Saturday, 29 April 2017


Helmsdale → Dunbeath

heilan-coo.jpg Distance: 15.18 miles
Ascent: 442 metres
Duration: 4 hours 36 minutes

The A9
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In contrast to yesterday, today we made the decision to walk on the road all the way. Anywhere else a single-digit A-road would be a horrible experience, but we're so far north that the A9 wasn't too bad: levels of traffic were more akin to what you'd expect from a B-road.

Two miles out of Helmsdale we met a pair of walkers coming the other way who were heading to Land's End, camping wild each night. Our walk may be longer but their approach is definitely harder. They told us of the John o' Groats Trail, a recent initiative to establish a coastal route between Inverness and John o' Groats. If it gets off the ground that would certainly improve this leg. (It seems the white paint we saw yesterday is the genesis of this trail.)

The coastline here is more rugged than further south. Instead of beaches there are tall cliffs and deep gullies; grazing is replaced by moorland dense with heather and bracken.

badbea.jpgAbout halfway along a path heads out to Badbea, a clifftop village that was the resettlement destination for nearby clearances from Strathnaver. It's a narrow strip of land, the boundary wall of the cleared sheep farm cruelly close to the cliff tops. The community lasted eighty years or so but on a bitterly cold, windswept day like today it's impossible to imagine staying even one night. (The clue is in the name; it really is pronounced "bad bay".) Another half a mile down the road is the Grey Hen's Well, from which the villagers drew their water.

berridale.jpgThe road climbs before following contours most of the way, descending to sea level only by the tight bends of the infamously steep Berridale Braes. Berridale harbour is worth a detour. Again the fierce wind didn't allow us to linger long, but the setting is beautiful with uniform cottages and a bouncy bridge across to cottages at the back of the beach.

lichen-dunbeath.jpgUltimately though it's been a slightly unsatisfactory day, chiefly due to the road walking. However, Badbea gave us plenty to think about as we pounded the tarmac.

Notes for future walkers:

  • We walked on the A9 almost all the way from Helmsdale to Dunbeath.
  • There's a path from between the houses on the north side of Berridale Harbour that reaches the A9 by the cemetery.
  • About a mile south of Dunbeath you can pick up the old road into the village; cut down to it just after the crash barrier on the right comes to and end (ND 153 285).

    Posted by pab at 21:45 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!