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John o' Groats Trail: Wick to Whaligoe.

John o' Groats Trail: Wick to Whaligoe.

Postby Standing Stone 81 » Sat Feb 20, 2021 5:53 pm

Route description: John o'Groats Trail: Whaligoe to Wick

Date walked: 20/10/2020

Time taken: 6 hours

Distance: 17.25 km

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Another section of the JoG Trail and this one is closest to home. I tackled it over one spring morning and two easy autumn afternoons:

It was a glorious April morning as I headed out of Wick, not a soul was abroad and already the air had a warmth to it. Passing Castle Geo I stopped by Old Wick's ruined keep and studied the graffiti carved many years ago, mostly by locals but in one case an unwelcome visitor:
During the war some German prisoners were set to work in the fields near here. For the most part the prisoners had a reasonable relationship with the locals but one was an ardent nazi. He couldn't bear the thought of German defeat and carved a swastika on the wall of Old Wick Castle, below it he wrote Heil Hitler. His script is all but weathered away now however the swastika remains. To see it a selfie stick is perhaps best used....I'm giving no more away than that!

A good path leads south along the cliffs and soon, behind me, the impressive archway at Hempriggs could be seen. The intrepid might venture over the 'bridge' but the drops are sheer, the cliffs are high.
The sun disappeared briefly into the jaws of a shark-shaped cloud casting its light down on to the outer Moray Firth. Seabirds (guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills) filled the long shelves of 'Scorries Island' at The Brough.
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In another part of Britain a path like this would be busy on a spring morning but this was Caithness and this was lockdown.

The coastline here - as in much of Caithness- is cut by geos: inlets formed through erosion of geological faults. At times they necessitated a longer route than a casual look at the map might have suggested but they provided much interest for eye and camera. Girston is such a place.

In high summer I could imagine parts of the trail become overgrown but April was before such matters could be problematic. At times the ground was a little rough underfoot but I found I was making good headway.

The Needle is a majestic sight. This natural archway is a very short detour off the trail and surely ranks with the finest in this sceptred isle.
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The skarf (shag) is a bird that skims the wave tops or is seen briefly between dives. Seldom had I been close to one on land. I paused as this one posed for its portrait and an opportune breeze lifted the distinctive crest at just the right moment.
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I was soon approaching Sarclet - the end point for the morning. First there was the deep and high sided Reira Geo to pass. A wee waterfall cascaded down into the sea below, it was a last thing to enjoy on this walk of plenty.
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A blustery October afternoon saw me pick up the trail once more at Sarclet, a seal nursed her pup on the shore below. Not wanting to disturb her I carried on but more sealife was on the agenda.

A quick movement caught my eye. A fin broke the surface, then another and another: a wee group of Risso's dolphins feeding. These are the unexpected delights this trail offers up beyond the scenery itself.
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The geology here is different from that seen nearer Wick. The layered sediment of the Caithness flagstone gives way to something very distinctive to this section of the coast. It was something to look into on another day for a walk like this is definitely one to pique the interest!

Gone were the seabirds of spring and summer. The day was turning progressively cooler. I zipped my coat up tighter around the neck and watched the passing solans (gannets) - a sure sign of autumn on this coast.

The going can be fairly rough in parts and, compared to further north, a wee bit more up and down. I rested near a big patch of whins (gorse) surprised to see a small section in full bloom of yellow. Seemingly that's a thing they do.

The coast soon lay open. A creel boat was shooting its pots dwarfed by the towering monolithic cliffs.
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A phone call told me if I wanted to avoid walking the whole way home it was time to cut for the road. I'd made it to Ellen's Goe.

A month later I finished this section. By November days are short this far north but there was time to ramble from Whaligoe north to Ellen's Geo and back with enough time to explore the famous Whaligoe steps.

If you visit the steps then Davie Nicholson is your man. He keeps the area in good condition and has an excellent knowledge of the areas history. I spoke to him for a bit and headed off; it was cool, still and the sun already low.
Again the cliffs are high here and at times you might want to stick to the landward side of the fences. Soon I reached Ellen's Geo. The moon was up, the sun near to setting I brought the camera out and captured its fire over the skeletal remains of the old Bruan kirk. It was time to go home - after I'd traipsed down and up those famous steps!
Standing Stone 81
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Re: John o' Groats Trail: Wick to Whaligoe.

Postby gld73 » Wed Feb 24, 2021 11:53 pm

Nice report thanks, I'm hoping to get up to that area to spend 3 or 4 days exploring properly as I've still never even made it to the Whaligoe Steps when I've been up to the Wick area!
Posts: 667
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Location: Inverness

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