Day 243: Armadale to Crosskirk

Distance: 27.44 miles

Ascent: 2883 feet

Weather: Overcast With Sunny Spells & Some Light Rain

Accommodation: Wild camp Near Crosskirk


I was up early as the plan was to go a bit long today, due to the fact that the location of my rest day, in 2 days time, due to a very kind offer was still almost 60 miles away. I packed up the tent and then went into the guest kitchen inside Armadale House and had some cereal and tea and was on my way before there was even any movement from anyone within the building.

I crossed the Armadale Burn on a footbridge, and then climbed up the slope and headed off piste along the coast passing near several hamlets and farms. There were a few barbed wire fences here that I had to cross which with a heavy pack on your back is not easy, though taking the bag of and on is also not ideal. Just shy of Aultivullin there was a moderate ravine so I headed inland a little before reaching the hamlet. I headed straight out the other side and was off piste again over some interesting ground which looked incredibly boggy and uneven but the walking was not too bad. I reached the car park and then walked the kilometer down to and back from near the lighthouse. This was an impressive lighthouse but its best view is from the top of the hill rather than walking down to it.

Back at the carpark I took the road down the east side of the headland to Strathy. I crossed over the river on the road bridge and immediately joined a little footpath that took me back to the coast. They had a luxury public toilet and coastal awareness centre within a little log hut, and I had a quick snack there.

The weather was quite overcast today though mostly dry with the occasional light shower. From Strathy I climbed up to the top of the cliffs and followed the edge of them towards Baligill. I appeared to encounter barbed wire fence after barbed wire fence which started to drive me mad but I probably only climbed about 6 but it was enough to make me not enjoy this particular part at all. It did improve after Baligill and at a ravine I headed inland to the main road.

I bumped into Ian here who had arranged to meet me. He is the person who is in charge and has come up with the route concept for the North Highlands Way essentially a coastal trail from Cape Wrath to Duncansby Head across the top of Scotland. It is still early days for the trail, and obviously once it is waymarked and walked more it will continue to improve and hopefully then the farmers will also put stiles in. My route is my own and not necessarily the North Highlands Way route as I do not have the NHW route map but probably 90% of the time they overlap.

After grabbing some food in the shop we both headed off and I let Ian lead the way, we took a road and then track down to the pier and then it was gravel and boulders along the beach. Suddenly the rocks gave way beneath me and I tipped sideways and with the backpack on I had no way of stopping myself so just crashed to the deck. It was not a big fall, though onto a hard surface and I was glad Ian was there as it was quite comical.

At the end of the beach there was a bridge over to ‘Big House’, it is actually called that, and Ian left me here and we would meet up again tomorrow. From here I followed the cliffs almost exactly and the rock formations were stunning. This stretch was lovely and was going smoothly up until a stupid deer fence. The owner had actually put a gate in a few meters from the cliffs which I was relieved about, but then padlocked it (yes I will say it what a b£$ard’)! Sometimes I do wonder about the right to roam in Scotland, but by padlocking this gate it gave you two options neither completely safe, one very dangerous, the safer was to climb over the wobbly 2m+ gate, the tempting though obviously dangerous option was to swing around the end of the fence above the cliffs. I obviously didn’t take the second option due to the danger, but could see someone doing it and slipping, and I imagine it is possible the landowner (fence financer) could be liable.

Anyway enough about the access over the deer fence, as not long later after manoeuvring around another ravine I reached Fresgoe. There is a lovely quaint harbour here but more importantly for me there was a public loo nearby. I was exhausted by now but knew I could not finish in Reay if I wanted to reach my rest day location tomorrow. What I decided to do was go to the local shop and get a few bits and take a 20 minute break on the table outside.

Replenished I carried on, telling myself I would walk till 6pm (it was just after 4pm now). I had to take the road from here due to the nuclear testing facility, and in fact was on the road for about 4.5 miles. Eventually I got to my turnoff and headed down towards a renewables industrial park and after taking a path to St Mary’s Chapel I was able to cross the river on a little bridge and after climbing up the short distance on the other side it was 6pm and the location was perfect for pitching.

I was absolutely exhausted, could only just stand up but had to get the tent up, and then cook and once I had done both I just sat down ate, and then just dreamed of doing nothing before starting to do my admin. It turned out I must have bruised my hip bone in the fall as I could not lie on my right side in the tent but nothing too bad.

A strangely incredibly tough day, but good to meet Ian and bar the barbed wire a lovely route today.

charles compton