Sunday, May 10, 2009

Walk 213 -- Melvich to Strathy

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 2 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 144 days.
Weather: Excellent! Very sunny with a cold breeze.
Location: Melvich to Strathy.
Distance: 4½ miles.
Total distance: 1912½ miles.
Terrain: Mostly main road walking yet again. We diverted on to a lane at Strathy Bay, then took a short footpath back to the road again.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.175, River Strathy at Strathy Bridge.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We moved our caravan from Thurso to Bettyhill yesterday. With Colin’s bike strapped to the back of the car, we drove to Melvich where Colin dropped me off at the point where we had come up from the footbridge to the road. I sheltered from the wind behind a ruined building and absorbed myself in my puzzle book until Colin came back. He drove to Strathy, parked the car and cycled back to me. We chained the bike to a lamppost.
At the end, we came upon the car. Whilst drinking our tea we read an information board about the ‘clearances’ which had such a devastating effect on the people of this area in the 19th century. Then we went back to Melvich to collect the bike, and returned to the caravan in Bettyhill.

Today’s Walk was really the last part of Friday’s Walk which we curtailed because we parked in the wrong place and I wasn’t well. But today I am back in full health, and the weather is so much better too. It all made for a much more enjoyable Walk.
The gorse bushes above Melvich Bay were in glorious flower, looking fantastic in the sunshine and against the blue sky. We walked up through the village and used the loos (clean, open and free — well done Melvich!). As we passed one cottage the resident dog, who was asleep by the open front door, lazily opened one eye to watch us pass. Soon we were out of the village with only sheep for company.
It is a long lonely road across the moors. A good road too, because it has only recently been straightened and retarmacked.
We had planned to follow the loops of the old road to keep us away from the traffic, but they had been practically obliterated by piles of earth so we soon gave that up. There was very little traffic on this main road anyway, probably because it was Sunday. Some of the old bridges were still in place but they always seemed to be on the inland side of the road, so we stuck to the new road.
It is very open along this northernmost coast of Scotland, so we were glad the weather was good when we walked it.
We came across a small field of daffodils, such a strange thing in this out-of-the-way place. A notice told us it was a Marie Curie ‘Field of Hope’. Apparently they are being planted in communities all over the country, but we wondered why there was one in such a wild place as this. Looking back we could still see Dounreay Nuclear Power Station, and we speculated that this may be significant.
Looking the other way we could see Strathy Point, which is a dead end so we shan’t be walking down there.
As we approached Strathy we turned off down a lane which led to a cemetery above the dunes of Strathy Bay. Seated outside the cemetery was a family with a birthday cake! They told us that the girl with the cake on her lap, called Marysia — though I probably haven’t spelt her name correctly — was fourteen today. We wished her a “Happy Birthday!” but did wonder how they were going to light the candles in the wind.
We chatted about our Trek, in which they seemed quite interested, and then went round to the car park.
There was a log cabin there with solar panels on its roof. A notice told us the cabin was constructed in 2002 using local wood and that the solar panels are more than enough to provide all the lighting and heating needed. It is maintained by local volunteers, and its purpose is that of a rather posh bothy. We went inside to ‘nose’, and discovered it even has a ‘disabled’ flushing loo — some bothy!
Strathy Bay is beautiful, especially on a sunny day like today. Colin wanted to go down and walk along the beach, which would have been nice except there is a river to cross. He kept saying that we could probably paddle or wade across it, and I had difficulty persuading him that it was really a lot deeper than it looked from the top of the dunes. I wasn’t prepared to go all the way down there only to have to climb up again almost immediately.
We sat on a bench to eat our apples and chocolate. Then the mother of the birthday girl came over to give us two pieces of birthday cake! We thought that was a really nice gesture.
We took a track which led us near a cottage where dogs on leashes barked themselves silly until we were well past. Then we walked a footpath alongside the river until we reached the road bridge. Even Colin agreed that there was far too much water in the river for us to have paddled across on the beach.
We continued up the road, past the Strathy Inn, to the car park where our car was waiting. We were a bit bemused to pass a road sign telling drivers that there is no footway for 500 yards. We had just walked four miles along the road with no footway for any of it — now they tell us!

That ended Walk no.213, we shall pick up Walk no.214 next time at the car park on the junction of the road to Strathy Point. It was ten to four, so the Walk had taken three hours. While we were drinking our tea, I read an information board about the infamous ‘Clearances’ in the early 19th century, where families were turned out of their homes with great brutality to make way for sheep, and sent to the coast where it was impossible to make a living at anything. They suffered great hardships in the name of progress.
We drove to Strathy Point to see what it was like — we weren’t going to walk it because it is a dead end. We had lovely views of this northern coast from there, but we didn’t bother to walk down to the lighthouse. Then we drove back to Melvich to pick up the bike, and returned to our caravan at Bettyhill.

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