LETJOG – Day 55: Sunday 11 July – BRORA to HELMSDALE (14 miles)
It seems that there is to be a sting in the tail as I enter the final stages of my LETJOG walk along the so-called John O’Goats Trail. I’ve heard a lot of stories now, and to say the path is a ‘work in progress’ seems to be an understatement. Meeting other walkers on the trail, and there are precious few, it appears, as feared, that I have some travails ahead of me, particularly after Berriedale, with unmade rocky paths, overgrown bramble-ridden stretches, barbed-wire fences to climb, and cliff-top perils to beware, amongst other hazards.
But today was glorious. Leaving Brora in the early morning mist (although I suspect it lingered through most of the day) I walked out on the road for a mile, past the Clynelish Distillery, closed of course at this hour on a Sunday, then along a side road and over the links of the Brora Golf Club. Then, for ten miles, with just a couple of inland intrusions, my path followed the beach. For the first six of these miles I encountered not a human soul, just the seals, heads bobbing in the water, and the seabirds scattering and squawking at my approach. A gentle tide and the smell of the kelp completed a perfect scene as I started out across the hard sand at the waters’ edge.
In places the going became more difficult as shingle or rocks replaced the sand for sections of the walk, and twice where rivers cut across the beach I was forced inland a little to find a good crossing place. The Trail itself does indeed appear to be more of an aspiration than a reality, with little evidence of any path at all for large stretches of the walk. Weather-wise the low cloud did not prevent lateral visibility, but did intensify a couple of times into a drizzle that led me into donning my waterproofs for these short periods.
Around three miles from Helmsdale the Trail leaves the shoreline, crossing the railway and the main A9 road. I used this opportunity to try a road walk, as a future option to the Trail’s tougher sections, and found this to be fine, with adequate verges and scant traffic (although of course this was a Sunday), and an hour later I was in the town. I first stayed in Helmsdale in 1978 whilst hitch-hiking around Scotland with two schoolfriends, and we were all taken with the place then, a quiet fishing village with a pretty harbour nestled beneath the hills and alongside its eponymous river. It has been three decades since I was last here, and after finding my overnight accommodation, I had a walk around the town to find it had changed reassuringly little: likewise the swirling cloud, that today alternately blocked out the summer sun with an almost autumnal murk.
After dinner I returned to my room at the Bannockburn Inn, perhaps an ironically-named venue from which to watch England’s attempt to win a first Euros title against Italy this evening. I will now press ‘Post’ and let’s all sit back and enjoy! 🤞