Friday, 28 April 2017


Brora → Helmsdale

helmsdale.jpg Distance: 12.45 miles
Ascent: 108 metres
Duration: 4 hours 35 minutes

Sutherland Safari
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North of Brora a good path runs for two miles along the golf course and dunes, at the back of the beach, as far as Clynemilton. At this point most other accounts of walking the coastline seem to stick to the main road all the way to Helmsdale.

There is a better way.

loth-burn.jpgIf you don't mind splashing across a few stream outfalls (and wading across one – the Loth Burn), you can walk the entire distance on the shoreline. Splashes of white paint on occasional fence posts suggested that others have found this route too, but even when they turned inland we continued on the coastal fringe. There are a couple of rocky bits, and one or two places where the railway and the high water mark squeeze together, but this is a much more enjoyable route than dodging the fast-moving traffic on the A9.

adder.jpgFor us it became a Sutherland Safari. In addition to the usual suspects (seals in the water, deer on the land) we were also treated to starfish on the beach, adders lazing in the Spring sunshine, and most exciting of all a family of otters scampering and diving on the rocky foreshore.

otters.jpgIn the interests of making faster progress we, too, succumbed to the road a mile or two south of our destination, making us more grateful than ever that we'd eschewed this straightforward option for most of the day.

One thing road walkers do get to see is a monument celebrating the deliberate reduction of wildlife diversity. In a lay-by on the north side of the A9 at NC 941 099 a gravestone-like marker declares this to be the location of the slaughter of the "last wolf in Sutherland ... in or about 1700." I imagine wolves and sheep-farming were seen as incompatible, so this is yet another curious remnants of the Clearances of the early 18th century.

In Helmsdale there's a sculpture commemorating those who emigrated as a result of the Clearances, and an excellent local museum that covers the time in depth. You really can't escape the issue round here.

Notes for future walkers:

  • We were able to walk along the shoreline 95% of the way from Brora to Helmsdale on a mixture of beaches (sometimes rocky) and grazings. We suspect this can be done at all states of the tide.
  • We had to wade across the shin-deep Loth Burn (NC 954 098).
  • Tired of shingle, we joined the A9 for the final stretch into Helmsdale from ND 018 142.
  • In Helmsdale, don't miss the monument to the clearances at ND 026 152.

    Posted by pab at 18:03 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!