Thursday, 28 May 2015

Golspie to Brora

This was to be Richard and Niki Dale’s last day with me. It would be a short day, of just a little over six miles, the first of which was through the main part of Golspie itself. The A9 was the broad main street, quite attractive.

So it was a taxi ride back to where we’d finished the day before, now in sunshine. The chap who took us had just started his business – private hire, he described it as, rather than a taxi firm. He had previously had four years on the oil rigs, which he said was quite enough given the endemic level of accidents. So we parted with our £25 and wished him well.

Almost immediately we met a young couple walking towards us. It turned out that they were doing the end-to-end walk starting at the John O’Groats end. We asked whether they had travelled along the coast, but rather ominously they said that they’d had to walk along the A9 all the way from Brora. Apparently they had found it impossible to go along the coast out of Brora. With the tide right in it was all rough shingle and just very difficult going – and they had not attempted to get back to the coast later.

Dunrobin  Castle from them coast
We told them how to avoid the A9 going south, so I hope they managed to follow the path we had taken the previous day in the reverse direction. Our next stop was the Sutherland estates office, which we found quite by chance as we reached the point at which we hoped to join the coastal path. The good news was that it was perfectly practicable to walk between Dunrobin Castle and the sea.

In fact it was a wonderful walk. Open grassland to start, then a path between the walls of the castle’s gardens and the sea, and then a woodland walk         with great drifts of bluebells beneath beech, sycamore and oak trees. And splendid views of the castle itself looking down on us. We planned to visit it later that day, so this was something of a sneak preview.

Looking back at the woods after Dunrobin Castle
After the end of the wood it was more walking across grassy fields before we were obliged for some of the way to walk on the beach. The tide was now on its way out, so whereas the walkers we had met were unable to do so, we now had a much easier time of it.

A geology field trip
This part of the coast, and some of the coast further to the north, has pronounced bluffs between the narrow strip of grass at sea level and the pasture above. In places these become rocky outcrops, and at one of these we came across a large group of young people with hard hats and notebooks. It turned out to be an Aberdeen University geology field trip. We couldn’t work out what they were doing, as most of them seemed just to be standing around and not doing very much. But perhaps they all took turns to study the rock face in more detail. We didn’t hang around to find out.
Waterfalls before Brora

After that it was almost all walking on sand at the water’s edge until we were almost in Brora. The final bit was much harder going – shingle, sometimes quite difficult to walk on. So we had some understanding of why the couple we’d met earlier had elected to take the A9 route. But we were (rather smugly?) self-congratulatory about our A9 avoidance.

The last bit was alongside the harbour and river, across the old bridge (by Telford, no doubt) and to our hotel, the Royal Marine – very comfortable.

We had finished our walk in plenty of time to change and head off to Dunrobin Castle in time for the falconry display, which everyone we’d met had recommended. This was excellent – even if it was rather dampened (literally) by a couple of squally showers. We had demonstrations of the flying skills of a Greenland gyr falcon, a Eurasian eagle owl, and finally a peregrine tiercel. Quite spectacular. The falconer figures in the brochure for the castle as a whole, so he’s obviously almost as much of a pull as the old stones themselves.

Richard and Niki - plus eagle owl
The castle itself was reasonably interesting, but there was no real feeling of the family itself. And a serious amount of historical revision was in evidence. The Highland clearances were not because of the Duke of Sutherland’s desire to replace people with sheep, but because he was encouraging his tenants to go elsewhere to improve their quality of life. But of course! How could one think otherwise?

There’s a huge memorial above the village to the Duke of Sutherland. Apparently locals are split fairly evenly between those that think it should be blown up (memories are long here) and those that think it’s a splendid local sight to be valued.

Bright with squally showers; still cool for the time of year. 10 to 14C. 11.15 km, largely level. 57m of ascents and 40m of descents. Some roadside walking through Golspie, then coastal paths and the beach, largely sand but some shingle. Local roads in Brora itself.

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