JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 8. Brora to Helmsdale.

On the beach.

The route description “Sections on railway embankment are stony and narrow, overgrown vegetation and long grass make the going difficult in places, Loth Burn requires wading (could be impassable in spate conditions) ”  was not encouraging and I thought I was in for a long day.

I enjoyed a sociable breakfast with my hosts and managed that lift up the road to where I’d left off yesterday which gave me a good start. The tide was out so I was able to walk on the beach which in most places was easier than the poor track. The first stretch of sand was a joy seemingly going on for ever. Fresh boot imprints in the sand suggested I was not alone today and sure enough I caught up with a couple walking to Helmsdale. They are on their last stretch of a LEJOG pilgrimage over several years using a campervan backup. This time they have walked from the Southern Uplands and actually married in Peebles en-route. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and kept overlapping all day. These were the only ‘serious walkers’ I’d met all week and yet within an hour a couple appeared coming the other way with heavy rucksacs. They had only just started on their end to end and were not complimentary about the JO’G Trail further north which they’d found virtually impassable.

Happy honeymooners.

A long way to go for some.

 

The beach varied from sandy to rocky and from time to time I had to scramble up into the dunes adjacent to the railway, on one of these occasions I disturbed a sizeable adder which slithered off into the grass.

Adder territory.

Intermittently along the coast were groups of common seals both in the water and out on rocks. They were ‘talking’ amongst themselves or was it to me? a haunting sound. There was also an abundance of bird life but without binoculars only the commoner species were recognised.

Halfway along there was a better track in the dunes which took me past some caravans on an informal site. Outside one of these was Julie who invited me for a morning coffee. We sat in her ‘garden’ as she told me about her life there overlooking the sea. Very self-sufficient she’d slowly added to her encampment with storage vans, sheds, chairs and tables, barbeques etc. As I left she was about to start cutting up her winter wood supply, I imagine winters here can be pretty bleak.

The crossing of the burns was no problem today with all the dry weather and being on the beach. One had to take the rough with smooth as some of the beaches became extremely rocky. This added interest in itself with the variety of rocks. Many were of a conglomerate granite, probably technically breccia, almost artificial in appearance.  There were also black rocks that looked suspiciously like coal – I found out later that there was a coal mine in the past at Brora.Many bays later the route used a level crossing to climb into the hamlet of Portgower. Some nice wee cottages ideal for a quiet life. This village was just off the A9 which was crossed and then little lanes climbed into the countryside to find a quiet way into Helmsdale which was seen below with its prominent harbour. On the way in was another of those clock tower war memorials. Theres not a lot to Helmsdale once you’ve walked round the harbour and up the main street.

Portgower.

My hotel was central and characterful. The dining room something from the 60’s but with some good food and the bar had a good selection of whiskeys!  Veteran motorcyclists [their bikes not necessarily them]  were staying here on their North Coast 500 trip, a  scenic route around the north coast of Scotland, which seems to be achieving widespread popularity.

I have to return home for the weekend so I will be at the station early for a long train journey. The station apparently was an important staging post for troops on the journey up to Thurso and naval bases in both world wars. There were no facilities on the crowded trains so the WVS had a tea stall at the station. Hopefully today’s journey will be more comfortable.

 

 

I’ll return to complete the sections up to John O’Groats in the autumn when the vegetation has died back.

*****

 

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