Walk #534: Helmsdale to Littleferry
Map of the walk
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format. For a detailed table of timings for this walk, please see the table file.
The early part of this morning flew by, and by a quarter past nine I had my rucksack on my back and I was leaving Mervan. Before I had walked a few yards, however, I noticed that a shop by the harbour had Internet access, and so I went in so that I could reply to a few emails. Three quarters of an hour later I finally left, and got ready to start the walk properly. A couple of the emails were quite nice from people who had enjoyed my website, which is just the sort of encouragement that I need. This website takes an awfully long time to create, and it is nice to know some people like to read it.
Helmsdale Harbour is quite nice, although the sea was quite choppy when I left it this morning. Unfortunately there is a new bridge, built in 1972, near to the harbour that carries the A9(T) over the river, and this rather sullies the scene. I had a decision to make about the route I was going to walk - the obvious route is to walk along the A9(T) southwestwards until I was just north of Brora and then walk to the village along the beach, but Graham walked along the railway line, which is naughty but is a far more coastal route. After considering my options I decided to stick to the road, as it ever strayed to far from the coast. The road was not too busy, but with three trains a day in each direction walking along the railway line may well be safer!
The walk to Brora was fairly boring, with the views being spoilt by the drizzle that hung over the coast. At times I could make out the Grampian coast, and as I headed south I could see the coast of the Black Isle increasingly clearly. Near Lothbeg I passed a stone beside the road commemorating the last wolf in Sutherland, which was killed by a hunter called Polson in about the year 1700. Nowadays any wolves unlucky enough to find themselves in the area are much more likely to be run down by cars on the A9 than shot. When the road, railway and shoreline came together I crossed the railway and went onto the beach. It was initially quite stony, but it soon became a nice stretch of sand that headed southwards for two miles into Brora, skirting the golf course on the way.
I met Sam in a car park on the southern side of the town, and he made me a very welcome bowl of soup, which helped warm me up after the rather damp morning. I also used this opportunity to change from my trainers into my boots, as I was aware that the afternoon's walk may well be rougher. The drizzle was falling harder when I walked along the beach south of the village, and after a mile I was greeted by twenty or thirty seals basking on rocks close offshore. I stood and watched them for a few minutes. They are fascinating creatures, and seeing them so close up is superb. I am glad that the disease that had killed all the dead seals that I saw along the east coast of England (the victims of the disease that broke out amongst them last year) had not reached this far north up the coast.
I had been expecting the highlight of the day to be the walk through the grounds of Dunrobin Castle, but about a mile before that I passed the ruins of Carn Liath broch that definitely surpassed it. I have passed hundreds of brochs on the walk, but this is one of he best preserved examples, and I spent five minutes looking around it and climbing up the staircase onto the walls, which at five feet high are much lower than they would have been two thousand years ago. It was amazing to see one of these structures relatively intact, and allowed me to see what the jumbled pile of stones or mounds of the majority of the other brochs would have looked like when they were intact. In comparison, Dunrobin Castle, which was partly obscured by trees, was a magnificent structure but did not strike me as being a 'classic' Scottish castle - the style is much more European.
Golspie was a lovely little village, which unfortunately had the busy A9 road running through the middle. There were many lovely and architecturally interesting buildings in the village, which seems to be the base of the Sutherland Estate. On a hillside above the village is the imposing memorial to the first Duke of Sutherland, who was famous (or perhaps infamous) as the person who started the highland clearances. The rest of the walk was south along a beach that was very stony in places and sandy in others to Littleferry, at the northern side of Loch Fleet.
This walk starts off at the little car park beside the harbour in Helmsdale. Leave the car park and follow the road as it climbs up past the harbour to join the A9(T) in the centre of Helmsdale. At the junction turn left to head southwestwards along the A9(T) as it immediately crosses the bridge over the River Helmsdale. Continue on along the A9(T) for nearly nine miles until Kintradwell is reached, and then turn to the left to cross a railway line onto the northern end of a beach. At the beach turn right and head southwards for a couple of miles along the beach. Once the beach ends in Brora turn right and climb uphill to a car park, and then head westwards down a road above the River Brora until the A9(T) is reached near the railway station.
Turn left along the A9(T) to cross the bridge over the River Brora and then turn left along a road that leads back to the coast at the mouth of the river. Turn right and start following the coast southwestwards; at times it is quite rocky, but at others there are wide expanses of sand. Past Strathsteven I joined a path that headed westwards along a grassy area behind the foreshore, and this passed near to the prominent ruins of the Carn Liath Broch. The path eventually becomes a track that enters some woodland in the grounds of Dunrobin Castle, and continue along this track as it turns to head southwestwards along the foreshore. Past a pier the track becomes more of a path, and heads across a field to reach a footbridge over the Golspie Burn.
On the western side of the burn head straight on down a minor road for a couple of hundred yards until it ends at the A9(T). Turn left to follow the A9(T) through Golspie, before turning to the right down a minor road that leads for a few yards to the seafront. Turn right and walk along the path beside the sea to a pier and on to a car park on the southern side of the village. Here drop down onto the beach, and head south for three miles along the beach, which in places is made of shingle. When the beach ends at the mouth of Loch fleet turn right and walks westwards for about a kilometre to the jetty at Littleferry, and then turn right up a road for a few yards before turning right to enter a car park, where this walk ends.
This makes a total distance of 21.6 miles, with 1062 feet of ascent and 1041 feet of descent.
We spent the night in the little car park at Littleferry, which is the car park for the Loch Fleet Nature Reserve. There were no facilities nearby, but fortunately we did not need any.
Please note that I take no responsibility for anything that may happen when following these directions. If you intend to follow this route, then please use the relevant maps and check the route out before you go out. As always when walking, use common sense and you should be fine.
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And finally, enjoy your walking!
This walk was mentioned in the following routes: