Posted by: natsevs | September 5, 2010

John o Groats to Helmsdale

I woke up on suspiciously hard ground to find my replacement roll mat had a puncture just like its predecessor. It was a Sunday but at 9.15 I walked in to town to see if the shop was open. It wasn’t so I went over to ‘the end’ to see if amongst the gifts and tat there might be some food and was again disappointed. The place was already rammed full of walkers, cyclists and tourists so I headed quickly along the coast. I walked out to Duncansby Head, the actual most north eastern point, but stopped on the way to watch a pair of seals swimming around below. As I was sat there the sheep in the field formed a half ring around me behind my back which was slightly disconcerting. They ran off as I restarted and I soon came to the lighthouse from which point onwards I would be heading south.

        A sign said puffins should be there but I was disappointed again. Walking the cliff top coast path southward were loads of sea stacks making for some great photos. There were a fair few people walking that part but a gate marked the end of the well-trodden properly marked path. It was all very low heather with decent sheep tracks though so still easy enough. I passed a group of walkers by a cool little indent with a natural arch at it’s entrance. After that it became a lot more  boggy and the still air was creating very annoying levels of midges. I was hot, sweaty and hungry but to stop meant to be attacked by the little buggers. I got to a farm track and went in the wrong direction and a fly flew straight into my eye so all in all I was not in a good mood.

         Once on the right track I got along paths and road via Skirza to the A99. That was quite busy but a fair way along was a tiny garage with a smaller shop. An old guy was sat in there with traditional folk music blaring out. As i entered that was turned off and his wife served me as I bought my crisps and chocolate from  the 2 shelves they had. As I left the music came back on. Once round Sinclair Bay a farm track took me through lower Reiss then onto a path along the beach front. Paths went along to the lighthouse beyond Castle Sinclair. There was meant to be a path down along the cliffs from there, but despite signs proudly saying the land had been granted by so and so, it was awful. A wall led off the cliffside blocking off where the path should have been.

       There was then a gate to get over surrounded by water before walking through really boggy ground leading to overgrown routes. The only positive was a group of seals really close by on the rocks below. I finally reached roads and took them in towards Wick which looked, and felt massive compared to what I’d been used to for months. It was around 6.30 and Sunday so the chances of an open shop were slim. As a result I got fish and chips then headed to the campsite pretty knackered once more. 
 
Annoyingly, I woke up at 5 the next morning and couldn’t really sleep from then on. I put off packing away for a while then walked into the rain to the supermarket. There were loads of hobnob flapjacks reduced so my mood lifted considerably. Out of Wick I was able to take a coast road up to the rifle range from where there was supposed to be a path. Instead I walked through every vegetation type possible and climbed over countless fences. In one field a whole herd of cows stampeded towards the gate blocking off my route and forcing me over the fence to get on. In a later field an over excitable herd decided to stampede at me, making the ground rumble beneath my feet. I know they are not malicious and are just curious but they are bloody big and I wouldn’t of stood a chance if they hadn’t of stopped. I jumped a fence asap.

      After 2 hours I reached a house and road which I took along then past Loch Sarclet. At the end was a farmhouse and a supposed (but absent) path. There was a hill to get up through a field then into unkempt land. There were a few deer ther,e which accomplished some pretty impressive leaps as they ran away. Some river and fence crossings took me to a driveway going up to the A99. That was my route for the rest of the day taking me past odd little towns like Lybster. The weather improved a bit so I risked removing my waterproof trousers.

        I reached Dunbeath and Inver campsite at 6, as some nasty looking clouds rumbled in. It was only £5 and you gOt a free pen! That’s a win in my book. Setting up I got a little wet but managed to get the tent up before the serious stuff started. After I’d eaten the rain stopped and 5 minutes later an ice cream van rocked up. It was quite odd, but I figured I’d have to get one so joined the back of the queue. It was worth venturing out because not only did she have Irn Bru flavour but the woman was also entertaining. She had driven past me earlier, so asked where I was walking, then gave me my ice cream free because I’m raising money for the mammal society. She also through in a packet of crisps, but better than that, she described otters as ‘the little people in the sea bobbing their heads’. 
 
I was blowing my mattress back up at 5am so I could get another few hours sleep, but when I did rise it was sunny at least. I took a little road to the shop then went over the bridge and along to a big house. A track past that took me along to the A9 and I was back on that again. I could still look out over the sea and the sun was shining so having cars flying by me was more bearable. There were a fair few cyclists out obviously on the end to end route. There was a major descent into Berriedale then a steeper one out again. I had been told about a crofters road coming out but couldn’t see it so was stuck on the main road still sweating like a beast as I made my way up hill. The climb was made even less pleasant by having to pass a dead stag. It must have been fairly recent too because it didn’t smell and still had it’s eyes!

      I was starting to go off the sun as it was too hot for walking but got to Helmsdale nice and early at 3.30. It’s an old school gym so quite cool. After washing some clothes out I walked into town to explore a little and had intended to sit by the sea but the clouds had come in. I headed back instead and did some chores before going to the slowest chippy ever for half my tea. I’d bought a steak slice earlier to go with my chips and gravy. Not only was it slow but my small portion was VERY small, it wasn’t Family Fish Bar (Cardiff’s finest chippy) that’s for sure. 2 guys cycling to John O Groats turned up, one of which was a bit of a nobber. He was checking himself out in the dorm mirror and started going on about how he’d bulked up but not on his legs, no on his upper body. Not sure how that works but unfortunately I had to deal with listening to him talking nonsense very loudly to anyone and everyone about their ride most of the evening. When a girl turned up later though, also doing the cycle but caning his time I suddenly enjoyed hearing his conversation as he struggled with the concept. There were also some quite pleasant and normal people there I should add.


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