JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 10. Dunbeath to Lybster.

Close to the edge.

Harbour to harbour.

I awoke early and looked out onto the camping site, the backpacking lady had broken camp and was well on the way, never to be seen again. The eclectic international selection of camping vans were asleep.

The sea mist was in as I left the B and B and wandered down to the little harbour.   In a shed there was a restored fishing craft used in these parts in the 18 – 19th centuries, the heyday of the herring fishing industry. Old pictures showed the harbours on this coast packed with these vessels. I can’t imagine going out to rough seas in one of these small boats.  Further along was an old ice house for storing the fish.

The day’s climbing began up onto the first headland, the cliffs along this stretch were rugged and varied with sea stacks and arches. The path was close, often too close, to the edge giving spectacular views down. The walking was easier than the last two days and I made good progress with time to stare.

Further along where the path moved into inland fields the guide suggested walking on the road to avoid cattle. I was only too pleased to conform as I don’t like meeting bulls. The A9 was surprisingly quiet and I walked on for maybe half a mile then realised I was cut off from the coastal path by a high deer fence which took some precarious manoevers to overcome. I crossed a field towards the coast passing perhaps some ancient stones only to find myself up against another deer fence.

My climbing technique had improved and I was soon back on route on a much gentler, lower cliff top still with lovely inlets and stacks. The weather was improving and the sun had burnt back the mist.

I was now approaching Latheronwheel harbour and a few more walkers were out. A track lead down and over a surprisingly sturdy bridge onto the road which climbed towards the village. I took off at a bend to regain the headland with more sea stacks.

The next stretch of cliffs were grassy and apparently home to puffins but perhaps they haven’t arrived yet. There was a lengthy diversion inland to get over the deep Burn of Latheron.

Back on the open cliff tops there was a strange stone structure, not marked on the map,  perhaps a beacon or lookout.  I had a rest and snack on Robbery Head taking in the views up the coast and watching the birdlife. Looking back at the cliffs there were some amazing foldings in the rocks. There’s certainly plenty to see on this walk.

Robbery Head.

The day was moving on and there were still more ups and downs ahead. The next down was over the Forse Burn and then up to a headland with the precarious looking remains of the medieval Forse Castle. It reminded me of that game where you remove a brick without it all falling down – Jenga.  Below was a beach with a ruined building, presumably related to the herring fishing.  I was tempted to drop down to investigate when I met a mother with two lads who were going down using a fixed rope, it all looked very exciting.

There was an even steeper drop into the Achsinegar valley. Down here just above the sea were the extensive and evocative ruins of a herring processing station from 1810.

Rough ground followed below Swiney Hill. I found a seat and fine viewpoint above Lybster bay. Then soon I was above Lybster harbour, the last of the day, as a little boat came in probably from visiting lobster pots.

The main street of Lybster is far wider than most towns, nobody seems to know why.

A shop next to my friendly b and b provided supper. I’ve just found my first tick despite being extra cautious.

Accommodation – Bolton House B & B  Main St Lybster


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