Ages: Colin was 66 years and 326 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 103 days.
Weather: Cold wind with far too many showers. But it did improve towards the end of the Walk.
Location: Wick to Keiss.
Distance: 13½ miles.
Total distance: 1844½ miles.
Terrain: Some pleasant tarmacked and gravel tracks. A lot of ‘sheep’ tracks across rough grass. About two miles of unpleasant road-walking. And a blissful firm sandy beach towards the end.
Tide: Coming in, then going out.
Rivers: No.164, Burn of Papigoe. No. 165, River of Wester.
Kissing gates: No.174 at Ackergill Tower.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Castletown. This morning we didn’t have to get up quite so early as the journey to Keiss was shorter and the one and only bus was later. We parked at the harbour, where we chatted to a local lady who was quite indifferent to where we left the car for the day, she was more interested in our Trek so far. We walked up to the bus shelter near the main road, and caught the bus to Wick. There we walked back down to the bridge.
At the end, we came to the car. We had our tea and caramel squares, then returned to our cottage in Castletown.
The weather has been pretty awful the past few days, and we are hoping it will now improve. At least the temperature is slightly up today so we have rain instead of sleet and snow. But this wretched wind... I could never live in Caithness, the wind would drive me mad!
We stopped and chatted to an old gent about a war memorial we came upon. This was erected in 1909, a hundred years ago and five years before the First World War broke out. It commemorates the men who lost their lives in previous campaigns which were important to the British Empire, as it was then. It lists Trafalgar, the Nile, the Baltic and other places I have never heard of. We thought it very poignant that one of the countries mentioned is Afghanistan, where British soldiers are fighting and losing their lives on this very day. Haven’t we learned anything in the last hundred years?
and it gave a telephone number. What an out-of-the-way place for a study centre! How many people can get all the way up here to the far north of Scotland to use it? Crikey, we’re almost at John O’Groats! I suppose it’s nice and quiet for all that studying... except for the constant wind which would drive me to distraction.
A noticeboard gave a potted history — it is the usual story. The castle was built in the 14th century and radically altered in subsequent years to illustrate the wealth of the owner. It sent people out to battle, withstood many sieges and was abandoned in 1690 after being badly damaged by cannon fire. At the moment it is closed to visitors, and there was scaffolding on one end. We sat in the lee of its wall to eat our sarnies out of the wind. Then we continued along the clifftop.
When we were on the bus earlier in the day, we had asked a local man if there was a footpath along the coast between Noss Lighthouse and Ackergillshore. (Once again, none is marked on the map.) He replied that he thought it was possible to walk along there, but it would be “dangerous” and we’d have to climb over lots of fences. So we had been quite gloomy at the prospect of not being able to get through. It was very important to us that we did, otherwise we would have to return to Wick and continue along the dreaded A99 all round Wick Airport, a detour of miles! Therefore we were delighted to find that there was quite a good path which led us easily all the way to Ackergillshore between a wall and the clifftop without having to climb a single fence. So much for listening to the locals! We had successfully skirted the airport which wasn’t exactly busy. Just one propeller plane had landed in all the time we took to do today’s Walk — nothing took off.
At Ackergillshore we passed a small jetty, a storehouse with a turf roof, and then went round the corner to find the path stopped.
There was a structure over a wall which looked, at first, as if it was a whalebone arch. But we think it was made of wood — not sure what it was. The track led to an imposing building called Ackergill Tower. The path led through on the sea side of this establishment which had a high wall with a very fancy gate in it. A notice told us it was PRIVATE.
We were approaching a three-mile long sandy beach, but there was a problem. About half way along it a river came out, and there was no bridge. If the tide had been out we might have risked walking along the sands because rivers often braid as they run across the beach, and are usually at their most shallow just where they run into the sea. But the tide was right in. If we got to the river and couldn’t cross it, we would have to return a mile and a half to where we were standing in order to divert to the road — three miles wasted walking. We weren’t prepared to risk that, we were too tired.
So we turned away from that beautiful sand and took a ‘white’ road which led us in a straight line to the A99. Just before we emerged on to the dreaded highway, we stopped by a fence to eat our chocolate. There was nowhere to sit down because it was so wet everywhere, so we leant on the fence. There was a farmhouse nearby, and the farmer and his teenage son came out to ask us what we were doing — we must have looked suspicious! They relaxed when they realised we were just a pair of crazy walkers, and I gave them one of my blog cards. They expressed surprise that it is possible to walk along the coast all the way from the lighthouse, obviously they had never done it! Then they told us we would “probably have been all right” going along the beach and crossing the river. Since they didn’t know about the footpath we had just walked, I didn’t really trust them to know whether the river was crossable!
We put on our bright yellow visible vests and embarked on a couple of miles of hellish road-walking until we had crossed the river on a bridge. It looked quite a big river there, so I think we made the right decision. Colin’s knee began to trouble him, and he took some ibuprofen. We removed our visible vests, relieved to be off the road.
That ended Walk no.206, we shall pick up Walk no.207 next time at the harbour in Keiss. It was half past six, so the Walk had taken eight hours. We had our tea and caramel squares, then returned to our cottage in Castletown.