Monday, May 11, 2009

Walk 214 -- Strathy to Bettyhill

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 3 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 145 days.
Weather: Very sunny, a slight breeze. Beautiful!
Location: Strathy to Bettyhill.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 1923½ miles.
Terrain: A good bit of road-walking, quite a bit of quiet lane-walking, a little bit of scrabbling up and down grassy slopes and dunes, one barbed wire fence and two gorgeous beaches to traverse!
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.176, Armadale Burn, and no.177, Ault Beag, on Armadale Beach. No.178, Clachan Burn, on Farr Beach.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.186, 187 & 188 as we left Farr Beach.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in our caravan in Bettyhill. This morning we got up very early to catch the school bus from the village. We thought it wasn’t going to come because it was very late. We thought we had better thumb a lift instead, but in twenty minutes (and this is an A-road in the rush-hour) not a single vehicle had passed going our way! Then the bus came – he’d had difficulty getting it started, that is why it was late. He wasn’t expecting any paying passengers, so he gave us a free ride to Strathy. No school children got on before we got off.
At the end, we finished the Walk at the caravan in Bettyhill. We didn’t use the car at all today.

The bus dropped us off at the road junction where we finished the last Walk. There is a bus shelter there, but only on one side of the road. Our bus was going on towards Thurso, picking up school children on the way to take them to Thurso School. Shortly after the bus had left, two youngsters, a girl of about twelve and a boy of about fourteen, were dropped off by a man in a car coming from Strathy Point. They went to sit in the bus shelter. I suggested to them that they had missed the bus because we had just got off it and it had gone. They said, “No!” they were waiting for the bus going the other way as they attended Bettyhill School. They weren’t wearing uniforms. The boy was untidy and grubby, had no school bag and was smoking. He already had a smoker’s cough! What future is there for children brought up in such an out-of-the-way place? I should imagine their future employment prospects are pretty bleak.
We walked for a couple of miles along the road which was almost entirely free of traffic. After about ten minutes, a bus passed us going towards Bettyhill, and I noted the two youngsters from the bus shelter were in it — I think the boy had finished his cigarette by then! There was wild moorland to each side, and we passed a couple of small lochans.
The gorse was flowering beautifully, as it always seems to have been ever since we have been walking in Scotland, and Colin photographed a stonechat perched on top of one of the bushes. It got quite warm and we had to remove layers. Lovely weather — not at all what we expected on the far north coast of Scotland!
We turned off at the hamlet of Lednagullin, hoping to find our way down to the beach at Armadale Bay though it was not at all clear from the map whether there was a path. There were piles of cut peat outside the few cottages. We passed a house which had dogs in the garden. They were quiet at first, but then they couldn’t hold it any longer and started barking. A woman came out to shut them up, and we got chatting. She asked if we were going down to the beach, and when we confirmed that we were she advised us as to the best way to go — including where it was easiest to climb over a barbed wire fence! She said she always goes that way when she takes the dogs down to run on the sands. You would think these poor people would insist on a proper path, wouldn’t you?
So we descended past some ruined cottages, then turned down through a lot of long grass. We found the corner post on the barbed wire fence which the lady had told us about, and it was indeed much easier to climb over there because the post was a bit loose and we could dip it. (I’d have ripped it out if I’d lived there!) We sank into the grassy dunes, and finally slid down a last bit of sand to emerge on to the beach.
And what a beautiful beach it is! Absolutely idyllic! There were two fishermen set up quite separately from each other and neither of them seemed to be doing very much. We both just love walking along next to the rolling surf, and there was quite a bit of it today after all the wind we’ve had over the past week. Two rivers drain into Armadale Bay, but the tide was out far enough for us to paddle across both of them without getting water in our boots.
We sat on a seat, which was a plank of wood supported by two mines, to eat our pies — we just hoped that the mines had been defused! We idly watched oystercatchers pecking at the sand, then they flew up as one and departed.

The only negative thing about Armadale Beach is that it is so short — less than half a mile in length. All too soon we had to leave those wonderful sands, but at least there was a path up to Armadale village. Two of the houses we passed had a set of deer antlers nailed to the wall.
We had already crossed the second river on the beach — good job because the footbridge further upstream was broken. Our way led up through oceans of flowers — primroses, celandines violets and bluebells in bud. It was lovely! We had to go through several gates before we reached the lane, then we realised we had gone the ‘wrong’ way, not the official path from the beach to the village. Well, they should signpost it better! It was very hot away from the beach, I removed another layer.
We had to return to the main road, though main it was not because the one thing it lacked was traffic. Most of the time we walked in the centre of the road and very infrequently had to move into the side — this is an A road we are talking about. This morning, while we were waiting for the bus which was late, not a single vehicle passed us in twenty minutes!
We came across another bus shelter, and inside this one were two bicycles, one a child’s. Neither of them were locked, a sign of the trust this scattered rural community has. We were told no one locks their doors in this area, but you can bet they all know what’s going on locally! We reckoned the owners of the bikes were school children who had cycled from their homes to the bus stop, then caught the school bus the rest of the way.
We had to walk three miles before we could turn off the main road again, and it was mostly uphill. At the top we looked back and saw Strathy Point from the west side. Looking ahead we caught our first glimpse of the mountains of the north-west. We felt a sense of excitement, the scenery is going to improve dramatically over the next few Walks! Let us hope the weather holds.
We turned off on to a lane to Swordly. There we met a pleasant couple who were on holiday from Essex. We got chatting, and they were very interested in our Trek. (I often wonder how many of these people we meet do look at my blog, and if any of them continue to read it until I get round to writing up the Walk where we met them. Come on, any of you whom we have stopped and spoken to. Let me know you are still around by writing a comment on the appropriate Walk!) There was a local man in a car across the road (quite a crowd for this part of the world!) who overheard us say we were hoping we could get across to Bettyhill through the Swordlies and then down to the beach. He called across to tell us there was an easy path between Swordly East and Swordly West. We thanked him for the information, but subsequently we didn’t find the path to be very ‘easy’!
We took off our bright yellow vests (which we hadn’t really needed because of the scarcity of traffic) and started off down the lane. The flowering gorse continued to be gorgeous, and primroses were everywhere interspersed with the occasional violet. It was very warm, the sun shone and we were happy! We sat on the grass by the side of the road to eat our lunch — not a single vehicle passed us as we walked over a mile to Swordly East.
There the tarmacked lane turned into a track which went through a gate. The track then curled round and came to a sudden stop at a ploughed field. Oh! We looked around, and the only way on we could see was a very steep path up a flowered hill — and I’m talking hands and knees steepness here! Was this the ‘easy’ path that the man in the car had told us about? Must have been, because there was no other. So we scrambled up, Colin more easily than me, and emerged on a lane in Swordly West.
We passed a house with an impressive-looking gun in the garden. The owner was there so we asked him about it. He told us it dates from 1917, and is a six-pounder found in a wreck in Loch Eriboll. (The loch is still used for army manoeuvres today, we could hear them and had been warned about them.) He joked that we were safe because his gun only fired potatoes these days! There was also a very nice restored Victorian lamppost outside his house, but I doubt whether it still runs on gas in this remote area, unlike the 100+ Victorian gas lamps we have at home in Malvern.
We continued to Farr, passing a lamb that looked so small we were convinced it was new-born. It’s mother kept standing in front of it to protect it, so we were unable to photograph it. We didn’t persevere because we didn’t want to cause any unnecessary stress. We took a track across fields to Clerkhill, passing a curious highland cow on the way. Colin took a picture of a wheatear on the grass over a fence.
In Clerkhill we passed a house with cartwheels outside leaning against the wall. Another house was being completely renovated, the family were living in caravans in the garden while the work was being done.
We descended across the grass — no path — to Farr Beach and we could just make out our caravan on the site up the other side. This beach is very popular with surfers, and we watched a few of them carry their boards across to the water.
We found a place out of the wind, and sat on the grass to eat our chocolate. We idly watched the surfers doing their stuff — we were almost at the end of our Walk and we felt very relaxed. Colin said he could see a rock arch out in the distance, and zoomed in his camera to take a picture of it.
We carried on down the grassy dunes towards the beach, but suddenly heard a shout from behind us. A man was standing near the spot where we had just been sitting, and shouting, “Your gloves!” Colin had laid them down to sit on and forgotten to pick them up, so he had to climb all the way up there again to collect them. On his way down a second time, he photographed a ringed plover.
Farr Bay is a BEAUTIFUL beach! When we first arrived here with our caravan the evening before last, we had wandered down to the beach we were overlooking just to see what it was like. Colin suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “That bird over there is too big to be a buzzard, I think it’s a golden eagle!”
I got out my little telescope while he attempted to photograph it, and sure enough it was an eagle — the first time either of us have ever seen one in the wild! It was very exciting, but the wretched bird wouldn’t come anywhere near us.
The magnification on my little telescope is very good, and I watched it turn in the orange of the setting sun — PURE GOLD! It was such a wonderful experience, I shall never forget it!
Colin tried to follow it as it flew over the dunes and out of sight, but it didn’t come back.
So he only got a couple of pictures of me strolling on the sands, and he eventually gave up.
No golden eagle today, we looked and looked. We strolled along the idyllic sands, admired the stripy rocks, crossed the shallow river at the end, and climbed up the footpath to our caravan.

That ended Walk no.214, we shall pick up Walk no.215 next time at the caravan site in Bettyhill. It was half past three, so the Walk had taken seven and a quarter hours. It had been a lovely Walk, including two gorgeous beaches and the weather couldn’t have been better. Long may it last! We hadn’t used the car at all, had a free ride on the bus this morning because the bus driver felt the paperwork would be too complicated if he charged us, and it was very comfortable to finish at the caravan with no bike to collect. We were able to relax with a pot of real tea, and had a lovely long evening because we had finished so early.
It has been a colourful day, with the sun shining so brightly:-
There was the BLUE of the sky and sea,
the YELLOW of the sand and the flowering gorse,
and the GREEN of the hills.

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