Friday, May 08, 2009

Walk 212 -- Sandside Beach to Melvich

Ages: It is Colin’s 67th birthday! Rosemary was 64 years and 142 days.
Weather: Heavy showers and sunny intervals. There was a lot of wind but it was not nearly so strong as yesterday.
Location: Sandside Bay to Melvich.
Distance: 6 miles.
Total distance: 1908 miles.
Terrain: Mostly main road walking again. At the end there was a track down to a footbridge and up the other side.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.174, Halladale River at Melvich.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.183, 184 & 185 as we came up from the river into Melvich.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in our caravan in Thurso. This morning we drove to Melvich and parked in a layby. I wasn’t feeling well (I think it was exhaustion after yesterday’s windy Walk) and thought we were in Strathy four miles further on. We waited for the school bus, and I was very unhappy because I had stomach-ache and it was wet and windy. The time for the bus came and went (that was because we still thought we were in Strathy and it was not due in Melvich for another ten minutes!) so we tried to thumb a lift. We were on the point of giving up when a carpenter’s van stopped. He ferried us to Reay Post Office from where we walked down the lane to the public conveniences at Sandside Bay. This is where we came off the radioactive beach yesterday.
At the end, we came up to the main road in Melvich beyond the layby where we had parked the car, and so had to turn back for about two hundred yards. I was feeling fairly rough by then, so was quite relieved that we had inadvertently shortened today’s Walk. After drinking our tea, we returned to the caravan where I went to bed with the heater going full blast because I was tired, cold and felt queasy.

It is Colin’s birthday today, he is 67! He said he didn’t mind doing a Walk on his birthday, might as well get on with it since we had gone to all the trouble and expense to get here. I actually wished we weren’t walking because I felt distinctly unwell. When we arrived at Sandside Beach I went into the public conveniences and got rid of my stomach ache, but I still felt rough. And the stomach ache kept coming back. I’m sure it was that greasy fish’n’chips I had last night — as I’m getting older I find I’m more and more intolerant of greasy food, and whenever I smell hot fat from a fast-food outlet my stomach heaves!
We could see Dounreay from the start of the Walk. We took a private road away from the beach, but it was only two sides of a rectangle and we were soon out on the main road again. At the exit was another ‘sculpture’ of a slice through a tree trunk this time with a hole in the middle. It must mean something locally, but we don’t know what.
It wasn’t so windy today, which was a relief, but it kept raining. We could see a big black cloud ahead, so we remained under trees partially sheltered by a wall for a while. We didn’t emerge on to the open moorland until the rain had finished and the sky was blue again.
There is very little traffic in this part of the world, so we were a bit surprised to see a police van go by, then come back about five minutes later. We wondered if they were checking up on us after our little encounter yesterday. Well if they were, they would have noted that we were doing exactly what we said we were going to do — continue walking the nearest safe path to the sea until we get back to Bognor Regis.
We emerged on to the moors where it was fairly windy but tolerable — better than yesterday. In fact it was quite pleasant in the sun, but horrid in the rain. There wasn’t much traffic, but when it did come it was fast. We got a bit fed up with car-dodging.
At the top of the hill, Drumhollistan Moss, we passed from Caithness into Sutherland once again — we had left Sutherland for Caithness near Helmsdale, about a hundred miles back. Now, perhaps, it wouldn’t be quite so windy — but we didn’t hold out much hope! We could still see Dounreay if we looked back.
A notice at the border told us about Dounreay. Apparently the famous dome has only been used as a store for very many years, and the reactor later ceased generating electricity in 1994, fifteen years ago. Yet a huge workforce were turning out while we were trying to take that infamous photo yesterday — are they all involved in the decommissioning?
Much more interesting was the legend of ‘The Split Stane’. The devil was once walking along that road, and he was in a spiteful mood. (Was it the wind? Couldn’t have been the traffic in his day, but I can empathise with his feelings!) Seeing a big stone, he split it with his tail to vent his anger. Sure enough, we came upon this ‘split stane’ a bit further on — as a Geologist, I’m happy that the devil was involved in the cleaving of this stone! To tell the truth, I felt so groggy I was ready to believe anything by then.
Colin found a track leading into a small disused quarry where we could get out of that wretched wind. We sat down to eat our pies, but I failed to eat much of mine. Then I made a rather disconcerting discovery — we thought we had parked in Strathy this morning, but we hadn’t. We had parked four miles short in the village of Melvich! I was so out-of-it this morning, I had navigated it wrong. No wonder we thought the bus was late! It wasn’t due where we were standing for another ten minutes or so, and when it started raining I was ready to give up. Then I began to cheer up — four miles meant a minimum of two hours less walking today when I felt so unwell. So perhaps it wasn’t such a bad mistake after all!
We got up and continued along the road, downhill this time. After about a mile we were able to turn off into a much quieter road towards a place called Bighouse. The gorse growing each side of the road was beautiful! The yellow flowers were so bright in the sun they almost hurt your eyes! The sheep in an adjacent field got very agitated as we walked past, one of them panicked and the others all went into a state of mass hysteria. Maybe they’re not used to eccentric walkers like us!
Soon we were alongside a river, and we continued until we came to a footbridge. We sat on the end steps to eat our lunch. Again, I made a mere pretence at mine as my stomach was not very receptive to food.
We crossed the wooden footbridge. A plaque told us it was built by soldiers, 48 Field Squadron of the Royal Engineers, in 1987 – twenty-two years ago. Thank you, lads! But I wish your successors would do something about its upkeep, otherwise it won’t be there much longer. Concrete has been washed away at one end, and the wood is desperately in need of a coat of preservative. I didn’t feel at all well, and was really glad that we didn’t have to do another four miles. A track took us up through a car park, which was full of camper vans, to the road.
That ended Walk no.212, we shall pick up Walk no.213 next time in Melvich. It was one o’clock, so the Walk had taken four hours ten minutes. We had to walk back down the road for about two hundred yards, which was a bit of a nuisance, because we had parked in a layby short of the village — very bad planning today!
I slept in the car on the way back, then went straight into the caravan and fell asleep on the bed. I couldn’t get warm even though we had the heater on full pelt and I was wearing my fleece over my jumper. Colin went off to buy some lamb chops (his favourite meat) for dinner, and treated himself to a pint at a ‘real ale’ pub to celebrate his birthday — unfortunately by himself. I woke up later still cold, and had several bouts of diarrhoea! I did manage to cook a nice birthday meal with the lamb chops (yes, I did wash my hands stringently!) and even managed to eat a little of it. But I had to keep stopping because my stomach kept playing up. I only did the meal (a nice bottle of red wine also went down very well) because it was Colin’s birthday, otherwise I would have just gone to bed. Colin did appreciate it.
The next day we moved the caravan along to Bettyhill. The day after we did the four miles we missed out today, and by then I was back to full health. Whatever the bug was I had, Colin didn’t catch it.

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