Day 283 Woody Bay and Hangman Hills

Thursday 12 May 2016

Lynmouth to Combe Martin

15 miles

Newberry Valley Park Campsite

It was misty again this morning so I delayed my start until after 10 am in the hope that it would burn off. Despite the poor state of the B&B I had slept really well, lulled by the roar of the East Lyn River right outside my bedroom window. 

looking up the East Lyn River (my B&B just on left of river)
I meandered along the main street through Lynmouth, which didn’t exist until after the flood of August 1952. Before then there was no road, only a wider river. The flood destroyed lots of the town, including the lifeboat station. 

aboard the cliff railway
Lynmouth is now a popular tourist destination but there was no queue this morning to get the cliff railway up to Lynton. It was the steepest cliff railway in the world when it was built in 1890 and it has been running every year since. It is powered using the potential energy of water from the West Lyn River. This was definitely easier than walking up the cliff!

misty on the sea side of the Valley of the Rocks
I was still enveloped in mist as I left Lynton and skirted around the cliff edge. The mist started to clear in patches and I could see the blurt-green sea below; it was a beautiful sight.

The Valley of the Rocks
I entered the Valley of the Rocks, a dry valley high on the cliff top. The  rock formations were stunning, and it was possibly more atmospheric with the mist swirling around. More smiles!

mist in Lee Bay
More woodland covering steep cliffs. I was glad of the shade because it was already hot and the sun was burning off the mist. I descended down the steep track to Woody Bay (a bit off the coast path). I wanted to see where I had been on a family holiday aged 13 months, and the rock in the middle of the beach that I had climbed up after escaping from my parents. The tide was in so there was no beach, but I could see the rock and just how peaceful this bay is. 

Woody Bay at high tide (I climbed to the top of one of those rocks aged 13 months)
It was a steep climb back up to the path and out of the woods. All of a sudden the sky was bright blue, the sea a milky greeny-blue and the views became more expansive. The walk also got tougher from here. 

beautiful bluey-green sea and green trees on the cliffs
I caught up with Bernadette, who was walking with 2 English guys: Andreas (definitely not German) and John. We walked together up to Highveer Point and there we met Jarmo and Petra who were stopped for a break. Jarmo was dishing out coffee made with his portable espresso machine!

Heddon’s Mouth Cleave – a steep walk down and up
The next section was a big descent into Heddon’s Mouth Cleave and an extremely steep climb up the other side. We all set off together but went at our own paces. Jarmo and I were so busy chatting when we reached the River Heddon that we missed the turning up the hill and did an extra half a mile to Heddon’s Mouth. 

the view along the cliffs of Girt Down
It was extremely hot scrambling up to the top of the cliff again. I worried that I might run out of water and get sunburnt. Still, the views along the cliffs were outstanding and I soon left everyone behind and enjoyed it on my own. I walked over Holdstone Down and had one more big descent (-140m) and tough ascent (+190m) to cross the small stream of Sherrycombe and reach the highest point of the day at Great Hangman on Girt Down. Although it was a bit hazy the 360 degree views were still amazing and not only could I see all along the cliff tops, but I could see right into Exmoor as well. 

another climb ahead – Great Hangman at 318m
hot and sweaty at the top of Great Hangman
The path wound down hill to Combe Martin; however, I decided to veer off and climb up Little Hangman just to be sure I wasn’t missing another amazing view. I was glad I did because I did get a great vista across Combe Martin Bay to Widmouth Head. 

Little Hangman (Combe Martin down to the left)
Lester Cliff obscuring the view if Combe Martin Bay
It was just after 5 pm when I arrived on the edge of Combe Martin. I was tired, hot, hungry and thirsty. Only a small hill to walk to the campsite! It was a lovely site, managed by a couple from Wolverhampton. No sooner had I put my tent up and had a shower than Bernadette arrived and Andreas and John were also here in their motorhome. So it was an evening of chatting and drinking beer and baileys (all the guys had) sat outside the motorhome. Eventually I did manage to drag them all to the nearest pub for some food (we only just made it before they stopped serving). It was a very late night/early morning when I got to bed. It had been a great day though, and a tough walk.

sunset at Combe Martin Bay

Day 261 Whiteford Burrows, Rhossili Beach and Worms Head

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Llanmadoc to Port Eynon

18 miles

Port Eynon Youth Hostel

The forecast promised a sunny day and it was delivered for my walk around the head of the Gower peninsula. I started with Whiteford Burrows; a spit of sand dunes and pine woods protecting Great Pill and the marshes from the Celtic Sea. 

looking down from Llanmadoc on Whiteford Burrows and the Afon Loughor
Unsurprisingly, the wind picked up as I walked further out but it was beautiful. I wasn’t alone though; an army EOD team was out to destroy some WW2 ordnance (this area used to be a military range). 

the sand spit from Whiteford Point
When I reached Whiteford Point I got a great view of the iron lighthouse, built a mile offshore in 1865 and the only one of its kind in Europe. 

Whiteford Lighthouse in the Loughor Estuary, Pembrey on the far shore
I jumped down the lovely dunes and began my long walk along Whiteford Sands and then across Broughton Bay to the point at Burry Holms. 

walking from Whiteford Sands to Broughton Bay, Burry Holms to aim for
I climbed onto the cliff top at Broughton Burrows (a cliff top covered in sand dunes) and walked around the corner to face Rhossili Bay. What a beautiful beach. 

Rhossili Beach, flanked by Rhossili Down and leading to Worms Head
my solitary footprints coming along Rhossili Beach from Burry Holms
I walked halfway along the golden sand until I reached Hillend, where I walked past the deserted camping fields and climbed up onto Rhossili Down. The coast path actually goes along the base of the Down but on such a glorious day I wanted the views from the top. 

at the top of Rhossili Down on a glorious day
Rhossili Down
It was a perfect day for enjoying fantastic views from Rhossili Down. I could see across the whole of Carmarthen Bay and beyond. I could see St Govan’s Head at the Bay’s Northern tip, Worms Head at the Southern tip, and across the Bristol Channel to Lundy Island and North Devon. It was breathtaking. 
looking back on Llanmadoc Hill and Loughor Estuary

Broughton Burrows, Burry Holms and Hillend campsite

Rhossili Beach and Worms Head
It was windy on the top but worth the extra effort. It was early afternoon when I dropped down into Rhossili so I stopped for a quick coffee. 
looking back along the beach and at the Down from Rhossili
I only had a short rest (out of the sun as I was a bit worried I was going to get sunburn or even sunstroke) I carried on to the Lookout Station opposite Worms Head. Here was a good spot to sit and enjoy the rest of yesterday’s picnic from the supermarket. 

the end of Rhossili Beach and Worms Head
The tide was coming in so I was too late to walk onto Worms Head itself; I was quite happy just admiring it from the headland. 

Worms Head
I still had a 7-mile walk along the spectacular cliff top to Port Eynon. This day had everything!

the cliffs on the way to Port Eynon
I passed a couple of forts on the cliffs, where circular earth walls and ditches were still clearly visible. There are lots of caves on this section of the cliffs but I didn’t climb down and explore any as I have done that before when visiting as a child. Culver Hole is the well-known man-made cave near Port-Eynon Point and was probably used by smugglers. (The small village of Port Eynon once had 8 Excise men stationed there.)

The Salt House at Port Eynon
I rounded Port-Eynon Point and dropped down off the cliff by the remains of The Salt House, a 16th Century mansion built for the smuggler John Lucas. I passed through the beach-side campsite and stopped at The old lifeboat house that is now a youth hostel. Such an amazing location right on the beach and I had the best bedroom, overlooking the sea. 

the view of Port Eynon Bay from my Youth Hostel bedroom
Diane, the hostel warden, was lovely and we spent ages chatting. She recommended the local pub for dinner and I enjoyed a lovely fish and chip supper. A great end to an amazing day. 

looking down on Broughton Burrows, Burry Holms and the mouth of the estuary

Day 250 Skomer Island

Friday 8 April 2016

Skomer Island

5 miles

The Farm, Skomer Island

The weather had calmed a lot overnight and it was good news this morning when Joan phoned the boatman. I packed my stuff, including 2 fresh eggs that Joan gave me from her hens (for breakfast tomorrow) and then my lovely host gave me a lift to Martin’s Haven.  

The Dale Princess approaching Martin’s Haven
 There were 5 of us going to Skomer for a one-night stay so I was lucky to get a room to myself. The ferry only took 10 minutes but there was lots of kit to offload as volunteers going for a week have to take all their food as well as clothes, and then there’s the specialist binocular and camera equipment. Fortunately there’s a tractor at the other end to carry everyone’s kit to The Farm in the middle of the island.  

approaching Skomer
 With my lack of stuff and lack of food it didn’t take me long to settle in so I hired a pair of binoculars and set off on a trip around the island. After about half an hour I met Olof and Carole and stuck with them for the rest of the day (I don’t think they minded me gatecrashing their trip) as it was nice to have the company.  

The Warden’s House overlooking North Haven
 We spent a good 7 hours outside looking at birds, seals and porpoises. The weather was fine in the morning but closed in later and the day ended very wet. The wildlife-watching was excellent. The absence of land predators means that the birds are everywhere, often just sat on the ground, and they’re very noisy.  

looking at The Neck and the mainland beyond
 The highlight for me was watching a peregrine in an aerial chase of a small bird – fantastic aerobatic display. I didn’t see who won as they disappeared below the cliff top.  

looking across St Bride’s Bay to Ramsey Island and St David’s
 Other highlights included hundreds of puffins returning to Skomer in the afternoon after disappearing from the terrible winds for a couple of days, seeing 4 porpoises swimming line abreast, and the amazing Manx shearwaters that invade the island overnight (two flew into me and you have to be careful not to read on them as there are so many on the paths).  

puffin watching in the rain at North Haven
 Carole and Ollie offered me the leftovers of their pasta dinner (which was much nicer than my ration pack) and shared their tea and milk with me. I provided the bara brith. Dinner in front of the fire was cosy.  

huddled around the fire in the guest accommodation
 At 8.30pm the warden holds ‘bird log’ and we went along. The workers and volunteers make a daily log of sightings, including numbers, locations and behaviours. Carole, Ollie and I were able to add to this so I feel like I’ve helped a little to the study of wildlife on Skomer.  

puffins!!!
  
a few more puffins
 It was freezing in our stone cottage but I was quite snuggly in my sleeping bag covered in a couple of blankets. It had been an excellent day.  

seals on the beach
 A full list of my Skomer sightings as follows:

Harbour porpoises, grey seals, peregrine falcon, buzzard, Manx shearwaters, gannets, puffins, razorbills, cormorants, Choughs, Ravens (+ 2 nests), jackdaws, crows, herring gulls, great and lesser black backed gulls, kittiwakes, fulmars, oystercatchers, curlew, Pheasants, Canada geese, Moorhen, Shelduck, Swallows, Meadow pipits, Wheatears, Wren, Willow Warbler, Pied wagtail. 

a manx shearwater

Day 247 Three Saints around St David’s

Tuesday 5 April 2016

St David’s Head to Newgale

18 miles

Newgale Campsite

A beautiful, sunny day. Breakfast consisted of two out-of-date porridge pots that I convinced the YHA warden to give me for free. Suncream applied, I set off quite early as I had a long day ahead. Whitesands Bay looked beautiful and empty.  

Whitesands Bay
 Ramsey Sound is visibly fast-flowing and looks treacherous for canoeists.  

Ramsey Sound, The Bitches (the rocks) and Ramsey Island
 As I passed St Justinian lifeboat station people were arriving for boat trips to Ramsey Island. The path was diverted around the building site created to service the building of a new lifeboat station.  

St Justinian now has two lifeboat stations!
 I rounded the headland that marked the start of St Bride’s Bay and made good time to Porth Clais.  After only stale porridge and green for breakfast I couldn’t believe my luck to stumble upon a tea shack in Porth Clais. I enjoyed tea, homemade cake and a conversation with the person serving and a family.  

Caerfai Bay
 On to Solva via St Non’s ruined chapel and the beautiful Caerfai Bay.  

St Non’s chapel
 A chapel was built on the cliff at the spot where, according to tradition, St Non gave birth to St David in the 6th Century. Seemingly there was a thunderstorm at the time of the birth and a well sprang up that apparently cures all infirmities.  

St Non’s well
 Here I bumped into Jack and Deja again. They had wild camped outside St David’s, having diverted there to shop for food, and we’re just hitting the coast again at St Non’s. The views were stunning in the sunshine and some of the cliffs were pretty impressive too.  

the view back towards Ramsey Island
 
Fantastic cliff formations (popular area for coasteering around here)
 Just before I arrived at Solva I met a couple who were staying at the St David’s youth hostel. They had caught the bus to Newgale and were walking back. I was making good time.  
Solva
 The Solva inlet was formed by ice age glaciers and makes a great natural harbour. I stopped at the Cafe on the Quay for coffee and a sandwich. It was hot today and, despite the suncream, I was burning.  

Solva has a secret knitter
 The Gribin ridge line overlooking Solva was the site of an Iron Age fort and it does indeed have commanding views all around.  

looking out to sea from the top of The Gribin
 The last section seemed very hilly and I was sweating up the steep cliffs.  

I’ve walked all that way today
 Finally I looked down at Newgale Sands and picked out the beachside campsite, which looked empty and flooded. I should have phoned ahead – the campsite was indeed closed due to flooding.  

Newgale Sands (my campsite’s the far, empty, flooded field)
 It was 5 pm and I wasn’t going anywhere else. I phoned the owner (hoping they might open the toilet block) and she said that the night toilet (never come across one of those before) was open so I could use it. I found a dry spot and pitched my tent. Not fancying the idea of remaining sweaty for my first camping experience of 2016 I had a strip wash in the toilet and washed my hair under the outside tap (I am definitely a clean freak). I even washed my smalls; I do this every night so why make an exception? It was so windy they virtually dried before I headed to the next door pub for dinner. Jack and Deja had just arrived at the pub and so I sat with them and we swapped tales. They pitched next to me so at least I wasn’t on my own (the site owner had been concerned about that when I phoned her – I was more concerned about not getting a shower!). All in all it had been a lovely day.  

All set for my first night camping this year

Day 214 Fireworks at Caernarfon Castle

Thursday 5 November 2015

Menai Bridge to Caernarfon

8 miles walked

Tegfan Guest House

I left late this morning as I was still trying to update my blog and dry out my boots, which have been constantly wet since last Friday. Still, time wasn’t an issue as I had booked accommodation in Caernarfon, a mere 9 miles walk away.

Studying my map I convinced myself that I could see a footpath across the Britannia Bridge so I thought I’d walk over that one. I walked along the main road to Llanfair P.G. and enjoyed the same views of the bridges as yesterday. One small problem when I got to the bridge: no footpath to be found. There was nothing for it but to retrace my steps back to Menai Bridge. This time, however, I did at least follow the coast path along the shoreline. I might have been cursing my misfortune (or poor map interpretation) but for the lovely views and discovering the large limestone lions That decorate the bridge and are not visible from the road (only from the railway). Also in my favour was that, in spite of the weather forecast, it was not yet raining.  

One of 4 lions guarding Britannia Bridge
 After completing my 3 mile round-trip I crossed the Menai Bridge and said hywl fawr to Anglesey.  

Last photo of Menai Bridge
 Back on the mainland the path followed the shore for a bit and passed Treborth Botanic Garden. It was here that I met an old couple walking their cat. They kept calling to it as they walked so I asked them, and yes, they were taking him for a walk. I’ve never seen that before! The old man asked me about my walk, was impressed I was doing the whole of Britain and, after asking my age, told me to enjoy the memories because in 10 years time my body will fall apart. Now there’s a happy thought to be going on with! 

I walked past this mausoleum in a wet and rainy wood on my own; creepy!
 Fortunately I was distracted from suicidal thoughts by a section of Stephenson’s original tubular bridge. The present Britannia Bridge was rebuilt in the 1970s after a fire. Stephenson’s original bridge was a wrought iron tubular bridge to carry the train line; the 1970s build incorporated the A55. (Note: maybe I am an engineer at heart?) 

A piece of Stephenson’s original tubular bridge on display in the wood
 At 11.45 am the forecast heavy rain arrived…in bucket-loads. It was too muggy to wear my waterproof trousers so I donned my gaiters to try and stop the water from running down my legs into my boots. At this point I was walking through the Glan Faenol National Trust woodland but I was soon pushed out onto the road. The rest of the way to Caernarfon was along a cycle route that followed the main road so I decided to get a bus.   

Caernarfon town square – all shop fronts painted
 I arrived in Caernarfon at lunchtime, soggy and cooling down. Time for a cafe lunch to warm up. I walked into the main square and picked a lovely caffi. After lunch I found my guesthouse, dumped my rucksack, and headed off to the Castle.  
Caernarfon Castle
 Caernarfon Castle was built in 1283 by Edward I and was the seat of power of the Welsh Princes, indeed it was the site of the investiture of the two most recent Princes of Wales. The outer walls of the castle have been well-preserved and would be great for a game of hide and seek.  

Caernarfon Castle
 I really enjoyed spending a couple of hours looking around. The history of Welsh rule was slowly starting to make some sense to me. Of the 4 main Welsh ‘principalities’, Gwynedd seems to have been the strongest. The original Princes of Wales were North Walians; in 1267 King Henry III granted the title to the Prince of Gwynedd, only for it to be taken away when Edward I invaded. One of the reasons Caernarfon Castle looks so spectacular is that Edward I possibly modelled it on Roman buildings, hence its bands of coloured stone.  

Looking out of the Castle at the Menai Straits
 Legend has it that the Roman Emperor, Macsen Wledig ruled from Caernarfon after marrying a local girl. So Edward I was not the first foreign ruler; his son was born at Caernarfon and was the first non-Welsh (even though born here) Prince of Wales.  

Narrow streets inside the walled town
  
The grand entrance to the walled town
 I really liked Caernarfon. This town was an architectural gem. I walked along most of the narrow streets within the old, walled town and stopped for a pint of local beer at The Black Boy. This rather non-PC named pub dated from c. 1522. I also  climbed Ben Twthill, the small hill that overlooks the town.  

The Black Boy Inn
  
Even outside the walled town the architecture was nice
 It was Bonfire Night and, along with the rest of the town, I headed to the waterfront at 7 pm to watch the town’s firework display. It had stopped raining and the excellent display was 17 minutes long over the water. The atmosphere was great on the sea-side of the old town and castle walls.  

Caernarfon town fireworks display
 After the fireworks I wandered around the town again looking for somewhere to eat. I walked past a place that claims to be the smallest bar in Wales and ended up in Osteria, a Tuscan restaurant. I had a lovely meal and then, just as I was finishing, Eric and Janice arrived. They had eaten elsewhere because Janice doesn’t like the (excellent) Tuscan food, but they always pop in for some wine and a chat with the Italian staff. I was roped in. Two bottles of wine later (bought by Eric), conversation was in full flow and Eric was trying to marry me off to Sergio, the Italian waiter. It was a great evening (even though I didn’t marry Sergio, who was as bemused as me). I left with a full stomach,  a spinning head and Janice’s phone number in case I need somewhere to stay. What a brilliant example of Welsh friendliness and hospitality. I also managed to get some guidance on pronunciation of Welsh place names.  

 What a fabulous day, despite the rain. 

Day 149 Wild Camping at the Ring of Brightwater

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Kinloch Hourn to Sandaig

16.5 miles

Wild camp at Lower Sandaig beach

Twice I was woken up in the night by the sound of scratching on the carpet. I knew it was a mouse and the second time I was quick enough with my head torch to catch it (no electricity remember as the generator turns off overnight). The cheeky thing didn’t even feel the need to scarper so we had a face-off until he finally walked away, totally unhurried.  

A beautiful still morning at Kinloch Hourn
 The sun was out in the morning and the midges were out, although they only bothered you if you stood still. Following a hearty breakfast I set off and immediately had a steep climb out of Kinloch Hourn on the Drover’s track to Corran. The young Frenchman who also stayed in the B&B was just behind me so I waited and we walked together until our paths split.  

Pierre walking up the hill out of Kinloch Hourn
 He is from the Alps but is walking the Cape Wrath Trail because he was looking for something hardcore.  

What a view down the valley
 The views were outstanding, particularly through the gaps in the peaks down to Loch Hourn.  

Loch Hourn – I walked along there yesterday!
 The weather was closing in though and before 10am my waterproofs were on and i had 5 minutes of rain followed by 15 minutes surrounded by fog. The waterproofs came off and then the whole thing was repeated a short while later. Waterproofs were on and off for the rest of the morning.  

There’s a mountain behind me, honest
 The 9 mile walk through the mountainous landscape and then down Glen Arnisdale to Corran was wonderful. It felt really remote and, even though I have not scaled any peaks, I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the landscape. In some ways it’s more like people would have done in the past: picked their way from A to B around the mountains rather than climbing then. It certainly has developed an appeal with me.  

Gleann Dubh Lochain
  
stunning, and steep, scenery
 
I arrived in Corran, on the North shore of Loch Hourn, in time to walk to the last house, where the shed has been converted into Sheena’s Tea Hut. I love places like this and I settled down next to the wood burner to dry off while I enjoyed soup, a pot of tea and a cake. Perfect.  

Sheena’s tea hut, Corran
 The weather was clearing up for the afternoon and the rest of my day was a road walk. I was heading for Glenelg and could have walked through the mountains instead of along the coast road, but I didn’t because 1) I’m doing a coastal walk, 2) I would have missed Sheena’s Tea Hut, and, most importantly, 3) I wanted to visit the Ring of Brightwater.  

The town of Arnisdale has a huge mountain rising out the back of it
 My only preparation for this trek across Knoydart and Kintail was to read The Ring Of Brightwater by Gavin Maxwell. I knew his house, Camusfearna, had been in this area and by studying the map it was easy to work out where it had been. Now that I was so close I became determined to make my own little pilgrimage to see where the otters had lived. So it was only fitting that on the long road walk alongside Loch Hourn I should finally see an otter playing in the water. I have been looking all the way down the West coast and this was my first sighting since Shetland.  

Looking back across Loch Hourn towards Barrisdale Bay
 
Sandaig islands with Skye in the background
 The sun came out late afternoon and I was enjoying my walk in this beautiful land. Sixteen miles today was a lot and by the time I arrived at Upper Sandaig I was weary. But I had to walk the extra mile down through the Eileanreach Estate to Lower Sandaig. This area is now all part of a timber harvesting programme, providing wood pulp to the world, and so the landscape is littered with tree stumps. Needless to say the path on the map didn’t exist and I fought my way down the slopes, including a stream crossing balancing on small rocks. (Thank goodness for walking poles.) 

Sandaig Islands
 And there it was, the ring of brightwater.  

The Ring Of Brightwater
 There were other people there (as it turns out there’s an easier route from the road if I’d walked a bit further on) who had also come to see the memorials to Gavin Maxwell and Edal the otter. The house called Camusfearna no longer exists (it burned down). There was, however,  a rope bridge across the burn so naturally I had to cross it.  

…even with my pack on!
 As I walked around this overgrown place I suddenly had a brainwave – why don’t I just camp here? It was after 4pm, I was tired of walks and had nowhere to to stay. Perfect. I found a flat spot where the grass wasn’t too overgrown and pitched my tent, right by the beach.  

perfect pitch
 The people were leaving and I had the place to myself. First thing was a bath in the burn; very cold but refreshing. Second thing was to make my dinner – past followed by chocolate and green tea. Third thing was to light a fire to enjoy the fading evening sunlight and keep the midges away. It took me about an hour but I eventually managed to get a roaring fire. I am not experienced in lighting fires from scratch and I had no paper or kindling so I was pleased I managed to do it. What a wonderful evening sat on a great big log on a deserted and beautiful beach listening to the roar of the fire and the ebbing sea, feeling the heat of the flames and watching the sun disappear over the mountains of Skye. Perfect.  

perfect location for dinner
 I finally experienced an amazing wild camp. I went to bed utterly content and stinking of smoke. 

  

Day 104 The Stunning North Coastline

Saturday 18 July 2015

Melvich to Durness

Driving tour

Sango Sands campsite

I woke up reasonably early and, despite telling myself I could have a lie in, I decided to get up. It was a fortuitous decision as the sky was grey and no sooner had I packed the tent away than it started raining. I got in the car and started driving West. I stopped at Port Skerra so that I could get a better look at Melvich Bay, and I popped into the shop thinking I might get a newspaper. The only decent newspapers were all reserved but it was worth stopping as there was an old man in there talking through some very old photos with some of the locals. Most of them were of 2 very harsh winters in the 1950s and 1970s. The snow was at least 2m deep and a special snow clearing vehicle was brought in to dig the locals out. Interestingly the general consensus was that the last proper winter snow was 15 years ago, when they used to have 4 distinct seasons up here. Now they seem to only have one continuous season; cool and wet. 

I carried on along the N & W Highlands Tourist Route to Bettyhill. The coastline here is absolutely stunning. The beaches are like nothing I’ve ever seen with perfect sand, rocks and then a turquoise sea (even in the rain).  

Armadale Bay
 Sadly, as the weather was so poor it was not inviting to get out and walk (although I did walk down to Strathy beach), and certainly not to go for a swim.  

Strathy Beach (wonderful sand)
 Due to the rain and reduced visibility I didn’t bother going out to Strathy Point. Both Strathy and Armadale Beaches looked amazing.   

Looking West to the hills (not the best day for views)
 I stopped at the cafe in Bettyhill and travelled back in time to the 1970s. Tea and a cake was below average but I needed a hot drink to warm up. Bettyhill lies just on a corner overlooking Torrisdale Bay. Wow. Two rivers flow out into this bay, one at either end. Beautiful.   

The River Naver flowing into Torrisdale Bay
  The road goes up and down a lot as it snakes its way along the coast. I saw lots of motorbikes, campervans and touring cyclists. Most of the road is single track with constant stopping required at the many passing places. Everyone waves.  
The view of Neave Island from Skerray Bay
 
Next up was Tongue. Wow again. 

Rabbit Islands in Tongue Bay
 The road starts up high and then switches back as you descend to the bridge across the Kyle of Tongue. 

Driving down the road that crosses the Kyle of Tongue
  Castle Varrich was just about visible on its hill through the gloom.  

Castle Varrich in the gloom
 The landscape started to flatten a bit as I crossed the A’Mhoine, which seemed like a moor. Then I came to Loch Eriboll. WOW. This was my favourite of the day. Simply stunning.  

Looking across Loch Eriboll at Eilean Choraidh island illuminated by a shaft of sunlight
 Ard Neakie was the jewel in the crown, an ‘almost Island’ that is connected to the mainland by a small spit of land that looked rather like the tombolos in Shetland. There was an old limestone kiln visible on this almost island.  

Ard Neakie
 The road ran all the way around the loch and up the West side to yet more beautiful beaches. So many in one day. 

Sangobeg beaches, Whiten Head in the background (look at the colour of the sea!)
 Just before Durness is Smoo Cave. This is a set of 3 large caves that were once used as workshops and as home to generations of seafarers. There are a couple of big blowholes above the caves and the cut in the cliffs leading to the caves is also impressive. I was now in the Geopark: 800 square miles of outstanding landscapes and geological interpretation. I have definitely been blown away by the landscape so far.  

Smoo Caves
  
Waterfall inside Smoo Cave
 I arrived in Durness and drove through it for a look. I ended up at the Balnakiel Craft Village and stopped at Cocoa Mountain Cafe for one of their hot chocolates (this place had been recommended to me by a cafe owner in Helmsdale). It was pretty good and very rich.  

Cocoa Mountain hot chocolate
 The rain had stopped, although the clouds were still dark and foreboding. The campsite is right on the cliff top above Durness beach, yet another stunning beach. There were even some surfers in the sea as the waves were decent.  

Sango Bay, Durness

The other side of Sango Bay with Faraid Head behind it
 I pitched my tent, had a shower and a bite to eat and then settled down for an early night with my book. Inspired by my visit to Dunbeath Heritage Centre I have bought Neil Gunn’s Highland River. 

Day 84 Moray Fishing Towns

Sunday 28 June 2015

Macduff to Cullen

17.5 miles

Cullen Harbour Hostel

What a great day – I felt like I was due one. It was an inauspicious start as it was pouring with rain when I got up so, having requested an early breakfast (8 am) I promptly then hung around until the rain stopped at 10 am. I was glad to leave as the place stank of dogs (the owners had 9) and there were hairs everywhere in my room. 

It was a short walk around Banff Bay on the road, crossing the River Deveron. Whereas Macduff harbour had fishing boats in it, Banff harbour had small yachts. There didn’t look to be a great difference in the 2 towns but I bet there is a huge rivalry. Both towns are built on hills that seem to guard the exit of the river into the sea. At Banff there was a spring that the Romans had built a structure over and it was known as the Red Well (pronounced Reed Wall up here!). A bit like Stonehenge, the light is apparently different at dawn on the summer solstice and, if looking out from inside, the sun rises over the sea up to 21 June and then over the land (at Troup Head) from 21 June. Perhaps it was a farming calendar?  

The Red Well, Banff
 The walk from Banff to Whitehills was on a cycle path so easy going. For the first time in a while I saw sand bags propped up against the seafront houses. It is interesting how many of the houses on the sea front are built sideways on with only one small window facing the sea, very practical and will probably also keep them safe from 2nd home owners! 

Fishermen’s cottages built side-on to the sea
I stopped at a shop and noticed the headline in the local paper was all about a stand off between wildlife activists and the Scottish Wild Salmon Company (whose shed I’d noticed yesterday in Gardenstown). The activists were trying to stop the Salmon Company from shooting seals that were presumably feeding on their salmon. An interesting argument this one as I found out later in Portsoy because the salmon numbers have dwindled right down and the seal numbers are huge now that man no longer culls them. 

In Whitehills I stopped for a coffee and was considering getting the bus as the next section was along a road; however, the waitress convinced me that it was a nice walk along a very minor road and she was right. I had good views to the see as the road was higher than the cliff edge.  

Great place to sit and admire the view back to Whitehills
 It also meant I got to cross the pretty wee valley that the Burn of Boyne flows through. 

Watermill in Boyne Valley – complete with plastic duck in the river!
  Unfortunately Boyne Castle was hidden from my view and I wasn’t about to walk across the fields to look for it, although I was told this is possible. The sun was shining again but there was a big black cloud approaching and I was hoping to make it over the hill and into Portsoy before it hit. I didn’t make it and got a good soaking. It didn’t matter though because I treated myself to an ice cream from the Portsoy post office, where they make their own, and then the sun came out again. (There was no banana flavour ice cream because next weekend is the Portsoy International Traditional Boat Festival and this year bananas have been deemed bad luck!) I wandered down to the Seatown (all the towns here are built on hills around a harbour with the main town at the top and the Seatown down by the harbour) and stopped at The Salmon Bothy.  

The Salmon Bothy at Portsoy
 This is an old, and quite grand, ice house that has been turned into a small museum. Just like in Gourdon a few days ago, I was shown around by a very enthusiastic volunteer. I saw a model of laid out salmon fishing nets, which explained what I had seen in the sea at Lunan Bay, saw photos of the old cobles (similar fishing boats to those in N Yorks) and enquired that, yes, the fishermen did wear ganseys. Nice to see the same traditions linking England and Scotland.  

The community room in the Salmon Bothy complete with knitted fish
 Portsoy had a community spirit and the Salmon Bothy seemed to be a bit of a hub for all sorts of community activities and clubs, not to mention the office for organising the annual Boat Festival. The ladies of the town had built a rowing boat (painted pink) that they raced and the children had built optimist sailing dinghies that they called pessimists because there has been no wind when they tested them.  

 I stopped in the cafe for some tea before the last leg to Cullen. The sun was shining and it was a wonderful walk over the cliffs to Sandend Bay (where I saw 7 people in the sea; 4 without wetsuits). 

The beautiful beach at Sandend Bay
  I crossed the lovely beach and headed up the cliff again, this time on an unmaintained path. Thank goodness for my walking poles as at one point the path fell away but I couldn’t see this through the waist high grass and nearly fell down a steep slope! I suffered a second rain shower and this one didn’t seem to be coming from a cloud as the sun was still shining!  

A rainbow over the cliffs
 Fortunately the path improved and there were stunning views of the cliffs and of Findlater Castle, built in 1455 by Sir Walter Ogilvy and abandoned in the mid 1600s. It was in a good place to withstand attacks!  

Findlater Castle
 Soon the path dropped down the cliff into Sunnyside Bay, a secluded bay that is a decent trek from the nearest car park. Suddenly the path was through head height grasses and I couldn’t even see the beach!  

Head height grasses and I’m on Sunnyside Beach!
 I did find Charlie’s Cave, a rock with a dome shape in it (not even a proper cave) where Frenchman called Charlie made a home for himself and lived for 13 years with 2 cats and a vegetable patch. He deserted from the French Navy in WW1 and stopped here until eventually a landowner complained and he was moved on. Incredible story and what a harsh place to live.  

Charlie’s cave – no more than a hollow in a rock
 For the first time the coastal path actually skirted around the cliffs at Logie Head and at one point I had to climb the Giant’s Steps, which were hand cut and placed by one man in 1987 to improve the path. The locals have made a memorial to Tony Hetherington.  

The Giant’s steps – the only exit from Sunnyside Beach
  
A proper cliff path!
 
Finally I was within sight of Cullen. Just the pet cemetery to walk past, which was being tended by an old man who I subsequently found out built it as a labour of love. He wrote to the Queen for permission when the council refused his request and he meticulously keeps it tidy, thoroughly cleaning all the stones and brushing the sand away (it is by the seaside!). Sounds like a bit of an eccentric who doesn’t like his wife! I did see one gravestone that read Sammy the Seal.  

The beautifully kept Cullen Pet Cemetary, right on the shore
 I was staying right on the harbour front in a really well appointed hostel, which I had all to myself. It was quite late so I headed straight up the hill to the pub I’d been recommended for some dinner.  

Cullen Bay
 Had a lovely seafood platter and a pint at the Three Kings and then I got chatting to the locals and it all went horribly wrong. 

A fishy dinner fit for a king!
  A few pints and a whisky later I staggered back down the hill well after closing and forgetting to pay my tab! It had been a good night. Thanks to Campbell the landlord, and Michael and Peter for the conversation and the drinks.  

Looking through the railway arches at the sun setting over Cullen Bay

Day 73 East Neuk of Fife (Part 2)

Wednesday 17 June 2015

St Monans to St Andrews
22 miles
Ruth’s house

Two buses back to St Monans and I started with a walk down the hill that the town is built on to the small harbour. St Monans, and all of the towns today, had a tidal swimming pool built into the rocks. It used to be the site of salt pans in the 1600s and these are still visible, along with the windmill above them. 

St Monans tidal pool and salt pans now grassed over
 Unfortunately it seemed that none of these pools were any longer subject to upkeep by the council which is a shame. Anstruther’s pool was at least being used by local school children who were having a kayaking lesson. I chatted to one of the instructors who told me to look out for a 250 million year old fossilised tree on the rocky shoreline but although I searched I couldn’t find it. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack among the millions of rocks. The coastal walk today was mostly on cliff tops between towns and it was a very pleasant and beautiful, but hilly, walk. Pittenweem was the next town and then Anstruther.  

Anstruther art work
  
Anstruther tidal pool being used for school kayaking lessons
The sky was cloudy but at one point there seemed to be a halo of sunshine over the Isle of May, which is just off the coast here and can be visited on a boat trip from Anstruther.  

A halo over the Isle of May (note how rocky the shoreline is – no chance of finding a tree fossil!)
 Crail is the next picturesque little harbour town and I stopped here for a well-earned cream tea.  

Crail harbour
 From Crail I headed past a disused airfield to Fife Ness. Rounding Fife Ness meant finally leaving the Forth behind and looking ahead to the Tay, it felt like I was getting somewhere.  
Approaching the lighthouse at Fife Ness
The scenery was stunning and it helped that the sun was coming out. I had reached another golf course, a posh one where there seemed to be more caddies than players and I definitely heard American accents. It didn’t prevent me from walking along the edge as the path was quite eroded in places. I was moving between beaches and links golf courses.   
Craighead beach with Fife Ness in the background
 It was amazing the different colours of sand on the beaches, some were white, one was grey, and some were yellow. I thought Cambo Sands at Kingsbarns was particularly beautiful.  
Cambo Sands
After walking up the small valley and crossing Kenly Water at Boarhills the path became a lot more rugged for the walk to St Andrews.  

Looking along the cliffs to St Andrews
 There were lots of ups and downs and a few places where the path seemed to have been eroded away and a bit of scrambling was required. It was sweaty walking but fun in the sunshine.  
Hard walking up and down these cliff paths
 

It had been another long day and I arrived at St Andrews just in time to have a quick look around the cathedral ruins before they closed. After that I rewarded myself with an icecream from the gelateria and then had just enough time to shop for some food before the last, and only, bus back to Ruth’s. A lovely day.  

St Rule’s 12th Century church and the cathedral ruins

Day 55 St Abb’s Head

Saturday 30 May 2015

Coldingham to Cockburnspath (Berwickshire)
15 miles
Hosted by Ali

Another beautiful sunny morning and a wonderful view overlooking the beach while I ate smoked haddock for breakfast. I was late starting walking again as I was taking advantage of the wifi and trying to catch up with blogging and logging photos. 

The small town of St Abb’s was just around the corner and I stopped to have a look at another of the 1881 storm memorials and admire the view.  

Jill Watson’s Great Storm sculpture at St Abb’s (St Abb’s Head in the background)
 As I walked around St Abbs Head the wind became stronger, the ground steeper and rougher, and the views more magnificent.  
Looking back at St Abbs and beyond from the Head
I passed the lighthouse right on the Head and then rounded the corner to a cliff full of sea birds.  

Sea birds on the cliff and the sea a beautiful colour
 The walk today was ridiculously hilly, non-stop up and down some very steep slopes. In some places I had to zig zag up the grass cliff in front of me. The path was well signposted but perhaps it needs a health warning – fit people only! Thank goodness for walking poles! 

Looking ahead at all those steep ups and downs!
 When I looked back I could see weekend fishing in canoes on the Coldingham Loch.  

Don’t rock the boat! (Coldingham Loch)
Another stroke of luck, after St Abb’s Head I only met one other person all morning and he advised me of the one place on the route where there was no signpost to direct you and the route wasn’t obvious. If it hadn’t been for him I’d have had a much longer walk with more road. The views were outstanding and I could clearly see Torness Power Station and right up to Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. Most of the coast path seemed like sheep tracks, narrow paths along the cliff top, but it did head inland at one point and I had a quick break admiring the view with the sheep.  

Looking along Dowlaw Dean to the sea
By this point I was pushing the pace as I hadn’t been able to find any accommodation in Cockurnspath (no guest houses and no campsites) so I needed to catch the bus to Dunbar where I was hoping to find something. The only afternoon bus was at 16:44 and I couldn’t afford to miss it. I dropped down into Pease Bay and back up the hill, past the caravan site, and I was nearly there.  

Pease Bay
In the end I reached Cockburnspath with 45 minutes to spare so I popped into the local shop for some well-earned sustenance. As I had time I decided to call my friend Ali, who lives in Edinburgh, to discuss when I would be arriving. Another stroke of luck, she doesn’t live too far from Dunbar and offered me a bed for the night. Problem solved and I get to catch up with an old friend. Perfect. By the time Ali picked me up from the bus I had decided to take the following day off and spend it with friends.