Round Britain: Dunnet Bay to Melvich

We had some overnight rain in Dunnet Bay but the sun was breaking out as we left and entered Thurso. A sign on the road said that it was the birthplace of William Smith, founder of the Boys Brigade. Thurso was a town before the Vikings arrived. It is the northernmost town on the Scottish mainland. Sitting astride the mouth of the River Thurso it grew up as an important trading and fishing port. Most sea traffic now goes to nearby Scrabster which is where we took the ferry to Stromness when we visited Orkney a few years ago. My 1927-28 Ward lock guide describes Thurso as having considerable tourist traffic in season, including people heading to the Orkney Islands. There was also some quarrying of Caithness sandstone. We stopped to replenish supplies and then continued through the town. We passed Old St Peter’s Church and on the edge of town stopped by Wolfburn Distillery. It is the most northerly distillery in mainland Scotland and was established in 1821 but more recently resurrected.

Further along the A836 is a road down to the ruins of St Mary’s Chapel, Crosskirk which sits on the cliffs. It was probably built in the 12th century and became a dependant chapel of the church in nearby Reay which was built in 1739. From the car park there is a path down to a bridge across the water, near another ruined building

and then uphill to the chapel. Only part of it is left, a more recent graveyard with graves up to the 19th century surround it.

There are views from the cliff edge towards Dunnet Head.

We then passed by Dounreay Nuclear Power Station housed the world’s first Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactor. I remember the waste from it coming down the A9 and through Dunblane in the middle of the night. It is currently being decommissioned and this seems to provide a fair amount of work judging by the number of cars parked outside. A little further on just past Reay, a road runs down to Fresgoe and Sandside Bay.

It looks across to Dounreay.

Signs on the beach stopped me even looking for sea glass.

Sandside Bay has been settled since prehistoric times including Viking settlements but like many parts of the coast, these have been covered by the sand dunes. I wandered around the harbour which had a recently arrived boat.

I then walked up towards the headland for views with spring flowers

and admired the flagstone construction of the harbour wall which was built in 1830. This might turn into an abstract drawing or painting.

After lunch we completed 6.5 more miles, crossing the Halladale River and finding our campsite on the south side of Melvich.

Bus shelter greenhouse, bookshop and beach

This morning we had to go the Thurso for supplies and on the way passed the Skerray bus stop (which I presume is now defunct) and has been converted into a greenhouse.

Bus shelter greenhouse Skerray 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Nearer to Thurso We passed Dounreay nuclear power station and I recalled lorries of nuclear waste trundling down the A9 through Dunblane at night heading for reprocessing further south. It appears to be in the process of being closed which will decimate local employment opportunities despite being good for the environment. In Thurso we headed for the first bakery/cafe we saw to top up the caffeine levels and I overheard a conversation between a wiry 60-something cyclist from Northern England and the woman behind the counter. He was trying to offload all his small change but she reminded him that he might like it to weigh him down when battling the wind on his way to Tongue. I could not resist asking him if he had cycled all the way up here but no, he had taken the train to Elgin to stay with a relative and having been to John O’Groats was now heading for Durness and the west coast. I bid him good luck as he would be battling a strong headwind. Indeed we passed him later on as we drove up the hill out of Thurso.

I was very happy to discover that Thurso has a secondhand bookshop and found a first edition of a volume of the New Naturalist series that I collect. After that we left town and headed back along the coast wondering about walking out to the old lighthouse on Strathy Point. Having got as far as the car park the very high winds made it not safe to walk any further out to the end of the point and the lighthouse (only the third time I have abandoned a walk due to wind). Instead we had lunch back at the cottage and a walk on the more sheltered Torrisdale Bay.

Torrisdale Bay 1 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Torrisdale Bay 2 3 June 2015 (1 of 1)