretty town and its main claim to fame is being the smallest cathedral in Scotland. It was also the church in which Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s son was christened.

I arrived at lunchtime so I headed down to the beach for a lazy afternoon. I remembered to take my shoes and socks away with me.

Dornoch beach