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JOG Trail: Helmsdale to Berriedale

JOG Trail: Helmsdale to Berriedale


Postby Alba Bhoy » Wed Mar 06, 2024 12:34 pm

Route description: John o'Groats Trail: Helmsdale to Berriedale

Date walked: 04/03/2024

Time taken: 4.2 hours

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Monday 4th March 2024. Start at the Helmsdale Emigrant's Memorial at 0830, finish at Berriedale beach at 1250. Time taken 4 hours 20 minutes. Weather; blue skies, calm day, great visibility, ideal walking conditions.

What can I say other than this was just the most wonderful walk. In my opinion, this was by far the best stage of those parts of the JOG trail I've so far completed. Wild, rugged, magnificent coastal views, Ousdale Broch, Badbea and all the fresh air you could ever want!

Had a slight sense of trepidation beforehand going by the Walkhighlands notes - 'Rough coastal walking, couple of boggy sections, path unclear at times' - and the other walk reports for this section, some of which I thought gave off a slight air of 'negativity'. However, while this was the toughest section of the JOG trail I've so far walked on my meander north from Inverness, I thought today was excellent. A tremendous walk, one that will linger long in the memory.

Without the JOG trail marker posts and JOG trail signs this section would have been a lot tougher so a big thanks to all who put the JOG trail markers up. Made navigating this section so much easier. :clap:

For a small community, Helmsdale is well served by hotels. The Bridge, Bannockburn Inn, Belgrave Arms and Navidale plus no doubt lots of B and B options in the summer along with the Hostel. Hostel didn't appear to be open so i stayed overnight in the Bridge Hotel. An old building but perfectly adequate. Owner, Hans, had lots of local knowledge and was very hospitable.

Started off with a slight detour to visit the Emigrant's Statue, on the south side of the river, just across the bridge carrying the A9.
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Emigrant's Statue

Leave the Emigrant's Statue and down to the harbour and, as per the Walkhighlands notes, follow Shore Street as it runs by the harbour then out the village along the shore heading the few hundred metres towards the last house in Helmsdale. Turn right onto the marked path just before this house and start along the track.

Track is easy to follow and the cliffs lying ahead to the north soon come into view. Took about 20 minutes walk from the Emigrant's statue to get to the far end of Navidale Bay to the point, close to an old ruin, where you turn left and start to head uphill on a marked path.
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View back over Navidale Bay


Neat views back over the bay when you get to the top of this path. The JOG waymarker signs make navigating stages 2 and 3 of this section relatively simple. Might be more challenging in the summer when the vegetation is higher and could, perhaps, (partially) obscure some of them but today these signs were clearly visible and a real help as in some short stretches there didn't seem to be an obvious path. Hopefully as more people walk this stage a clearly defined path will begin to take form.

Pass a concrete observation post which I assume is a relic from WW2 and continue on the seaward side of the fence. Great views down to the shore from here. Path then drops down to cross a small ravine and big thanks to those who built the kissing gate and bridge over the ravine. Path then heads up the other side of the ravine and you soon reach a second concrete observation post. Parts of the path were a bit muddy in places here, which I assume is from animals making use of it.

View north begins to open out from here and you get your first glimpse of The Ord of Caithness.
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Ord Point coming into view

Panorama looking north over the Ord was magnificent, wonderful cliff and coastal scenery. Good for the soul. Simple matter of following the path north along the coast while taking in the magnificent views. While the path is high up on the cliff, it always felt safe; you're never that close to the edge.

Past Ord Point the path begins to head inland and soon becomes quite faint and more than a 'tad damp' underfoot. I believe it follows part of the old track that once connected Caithness to the south. The occasional JOG trail waymarkers are a great help here as much of the old track is overgrown with heather and its direction is not always too obvious. And it is very, very boggy! I always thought the boggiest route i'd walked in Scotland was the one running north from Loch Cluanie through An Caorann Mor to Alltbeithe hostel in Glen Affric. This section would run it close. Hopefully by the summer there will have been some good spells of lengthy dry weather and some of this will have dried out. One can but hope!

Took me about 30 minutes, much of it squelching through bog, to get from the area around Ord Point, along the boggy old track, to where it meets an excellent dry track that takes visitors from the A9 to Ousdale Broch. Slightly to the left of where you meet this good track there is an information board which tells you more about The Ord and Ousdale and also makes reference to Charles Abercrombie and Thomas Telford, two C19th engineers, who helped improve the roads in this area.
It's less than a 10 minute walk down this good track, passing more information posts, to Ousdale Broch. I was at the Broch at 1030, 2 hours after leaving Helmsdale.

A short distance after the broch you begin the steep descent down to the Ousdale burn. Big thumbs up to those who built the steps down to the burn, you are heroes! It's a challenging descent even with the steps to help you, lord knows what it would be like without the steps, particularly if wet or frosty! Bridge gets you over the burn and then you follow the path uphill on the far side, JOG marker posts helping guide you.

This next section takes you along the cliffs towards the ruins of the old clearance village at Badbea. Path is relatively dry again but as you approach Badbea it becomes boggy in a few places.
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Ruined houses at Badbea clearance village

Badbea is yet another reminder of Man's inhumanity to Man. Imagine forcibly relocating people from semi fertile inland straths to live here. It beggars belief. I passed by the ruins and reached the memorial at 1135.
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Badbea monument

Stopped for 10 minutes here. In normal circumstances you would have thought it a good place to stop thanks to the views but given its history I couldn't enjoy it. Such a sad and poignant place.

The marked path continues on from the monument, again a tad boggy in places, and soon heads up towards the large stone wall.
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View north along the wall

This wall runs for miles.
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Looking back south along the wall.

I passed through the gap in the wall at 1155 and turned right, wall now on my right as I headed north. Some of this relatively short stage along the wall is good but some is very boggy, swampy and muddy. Choose your route with care!

Followed the track, such as it was, alongside the wall for about 10 minutes before crossing a marked stile next to a metal farm gate in the wall. From here a wonderful wide, clear, obvious and dry grassy path speeds you towards Berriedale while also offering some great views up and down the coast.
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View looking back south from the nice wide grassy path


Towards the far end of this path, high above Berriedale and offering good views down to it, you pass through a couple of farm gates and head downhill towards the two monuments which were built to guide ships into Berriedale harbour back in the day.
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One of the two Berriedale towers


At the second monument turn left and follow the grassy ridge down to the trees.
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Looking down to Berriedale

Emerge onto a track then walk a few metres along the A9 before turning right along the tarmac lane and follow that, past some houses, over the shoogly wee suspension bridge and to Berriedale beach.

End of a magnificent morning's walking. Can't recommend this stage highly enough. Sure, it was a bit boggy in places but the views more than made up for that.

And once more, a huge thank you to all who put JOG waymarker posts up and built bridges, steps and stiles in this section. Your work was very much appreciated and went a long way to making this section so enjoyable.
Alba Bhoy
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Posts: 70
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