Tag Archives: LEJOG

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.

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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.



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.


Quite an interesting short day.