Friday, September 26, 2008

Walk 201 -- Littleferry, via Golspie, to Brora

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 141 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 284 days.
Weather: ‘Fair-weather’ cloud. Some sun. A cool wind got up later.
Location: Littleferry to Brora.
Distance: 10 miles.
Total distance: 1780 miles.
Terrain: Clear and open grassy paths. Firm sandy beaches. Flat. LOVELY!
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.151, Golspie Burn at Golspie. No. 152, River Brora at Brora.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.167 as we left Golspie. No.168 near Dunrobin Castle. Nos. 169 & 170 further on.
Pubs: The ‘Sutherland Inn’ in Brora where we both had ‘Skyelight’ from the Isle of Skye brewery because it was the only real ale they had on.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.20, Carn Liath Broch.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday flat built into the roof of someone’s house in the countryside about three miles from Dingwall. This morning we got up early, put Colin’s bike on the back of the car, and drove to Littleferry where Colin dropped me off. I watched a cormorant fishing, admired the scenery and did my puzzle book — at least the weather was pleasant today — while Colin drove on to Brora and cycled back.
At the end, we finished at the car. We had our tea and scrummy-yummy caramel squares, and returned to Littleferry to pick up the bike. We drove back to Dingwall — it was fifty miles! –where we bought fish’n’chips and took them back to the flat.
The next day we started our long journey home to Malvern — it took two days and rained nearly all the way. We are both extremely tired.

Our last Walk this session was a great Walk! (In fact this is the last Walk this year because we’re not going to risk the Winter weather in Scotland.) The weather was good, the terrain was kind, there was no road-walking, there was lots of sandy beach walking, Colin’s knee behaved better and we saw SEALS. Couldn’t ask for more!
Apparently Littleferry was ‘a bustling port’ in medieval times. It was also very much in use during the Victorian era. A notice dating from 1859 told us about the ferry service there at that time. It was advertising the ‘Splendid New and Very Fast Steamer’ called the Heather Bell which would take you from Littleferry to Burghead, stopping off at Portmahomack weather permitting. There was ‘first-rate accommodation for Carriages, Horses and every description of Live Stock’ on deck. A first class cabin would cost you five shillings, and a second class one three shillings. The notice went on to describe how this ferry service connected up with buses and trains so you could get from Golspie, and to places like Inverness or Aberdeen.
I looked around what must have once been a busy ferry terminal — today the stone slipway is still there and one fishing boat was tied up alongside one other tiny boat with an outboard motor. But no people, except me, for the whole hour-plus that I had to wait for Colin. Nothing except the view, which was delightful! There are few colour-washed houses, a building with a turf roof which reminded me of Iceland, and a big stretch of water with mountains behind. Silence, except for the gentle lapping of waves. I kept a good lookout for seals, dolphins or otters while I was waiting, but only saw cormorants. It was sunny and not cold, so I didn’t mind waiting in this beautiful spot.
When Colin arrived, he chained up his bike and we started walking across the dunes. It was a well-grassed path so the going was easy. This track, as far as the golf course, was marked on the map. We stopped at a picnic site to eat our pasties, and paused momentarily on some tiny wooden seats further on.
After a couple of miles we came to a go-kart track and Colin got very excited. Noisy things! He took a few pictures, also one of a classic lorry with a split windscreen. Then I persuaded him to move on.
When we got to the golf course, we went down on to the beach.
The tide had just started to go out so we were able to walk along firm sand, which was nice. Further on we climbed up to avoid a rock pile, but subsequently discovered that this wasn’t necessary and we could have stayed on the sands.
We soon came to Golspie where we sat on a bench to eat our sarnies. We then walked along the pier to which were tied a few small boats.
High on a hill behind the little town is some kind of monument. We found out later that it is a statue of the first Duke of Sutherland. It stands at a hundred feet high, and was erected in 1834, a year after the Duke died. It says it was put up by ‘a mourning and grateful tenantry to a judicious, kind and liberal landlord’. Since this same Duke of Sutherland was responsible for the displacement of fifteen thousand people during the infamous Scottish ‘Clearances’, this is somewhat difficult to believe. 
I wonder who was really responsible for erecting this tribute to a greedy dictator, and what were his motives? Feelings still run high in the local area, even today. Some folk think the statue should be blown up and the remains scattered over the hillsides until it is completely obliterated — or even scattered through the grounds of Dunrobin Castle, the home of the Sutherland family. Others think that it should remain as a memorial to those who suffered so much brutality during the Clearances.
We returned to the beach where we saw lots of birds, including gulls and a hooded crow. Along the top of the beach was a row of sacks filled with seaweed which someone had collected. I wonder what they were going to use it for.

Soon we had to go inland because we came to a river. After about a hundred yards we came to a weir, a ford, a wooden footbridge and a a lodge with a tower. It was very pretty there. We crossed on the footbridge and continued towards Dunrobin Castle.
This castle is all very ‘pseudo’ — it looks like a fairytale castle, not a real building. Apparently there has been a castle on this spot since the thirteenth century, and the original square keep is still inside this Disney-type construction! 
It was added to in succeeding centuries after it was first built as a fortress, and in the 19th century it was turned into a family home by building lots of round towers with points on the top. The architect was inspired by Queen Victoria’s new home at Balmoral, so he said. Apart from a few years in the 1960s when it was a boys’ boarding school, the castle has been the home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since medieval times. With its high surrounding wall and big gate, to us it looked very private.
Beyond the castle we walked through a pleasant wood alongside the seashore. In the middle of this we came across a walkers’ signpost telling us it was four miles to Brora, our destination for today.
That was the first we knew that we could definitely get through without having to divert to the road, the path marked on the OS map stops and starts all the way along. We both breathed a sigh of relief! All the so-called fords marked on the map proved to be dry.
The path came out of the wood on to a grass sward which was very pleasant to walk. High above us was Carn Liath Broch, an ‘Historic Scotland’ property which we didn’t have time to visit. (When we finished today’s Walk we had to drive fifty miles back to our accommodation near Dingwall. Then we went home. When we returned the following Spring, we had to drive fifty miles back from our accommodation in Castletown to get to Brora and start the next Walk.) So we just had to glance at it as we flew past on the road on our way back. It is an Iron Age broch (a prehistoric castle) and the surviving walls are twelve foot high.
After passing through a kissing gate, the path took us along the top of the beach. The going got a bit rough and stony, also a cold wind got up so it was not nearly so pleasant. We sheltered behind some tussocks of grass to eat our chocolate.

The tide was going out fast revealing lots of lovely firm sand, so we went down there to walk. We noticed some seals resting on the beach ahead, but then a family with a dog came towards us and the seals humphed themselves into the sea as quickly as they could.
I reckon they might well have stayed if that dog hadn’t been there, barking its head off. Wretched thing!
The seals stayed nearby in the sea, and seemed to be following us along.
They were as curious about us as we were about them!
The beach was opening out with the receding tide, and it was beautiful!
We passed interesting rocks,
and also a waterfall tipping down the cliff between some trees.
We saw some more hooded crows picking food scraps out of the seaweed.
We came to some more seals basking on rocks, looking like overgrown jelly-beans.
The family with the dog were at least a mile behind us now, so there was nothing to upset the seals this time.
They eyed us from the safety of their rocks, just off-shore. We also observed a curlew picking at the seaweed with it’s long curved beak.
We spoke to a lady who was older than us, and striding along the beach (in ordinary shoes) so fast I had difficulty keeping up with her as we conversed. She told us the seals are always there, and are not usually fazed by dogs or anything else, not even motor bikes ridden along the beach by the local youth. She also told us that the big building we could see at the top of the cliff was a listening post for GCHQ, but was no longer used for this purpose so it was safe to let the secret out. She knew, because she used to work there. Also she told us (she was a mine of information) that there used to be a coal pit nearby and that you used to find coal on the beach — but no longer. She bemoaned the passing of these things because there was little in the way of employment left for the youngsters in the area so they were all moving away.
At that I had to let her go because I was out of breath and couldn’t keep up with her any more!
We continued on the beach round the end to the river mouth. There it became too rocky underfoot, so we went up a ramp and along the river bank into Brora. We passed a couple of old boats which had been turned into gardens full of flowers — what a delightful idea! We also came across another turf-roofed building that reminded us of Iceland.

Three bridges cross the river at Brora, all practically in the same place. There is the railway bridge which is up high, the old road bridge and the new road bridge.
But before we crossed, we turned left into town to find the pub!
After a ‘quick-half’ we looked at a very fancy lamp-post in the square which had obviously been erected in honour of Queen Victoria because her picture was on it.
Then we passed a rather nice clock tower on our way back to the bridge.
We crossed the river on the old road bridge because that was nearer the sea — except for the railway bridge which we couldn’t get on to. We then went under the railway bridge and followed a path called ‘Jubilee Walk’ which led to the river mouth on the northern side. Our car was waiting for us in the car park there.

That ended Walk no.201, we shall pick up Walk no.202 next time in the car park on the northern side of the River Brora at Brora. It was quarter past five, so the Walk had taken six hours. We had our tea and caramel squares, then returned to Littleferry to pick up the bike. We drove back to Dingwall — it was fifty miles! –where we bought fish’n’chips and took them back to the flat.
The next day we bid ‘Goodbye’ to the flat in the roof which had cost us a small fortune feeding the electricity meter even though we were hardly ever in. We voted this ‘cottage’ one of the most uncomfortable we have stayed in, and with relief started our long journey home to Malvern. It took two days and rained nearly all the way. We were both extremely tired.
We are proud of the fact that, despite taking three days ‘off’ to attend my nephew’s ordination in Edinburgh, we have added exactly a hundred miles to our total distance these two weeks!

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