Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Walk 215 -- Bettyhill to Tongue

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 4 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 146 days.
Weather: Not a cloud in the sky all day! Cool and welcoming breeze in exposed places.
Location: Bettyhill to Tongue.
Distance: 16 miles.
Total distance: 1939½ miles.
Terrain: Too much road-walking. Across dunes and a beautiful beach at the beginning. Round a small headland on a moorland path near Skerray.
Tide: In going out.
Rivers: No.179, River Naver, on the east side of the beach near Bettyhill. No.180, River Borgie, on the west side of the beach. No.181, Strathtongue Burn, at Coldbackie.
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 were staying in our caravan in Bettyhill. This morning Colin drove to Tongue and parked at a picnic area on the causeway. He was supposed to catch the school bus, but since he was early he thumbed a lift instead back to the caravan site
At the end, we finished the Walk at the car on the causeway. After drinking our tea and demolishing a few biscuits, we drove back to our caravan in Bettyhill.

We walked through the caravan site to the main entrance, then along the road through Bettyhill. We passed the bus shelter where we had waited so long for a bus yesterday. Someone had scratched Silly! on the Perspex, probably because no buses ply this route any more — only the school bus which drives from it’s overnight parking spot (the other side of Bettyhill across the river) towards Thurso very early in the morning on schooldays only. The driver was a bit puzzled to find he had two ordinary passengers yesterday, and let us have a free ride because he wasn’t geared up to collect fares!
Behind the bus shelter was a goose sitting on her nest. She looked at us quizzically as we took her photo, but didn’t seem over-bothered by our presence.
We passed the school entrance, and noticed that a lot of teenagers seemed to be out of school buying ice creams in the shop even though it was the middle of the morning. None of them wore uniforms and all were sloppily dressed. Some of the girls had such short skirts they were almost indecent. I would be very concerned if such a school was the one I had to send my children to — I think the way the students dress is indicative of the standard of education a child will receive in a school, and I wasn’t very impressed with Bettyhill School. Perhaps they have difficulty in attracting good teachers to such an out-of-the-way place, Bettyhill really is a long way from anywhere.
Next we passed an ugly building site in front of some bungalows, but I expect the area will improve once the houses are built. By then we were out of Bettyhill, it is a tiny place. We had lovely views across to the sands of Torrisdale Bay where we wanted to walk, but there was a river in the way. So we followed the road southwards alongside the River Naver for about a mile until we reached the bridge. There was no pavement so we wore our bright yellow vests.
Just across the bridge was a gypsy caravan set up as a shop selling knick-knacks, but we didn’t go in. We removed our visible vests, and walked northwards alongside the River Naver on the sand, passing a barn that had seen better days, until we were opposite Bettyhill. We had walked a good two miles and were in almost exactly the same place — BUT there wasn’t a river in the way anymore. The tide was in, but we had found there was still room to walk along the river edge without getting wet.
We climbed over some hard-packed dunes to the beautiful sandy beach. The beaches along this north coast are absolutely lovely — trouble is there are too few of them and they are all very short. We came across the skeleton of an animal, the bones were bleached white in the sun. We thought it was the remains of a seal.
There was one other person enjoying the sunshine on this gorgeous beach, a man who was paddling along the edge of the waves. We thought he was brave because, although we had wall-to-wall blue sky, the wind was a bit nippy and the water must have been cold. We were both still wearing coats.
We walked on, enjoying the sun, the sand and the surf. It was lovely walking along this idyllic beach with the surf pounding.
Then we couldn’t believe our eyes — for this man had thrown off his shirt and was going in for a swim!
He must have been really tempted, forgetting that on this north coast there is nothing between us and the North Pole. That water must have been perishing!
He didn’t stay in long, in fact no sooner had he been washed over by a wave, he was out again.

We sat on the dunes and ate our pies. We didn’t want to leave, in fact we walked on the sand a lot further than we need have because we were enjoying it so much. We passed what could have been the remains of a wreck, or perhaps some wartime construction — it was difficult to tell.
Colin photographed a fearsome looking beetle on the sand. We walked right out on a sand bar until we came to the River Borgie instead of cutting the corner. There the sand was a bit softer and we left deep footprints.
Then we walked alongside this second river until we came to a footbridge. We crossed this and climbed some steps to a lane.
We turned north. The lane took us alongside the river where we had good views of the beach we had so reluctantly left, until we came to a cemetery.
Before we left the shore, we sat on a grass verge to eat our sarnies. There was no traffic whatsoever. It was hot inland, really hot because we were out of the wind. We passed a tin chapel and a war memorial. Then we came to a row of attractive cottages, one of which was a Post Office-cum-village shop. But it was closed! It only opens in the mornings and we had dallied so long on the beach it was now afternoon. I was so disappointed because I wanted to buy an ice cream.
A man was sitting outside one of the cottages washing deer antlers. We got chatting, people are very friendly in these out-of-the-way places. He told us he makes walking stick and shooting stick handles out of the antlers when he’s polished them up, and sells them to the tourists. We chatted about our Trek, and he informed us that there was a ‘new’ coast path up the next lane. He reckoned it was way-marked all the way round to the Kyle of Tongue (our destination this Walk) though he admitted he hadn’t walked it. There is no vestige of it on the ‘Explorer’ OS map, just rough country which we didn’t want to risk because there were so many rocks and close contours.

We were dithering about whether we should risk it. We walked up to where he said, and sure enough there was a brand new footpath signpost — quite a rarity in Scotland. We decided to follow it. A rough path took us over the moors and round a rocky headland where we had magnificent views of two uninhabited islands offshore. It was well way-marked. It took us down to the beach and then round to Skerray Harbour. Then it just seemed to stop, we couldn’t see any more way-marks anywhere.
There is a caravan site at Skerray Harbour, one of those ‘certificated’ sites that will only take five caravans and merely have a tap, a drain and a rubbish bin for facilities. We were able to fill our water bottles, which we were pleased about because we had both forgotten to replenish them this morning. There was also a police car there, which we thought a bit odd. Are they still checking up on us after that Dounreay incident? Well, if they are, they can note that we are getting on slowly with our declared intention of walking the entire coast of mainland Britain. (Or am I getting like my late uncle, who became more and more convinced in his old age that the police were following him about wherever he went. It became an obsession with him before he died — nothing and no one, not even the police themselves, could persuade him otherwise. I believe this is quite a common mental illness — oh dear! I hope I’m not beginning to suffer from it!)
Anyway, back to the Walk. We couldn’t see any more footpaths to lead us on, so we walked up the lane to Skerray and on to Modsary — the way we had originally planned. There we saw another arrow similar to the way-markers on the ‘new’ footpath, so we looked at the map again. All it showed was one track leading out to the middle of nowhere and then stopping. Lots of rocks and close contours, quite a few streams and small lochans — we didn’t like the look of it. It would have saved us several miles if it had worked, but we were too tired to take the risk with no information so we continued along the lane to the main road. This was very tedious and hard on the feet. Colin felt this especially as the soles of his feet began stinging like mine did last year. It is caused by friction and there is really very little can be done about it — except stop walking. My soles have now ‘hardened’ somewhat and I no longer find this much of a problem, but Colin still has to go through the pain barrier!
At last we got to the main road, though you would hardly know it as there was so little traffic — about one vehicle every ten minutes. Although it is an A class road, it is mostly single track with passing places. We sat on the verge to eat our chocolate. All we could see in any direction was open moorland.
According to our OS map, the next loop of the road had a track cutting off the bend. We decided to take this short cut, and happily started down the track which bypassed a small lochan. It was OK as far as the lochan, then we had to climb over a locked gate. The track the other side was so overgrown it might as well have not been there. It was very difficult walking through thick undergrowth, then climbing over another locked gate to get back on to the road.
It would have been far quicker and easier if we had stayed on the road. Now we knew why we had walked all those miles along a tarmacked lane instead of taking a ‘short-cut’ across the moors following a ‘new’ coastal path. You never know what you are in for in Scotland!
We descended to the village of Coldbackie, and there we had magnificent views across the Kyle of Tongue. I think the wonderful scenery of north-western Scotland starts here at the Kyle of Tongue. The islands we could see in the entrance to the Kyle are called ‘Rabbit Islands’.
The sun was a bit strong shining directly into our eyes, we were very tired and it seemed a long way to our road turn-off. We could see the causeway, and we could even see our car parked in the picnic area just before the bridge.

But it was still a long way away! It was blissful to get into the shade of some trees and out of the blinding sun. That’s the problem when it is low in the sky and we are walking towards it.
We were both getting very weary, this was a long Walk and we had walked yesterday too. At last we reached the narrow road which leads directly down to the causeway, but even that was longer than we thought. But it was downhill, and a lot of it was through trees.
The causeway and bridge were built in 1971, not so long ago. Before that there was a passenger ferry across the Kyle of Tongue, but motorists had to drive all the way round the end — a heck of a way! We trudged along the causeway towards our car, but were rewarded with magnificent views both to north and south. A marvellous end to a long Walk!
That ended Walk no.215, we shall pick up Walk no.216 next time at the picnic site on the causeway across the Kyle of Tongue It was quarter to seven, so the Walk had taken eight hours and twenty minutes. After drinking our tea and demolishing a few biscuits, we drove back to our caravan in Bettyhill.

1 comment:

Altnaharra & Farr Parish Church said...

Hi Bettyhill School is an excellent school (90 ish pupils) the pupils were at their mid morning break and go to the post office for a snack. If they don't have enough money it is no problem they just put it in a notebook. Nobody dresses smartly on the north coast. The wreck on the beach is the remains of a liberty ship that was being towed to the scrapyard after ww2 and broke free.

It is a beautiful place I lived there as parish minister for 3 years

Tony Thornthwaite