Saturday, 30 May 2015

Brora to Navidale

Myself, Wendy and John Trueman leaving the
Royal Marine Hotel
The previous day we had said goodbye to Richard and Niki Dale as we put them on the train to Inverness, and welcomed John and Wendy Trueman to the Marine Hotel a few hours later. An excellent dinner, a good night’s sleep, a solid breakfast, and we were ready for the off.

But not without some initial challenges. As John put it, they had not come up prepared for summer in Scotland – no warm clothing (the temperature had fallen below 5C overnight) and inadequate waterproofs (rain promised). Susan wasn’t walking with us, as she had to travel on to Navidale with the car and everyone’s baggage, so she was able to give Wendy her waterproofs. For John it meant buying a pair of waterproof trousers at the golf pro’s shop before setting off. We were served by an American golf professional, who leaves the sweltering conditions of Florida to spend summers in Scotland. Clearly not a snow bird, but I’m not sure how one should categorise his migrations.
Looking back to Brora across the golf course

Then it was off for the start of our walk, across the Brora golf course. This clearly doesn’t have the same sort of reputation as the Royal Dornoch, but it still looks like a lovely links course. But I guess the same is true of a number of Scottish seaside courses.
After the end of the course it was a question of crossing the railway line, and then walking down the A9 for a few hundred yards where there was no other possible way across a couple of streams and the rocky shoreline. Then it was back across the railway line to resume the seaside walk.

Crossing a burn - view from the A9
The next quarter mile or so was rather difficult, as there was hardly any space between the fence and the rocky foreshore a few metres below. And it proved quite unnecessary anyway: the fence was to keep sheep from falling out rather than keeping us out of the field. It would have been far easier just to walk on the other side.

After that it was pretty easy going for a couple of miles to the point where the map showed a path leading back up to the main road. But getting to the path proved impossible: there was a steep bluff covered in scrubby trees, and no obvious way to go up. So there was no alternative but to walk along the railway line itself for a quarter mile or more until we could see as track which would take us back to the road.

A convenient stopping point for lunch
From there on in it was all road walking. Soon after reaching the A9 we had our lunch break in a layby where someone had thoughtfully left a nice clean flatbed trailer to sit on. And then it was the long slog into Helmsdale. There was one stretch where we could get short term relief by going up to a parallel road serving a number of crofts, and a second a mile or two later when we thought we could repeat the trick. But this time the road only went as far as an isolated house. We were told that beyond the house there was a right of way – the old parish road – but that it was now very overgrown. We took it – but after little more than a hundred yards we had to abandon it, and clamber down to a lower level where luckily there was a track down to the A9 from an abandoned house.

The coastal railway line South of Helmsdale
And then it was A9, A9, A9 for the remaining four miles to Helmsdale. The map suggested one possible diversion onto a track that ran parallel to the main road, but there was no obvious way to reach it. And my suggestion that we should divert from the A9 and go through the minor roads in West Helmsdale was vetoed when John and Wendy rebelled at the idea of adding a half mile to the journey – and climbing 60 or 70 metres as well. So it was more dodging traffic for the rest of the way.

The tidal stretch of the,Helmsdale river
The final straw was the fact that we had to climb up out of Helmsdale itself for three quarters of a mile to reach the Navidale House Hotel. Never was the end of a day’s walking so thoroughly welcome.

Bright with some squally showers; still cool. 11 to 15C. 20.75 km, 250m of ascents and 232m of descents. Golf course out of Brora, then a spell along the A9, back to the coast for a while, and then apart from a couple of short diversions on to minor roads, back on to the A9 for the remainder of the way in to Helmsdale and on to Navidale.

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