Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Latheron to Whaligoe

This had originally been planned as Dunbeath to Mavesy, where the road north to Watten leaves the A99. However, now that I was starting further on I decided to get closer to Wick to leave less walking the following day.

The Clan Gunn visitor centre at Latheron
Susan duly delivered me back to the Clan Gunn visitor centre. It wasn’t open this early, so there was no opportunity to remedy the previous day’s neglect of what was there to be seen. So it was straight on to the A99, which was destined to be my route for most of the day.

I had only gone a little over a mile when it started to rain. It looked as if this would last some time, so it was on with the waterproof trousers and the rucksack cover. Just as I’d finished, along came another walker, dressed in shorts and wielding two walking poles, who had obviously been close behind. So after introducing one another we walked together for the next couple of miles. Dave seemed rather more fearless of the traffic than me: he would only climb up on the verge if there were large lorries bearing down on us.

Ruined croft on the A9 - all too common a sight
It turned out that he too was doing the end to end walk - but on a continuous basis. He had started walk all the way to Wick that day and on to John O’Groats the next day. He was then planning to fly back on the Friday from Wick to Edinburgh and on the Heathrow, and then an easy tube journey to home in Chiswick. He had occasional logistical help from his wife, but was walking alone.

I have to say I rather admire these people who do it all in one go. It makes my four-year walk-by-instalments approach look rather pale by comparison. But I think I’ve had the advantage of friends walking with me more often than not, and taking about 40% more days for the actual walking means that it’s not so exhausting, and gives the occasional opportunity for a little off-trail exploration. Not, I have to admit, that I’ve done it that often. I also think that I’ve done it by a more interesting route. Dave had travelled inland up through Cornwall and Devon to avoid the ups and downs of the South West Coast Path. In any case, he’d already done that, and several other long distance walks as well, so I guess he was entitled to pick an easier route.
Telford's bridge near Lybster

We parted company just before Lybster. My preference was to get off the A99 as much as possible, and I also felt that I was slowing Dave down.

So I took back roads and paths into Lybster, and what a local notice board described as the Old Coach Road out the other side. This petered out after about a mile, but I pressed on down a track, only to find that it too came to an end. So there was a little scrambling across a fence and then an extremely damp and muddy field before I found my way back to another road and thence to the A99 once again.

The handsome High Street in Lybster
The rest of the day’s walk was a long slog along the main road. Once again it was the same sort of scenery as on the previous couple of days. Small farms, which must originally have been crofts, with small fields. Very few trees except for distant bits of forestry. Sheep and cattle. Only an occasional ploughed field, with no clue as to what crop they were intended for. This is Caithness – which is c sometimes described as the Lowlands beyond the Highlands. But I don’t think that the Lowlands proper are anything like this in terms of scenery, houses, dereliction and piles of old farming equipment and motor cars. So the description merely refers to the lack of any more mountains after Sutherland.

Lighthouse from the A9
If there had been any realistic alternative of going by a more inland route, I think I’d have found it much more interesting scenery. But the inland route involves a huge stage of more than 80km across what is really just a wilderness area, and so isn’t really practicable for someone (like me) who has no interest in camping. Besides, it still involves a trek through crofting country after Watten. So the A99 it has to be.

I finally reached the point Susan and I had identified as an appropriate stopping place. I had taken just ten minutes more than the four hours I’d anticipated, which I put down to the slow progress through the mud immediately after Lybster. So – much closer to Wick than under the original plan, and only three more days to go!
Barn at Whaligoe. There are some more attractive
farm buildings in this part of Scotland

Decent weather promised, but not delivered. Still cold; some bright spells, but mainly cloudy and occasional squally showers. Brighter in afternoon when no longer walking and when further north. 9 to 13C. 16.35 km, 119m of ascents and 169m of descents. Almost all on A99 apart from short diversion through Lybster.

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