Tag Archives: LEJOG

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. Reflections.

Inverness to John O’Groats – 147 miles of coastal walking.

A trail of two halves, not just the way I did it but geographically also. The first half to Helmsdale is rural walking often along the shoreline whereas the northern half is rugged cliff top walking. Over the years many LEJOG walkers have ended up walking the dreaded A9 to finish their Odyssey which must be an anti-climax. Local walkers, Caithness Waybaggers, started looking at a coastal route away from the road and an American Jay Wilson who’d settled in the area became enthused by the idea. In 2016 a charity was established to promote the walk – Friends of the John O’Groats Trail and they have their own website http://www.jogt.org.uk/

Volunteers have worked hard on researching and way-marking a route, with more funding stiles and bridges have started to appear and the route is getting publicity and more people are walking it.  A ranger, Jim Bunting, has been appointed with funding for a year which will help push things forward.

I first became aware of the route last year when I was planning a week’s walking to help complete my own personal LEJOG walk which I’d been doing for over 50years without realising it. I’d recently finished off gaps down in the west country and was left with the way north of Inverness. So last summer I set off from Inverness with the main idea of staying off the A9, it was only when on the way that I fell into step with the JO’GTRAIL. Waymarks were rare but the walking was easy, mainly on small lanes and tracks with lots along the low coastline – lovely sandy beaches which could be used at low tides for easy walking and a quick swim when needed. Seals were constant companions along the coast. There was a bed at the end of every stage. I was enthused.

Fast forward almost a year, interrupted by illness, and I’m back on the trail. This time I have a  Harveys Map which I hardly used – too small a scale for my eyes, but more importantly a draft guide from the powers that be. This was a work of art, Wainwright style, which will hopefully come to publication. [I’ve donated to the cause for the use of it and whatever else]  I worry about commercial intrusions from the likes of Cicerone. The volunteers who have put so much into the route deserve their guide to be definitive.

A lot changed in a year and waymarking is coming on a treat. They have adopted an octagonal emblem reflecting the octagonal house of the legendary  Jan de Groot  and his brothers, Dutchmen of the 15th century who plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, Their house was one room, with eight windows and eight doors, to admit eight members of the family; the heads of different branches of it, to prevent their quarrels at the table.

This northern half of the trail is ‘not for the inexperienced’ as is the mantra – a trail in progress.

Despite the main road being within a few miles inland you feel very isolated on the cliffs. Many fences have to be climbed without stiles as yet, lots of barbed wire to rip your best Gortex pants to bits. Depending on which side of the fence you find yourself there are the dangers of frisky risky cattle or crumbling cliff edges.

Crossing rivers can be a challenge depending on rainfall and tides. I was impressed by some of the bridge-building that has recently taken place. I was also impressed by the depth of fast-flowing water on other unbridgeable burns. Take care!

Despite all that this trail is an experience not to be missed. The geology is amazing, the birdlife incredible, the flora unique, whales and dolphins common sights, historical sites around every headland, the local population welcoming. The geos [sea inlets] are outstanding even if they seem to double the distance of each day’s walk. The little simple harbours, most long ago abandoned, are evocative of the herring fishing industry of the 18/20th centuries. A novel by Neil M Gunn, a native of Dunbeath, The Silver Darlings refers to the sight of the masses of fish visible to clifftop watchers. As the shoals were spotted small boats would be launched from the harbours to maximise the haul.

What more do you want?

I can foresee that once established and trodden [the summer bracken growth is a problem] this will become one of the most sought after challenging walks in Britain. I’m glad I walked it in its infancy for the adventure it provided.

Enjoy.

Now, what about JOG to Cape Wrath?

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 14B. Nybster to John O’Groats.

Journey’s end?

The same bus driver picked me up this morning as had transported me back yesterday, he was keen to know where I was heading today. By the time he dropped me off at Nybster we were on first name terms, they’re a friendly lot up here.

Walking down to the small harbour the weather was awful, maybe I’d misjudged the forecast. Anyhow I was on my way. There were a couple of geo’s and the odd sea stack for starters though the rain was getting on the camera lens.

Ahead in the mist were some castle ruins on a headland. Bucholie Castle dates from a 12th-century Norse nobleman but what remains today is from a 15th-century rebuild.

By now the rain had thankfully stopped but the wind remained strong.

Lovely open walking around Ness Head brought Freswick Bay into view. On a sea stack fulmars were kings of their castle. The other house/tower/castle call it what you like has Norse origins which are normal in Caithness. I was able to wade a stream, have lunch and then walk leisurely across the beach towards Skirza Head.

A diversion sign took me on minor roads to avoid some clifftop properties although I was tempted to go direct. Maybe access negotiations are delicate so I didn’t want to inflame matters. At least I didn’t end up in the field with this chap.

I arrived back on the coast at a small harbour.

Rough and dramatic walking along the cliffs covered in Sea Thrift, it seemed to take me an age to get around Skirza Head and a couple of geos. There were lots of seabirds on the cliffs with guillemots doing their best penguin impersonations.

Ravens meanwhile were doing their best acrobatic displays, I wonder if they are responsible for this egg stealing. More likely to be Herring Gulls.

Yet more dramatic clifftop walking with my first distant view of Duncansby Head and its stacks.

Then I was peering down into the largest geo I’d seen, Wife Geo. A complicated chasm with stacks and caves within its depths.

Open boggy moorland lay ahead and then the impressive Stacks of Duncansby held my attention for some time. I came round Duncansby Head below the lighthouse and joined the masses milling about in a car park. Some were whale watching.  Stroma, Hoy and South Ronaldsay were just visible in the mist.

I left the road as quick as I’d joined it and took a bearing across the open moor to the Bay of Sannick, I was the only person on its beach. A bit of scrambling around the headland, Ness of Duncansby, and I was on a made gravel path heading straight to the circus of John O’Groats.

A couple from the Wirral took my picture at the appropriate signs, I bought a postcard for my old walking buddy Mel who is now on kidney dialysis, enquired without joy at the TI office about bus times, had a coffee from the kiosk who gave me the correct bus times – one in 5 minutes.

I’m now in Thurso for the evening before a long train journey home tomorrow and reflections on my journey.

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 14A. Keiss to Nybster.

An historic episode.

No not me reaching  J O’Groats – but a short walk past some historic sites.

I woke early. uneasy about the weather. The forecast had been dire with heavy rain and strong winds and looking out of my window that’s just how it was. I wanted to enjoy Duncansbury Head and my arrival at JO’Groats so some quick decision making came into action at breakfast.

“May I stay an extra night here?”   –   “No problem”

“May I change my reservation with you to tomorrow night?”   –   “No problem”

“What are the bus times?”   –   ” ??? ”

Decision made, between mouthfuls of Muesli.  I would do a short walk and hopefully catch a bus back and hope tomorrow is better.

There was nobody out on the coast this morning, not that I’ve met many people all week. Just after the small harbour of Keiss there was a Broch. The information board suggested that it had been of some importance in the Middle Iron Age.  I was unimpressed by the pile of stones.

So onwards passing WW2 pillboxes to a prominent castle built in the late 16th century by the Sinclair clan [them again]. When it fell into disrepair they built a new one nearby.

The cliffs are low now and the rock strata giving horizontal beds exposed at low tide. The path ran outside fields and one enthusiastic sheepdog ran alongside protecting his patch, I was hoping the fence was intact.

By now I was soaked and suddenly realised I’d dropped my camera somewhere so it was back about a mile to eventually find it near a stile I’d had difficulty negotiating. At one point I was obviously on the wrong side of the fence when I had to balance along the top of a slippery wall hanging on to the barbed wire. Everything’s getting wetter and wetter including my camera.

A few interesting geos were passed as usual.

Then the larger Nybster Broch appeared, here one could clearly see the circular structures. Nearby was an impressive monument to Sir Francis Tress who had excavated the site in the 1890s. There were a couple of other monuments nearby, for what reason I don’t know.

I was cold and wet but soon on a bus back to the comfort of my hotel. A drink in the bar at lunchtime was entertaining listening to the locals, though every other Scottish word seems to begin with an F.

Well rested for tomorrow.

*****

PS. Just noticed on the JOGT facebook page for today – I made the right choice.

 

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 13. Wick to Keiss.

A dreich day on Sinclair Bay.

Not so many photos today, it rained.

Near my b&b in the old part by the harbour was a building  – Telford House, further research shows that the famous engineer and architect Thomas Telford designed the area, Lower Pulteneytown, and harbour which allowed the herring industry to flourish from the beginning of the 19th century.

Wick is also in the Guinness Book of Records for having the shortest street in the world. Ebenezer Place is just 6ft 9in long. The street is one end of the Mackays Hotel built in 1883 by Alexander Sinclair who returned to Scotland having made his fortune in America.

Nonetheless I can’t say I was sorry to leave Wick, maybe I’m being harsh.

In view of the weather I had thought of taking a short cut on roads to Ackergill but the guide suggested it would be a shame to miss Noss Head and Castle Sinclair.

The forecast was for rain all day but as I walked along to Staxigoe it was the wind causing discomfort rather than the light drizzle. I used the shelter of a bus stop to weatherproof myself for the rest of the day. The little harbour at Staxigoe had all the usual features of an old herring port but there was also an unusual barometer pole from 1850 to help the fishermen gauge the conditions at sea, fairly bleak today.

 

Walking on the road led to Noss Farm, the guide mentions a sign ‘Walkers Welcome’,  it’s covered over – I wonder what happened? Some pleasant cliff walking followed, although the cliffs are much lower the scenery is still very dramatic. Grey seals lazed on the flat rocks and in the bay their heads were bobbing above the waves. A couple of geos were passed with small flat sea stacks.

The way towards the lighthouse was across marshy ground with several varieties of orchids growing. No idea what they are.The lighthouse is still operational and has its own letterbox with a quirky sign, where else would you find this – must be a lovely community around here.

When I saw Castle Sinclair Girnigoe ahead the longer route was vindicated. An impressive and evocative structure in a stunning setting. It has a long and varied history as is common with these Scottish outposts. The powerful Sinclair family were residents from the early 14th century to the mid 17th century. By now the wind was bringing in heavy showers so it was head down across the fields to Ackergill Haven. Up the lane was a scattering of houses and what looked like a village hall, wondering about some shelter I approached the open door to find an active gym with people doing their stuff. It seemed incongruous out in this remote place.

 

 

 

 

 

Round the back the route was signed into a field containing inquisitive, nervous and sturdy cattle, I crept around an adjacent field.

I think these are whale bones, on a wall…

There was a private driveway leading to Ackergill Tower, a stately looking building possibly a shooting lodge, surrounded by high walls. I found a relatively sheltered corner with a picnic table, perfect for lunch.

At this stage I was still relatively dry but once out of the shelter of the estate buildings the way went onto exposed sand dunes. Ahead in the mist was a golf clubhouse and I had visions of hot coffee, alas all was locked – no golf today.

Pushing on I was able to avoid the taxing ups and downs of the sand dunes and walk along the beach, it was a long beach. The birdlife was different, waders at the water’s edge and terns flying overhead.

I came to the crossing of the River Wester and realised how deep and fast flowing it was on the beach made worse because of high tide. I was prepared to bypass it all together until a little inland the water was wider and I paddled across, I was already soaked anyhow.

The next obstacle was the railway for launching pipelines into the sea.

At Keiss there is a small sheltered harbour and beyond it I could just make out Noss Head back across Sinclair Bay. One can imagine the relief of those fishermen when they returned from stormy seas to harbour. There is not much else here.

Appropriately my lodging is the Sinclair Bay Hotel, cosy and warm with some decent food and ale. The forecast for tomorrow looks grim. Sweat dreams.

*****

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 12. Whaligoe to Wick.

There’s no rush – too much to see.

I slept in. A relaxed breakfast followed so I didn’t set off till after 10am. There was no rush as it was drizzling slightly, I’d only gone a few fields when I saw a sign for Puffins. Sure enough on a small cliff near the path the little birds were arriving prior to nesting. I made my way along the narrow ledge to relish the experience. Along came the farmer who’d seen my approach, not to admonish me but to engage in good old honest chat. He had an interesting history and was full of information about the locality. Further up the trail as I walked inland he reappeared to take a picture for the JOGTrail Facebook page.

The next few hours were a delight on a mainly good path alongside the continually interesting coastline. Lots of large Geo’s to get round, sea stacks galore and the prolific bird life.

Ellen’s Geo.

Stack of Ulbster.

Sarclet Haven

Riera Geo

 

Riera Geo

At the massive Broad Geo I met a party coming southwards and found that their leader was no other than Jim, the new path warden, more conversation followed. This was a great spot for bird watching – I told you there was too much to see.

Mainly guillemots.

Razorbills

Broad Geo

A little further on and along comes the highest sea arch in Britain, the Needle’s Eye at the head of Ashy Geo.Off shore are a couple of hundred new wind turbines, I could just make them out.

I became lost once or twice on the broader, lower fenced areas, beware of your best waterproof trousers on the barbed wire fences.

The cliffs now are much lower but still show a diversity of geo’s, stacks and caves.

By the time I arrrived at Old Wick Castle my enthusiasm was waning.  It is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, though originally built in the early 12th century by Norse kings who then ruled Caithness, it was well situated between defensive geos.

Minor roads through industrial areas, probably most connected to off-shore work. The harbour was busy, you can catch a boat to the Orkneys from here.

My simple b and b by the harbour had the steepest stairs up to the second floor, no pity on the weary.

Wick town centre was a little run down but I managed to find a cheerful Italian for supper.

Accommodation – Harbour Guest House, 6 Rose Street.

*****

Out of interest here is the elevation profile for the day –

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 11. Lybster to Whaligoe Steps.

Stacks of stacks.

For this section the guide keeps mentioning to look back at the views – so I often did. A reminder that if the sea is on the right in my photos I’m heading North, if on the left I’m looking South.

Halfway through breakfast my landlady was called away by a friend who’s car had broken down, leaving me to fend for myself. On her return we put the world to rights so I didn’t leave till after 10.30 with a gift of two hardboiled eggs in my pocket. I walked down that main street like John Wayne, everyone stayed indoors.

The first stile just out of the village seemed to have been appropriated from a swimming pool. After crossing a small burn I was on the cliffs using a tortuous path, more of a narrow sheep trod. I realised that keeping within the narrow line made me walk like a catwalk model. The day was just clearing and the views opening up.

In the first large geo [sea inlet] was an abandoned building presumably related to the herring trade of the 18/19 centuries. The first of several small harbours and geos which all involved a considerable inland detour and descent/ascent to cross streams.

 

A disturbing sight alongside the fence was a tip of some farmer’s rubbish, where does he think it will go?

Once round White Head a stream had to be crossed between pretty waterfalls.

Back on the cliff top the roller coaster ride continued with lots of stacks and arches along the way. One of the finest stacks had a stone cairn on its summit implying an ascent in the past. Everywhere were birds mainly fulmars, kitiwakes, razorbills, guillemots and shags.

The long abandoned Clyth Harbour was a delight.

Back on slightly lower cliffs the path was easier to follow towards a disused lighthouse and it was here I saw a pair of Orcas, actually I heard their blowing first and then watched them swimming away only surfacing occasionally. Along this stretch were several skerries, low rocks off the coast, The rock strata here is much more horizontal ideal for drying cormorants and a diving shag.

Past the lighthouse I found a lunchtime stone, enjoyed the sun and watched the birds flying by.

Line Geo was spectacular and the cliff edge path getting round it equally so. The cliff ledges are home to thousands of birds, the noise is deafening in some of the geos. Kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots.

Halberry Head was my next objective.

The massive Stack of Mid Clyth. big enough to be called a dependancy, is in fact a giant sea arch.

 

Another hairy crossing of a large geo on a narrow track. More sea stacks and and caves followed. This is possibly the best days walking so far and I was enjoyingmyself. More was to come in the next mile with Long Gate Geo showing outstanding hidden depths.

After that I was lost in gorse bushes and dropped too low down the cliff slope. My first attempt of climbing back up through the inpenetrable gorse led to retreat and a further detour that left me scrambling up the very edge of the deep Red Geo. I thakfully came out close to the A99 road. The final few fields seemed awkward, one final geo and I was glad to see ahead my lodgings for tonight. The famous Whaligoe Steps Cafe, though it looked uninspiring from the outside. The weather was just closing in as I arrived, I can’t believe I’ve only walked 7 miles, a lot has happened.

I was made very welcome by John and Edna and their two Highland Terriers, an Aswam tea revived me sufficiently to go down the 300+ Whaligoe steps to the original herring harbour in the geo. It was a quiet low tide and all was tranquility. I sat and was able to watch some of the birds at close quarters.

Fulmar.

Shag

Razorbills

Climbing back up those steps I thought of the women carrying baskets of herrings to the store which is now the cafe.

I dined well on authentic Ramen noodles.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

*****

 

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 9. Berriedale to Dunbeath.

Misty clifftop walking – but lots to see.

The excellent weather of yesterday couldn’t last and I spent most of today in drizzle, not that it mattered much as I was looking below at the cliffs and all the birdlife.

Yesterday’s bus driver welcomed me aboard for the short trip back to Berriedale,I was the only one alighting.  I avoided the temptation of the cafe and made my way down to the harbour, I don’t think many boats tie up here.  A bouncy suspension bridge crosses over to a row of cottages above the rocky bay. Proper ornithologists have their telescopes trained on the conveniently placed cliffs, I spot kittiwakes through my pocket binoculars but fulmars are also pointed out to me. The waves are crashing into the shingle beach.

A green path heads up towards a small cemetery but there I become lost in earthworks for another straightening of the A9, as if it is not fast enough already. My frustration is tempered with good views back down to the harbour. A bit of bashing through gorse soon has me back on track but on the wrong side of a fence which can create a problem.

Once on the clifftop I kept mostly outside of fences and walls – this was proper cliff walking  – right on the edge. A good head for heights is useful in some places and I wouldn’t like to be here in a gale.

The Bluebells are late flowering up here and they give a colourful show with Pink Campions and Greater Stitchwort

In rough land there was someone’s private bird hide, I imagined the owners bragging at a cocktail party “oh we have our own private hide  – don’t you?”   It did have a fantastic view though.  A little further just entering some trees was a box containing a signing-in book for the trail, only about 25 had done so this year.

Ahead the headlands were all a bit vague in the murk but here was my first sea arch.

Through a high cliff the Allt na Buaidhe stream tumbles in a spectacular waterfall, it was a bit short of water today.

I worked my way round to the valley of the stream where there was a new footbridge to cross. Strangely a path had been strimmed to the very edge of the falls, a every dangerous spot, Samaritans help number needed, but good views back to that small sea arch. You would have to lie on your stomach to look over at the waterfall – I didn’t.

The path to nowhere…

Moving on I was getting ready for lunch and spotted a stone bench, this turned out to be the perfect viewpoint for watching the birds on the An Dun headland and it’s massive arch.

I dont think I’ve ever seen so many birds, literally thousands on every ledge available. Mainly Guillemots and Razorbills. The latter are distinctive closeup.

The Kittiwakes and Fulmars tended to stay aloof.

After all that excitement in the next bay was The Cleft sea stack, it remained in sight for some time.

The going became difficult in long rough grass with only faint sheep trods to follow. However a group of sheep startled by me proceeded ahead creating a path as they went – a good idea for helping open up the trail.

Another stack appeared as I traversed high above the sea.

Diversions inland around Dunbeath Castle weren’t too bad how does this fit with the so called Scottish right to roam?

The gates to Dunbeath Castle are not overly friendly to walkers, a lot of these estates have been bought by rich foreigners who would like to keep the likes of us off the land. I didn’t get the feeling that there was much opposition to this denial of the right  to walk wherever as allowed by Scottish law. Maybe time for a mass tresspass.

The old A9 entered the scattered community that is Dunbeath, everywhere was shut.

An old path goes down to the Dunbeath harbour from where there is have a steep climb to my B and B.

That felt like a long short day.

Accommodation – Inver Park House B & B

*****

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL – 8. Helmsdale to Berriedale.

Baptism of fire.

As soon as I was on my way this morning the familiar sounds and smells of the coast came flooding back. I was glad to be here though this is supposed to be the most arduous day of the whole trail.

A gentle stroll along from the harbour, just above the beach, and then at a ruin a sudden dog leg climb towards Navidale, a few houses and a cemetery. For the rest of the day I was well above the sea but it was ever-present. The Ord of Caithness was prominent ahead, I am in Caithness for the rest of the trail.

The most notable detail throughout today’s walk was the gorse, I have never seen it so brightly coloured before and in places I became heady with its coconut fragrance.

Easy walking through rough fields was tempered by the lack of waymaking on this stretch. Apparently some landowners don’t want markings but you are still free to walk across their land in Scottish Law. There were a few small burns to cross and then indistinct trods climbed gorse slopes to meet a more distinct track heading back down again. You could easily get lost hereabouts. Somewhere along here a couple of WW2 lookout huts were passed and waymark posts appeared. The Ord burn was easily crossed and then height gained steeply into the moorland of Ord of Caithness. Fairly random trails across damp moorland were followed almost to the A9 road and yet I felt a long way from civilisation.

The sounds of the sea were still prominent despite being well above it. Below was the green table, a flat promontory and site of an ancient fort. A secluded bay to its north gave an idea of the birdlife to come.

The green table.

Shags or comorants?

The ground became boggier but as there has been little rain in the last two weeks it was pleasant to walk on rather than troublesome.  A burn was followed gently downhill past ruined buildings from the 19th century and a recognisable broch from the iron age with its chambered entrances.

Over the next steep stile the ground dropped away alarmingly into the deep ravine of Ousdale Burn. Attempts are in progress at building wooden steps but for now I was grateful for the trees I could swing off [opening photo]. Eventually down the burn was no problem as a bridge has been recently erected, there is a surprisingly large amount of new infrastructure appearing. I must make a donation to the charity responsible, I suspect a lot is a labour of love.

Of course it was steep up the other side of the ravine.

One came closer to the sea and seabirds were flying everywhere whereas before it was mainly smaller birds amongst the gorse.

Sheep trods weaved over the headland between the gorse bushes, a tough section. Then there were the ruined buildings of Badbea and there in front was the monument to honour the tough families forced off the land in exchange for more profitable sheep. Life at Badbea would have been harsh, many residents emigrated in search of a better life and the memorial commemorates many of them. A good spot for some lunch. Having seen nobody all day suddenly people started appearing from nowhere, well actually the close-by A9, all attracted by the ‘clearance village’ signs.

Through the gorse there was much bird song and I managed to capture a photo of a Brambling on the monument itself.

Easy walking on heathery tracks continued over the headlands, if not quite on the edge of the cliffs close enough to hear and see more seabirds. Inland were the Caithness hills with the conical peak of Morven, at 706m the highest, in the background.

Two towers, navigational aids from the 19th Century were useful markers today. They were aligned for approaching Berriedale harbour and used to carry lights, the Duke of Portland’s Candlesticks.

More headlands appeared ahead but I’d done enough for today. The harbour of Berriedale was below and dropping down to the A9 I headed for the renowned River Bothy tearooms for tea and cake whilst waiting for a bus to take me to my B and B in the scattered village of Dunbeath.

Its been a long day and fortunately I didn’t go far astray in sometimes difficult terrain. A good start to my week and not as arduous as I was expecting mainly because the bracken has only just unfurled, wait till it’s head high.

Accommodation – Inver Park House B & B

*****

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. [Episode 2] Helmsdale to John O’Groats – a continuation.

Stacks of Duncansby, copyright Ken Crossan

Last summer I had a week walking up the coast from Inverness to Helmsdale on what is to be the John O’Groats Trail.   http://www.jogt.org.uk/

This was the penulitmate section of my 50 odd years linking Lands End to John O’Goats on foot.

I realised the trail was in the process of being developed by a gang of volunteers and I had little information. Most of the time I was able to walk at my will on beaches and minor roads in the general south to north direction. Occasionally I came across white  waymarks and stiles showing the proposed route.

This year I’ve been able to glean more information and have a download of the draft guide book as well as an optimistic Harveys Map of the route.

For this next part of the trail there are warnings of difficult walking over rough pathless ground, awkward or non existent stiles [take thick gardening gloves to negotiate the barbed wire], ticks and cattle, high summer vegetation [carry a sickle],dangerous river crossings  but also dramatic cliff tops, sea arches and stacks, abundant bird life, historic harbours and welcoming villages.

Can’t wait to get started.

I’ve a train ticket to Helmsdale, a 10hr journey, where I’m booked into the friendly Belgrave Arms. The forecast is good . It’s time to complete the trail.

There was some excitement at Perth where it was lassies day at the races.

As I passed through the highlands I couldn’t help but notice how what had been pony tracks were now harsh landrover highways. On reflection it must be 20 years since I’ve climbed a Munro.

After Inverness the train followed part of the coast I walked last year and I even spotted a backpacker heading north . I’m now waiting for my meal in the hotel with gorgeous evening light across the bay. I can’t help but notice the gorse covered hills looming up above the coast – tomorrow morning’s start.

Helmsdale across the bay from the train.  Dirty window.

The hills above Helmsdale.

Helmsdale harbour

For reference in my subsequent posts if the sea is on the right in photos I’m heading north if it’s on the left I’m looking back.

 

*****

 

SW COASTAL PATH. Porthcothan to Padstow.

Leaving Porthcothan.

The last stretch.

An interesting breakfast conversation with two Finnish ladies, mother and daughter, walking part of the SWCP, their English was of course perfect. There had been rain in the night but by the time I left there was no need for waterproofs, that’s 8 dry days in a row, and very soon the sky brightened. The headlands seemed busy this morning with people walking short stretches and using the connecting bus services. Between Porthcothan and Treyarnon the coast is deeply indented which meant lots of ups and downs but ever-changing scenery. The tide was high and in the wind there was quite a swell so all the little sea stacks were taking a bashing. In one narrow inlet the sea was being whipped up into a foam that was blowing up onto the tops just like snow.

Up here there were some good examples of ‘Cornish hedges’ which are really stone walls with plants growing in them. An ancient and lasting field boundary.

I was able to walk the long stretch of Constantine Beach on the sands. At the strangely named Booby Bay groups of bird watchers were focusing their attention on the rocks – all I could see were oyster catchers and gulls, not a Booby in sight.

I made the full traverse of Trevose Head passing a very large blow hole where you could just make out the sea below without risking your life. Dinas Head seemed to stick right out into the Atlantic with some impressive sea stacks The Quies a mile out and another The Bull closer at hand.

The way continued past the automatic lighthouse and in the next bay Padstow lifeboat station relocated here as the Camel Estuary silted up. You can see from the photos how rugged and dangerous this coast is and the need for the light and lifeboat. In the past many vessels came to grief on this stretch.

I passed some drab looking holiday chalet sites which are probably deserted now, most people I met had rented cottages. After another headland Harlyn Bay was approached, rather than walk on the beach I headed inland to visit the pub for a coffee. Not the friendliest of hostelries I moved on quickly rather depressed by the area and the mist that had descended. I think I’d had enough so consulting my ‘map’ I could see lanes cutting across to Padstow and made the decision to head direct and celebrate with fish and chips in Rick Stein’s cafe on the harbour.  I arrived there only to find they had just closed at 3pm.  A bus trip to Bodmin for the night and I was able to sample the same fare in Bell Lane probably at half the price.

Padstow harbour.

I was last in Padstow in October 2017  so I have now completed most of my LEJOG walk [over the period of 50 years] I have only a few more days walking up to John O’Groats itself, watch this space.

*** *

SW COASTAL PATH. Newquay to Porthcothan.

Plenty of steps.

Today’s walk had the most ascent of any of the days so far and there were a lot of those steps to negotiate, I think they are worse descending than ascending.  After last year when I developed a hip bursa whilst doing long days on the coast I was more circumspect this time particularly downhill when I took things slowly. Of course the highlight of today was Bedruthan Steps themselves,  pictured above. On the beach here are several sea stacks which may have been stepping stones for the giant Bedruthan or more likely the name is more recent from the staircase of steps accessing the beach.  All that had me thinking of John Coltrane’s classic recording of Giant Steps which became my earworm for the day although a little too fast for my pace.   Go on listen and brighten up your day…

I had found a way down through the streets to a little beach near the harbour in the centre of  Newquay and then I had to find my way back up again, the start of todays steps. Trying to avoid the shopping centres I came across an old tram line taking me in the right direction. So I never saw the famed Fistral Beach. It didn’t take long to clear the suburbs of town, the intriguingly named Lusty Glaze cove was just a mass of commercial development but as I dropped into Porth the coast was again wild. There were a few early morning surfers out in the bay. Before a traverse of Trevelgue Head I sat chatting to a gentleman who backpacked with camping all the way from Minehead. He was beginning to think the b and b option might be more sensible.

The low clifftop fields I followed were the habitat of corncrakes apparently, no sound of them today as I presume they’ve flown. There were good views back to Trevelgue Head and Newquay and the beach below was interesting. I was walking parallel to the busy coastal road and I joined it when I dropped into Watergate Bay which seemed to be one large holiday complex, architecturally bleak. I stopped for an expensive coffee in a fairly nondescript cafe, another of those surfer establishments I’ve been critical of. I didn’t find escape out of the complex easy and ended up trespassing through a chalet park, it felt invigorating to be free again on the cliffs with a bracing easy stretch high above the beach. At one point dropping down steps to a cove I found a rocky platform just above the waves which gave an exciting snack stop. Waves crashing below and a distant horizon to contemplate the unknown.

Up more steps and before long and I was down again into Mawgan Porth another bay spoilt by modern apartment development. At least here was a quirky cafe, The Beach Box, with friendly staff where I grabbed a light lunch sat on their balcony watching the world go by. Why do surfers when donned in tight wet suits have to walk around like Tarzan? Time to get going.

Once across the beach I climbed back up to Trenance Point and enjoyed superb cliff walking in the best October weather you could hope for. The views along the coast were outstanding. Gradually I realised I was sharing the path with more and more people, I had reached the carpark area for the famed Bedruthan Steps.  There is a steep staircase going down onto the beach and today at low tide little figures were strolling on the sand between the rocks. It looks a classic situation to be cut off by the incoming tide and my landlady this evening confirmed that the rescue services were called out frequently, in her opinion the unprepared should be left to sit it out on a safe ledge for a few hours. Whatever, the scene is breathtaking.

Moving on the crowds disappeared as I walked over the grassy Park Head. A chough, red legged and red billed, seemed completely unconcerned by my presence as it picked around for insects in the grass. Apparently they were becoming rarer in Cornwall due to loss of grazed habitat but are now making a comeback, the NT use ponies and cattle on their land for this purpose.

One more valley to drop into and steps to climb out of and I was walking alongside Porthcothan Bay. The little shop where I expected to buy food was already closed so I walked up to my B and B in the handful of houses that comprised the village. What a friendly place to stay, the lady was a professional photographer amongst other things and a wealth of Cornish knowledge. She and her husband were retiring and this was probably the last night  for accommodation here which will leave a big gap for coastal walkers. She came to my rescue with a delicious Cornish pasty, thanks. I wandered out to try to get some ‘sunset over the sea’ pictures but was largely denied by a low bank of cloud. A lone surfer was returning from an evening session.

That seemed a longer day than the ‘Long Day’

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. St. Agnes to Newquay.

The Long Day.

Because I sold myself short yesterday I left myself with a long day today if I wanted to reach Newquay. Being a Sunday I would struggle with buses if I fell short. I used some little lanes out of St. Agnes to pick up the path up through the dunes as it swung onto the first headland where it ran alongside an old RAF airfield. In the war Spitfires operated from here but now only a few private planes, there were none today. The cliffs below were very crumbly and paths have disappeared into the sea. Again there was much evidence of previous mining.

The going was actually fairly level and I made good progress to Perranporth. There was a lot of new building work as I dropped down and some very expensive looking properties. In the car park a tea van promptly served me a decent coffee with no fuss for £1.50 – take note those other cafes where a simple coffee order becomes a major catering event trying to justify the exorbitant cost. Of course I had to sit on a park bench.

Again I was lucky with the tide and able to walk along the Perran Beach rather than in the tiring dunes. I have never seen so many dogs being walked, apparently from September onwards they are allowed the freedom of the sands. The 2 mile walk was bracing in the wind, there were some interesting cliffs and the crowds thinned out the further one went. Climbing a steep path up the dunes and I was onto Ligger Point with great views back along the beach. From this lofty perch I was able to watch a kestrel hovering just below me. Kestrels have been a common sight every day on the cliffs along with ravens, choughs, buzzards, the occasional peregrine and of course the gulls.

Inland now was a military base with its surrounding security fence though it is no longer used.. Penhale Camp itself looked like a small village but again access was denied and one had to follow the perimeter fencing right round Penhale Point. There was agood view of some original Nissen Huts on the site. Despite the dreary nature of the camp the cliff scenery down to my left was dramatic.

I arrived in Holywell, with its beautiful looking beach, in good time and popped into the St. Pirans pub for a coffee taken outside so I could surreptitiously eat my own banana and biscuits. St. Pirans turns out to be the Patron Saint of Tinners. Cast out of Ireland he was washed ashore on Perran beach where he built a chapel.The legend goes that he discovered tin by accident – a stone on his fire leaking a white liquid.

St Piran's Flag

The Cornish Flag, the Flag Of St Piran (white cross on a black background) represents white tin flowing from the black rock, or good overcoming evil.

A text message arrived from tonight’s accommodation  asking my time of arrival as they were out from 5pm onwards, the instructions for picking up the key if I was late were so complicated that I decided to speed up and get there in time. That’s how I found myself lost in the middle of a deserted holiday park. Looking at my pathetic photocopy of a map I had reckoned I could miss out a couple of headlands and a mile or so by using a path straight across to Crantock. Public footpaths don’t do well in commercial properties or maybe I shouldn’t have been here in the first place and there was nobody to ask. For the first time this week the mist had come down perhaps shielding my indiscretions. Eventually I resorted to a compass bearing which saw me out of the camp but onto a golf course but again there was nobody arround. With some relief and a few fences climbed I came out onto the NT’s Cubert Common, lanes and paths had me back on route at Crantock Beach. The town of Newquay could be seen on the opposite side rising up from the estuary, a town of two halves with the other facing the Atlantic.The tide was still out which was important as I needed to cross the River Gannel at one of the low lying bridges to avoid a lengthy detour on roads. The first bridge I came to had been closed and apparently dismantled but fortunately the next one was intact and I crossed straight into the suburbs of Newquay. Some street walking with incongruous SWCP signs on lampposts took me up into town.

The missing bridge.

My way further upstream.

 

The owners of the B and B were surprised at my early arrival.

http://www.trelinda.co.uk/

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. Portreath to St. Agnes.

 A short day.

I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast chatting to a couple walking the whole coastal path to celebrate their retirement. They had every day planned out, accommodation booked and were walking like clockwork when they passed me yesterday. I’m not sure how much they were enjoying it as they didn’t have much to say about the scenery, wildlife or exceptional weather. I reflected on my attitude to long distance walking and when I was younger it was probably exactly the same, partly personality trait and partly the necessity of time restraints. Indeed we would choose a route no matter what length, within reason, divide the mileage into a week and do it, often entailing 25 miles a day: a race against the clock. My regular walking partner back then came to retirement and we set off on a journey across the Pyrenees with no time limit and no pre-booking, it was a revelation to him how it changed your outlook. We were able to do short days to start to avoid burn out, we had time to explore off route, time to sit out the worst of the weather, could change our plans when needed [in fact ended up walking in the opposite direction for the majority of the route] and best of all time to sit and enjoy the scenery and realise how lucky we were. Choose your own style. I won’t see that couple again as they race ahead but I hope they enjoy their last two weeks.

Today I opted for a short walk to St. Agnes, the mileage will remain short but it is surprising how the day itself lengthens.

I walked steeply up the road out of the village, the cliff path has been eroded so its best to keep with the road for longer until a signed path across a car park. Two blokes were enjoying the view before driving back to the midlands after a family reunion, they really seemed to appreciate the wild coast. A lady who had moved here from Sheffield 30 years ago was walking her dogs, she had an airbnb in Portreath. The dogs needed a wash after rolling in Badger excrement. The next encounter within a few minutes was a man who was down on holiday with his daughter when she had gone into labour ending up in Truro Hospital giving birth to a Cornishman, his first grandchild – I think he needed a brisk walk.

The path along the headland was separated from some military land by never ending fencing. A spooky dome appeared. Below were deserted beaches. Ahead were deserted tin mines, Wheal Tye, where some attempt had been made to preserve and protect with unsympathetic concrete. There were interpretation boards everywhere including a bold statement  –  On 13 July 2006 select mining landscapes across Cornwall and West Devon were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, placing Cornish mining heritage on a par with international treasures like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. 

A steep decent into Porthtowan brought me abruptly onto a busy road and I was glad of a break at the cafe. There’s something about these surfers’ cafes that I’m missing, inexperienced part time staff,  basic  beefburgers and coffees at exorbitant prices accompanied by some indecipherable electro music. As long as they are near the action and there is outside seating then its OK.  At this one I ordered a coffee and croissant and after an inordinate time two croissants and the coffee arrived, I said nothing and whilst enjoying the fare a new waitress turned up with another croissant!

The penalty to pay was a steep uphill where I chatted to a lass originally from Sheffield out on a run along the coast in training for a mountain marathon. Apart from running she was keen on surfing and climbing. She sped off into the distance. Soon I was dropping down again into Chapel Port which was just a car park at the end of a lane. The car park was full yet more cars, mainly expensive 4x4s, kept coming down only to be turned around and sent away.  A steep pull and I was back on the bleak tops where there was more evidence of previous mining activity with a couple of atmospheric pump houses. Notice the mine shafts, topped with conical grids (known apparently as Clwyd caps).

I was crossing St. Agnes Head standing out into the Atlantic waves. There seemed to be an abundance of sea stacks on the coast here, one group curiously named ‘Man and his man’.  As I started the descent guess who should come past but the fell runner, she had done well over ten miles since I last saw her.

I didn’t have any reliable maps so out came my phone to navigate me into St. Agnes. without dropping me down to Trevaunance Cove which can wait till tomorrow. The village was delightful, winding streets, old pubs, interesting church, brilliant B and B [with a mining engine house in the back garden] and not least a good fish and chip shop.

http://www.enysvilla.co.uk/

Quite an interesting short day.

*****

 

 

SW COASTAL PATH. Hayle to Portreath.


Have you seen Poldark?

My most interesting encounter today was in the Godrevy Cafe above Hayle Sands. Two ladies, turned out to be sisters,  were looking for an outside table in the sun; I was just finishing my coffee so invited them to share the table. Conversation ranged far and wide and I outstayed my welcome. A chance remark opened up the subject of Poldark and the lady to my left explained she was the daughter-in-law of Winston Graham the author of the original series of historical novels. Her husband, the son, is involved in the TV productions and that very morning they had all been filming in a hidden cove on the south coast. No, she would not divulge any secrets but did say filming would be continuing on the northern coast this week. She was impressed that I had purchased a cheap plastic Poldark key ring for a fan back home.

 

The day had started by saying farewell to my lovely host in Penzance as I prepared to backpack up the coast. In 10 minutes the train had me in Hayle across the estuary and those busy roads where I’d finished yesterday. Hayle was worth an exploration for its maritime heritage and gave me the opportunity for some picnic shopping. Amongst the shops was a more chic ladies’ clothes outlet with a sign that amused me…Once across the harbour bridge I picked up the way through holiday chalets in the dunes and down to the beach as the tide was out. This then gave me 3 miles of flat walking with no navigating except to pick out the firmest sand, ahead was the lighthouse on Godrevy Island and across the bay St. Ives. There was a stiff Northerly wind blowing which made for brisk walking to keep warm. In the waves were lots of amateur surfers and bodyboarders who were mainly congregating at points where the lifeguards were on duty. Black cliffs loomed above the beach for most of its length but I found a way up, The Goat Track, at the far end which landed me in the said cafe.

The area was popular with dogwalkers and these three were ready in the carpark…Sand dunes, which can be heavy going [remember Herb Elliot’s training which led me to this very British video  clicking here.]  took me onto Godrevy Point with views down to the island lighthouse. In my experience where there’s a crowd there is something happening and so it turned out on the cliff top above Fishing Cove, the group of Exeter zoology students had spotted the seals in the bay.

The way onwards on paths through heathland was not difficult and most of the time paralled close to the road. The cliffs along here looked very crumbly and it was wise to stay clear of the edge particularly in the strong winds, strong enough for me to don a fleece for the first time this week. I felt I was making good progress until in the last mile I encountered two steep valleys with all the usual steps and zigzags. The descent into Portreath was punctuated by lots of expensive looking modern properties which I doubt if any of the local population could afford. The village itself looked a little drab in what is now classified as out of season. The pub next door to my B and B had a karaoke night so it was preferable to eat in my room.

 

http://www.cliffhouseportreath.co.uk/

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. Zennor to Hayle.

The ‘busy’ stretch.

I was sat on a headland trying to observe seals on The Carracks, in earshot but out of eyesight, whilst a combination of sweat and suncream irritated my eyes and dripped down my face. I can hardly believe my luck, well there was a little planning, to be experiencing these perfect conditions at this time of year. Little boats out of St. Ives were ferrying tourists to view the seals at close quarters, certainly closer than I could get. I had encountered lots of people using the path today most were intending to get the bus back to St. Ives. Everyone was in a good mood enjoying the hot sunshine and the spectacular scenery. The stretch out from Zennor Head was however particularly gruelling with lots of scrambling on awkward granite rocks as well as the usual ups and downs. Over the years I’ve become more aware of the need for caution in these situations, thoughts of a broken leg ensure I’m no longer the mountain goat I once was. At least I’m better shod than many of the holidaymakers I pass although there are quite a few hardy backpacking types, mainly women for some reason; I think this type of walking on well-marked tracks in a fairly civilised part of the land enjoying good weather attracts them but why oh why do they have to burden themselves with those enormous rucksacs?

I had started the day in Zennor village where I had time to look around the little Norman church of St. Senara which was full of interest. It is most famous for the unique medieval Mermaid Bench with the mermaid carving on one end. There are many reminders of the sea in the church, indeed its roof is shaped like an upturned boat keel. Hanging from the roof is a model of a West Country schooner, created as a memorial to WA Proctor, who died on a solitary round-the-world voyage, and also to all unnamed sailors who were shipwrecked along this stretch of the Cornish coast. There is a colourful collection of hassocks made by the congregation many depicting coastal themes. The Burma Star window dedicated to WWII forces. A Norman font, a C18 sundial showing symbols of death [cross-bones] and immortality [an angel], celtic crosses and plaque to a John Davey [1812 – 1891], one of the last locals with knowledge of the Cornish language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friendly gent in a mobility scooter was manoeuvering himself down the track towards the sea, as I walked alongside I warned him that the path became much rougher but he seemed pretty determined, hope he made it back up. As you can see my departure from Zennor was delayed, by the way there is a cafe in the village as well as the pub. Once on the coast the going was fairly easy undulations and despite the roughness mentioned above I strode along enjoying every moment of the dramatic scenery. Up here in patches the heather and gorse are still giving a good show plus I’ve just learnt from mine host Rachel one can eat Gorse flowers which have a faint coconut taste. A good few of the serious backpackers were Germanic and I’m not sure what they made of my friendly how do and now then.  These two had the dog in tow for the whole trip.Passing a trig point where a lady from near my home town was in deep thought. A few more headlands and bays with Caribbean blue seas and St. Ives, from where most of the people had come, was in sight.The section I’ve been walking was relatively busy today, deservedly so, but from here on the crowds mass, ice creams are everywhere. people stagger out of the sea in wet suits and the pubs are packed. The Tate is passed, closing in 10 minutes, and little narrow lanes of former fishing cottages are navigated from one of St. Ives’ beaches to the other. I don’t have time for any of the art studios on every corner but was tempted by fish and chips. But I’ve still some way to go, surprisingly sylvan tracks by the railway take me first to Carbis Bay and on past the quieter Porth Kidney sands. I’ve had enough by the time Lelant railway station appears, there are some busy roads and industrial areas to negotiate around the Hayle estuary so I jump on a train back to Penzance.

Porthmeor Beach.

Porthminster Beach.

Carbis Bay.

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. Pendeen to Zennor.

The Granite Coast.

There are several magnificent granite climbing cliffs along this coast but none finer than Bosigran. I first visited here 30 odd years ago and tentatively climbed some easy routes. I returned a few years later on an extended climbing trip with my lovely friend Pete when we climbed every day for a fortnight. In those days I was ticking off routes in the Classic and Hard Rock volumes. There was plenty to go at down here, we were camped near the Logan Rock Inn at Treen on the southern coast but all areas were easily accessible and we roamed far and wide,  we visited Bosi a few times. One day choosing a time of lowish tide we were able to climb the full height [200m] of Commando Ridge. On other days we concentrated on the non-tidal main face, Doorpost Little Brown Jug,, Anvil Chorus all immaculate exciting climbs. Probably most memorable and subsequently tragically ironic was Suicide Wall with a scary traverse across the Coal Face and some very overhanging climbing to reach the top. I remember we rescued a young couple stranded on a ledge by giving them a top rope to safety. We had a wonderful time and today as I pass I reflect that I can no longer reminisce with Pete, God bless him. Surprisingly today depite the perfect weather there was no one climbing on the main face but a climber can just be seen high up on Commando Ridge.

This morning I had taken a late bus back to Pendeen for what should be a short day, first things first – a breakfast bap at Lillies next to the bus stop. I then started by cutting down some ancient lanes between lichen encrusted granite walls and coming across those characteristic stiles of cross pieces of granite, more like a hurdle.I was soon back on the coast and facing steeper gradients and the dreaded steps. High above me on the bracken covered slopes I thought I saw a working party clearing the path, but as I climbed higher realised it had been fell ponies doing the same job efficiently.

From up here there were views onwards to endless bays and headlands, but I keep remembering to look back – Pendeen lighthouse was a prominent landmark but yesterdays coast is a thing of the past. Inland on the rough hills the patchwork of cleared fields is also photogenic. It’s just great to be up here.

The coast was becoming more dramatic and the sea noisier and all of a sudden I was above Bosigran Cliff itself. The ghostly mines above were silhouetted against the sky and people were strolling down from the carpark enjoying the warm sunny weather. I sat for a while taking in the scene and rocky architecture.  I was then soon over the slope and on the switchback path high above the sea. The path was rather awkward through boulders and vegetation and was busy with coastal strollers. At on point I stepped aside into the rough to let a lady through. I muttered something about taking the rough to which she thanked me and as an afterthought remarked “I hope you are not referring to me” which brought a smile to my face.

Other rocky headlands were passed, a large group of children on some sort of adventure course on one of them, I hoped they were all roped on as it all looked rather chaotic. Gurnards Head and finally Zennor Head were places I’d climbed on.

Gurnard’s Head.

There were numerous descents into side valleys at sea level where a stream was often crossed using old granite slabs. This one has had the health and safety people interfering.Many of the sandy bays on this section of coast appear to be very difficult to access and I don’t think I saw anybody down there.

Time was passing quickly, I had a bus to catch and the ups and downs wouldn’t stop. I was glad when at the top of a steep flight of steps a little lane ran up into the popular little village of Zennor, I had no time for explore or visit The Tinners Inn and made for the main road with minutes to spare before my bus appeared. In my short day I had climbed over 2000ft in 7 miles.

Almost there…

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. Land’s End to Pendeen.

When tin was king.

This section of rugged coastline over the centuries has been the scene of intensive mining mainly for tin with some copper, silver and arsenic. The extrusion of granite into the area’s sedimentary rock produced extensive mineralisation. Surface mining is thought to have commenced about 2000BC when it was found that adding tin to copper produced the much harder Bronze. Tin was subsequently used in pewter and coins. The industrial heritage now on view dates back to the 16th century when underground mining as well as opencast developed on a large scale and reached its peak in the 19th century until a collapse in the price of tin and copper made it unprofitable.

The remains of pumping houses, crushing plants, winding wheels, open shafts, associated works and spoil heaps are found scattered all the way up the coast but are particularly frequent in the Pendeen area. Some of the workings went deep under the sea. The tin ore was crushed before smelting. What a sight it must have been when the industry was booming.The early bus from Penzance to Land’s End was full, my companions on the front seats upstairs were a couple from Canada on a grand tour. We marvelled at the bus driver’s skill negotiating the narrow Cornish lanes. As expected Land’s End has become a theme park and lots of tourists were arriving by coach for a morning’s visit and opportunity for some shopping etc.

I quickly bypassed the ‘attractions’ and headed for the most westerly point, Dr. Syntax’s Head, past several first and lasts. It was a beautiful clear morning but I couldn’t make out the Scilly Isles. The Longships lighthouse was however very prominent out to sea.

There were seals in the bay as I walked round to Sennen. A couple of rock climbers were just setting off for would be a perfect day on the cliffs, I was envious. Sennen Cove was busy as usual and a coffee in the cafe was hurried but the situation is magnificent.

The tide was low so I was able to walk across the sands, a feature that should last all week.

I climbed out onto Aire Point and followed the path easily to Cribba Point with a few of those dreaded steps. There was a zigzagging drop into Cot Valley and then a stiff pull up the other side.

An English girl was walking with a Spanish speaking lad, turned out he was from Nicaragua, and giving him lessons in English although he spoke well with an accent. I greeted him in Spanish and conversed for a short time. As they proceeded ahead of me I heard him say that I spoke Spanish like he spoke English, thought that was more of a criticism than praise.

Ahead was the hump of Cape Cornwall with its landmark chimney and lots of visitors. I didn’t go onto the point but chatted to the volunteer at the NT car park, a very friendly Annie, is it any wonder that I take so much time to walk short distances. 

Shortly after climbing up I was descending through gorse and bracken into the Kenidjack valley with its atmospheric ivy covered mining buildings.Climbing out the other side I tried to find the descent route into Carn Kenidjack where I did a classic climb, Saxon HVS 5a, over 20 years go with my friend Pete whilst on  a Cornwall trip. Today everything looked steep and dangerous, I didn’t have my climbing head on. More of that trip later.  Somewhere down there …

The next few hours were spent wandering through the old tin mines. In the distance was the prominent Pendeen Watch Lighthouse but by now I’d had enough and escaped up a lane to Boscaswell to catch the bus back to Penzance. On the way up there was a more modern mine, Geevor, which operated into the 90’s but now is a tourist destination only. Sat at the bus stop was an old bearded guy who remembered those times and was all to happy to chat about them.Not a bad start to my walk up the coast.

*****

BACK ON THE SOUTH WEST COASTAL PATH.

I arrive at Penzance station after a 9 hour journey, a journey that had only been decided on a couple of days ago. The weather forecast for the SW was excellent for the next week or so. I’ve unfinished business linking Land’s End and Padstow as part of my ongoing LEJOG completion. The South West Coastal Path is already in my thinking and I’ve even a map of some of the route.

An Airbnb is booked in town for four nights to get me started. It turns out to be 5 minutes from the rail and bus stations. Perfect. As I walked into the courtyard I was impressed by the artwork. It turned out my room was rented from an artist, photographer, author and forager extraordinaire. www.wildwalks-southwest.co.uk  It was fascinating talking to her about her exploits

A few weeks ago I was barely able to move never mind think of setting off on a rough backpacking trail. The tablets have worked and I’m here. So that I can monitor my progress without being overstretched I will do short stages to start and link them using buses from Penzance. If you look at the map it is all logical as Penzance occupies a central position transport wise in this part of Cornwall.

Setting off tomorrow…

 

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 7 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.

*****