275. Bettyhill to Coldbackie

The heatwave forecast for the UK finally hit the far north of Scotland as I woke up to clear blue skies. As I was staying in Thurso, I had a long drive over to Coldbackie to catch the #803 bus service to Bettyhill. The minibus was full of school children on their way to Farr High School in Bettyhill.

After getting off the bus in Bettyhill I set off down the A836 for the short distance to the bridge over the River Naver. Immediately after crossing over the bridge I went through a gate and headed along the river out towards the estuary. The tide was well out, revealing large sand banks / dunes and unusual flora. Although I could have walked around the headland into the next bay, I opted to walk and over the Druim Chuibhe which I thought would be quicker. Descending into the next bay I could see most of the landmarks that would take me on towards Skerray. I could see the footbridge over the River Borgie, but not the bridge (which was not marked on the map) for a small stream that I also needed to cross. I was finding it very difficult to even get down to the stream, as the bracken and gorse seemed to block all ways forward. I followed the small burn upstream for about 600m before I was able to get past the bracken and gorse. I was really annoyed at not being able to find the bridge. As I retraced my steps, but on the opposite bank I was able to see the bridge amongst the bracken and gorse.

Looking acros to Torrisdale Bay from Bettyhil
Heading to the bridge over the River Naver
Heading up the shore of the River Naver
Heading across the Torrisdale Estuary
Looking towards Skerray across The River Borgie from the Druim Chuibhe
Looking out towards Torrisdale Bay

I joined a narrow road that was very quiet. The sun was now very hot and I started to think about my water consumption, I decided the remaining 500ml would  see me to the end of the walk. I passed through a myriad of tiny hamlets including Skerray, Torrisdale, Torroy, Lamoig and Strathan. Skerray was the largest settlement, with a Post Office doubling up as an Art Gallery. I was also amazed to see that Skerray also had street lighting. I hopped between footpaths, green lanes and roads as I passed through these hamlets.

Street lighting in Skerray
Verdant scenery near Skerray

I eventually arrived at Strathan, where I donned my walking boots before setting off along a marked path out to the ruins of Sletell. Although the settlement may have been initially ‘Cleared’, the hamlet was certainly re-settled, as the last occupant of the three crofts left in 1960. An impressive iron cooking hearth was still set within one of the croft’s chimneys. Researching Sletell later at the B&B there are a number of geocaches at the site, including written memories of someone who actually lived there! I wish I had known at the time. It’s always very poignant, for me, when visiting these ruined houses, be they ‘cleared’ or abandoned, as they were once somebody’s home.

Looking towards Port an t-Strathain
Looking westwards to Melness and Ben Hutig across the Rabbit Islands
Ruined croft at Sletell
Fireplace and stove at Sletell

I climbed south away from Sletell and picked up a sheep track. The views over Tongue Bay towards Melness were amazing. The path came and went and I had to climb to get around a geo with very impressive cliffs. I descended across grassy terrain to arrive at the end of the public road at Skullomie. I could see my car parked in a layby about 600m away across a small v-shaped valley. I picked up a marked footpath which had Coldbackie 1km away. Unfortunately, for the second time on this walk I failed to pick up a small bridge which was heavily covered in vegetation. I ended up walking 2km to get back to Coldbackie. A tough walk today but some fantastic scenery.

The island of Eileann nan Ron
Heading south along Tongue Bay with Ben Hope in the far distance
Heading towards Skullomie
Looking across to Coldbackie with the impressive peak of Cnoc an Fhreiceadain behind

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:


Distance today = 14 miles

Total distance = 4,981 miles




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