Day 66

Brora to Helmsdale – 12.3 miles (1,025.8 total)

I crossed the bridge over the River Brora to meet Pete for a 10am start. We immediately headed back towards the coast via the other side of the river to the golf course. Like yesterday at Dornoch, we followed a path along the length of the links, only this time it was on the coastal side of the course. We met and had a good blether with a woman from Solihull, who was walking her 2 dogs. Her motorhome was berthed at the caravan park nearby. From observation, walking the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way, and navigating the A9, these motorhomes have taken over from caravans as the touring vehicles of choice. They appear to be everywhere and people are telling us that they are clogging up the narrow roads on the Scottish Islands… as well as the mainland! But it does seem to be a cost-effective and flexible way to see this beautiful country that is Scotland.

Brora war memorial
Brora harbour

At the far end of the golf course my plotted route was back to A9 roadwalking. However, there was still some path alongside the beach, so we decided to take a chance and see how far we could go before being forced on to the road. We persevered with a mixture of path, sand, shingle and rocks before finally admitting defeat at Kintradwell. The railway line was between us and the road so I had to phone the signalman to get clearance to cross the tracks. Then it was a steep farm path to join the A9.

Pete, happy as a sandboy!
My footprints in the sand

The remainder of our walk to Helmsdale was the A9. Rarely enjoying anything more than the narrowest of verges it was an unrelenting trudge against the flow of traffic. You have to be ever vigilant, ready to step between road and uneven verge as the cars, motorcycles, trucks and articulated lorries hurtle past at up to 60mph. There is no opportunity to enjoy the changing coastal vista as you are concentrating full-time on the oncoming traffic… and I’ve got 3 more days of this to look forward to.

Our road ahead

We passed a monument, on the other side of the road, at the place where the last wolf in Sutherland was killed around 1700. Coming into Helmsdale we also passed a large modern statue commemorating the Highland Clearances – when many people were evicted from their homes, most notoriously by the Duke of Sutherland, to make way for sheep. Helmsdale is actually a product of the Clearances, being constructed to house some of those evicted. The Strath of Kildonan, near Helmsdale suffered severe depopulation, and many of those evicted decided to emigrate. It was emigrants from Kildonan who founded the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada.

The last wolf
The Emigrants

I spotted 3 oil rigs out at sea, the first I’ve seen other than those moored at Invergordon. Pete walked the whole 12 miles with me today. The weather was cloudy in the morning getting sunny and pretty warm in the afternoon. Today was my eleventh – and last – Friday of the walk. I can still vividly recall my first Friday, walking with Christopher into a sunny and warm Truro all those weeks ago.

Helmsdale harbour