Monday, March 23, 2009

Walk 203 -- Helmsdale to Berriedale

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 319 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 96 days.
Weather: A gusty wind. Hail showers (they hurt!) Some sun, but not much. In fact it was heaven to hell in 30 seconds, and then back!
Location: Helmsdale to Berriedale.
Distance: 10 miles.
Total distance: 1802 miles.
Terrain: Grassy path along the top of the beach at first. Then we climbed up some fields, and some very steep slopes through bracken etc to the road. Finally seven miles along the A9 — a route march. Not much fun!
Tide: In going out.
Rivers: No.156, Allte Briste. No.157, Ord Burn. No.158, Berriedale Water.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.171 as we climbed up the fields — but it was impossibly tied up with rope so we climbed over the fence instead (we still had the kiss!)
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Castletown. This morning we got up very early and drove nearly forty miles back to Berriedale where we parked discreetly near the War Memorial, well out of everyone’s way. We walked up to the main road and caught a bus to Helmsdale. In fact we almost missed it because the ‘Traveline’ website had given us the time of 8.15 when it was really 8.05. In Helmsdale we walked down to the harbour.
At the end, we finished at the car. We had our tea and caramel squares, took a number of photographs, then returned to our friendly cosy cottage in Castletown.

We started today’s Walk at the exact spot in Helmsdale where we had parked the car yesterday, and walked the second half of the harbour. At that moment it started to hail. It didn’t augur well for our Walk, but we put on overtrousers and carried on. We walked along a road away from the harbour for about a quarter of a mile to a house, and by then the sun had come out and was shining brightly. The weather didn’t seem to be able to make up it’s mind!
A footpath led round the house and continued along the top of the beach, grassy and quite pleasant to walk. It led us on past a small waterfall and ended at a ruined house. 
There was no way on, so we backtracked a little (always hate doing that) and climbed above the waterfall where there was a pond with ducks in it. There we turned back towards the coast hoping to walk along the top of the cliff alongside a dry-stone wall. But almost immediately this path, too, came to an end at a cleft. We weren’t doing very well!
We backtracked again until we came to a muddy gate, and through there we hoped we could at least walk parallel to the coast instead of away from it. Soon we came to a ford where the stream was just narrow enough to jump across. But mid-leap I got cramp in my leg which was sudden and acute! I managed not to fall in the stream, just about, but fell awkwardly and twisted my back.
The wind was getting up by then and becoming quite intolerable. We came to a fence which wasn’t barbed wire, thank goodness — must be grateful for small mercies. Colin lowered a post so I could step easily over it. (I’m finding stiles and fences more and more difficult as I’m getting older, especially with my back problem.) The increasing wind was a precursor to another hailstorm, we could see it coming. So we tried to hurry towards a doorless hut which we hoped would provide some shelter. Colin was ahead of me when I caught my foot on a stone and fell headlong! He didn’t even know because he had his back to me. I bruised both knees but was otherwise unhurt, so I picked myself up and carried on.
The hail started before we got to the hut, which we thought might have been a Second World War lookout post. Hail hurts! Inside the hut I took painkillers because my back was painful after that fall at the stream. Then we sat and ate our steak pies — at least they were nice. But the hail teemed down outside, it was quite a white-out. It was HORRIBLE! I thought, “What am I doing here?” (As you can tell by the tone of my writing, we weren’t exactly enjoying ourselves!) The storm seemed to go on forever and we were getting colder and colder. So we made the decision to leave the hut before the hail had stopped, and that wasn’t pleasant at all.
We determined to get up to the road, the main A9 to Wick, as quickly as possible despite the fact that we both absolutely hate walking along main roads. We were fed up with trying to follow paths which are drawn on the map but don’t actually exist. It’s time the Ordnance Survey got their act together over Scottish footpaths!
We came to a kissing gate that was so tied up with rope we couldn’t undo it, so we climbed through a fence (fortunately not barbed wire) further up. We stood and tried to work out a way up to the road, the hail had more or less stopped by then. We clambered up a very steep bank which was covered in dead bracken — good thing it’s still Winter because that undergrowth would have been impossible in Summer. At several field boundaries there was a high deer fence, but we always found a gap where someone had rolled back the wire. (We were quite relieved about that!) Then we came to a deep cleft. We had no choice but to go up the steep edge of this, almost on our hands and knees! Through a last fence, up a steep bank — and we were on the road at last! Whew! We had progressed a mere three miles.
Now we had seven miles of route-marching ahead of us. Actually this was not so bad — except when it hailed as it did several times. 
In fact the walking did my back good, loosening the vertebrae and keeping it slightly supple. I managed to keep up quite a pace without feeling tired. I wore a bright yellow visible ‘vest’ and leapt into the side every time traffic came towards me, which was often. (I hate main roads!) Colin followed wearing a dark cape over his visible ‘vest’! 
He said it was because his coat is not waterproof, and neither are his boots for that matter. I’m still trying to persuade him to fork out for the proper walking gear and replace his boots because they are worn out, but he won’t. He’d rather be uncomfortable and feel he’s saving money, but his mood in bad weather can be gruesome at times.
The road led us round a deep cleft, keeping to the contours. We really felt we were in the Highlands! We passed a memorial stone to someone who died at that spot in 1878, but it was difficult to read the inscription on the stone. I think it said, “Be ye also ready” so perhaps he just dropped down dead unexpectedly. 
Then we came to a strip of fir trees, and found that if we snuggled down behind them we could get out of the wind. So we sat there and ate our sarnies. Before we had finished it started to hail again. Once more I asked myself what I was doing there at my age? I’m supposed to be doing this trek for fun, but today is anything but fun!
We also passed a path leading off the road down to a ‘Clearance Village’. We didn’t go down there today because the weather was so foul, but we did try to visit it on another day as we were passing in the car. What a desolate place! How our hearts went out to these poor people who were exiled from the fertile glens where they had farmed for generations because of the greed of a few rich landowners! 
A notice told us that people began arriving there at the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, but they didn’t stay long because it was so bleak and infertile. There was no way they could make a living. We could see very little evidence of their dwellings today.
We continued marching on until we came to a rough car park where there was a snowgate, open thankfully. We were at the top of the hill above Berriedale, and to our delight realised we were only a mile from our destination. 
We stopped there to eat our chocolate, but had to lean on the gate as it was too wet to sit down anywhere. 
Then it was downhill all the way.
The river was in full flood, rushing under the road bridge. We had parked just beyond it, on a bit of old road where it went over an old stone bridge, now a footbridge. The village War Memorial is there, and Colin had discreetly tucked the car away in the corner where it was hardly noticeable and certainly not in anyone’s way. We had walked just over 1800miles from Bognor, so we took a photograph of us by the memorial to mark that achievement.

That ended Walk no.203, we shall pick up Walk no.204 next time by the War Memorial in Berriedale. It was quarter past three, so the Walk had taken six and three-quarter hours. We had our tea and caramel shortcake, and took a number of photographs of us, the memorial, the river and the old bridge.
Just before we were about to leave, an elderly woman came out of the house opposite with her yappy little dog. She marched across and yelled, “You can’t park your car here!” (but we had!) “It’s not a car park!” (why not? there isn’t anywhere else in Berriedale to park!) “The car park is up there!” and she waved her hand vaguely in the direction of the steep hill we had just come down. (That car park is a muddy pull-off at least a mile away from the village and at the top of a very steep hill!) Before we had time to reply she continued, “Coming at eight o’clock in the morning — it really is a bit much!” Then she turned on her heels, leaving us with mouths gaping, and marched back into her house.
Silly old cow! I say that because our three-year-old silver-grey Mondeo is not an ugly car, there were no notices to say we couldn’t park it where we did, we went out of our way to leave it out of everyone’s way, there was nowhere else in this tiny village that we could park it as far as we could see, she could hardly see it behind the trees from her house, and most people in Britain have to look out of their front windows at parked cars anyway — we just accept it as part of our way of life. But what we objected to most was the way she harangued us for several minutes without taking breath, then turned on her heels disappearing back into her house before we had a chance to make any kind of reply. Not just a snob, but a coward too! Who knows? we might even have apologised for upsetting her day! I like to think that she was most upset because when Colin parked the car this morning and left in such a hurry because the bus came earlier than we thought, she couldn’t come out because she was still in her nightie!! She must have been seething all day! Good! Silly old cow! Her behaviour just succeeded in putting our backs up, whereas if she had been polite we may have been contrite.
We finished our refreshments in our own time, then drove back to our cottage in Castletown where the people are a lot more friendly.

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