Day 250: Crackaig to Skelbo
Distance: 23.42 miles
Ascent: 1079 feet
Weather: Overcast, Mostly Dry
Accommodation: Skelbo House (Kindly Offered)
Well my decision to pitch a little more exposed for dew reasons was definitely the wrong one. It was gusty last night unlike what was forecast, and the tent was really flexing and at times the side was physically pushing me across onto my stuff. But the tent survived absolutely fine and it is good to test the kit sometimes but did mean I hadn’t slept overly well. It was raining when I woke up and as I was packing my rucksack but it had all but stopped by the time I left the tent and packed it away.
Since Helmsdale yesterday the terrain had really flattened out and I was expecting today to be very flat with a lot of beach or just off beach walking. I left Crackaig on a little track and just as the track stopped after 500m or so there was a ‘wild’ camper but less nice was the fact that just behind the tent was a person pooing in the dunes which seemed really stupid when there was a toilet less than 500m away.
Anyway, where the track finished I joined the sandy beach and set off walking a mixture of along the sand and when they existed grass paths along the top of the beach for about 3 miles. There are so many seals around this area not at any one point could I look out to sea and not see one and I passed several small pods on the beach of about 10/15 individuals each time and I managed to pass without disturbing most of them and some just seemed to not care about me at all and just continue chilling (see photo below.)
At Brora Golf Club there became a more defined path that ran alongside the course and as it was a Saturday there were a fair few golfers, but this path was segregated enough that there was no issues at all. A quirk of this course is that due to crofting (public grazing) there are sheep and cows allowed on the course, as I walked along the cows were not actually on the course, but the sheep were and they sort of seemed to be almost target practice on the fairways.
I stopped in Brora for a tea and snack and there were a group of cyclists doing LEJOG who looked exhausted and cold but had covered over 100 miles most days so were making good progress and would be hitting John o’Groats sometime today. I always feel a bit bad bumping into these people as suddenly 800/900/1000 miles seems quite short in comparison to 6000+ miles but unless they see the poster I sometimes keep quiet about my challenge.
From Brora it was back onto the beach and paths for a lovely stretch alongside the sea and the path became more defined when I was in viewing distance of the turrets of Dunrobin Castle above the trees. Dunrobin Castle was quite simply the most impressive castle/large house I have seen on this walk, it is massive (189 rooms apparently), and it appears more like a French Chateau than a Scottish castle. It has been home to the Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century, and has some bizarre history and strangely for 7 years from the 1960s it became a boys boarding school before reverting back to a family house.
After the castle I saw some of BT's very modern fibre optic infrastructure which just entailed duck taping together cable and leaving it in the grass and gravel for several miles and seemingly it had been this way for a while because in parts the cable was completely overgrown. Not long after the castle I reached Golspie where I got some supplies in Co-op and had lunch on a table in the town. To me it felt like a full on metropolis with so many shops, restaurants etc. but before this walk this would probably have felt like a small village.
From the edge of the town I joined Golspie Golf Links where there is a path that runs along its side parallel and close to the fairways. I ended up in quite a comical situation behind a group of golfers and I was walking behind them and politely stopping every time they took a shot, but after the 4th or 5th time I did expect them to wave me through, but as they didn’t in the end I just had to pass and they would have to wait a few minutes until I was far enough away otherwise it would have taken me a very, very long time to get by the course. Unbeknown to me my kind hosts for my rest day who I knew were playing golf today were waving frantically at me from another part of the course but I didn’t see them.
At the end of the course I passed a kart track that was having a race weekend, I think Kart might not be the right word they looked more like little F1 (obviously more basic and slower) cars. It was really quite busy with all the mechanics and campers coming down for the days racing, it appeared to be just individuals setting lap times as I went by maybe to get the start order sorted.
I took a track through the dunes (supposedly a nature reserve but very badly looked after) all the way to Littleferry. From here I took a quiet lane back and was expecting to see no one and all of a sudden there were loads of people coming towards me and it turned out I was now going counterflow to the Golspie 10km run. I have never said hello to so many people in such a short amount of time.
Not long later I was proposing to turn left and head further up the East side of Loch Fleet after crossing a footbridge. The footbridge no longer existed but using some sort of steeping stones I was able to cross easily enough. This next section was lovely sometimes walking on vague paths on the edge of the estuary, sometimes on tracks through the edge of the woodlands until I came to a slight pinch point at a railway line. From the aerial shot during planning I had thought the point I impacted it had a farm access point across it but this turned out not to be the case. But is was only a single track line and there was a gap in the fence both sides here so I checked carefully and then just crossesd without any issues.
I rejoined the JoG trail here which had gone a bit inland after Golspie Links, and it took me up to the A9. Normally I would have something to say about a trail dropping you on a road like this and directing you along it but there literally is no other alternative that the JoG trail could use to get across the River Fleet. It was a very fast, very busy road that could be dangerous if you weren’t concentrating. I didn’t enjoy these 2 miles but after crossing the river there was eventually a turning onto a single track road on the other side of the loch.
This quiet road took me the last few miles to Skelbo, where due to a very kind offer from Tony and Alison I would be taking my rest day one day early this week. And what a magnificent location with a stunning house and beautiful views over Loch Fleet. After an amazing bath, a lovely dinner and watching the football I was completely zonked and ready for bed.
A lovely day and this sort of walking is what I expect a lot of on the East Coast.