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JOG Trail: Dunbeath to Lybster

JOG Trail: Dunbeath to Lybster

Postby Alba Bhoy » Tue Mar 19, 2024 2:10 pm

Route description: John o'Groats Trail: Dunbeath to Lybster

Date walked: 16/03/2024

Time taken: 4.15 hours

Distance: 14.25 km

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Did the Dunbeath to Lybster portion of the JOG Trail on Saturday 16th March 2024. Some overnight frost but the day was calm with blue skies and wonderful visibility; ideal walking conditions. I found this to be a tough section; some challenging walking and navigation, path a tad boggy in sections, but it still made for a wonderful start to my day walking from Dunbeath to Lybster then onto Whaligoe.

Saturday 16th March, up bright and early at 0550. Had to catch the 0658 X99 bus from Wick to Dunbeath to get to the start of the walk. Too early for a normal breakfast but hotel provided a continental breakfast which helped power me through the day.

Bus left Wick on time and dropped me off at the war memorial in Dunbeath at 0745. From there it was a 10 minute wander down to the harbour. Interestingly the public toilets at Dunbeath Harbour were open when I passed at 0755. I believe that Highland Council keep some public toilets open 24 hours, perhaps that applies to these ones?

As per the Walkhighlands notes, follow the road to the end of the harbour. You'll see the small statue of Kenn with a Salmon on your right. Up the obvious grassy path at the far end of the picnic area and you are soon on the cliff top. Turn right, over the stile and follow the obvious path here, bit muddy in places, which runs on the seaward side of the clifftop fence. Nice views back over the bay to Dunbeath Castle. Path a bit narrow in places but I always felt safe.
Dunbeath Castle

Got a bit confused with the Walkhighland notes for stages 2 and 3 for this section. At the start of this section there are the usual comforting JOG Trail markers offering reassurance that not only are you heading in the right direction you are also following the correct path. There seems to be short distance here without JOG Trail markers which I believe is down to the landowner refusing permission. And it's not as simple as meandering along the cliff, fences to your left and ocean to your right, as there is a lot of thick gorse on the seaward side of the fence blocking passage that way.

Anyway, I proceeded as follows. As mentioned above, I followed the path on the seaward side of the cliffs. At about 0825, I crossed through the field referred to in the stage 2 Walkhighland notes. There were no crops or livestock in this field so I cut right across it, roughly at 45 degrees. Seem to recall heading downhill for a short distance before heading uphill. You pass over a heathery slope following a faint path. Head alongside the left side of the deer fence for a short distance and cross the stile over a smaller fence.

When the fence starts to head downhill is where I picked up the faint path mentioned in the first sentence of the Walkhighland stage 3 notes. This path is faint but if I could follow it you can. It only runs for a short distance, about a minute, through some heather then passes through some gorse. Once through the gorse you can see some boulders a short distance ahead of you beside a fence. I made for these boulders. Turn right at the boulders, small fence on your left, cliffs out of sight to your right. Walk on the path alongside this small fence, small fence on your left and it very soon - a few metres - becomes a large deer fence. The clear path passes through some more gorse, deer fence on your left, and soon meets another small fence. Cross over this small fence and turn left and walk the short distance towards a gate, deer fence on your left and a smaller fence, above the ravine, a few metres away to your right. The area round the gate was very muddy, I guess due to livestock regularly passing through it.

Cross this field, main road somewhere over to your left, ocean away to your right, and pass through a gate into the next field. Once into this next field, I headed across it aiming for the spot where the sea fence met the fence/wall enclosing this field. No crops or livestock in the field so no problem there. Once you get down to where the clifftop fence meets this field things get easy, very easy! There is a lovely simple, straightforward walk of about a km from here, where the path is sandwiched between a deer fence to your left and the smaller clifftop fence to your right, the gap between the two only being a few metres. And the JOG Trail signs make a welcome reintroduction!
The straight km of path runs between these two fences

It was about 0900 when I started along this straight km stretch so took about 35 minutes for me to get from the field referred to in stage 2 of the Walkhighland notes to this point. Absence of JOG trail signs made this small section a bit challenging in terms of navigation but I got there in the end.

As mentioned above, the km or so walking north between these two fences towards Latheronwheel Harbour is easy. Follow the path and at the corner of the deer fence, indicated by a JOG Trail sign, turn left. Walk a few metres then turn right through an old gate and follow the grassy path the short distance downhill to Latheronwheel Harbour.
Old bridge at Latheronwheel Harbour

I crossed over the lovely old bridge about 0920, turned left and walked a short distance uphill before turning right before reaching the houses and went through a gate, with obligatory JOG sign, onto the next stretch of coastal path.

The initial stretch along here is lovely. Easy walking on a wide grassy path and impressive views out over the sea. You pass through several gates and over a couple of walls. Path is easy to follow and you soon end up back on the seaward side of the clifftop fence.

You soon head inland to get round a wide ravine then once on the north side of the ravine follow the path running alongside the ravine side of the wall, boggy in places, back towards the ocean. Cross over the wall at a gate and head through a boggy field on the landward side of the wall, Latheron Church and cemetery over to your left. I missed the stile referred to in the first sentence of stage 6 of the Walkhighlands notes but that was no real problem. I crossed the wall at the far end of the field and aimed for the old stone lookout tower. As I approached the tower I could see a stile at the field corner over to my right. Made for that, crossed over, joined the faint path that crossed this area of tussocky grass and passed slightly to the right of the outlook tower.

Some excellent views looking back south from here along the coast with Scaraben and Morven both clearly visible. Path continued along the seaward side of the wall. Came to a bit where two stiles crossed the wall, just a few metres apart. One looking very new, the other older one had seen better days. The old one had a JOG sign, the new one didn't.
New stile with the old stile just about visible at right hand end of wall

The new one took you into a field on the landward side of the coastal wall, the old one kept you on the coastal side. I took the old one and continued along the seaward side of the wall. There were several new stiles over the next km or so. The seaward side was narrow in places so I'm guessing these new stiles are there to provide a safer alternative route on the landward side of the wall?

The ruins of Forse Castle soon come into view. And it is a ruin, very little of it is left. I didn't bother detouring to visit the ruins, was quite content to continue meandering north along the coastal path.
Ruins of Forse Castle

I missed the marker posts indicating the route down to Achastle Shore but that wasn't any great problem. Where the fence turned sharp left, I headed down a grassy ridge to my right. That soon met a path and within a minute I was down at Achastle Shore, a lovely atmospheric spot. No problem crossing the river today, water level was low. Hard to visualise how difficult life must have been for those who worked out of the herring station here.

Follow the obvious path up and out of Achastle Shore and through the grassy cutting and Lybster Bay soon comes into view.
Lybster Harbour

Simple matter of following the path north to Lybster. I didn't detour to the harbour, I followed the road uphill to Lybster's Main Street, which I reached at 12 noon, where a handily placed covered bus shelter with a bench seat offered a convenient resting place to enjoy a quick snack and put fresh, dry socks on. There are a couple of shops in Lybster and a cafe but they are a few hundred metres up the Main Street towards the Wick Road. As I was continuing to Whaligoe today, i was content for my lunch stop to be a 20 minute break in the bus shelter. Living the dream!

A tough but enjoyable section. Glad to have got it done.

Time splits:
0745 - start Dunbeath War memorial
0900 - onto straight km stretch between the two fences
0920 - Latheronwheel Harbour
1015 - Old stone lookout tower
1115 - Achastle Shore
12 noon - Lybster
Time taken 4 hours 15 minutes, distance 8.75 miles.
Alba Bhoy
Posts: 70
Joined: May 12, 2013

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