I'm Tom Hankinson. Here you can find out all about my progress on my walk from one end of the UK to the other.
I started out in February 2012, and finished in the late Spring of 2015.
I did it in a number of sessions, usually of a week or so.
This blog covers the overall plan and has posts for each day's actual progress.
After we had delivered John and Wendy Trueman to Helmsdale
station for their train back to Inverness and flight back to Gatwick, and after
picking up everything from the hotel, Susan dropped me off at Berriedale. The
two streams which meet there were still in full spate following the previous
The river mouth at Berriedale
When I had walked down into Berriedale the day before I had
seen the road climb up the other side of the valley, and thought it looked
rather daunting. It was a climb, of course, but not as lengthy or steep as I
had anticipated. Looking down into a valley can presumably give false
impressions of how deep they are. So it was only a little over half an hour for
me to reach the high point – in terms of altitude – for the day. That was on a
small minor road that spared me from the A9 for a mile or so. Always a welcome
diversion, even if it adds somewhat to the distance walked.
Inevitably after that it was back to the A9. It’s not too
bad for most of the time, but you have to be focused. I make a habit of
climbing up on to the verge whenever there’s oncoming traffic – and getting
well away from the road when it’s trucks, of which there were more now that the
weekend was over. The worst is when cars coming from behind overtake other
vehicles, as they swing right over to my side of the road and pass
uncomfortably close. So you quickly learn to be extra vigilant when there’s a
stretch of straight toad which offers overtaking opportunities.
The harbour at Dunbeath
The road from here on passes smallholdings and houses every
few hundred yards. The fields are small, the houses simple. But every once in a
while there’s something rather more grand. For example, as I reached Dunbeath
there was yet another castle on the coast, which obviously had its own pretty
extensive estate with grand gates and workers scurrying back and forth on quad
bikes. This was the only other time during the day when I was able to get off
the A9 for a reasonable length of time, as the Castle’s driveway is a public
road and runs parallel with the A9 into the village itself.
Dunbeath divides into three distinct bits: a high village of
mainly modest and new houses high up on the South side of the river, an
attractive little terrace on the North side of the valley set just above the
river, and other houses down by the port. There are also newer houses on the
high ground to the north as you climb up out of the valley. There also appears
to be a hotel and pleasant walks by the river itself.
The original plan had been for this to be a short day, and
for me (and whoever accompanied me) to finish in Dunbeath. But as things turned
out this was one of the days when I would be walking unaccompanied, and it
seemed sensible to carry on and cut the distances for the following days. So it
was on to Latheron, where the A9 leaves the coast and the A99 takes on coastal
duties to Wick and then John O’Groats itself.
This was another four miles or so – all on the A9. There’s
just no way of avoiding it up here. The fields were perhaps a little larger
than those I had walked past earlier in the day, but there was no way one could
navigate through them. The boundaries all run at right angles to the road, and
there’s no space at the coast between barbed wire fences and the tops of the
cliffs. It would be nice if the National Trust of Scotland emulated its
equivalent south of the border and put some effort into securing rights of way
along the coast. I’m sure it would make walking in this part of the world much
more attractive and encourage tourism. Perhaps I should write to the great fish
of Scotland and suggest this!
A successful bit of A9 avoidance
Anyway, the final stretch was straightforward, and I was in
Latheron by early afternoon. The only snag was that there was no mobile service,
so I had to call Susan from the newly opened Clan Gunn visitor centre. I have
to confess that I did not spend any time looking at what they had on display. I
was much more interested in getting to our B&B. It had become quite cloudy
in the preceding half hour, and rain was threatening.
This was a pleasant enough house, right on the A99. There
was nowhere nearby to eat, so that evening we drove to Watten (an intermediate
point on the inland alternative route to John O’Groats) for what turned out to
be a rather indifferent meal. Good lamb cutlets, but nothing else to recommend.
It had been drizzling when we drove there, and actually raining when we
arrived; by the time we left it was a deluge. On the long, almost deserted road
back to our B&B the sides of the single track were completely flooded, and
ghostly wind turbines appearing out of the mist made it even more surreal.
We were thoroughly grateful to get back unscathed, and even
if there was traffic passing on the A99 in the night we were certainly too
tired to hear it.
At long last bright
and beautiful – unlike the rest of the UK. Clouding up with threat of overnight
rain for the last half hour of the walk. 12 to 16C. 17.05 km, 322m of ascents
and 233m of descents, including unsuccessful diversion down track. Almost all
on A9 apart from short stretches on minor roads.