I caught the Ms Oldenberg from Ilfracombe Quay, along with 207 other passengers; it was a busy crossing today. It started raining as we were boarding the boat and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to get shelter. I managed to find a spot to stand for 2 hours. Fortunately the sea was calm.
I had about 4 hours on Lundy and resolved to walk a circuit, just not quite all the way to the North tip. There was plenty of wild life to see, although I didn’t have binoculars. It was just nice to walk around this fairly remote, barren island and admire its beauty.
I had taken a picnic and I sat on the granite cliffs above Gannet Bay to eat it, while watching a seal playing below me. A great spot, but no gannets as they left their rock when the Northern lighthouse was built (it was noisy) and never returned.
The West coast was the most dramatic and it was here that there were puffins to be seen, along with other Auks. Lund-ey is Norse for Puffin Island.
I did climb up the old lighthouse, the first of 3 on the island. This one was decommissioned because it was too tall and so the light was often above the cloud. Today I could see the whole island from the top, although it was too cloudy to see Devon or South Wales.
At the SW tip was an Anthony Gormley sculpture, Daze IV, which has been there for a year and will soon be removed. It was located here to symbolise the point where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean.
I finished my trip with a half pint of Lundy Landmark in the Marisco Tavern. This great little pub is the heart of the small village. There are plenty of holiday properties to rent on Lundy and I half wished I was staying.
Another 2 hour boat ride back to Ilfracombe and I was exhausted. The bosun invited me back to the ship later for a drink (probably because I was at least 20 years younger than all the other passengers) but I thought it probably unwise. Besides, I was too tired to socialise.
It was a cold night but I was nice and warm when I stuffed my coat inside my sleeping bag. I woke to more rain but fortunately it stopped pretty quickly and the tent dried out. Michael’s family had arrived to spend a few days celebrating his completion of LEJOG. He made me a cup of tea while packed away and gave me a packet of biscuits (someone had given him one on his trip so he passed on the favour).
I caught the 9.30 bus about 5 miles to East Mey and from there I walked on the minor roads through small hamlets and around the cliffs. First though I passed Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s Caithness home from 1952 to 1996. Unfortunately it didn’t look as fine as usual wrapped in scaffolding.
I stopped in the tea room to charge my phone over a coffee and then pressed on. I passed a red phone box that someone called Mark has turned into a book exchange.
I occasionally had some good views along the coast and of Orkney but it was a grey day so the visibility was not the best. I could just about see the Old Man of Hoy through the grey-ness.
After a couple of hours I arrived at Brough and stopped in the cafe for a spot of lunch. I got chatting to Dan the lawnmower man (he’s 74 years old and retired from truck driving so mows lawns to keep busy). These Northern Scots are a hardy bunch in their old age!
I wanted to walk to Dunnet Head, Britain’s most Northerly Point, so endured the boredom of one road there and back. There was no way I was going to try and walk around the headland keeping to the coast – way too boggy and no footpath. I was disappointed that not one car stopped and offered me a lift. Still, it was a pleasant walk as it wasn’t raining and Dunnet Head was worth the effort. The cliffs by the lighthouse had lots of birds, including puffins, and the views were 360 degrees from the viewpoint. Sadly the grey day didn’t make for good photographs.
During WW2 Dunnet Head was an important radar station and before that it had been a lookout for submarines trying to sneak into Scapa Flow only 6 miles away. I walked back to Brough along the same road and admired the scars made by peat digging.
From Brough I took the road to Dunnet Village and then onto Dunnet Beach for 2 miles. The sand was a sort of grey colour and there was a ‘slick’ of seaweed that covered the shore. Other than that it was a nice beach and there was a lone surfer in the water trying to catch the 6 inch waves.
I picked up the pace in order to make the last bus at Castletown. I was just approaching the bus stop when the bus went past. Gutted. Fortunately I’d bumped into a couple of guys on the beach that I’d seen earlier in the Brough cafe (always good to stop at cafes) and they were driving to Thurso. They drove past me just after the bus as stopped to give me a lift. I was very grateful. It had started raining again.
I got dropped off at the campsite which overlooks Thurso Bay. The rain stopped and I put my tent up.
Caithness Stone was quarried here in Thurso and Castletown, and exported to the British Empire. Lots of the fences around here are stone fences. I think they look quite good.
It rained heavily through the night but had stopped by the time I got up at 6.30 am. I wanted to be away early so I didn’t have time to wait for my tent to dry and packed it away damp. Much easier with this tent and I wasn’t too worried about having to put it up sleep in it again tonight.
A quick stop at Co-op for some breakfast to eat on-the-go and I was away. Wick is a grey and run down town. It looks rather sad.
I did walk past the street that claims to be the shortest in the world.
Walking out to the headland I passed an old swimming pool cut into the rocks. Like all the others I have passed, this one seems to have been abandoned to dereliction.
I made my way around Noss Head, following the cliffs. The sea looked blacker here, not dirty, just dark. I smelt the now familiar smell of seabirds and it was nice to re-acquaint myself with fulmars nesting on the cliffs. Even though it wasn’t rough the sea was crashing against the rocks and the cliffs, more so than usual. I walked through a couple of villages and they have Norse names around here. Staxigoe (translation: the inlet of the stack) claims to have been the first port in Europe to salt the herring. It was obviously overtaken by Wick at some point. It has a mid 19th Century barometer above the harbour that the fishermen used to determine the sea conditions.
I rounded Noss Head by the lighthouse and got a view across Sinclair’s Bay up to Duncansby Head. In the absence of any easy paths I climbed over the gate into Prince Henry St Clair’s Garden of Remembrance next to the lighthouse. It was an unspectacular green space that had plaques on the wall for various Sinclairs, including some quite recent.
Within sight of the lighthouse, just into Sinclair’s Bay, was the remains of the 14th Century Castle of Sinclair Girnigoe. It was once the main residence of the Sinclairs and it has important historical significance. It is perched on a stack and would once have been very impressive.
I was pushed back onto the roads here as there was no way through to Sinclair’s beach. I was joined by an 80 year old man out for his daily cycle ride and learned quite a lot about the area. Yet again I was informed this was the worst summer weather ever and apparently many of the farmers are being forced to sell their cattle because the grain harvest has been so poor that they won’t be able to feed the cattle in the winter. I also learned about the significance of Wick airfield during WW2 and how Hitler was expected to invade here from Norway. He was a very fit octogenarian.
I found myself in the grounds of Ackergill Tower, a private hotel. No wonder it looked so smart. I was thinking it was a pity the Smuggler’s Inn wasn’t open, but I wouldn’t have been allowed in anyway.
I had been aiming to catch the 12.49 bus from Keiss but I knew I’d never make it. If I missed the bus I could either wait for the 17.49 to John O’Groats or walk along the main road. I decided to try and flag the bus down in Reiss village and fortunately it worked. Apparently this is acceptable, and it is also possible to get dropped off wherever you want enroute. I got dropped off at Freswick so that I could walk the last bit of coast to Duncansby Head. It started raining (again) and the terrain was boggy. Not a good combination and after 2 hours my boots were soaked through and so was I. The coastline was very dramatic with high cliffs, narrow geos and lots of birds, including a few puffins. The Wife Geo was particularly spectacular. After what seemed like an interminable slog I could see the Duncansby stacks and lighthouse.
It was a bit underwhelming to arrive at the most North Easterly point of mainland Britain, which probably had a lot to do with the weather. The visibility was not good enough for a clear view across the Pentland Firth to Orkney and the Pentlands.
I walked past Ness of Duncansby beach to John O’Groats and was jealous of all the cyclists I saw finishing their trips while I was soaking wet, miserable and faced with pitching a damp tent in the rain. Luckily the rain stopped, the campsite was cheap and had a laundry, and the coffee shop was still open. I cheered up a bit. It helped when I got chatting to the guy camped next to me, Michael,
who had just finished walking LEJOG. His enthusiasm rubbed off on me.
I did some laundry and walked up the road to the Seaview Hotel for dinner. So much for the South East being expensive, it was £4 a pint here!
It was raining and high winds were forecast. I hadn’t had time to look around North Berwick yesterday and I wanted to visit the Seabird Centre there and get a boat trip to Bass Rock to see all the birds. It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that I would get more from my day if I just did some sightseeing.
Ali gave me a lift to North Berwick (so no meeting people on the bus today) and dropped me at the bottom of the North Berwick Law, which is a random 187m conical hill just at the back of North Berwick. It was once a volcanic plug and is not the only random mound in the area (Arthur’s Seat in the centre of Edinburgh is another). I thought I would brave the rain and wind and climb it (very sensible!) first thing to earn myself a coffee before the Seabird Centre opened at 10am.
I earned my coffee. The Seabird Centre is excellent. I headed straight for the ‘birdcams’ that give live pictures from 4 of the islands just offshore: Bass Rock, Craigleith, Fidra and the Isle of May. I watched a Peregrine Falcon devouring a kill on Craigleith and then spent a couple of hours watching gannets, puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes and various gulls, and their chicks. The staff are very knowledgeable and there was also a fish tank with lots of rock pool creatures in it and feeding time was funny.
I’m not sure any boat trips were happening in the extreme wind (50 mph) but I’d decided it was too cold anyway. After a lovely morning I wandered through the town trying to decide which cafe to get lunch in. A quaint little town with a whiff of money about it. I was bemused to see blue plaques on some of the walls relating to golf professionals!
After lunch the sun was coming out so I thought I’d walk to Gullane to join the dots of this part of the coastline. I started by walking out of town along the edge of North Berwick golf course, which was very busy and every player was accompanied by a caddy wearing a special caddy-bib. Very posh!
As yesterday, my route was a mix of beach walking and fighting my way through the dunes. I struggled to find the marked path on occasions. I walked past Muirfield golf course but I was well out of the way in the dunes.
Ali kindly picked me up from Gullane and then we drove along the coast roads to Musselburgh: around Aberlady Bay and through the old mining towns of Cockenzie and Preston Pans. We passed Port Seton caravan park; a popular holiday destination for some Edinburghers. I don’t feel the need to go back and walk this section.
As it was Ali’s birthday we went out for a lovely Italian meal to celebrate.
Flamborough to Reighton Gap, near Filey
Moor House Farm Campsite
Wow. What a fantastic day. It started well when I found a cafe in Flamborough village and had my first cooked breakfast in 6 days (not that I’m counting!). I also wrote a postcard to Raymond. Ready to face the day I headed down to the cliffs at South Landing and began my walk around Flamborough Head. The sun came out and even though the wind was still strong it was pretty much perfect. My first proper cliffs of the trip, and they were stunning.
As I got to the Head itself there was the lighthouse just inland and I could look down to Selwick’s Bay and see a line in the sea where the brown water met the deep blue. Amazing.
I carried on round the cliff, turning more into the wind, and suddenly I saw them (and heard and smelt them), hundreds of sea birds covering the cliffs. And these were only the start because the 400ft high Bempton Cliffs were yet to come. From North Landing all the way along Bempton Cliffs there were thousand of birds nesting. My timing was excellent in this regard and I got to watch gannets, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and even puffins hustling for space on tiny cliff ledges and soaring on the updraughts. A phenomenal sight. It was my first sight of puffins and, next to the expert flyers like gannets, they looked like small clockwork toys with big orange feet, flapping their little wings like mad to stay in the air. I wished I had my binoculars but a kind man loaned me his so I could get a closer view of all these wonderful birds.
I even saw a guillemot egg that had been dropped on the footpath.
On the North side of Flamborough Head the 2 tiny bays of North Landing and Thornwick Bay have beautiful blue water contrasting with the chalky cliffs and they are full of caves that need to be explored from the sea.
Unsurprisingly, Bempton Cliffs is an RSPB reserve and so, just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I saw a sign for the RSPB cafe. Time to stop for a coffee, check of the puffin activity on the webcam and chat to the friendly helpers.
To finish this amazing day I walked down off the cliffs, leaving East Riding and entering North Yorkshire, onto Speeton Sands at the Southern end of Filey Bay. What a view across the bay.
The wind was getting stronger and I was getting sand blasted on the beach but I didn’t care. This stretch of beach is where the only remains of an amphibious dinosaur were found a few years ago and I met a couple of dinosaur hunters looking for more in the special soft blue-coloured clay. I walked back up the hill to my campsite and managed to pitch my tent behind a big hedge out of the worst of the wind.
I had to walk a mile to the nearest pub but it was worth it for decent fish and chips, a pint, wifi and a plug socket for my phone (the last 2 being essentials these days). Luckily I didn’t have to walk back as the barman gave me a lift in his Fiat Panda 4×4.