Showing posts from August, 2013

Walk: Cairns Broad & Bannoch - what lies beyond Loch Muick

Aberdeenshire | White Mounth | Full day walk | ★★★★

The vast majority of visitors to Loch Muick are here to explore the loch itself or Lochnagar to the north. Few venture into the hills to the south or west from here, and they're missing out. Picturesque waterfalls and waterslides on The Stulan Burn and Allt an Dubh-loch are only the prelude to the magnificent rock architecture above Dubh Loch's southern shore: no wonder this is a famous rock- and ice-climbing location. The following ascent is a bit of a slog, but the rest of the circuit is a high-level stroll (in good conditions) over two Munros, with Loch Muick pointing the way home.

📌 Walk: Cairns Broad & Bannoch - what lies beyond Loch Muick ★★★★
Start / finish at Spittal of Glenmuick car park, minor road end 8 mi south of Ballater, G.R.: NO 310851 ///storms.drives.parsnips

▶ 24 km / 15 mi | ▲ 1150 m | ⌚ Full day | ⬤ Tough
Summits: Cairn Bannoch (1012 m, Munro); Broad Cairn (998 m, Munro) | Features: Loch Muick; The Stu…

Walk: The one true summit of Morven

Aberdeenshire | Logie Coldstone | Half day walk | ★★★

Morven perfectly embodies the spirit of Aberdeenshire (unless you're thinking of the hill with the same name in Caithness). The domed, heathery summit is typical of this part of the Cairngorms, rising prominently but undramatically out of rolling farmland. (Less typical were the dozens of wasps which had colonised the summit cairn on our visit!) 872 metres of height is respectable for this part of the county, and consequently commands wide views from Lochnagar in the south to Bennachie in the east. Beware the numerous false summits, many with cairns to rival the final one, which make the objective appear closer than it really is.

📌 Walk: The one true summit of Morven ★★★
Start / finish at track junction (space for several cars) on minor road 2 mi west of Logie Coldstone, G.R.: NJ 410044 ///reshaping.windy.cure

▶ 8 km / 5 mi | ▲ 660 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Morven (872 m, Corbett)
Terrain: Fields to Balhennie then st…

Walk: Craggy Craigendarroch

Aberdeenshire | Ballater | Short walk | ★★★

Craigendarroch is one of Deeside's most distinctive, well-known hills. Once joined to other high ground, a glacier pushed it apart from the hills to the north, and it now stands alone in between Ballater village and the gorge-like Pass of Ballater. The hill's translation as rocky hill of oaks tells you all you need to know about the scenery. Many people use the most accessible, southwest side for both ascent and descent, but if you have time you should return via the shadier back of the hill, with views between the trees across to Creag an t-Seabhaig: a famous rock-climbing venue on the other side of the Pass of Ballater. A good path encircles the hill at about the 300 metre contour, providing the way back round to the front.

📌 Walk: Craggy Craigendarroch ★★★
Start at Ballater visitor centre car park, Braemar Road (A93), Ballater village centre, G.R.: NO 369959 ///dusts.tradition.fussy

▶ 4 km / 2 mi | ▲ 320 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Moderate

Dunrobin Castle

Highland | Golspie | Stately home | ★★★★★

Dunrobin Castle: Scotland's most amazing castle? It's certainly in the running. This 189-room "Jewel in the Crown of the Highlands" is the seat of the Dukes of Sutherland, set amongst acres of forest and backing onto a beautiful stretch of coastline. The Dukes' role in the Highland Clearances in the early 19th century still arouses strong feelings in the area, but the castle's undeniably an awe-inspiring sight inside and out, especially from its equally outstanding gardens on the seaward-facing side. Falconry displays are included in the ticket price and are also excellent. If you're heading up this way on the A9 or walking by on the coast path, don't miss it.

Location & info

📌 Dunrobin Castle★★★★★
Off the A9 1 mi east of Golspie, G.R.: NC 851008 ///beard.super.daunted
Open daily, April to October; no falconry displays in October | £12.50 adult / £7.50 child

Carn Liath

Highland | Golspie | Broch | ★★★

Carn Liath is a 2,000+ year old broch beautifully situated overlooking Sutherland coastline close to busier Dunrobin Castle. Although ruined, the thick walls, entrance passage and inner chamber are still impressive and fun to explore, and its immediate surroundings have traces of an ancient settlement clustered around the broch. Unfortunately reaching the site normally involves taking your life in your hands by crossing the busy A9. A much better alternative is to reach it by the coast path as part of a longer walk.

Location & info

📌 Carn Liath★★★
By the A9 3 mi east of Golspie, G.R.: NC 870014 ///hurricane.demoted.animated
Always open | Free

Walk: Brora beach, broch & Dunrobin Castle

Highland | Brora | Half day walk | ★★★★

The coastline between Brora and Golspie offers up one of the most varied coastal walks you can find in Scotland, taking you across fine sandy beaches (with seals if you're lucky) and past a 2,000 year old broch on the way to the 189 rooms of Dunrobin Castle, one of the UK's most amazing houses. Beautiful woodland follows, taking you to Golspie where there's further opportunity for refreshment and a train back to the start. With so much to see including the castle, allow a full day... but check train times before you go! And tide times: Brora's beaches look better at low tide, when you've also better chances of seeing seals.

📌 Walk: Brora beach, broch & Dunrobin Castle ★★★★
Park in Golspie at the finish and take a train to Brora at the start. Trains only run a few times daily - depending on timing it may be better to park at Brora and take the train back at the end of the day instead. Start at Brora train station, G.R.: NC…

Whaligoe Steps

Highland | Whaligoe | Historic stairway | ★★★★

The Whaligoe (Whale Geo) Steps aren't any old steps. They're an incredible feat of 18th or 19th century engineering, constructed to enable fisherman to descend an otherwise vertical cliff face to reach their boats in the sheltered inlet below. Volunteers have since kept them from falling into disrepair, but take your head for heights as you descend, remembering that you have to re-ascend them all (approximately one for every day of the year) on your return. Only after making the full trip to the bottom can you begin to appreciate what an amazing and unlikely fishing location this really was. There aren't any signposts showing the way - see below for some brief directions. Good to combine with the Cairn of Get, a short walk away.

Location & info

📌 Whaligoe Steps ★★★★
Whale Geo, off the A9 at Whaligoe village, G.R.: ND 321402 ///circus.risk.bounded
Always open | Free

Directions (a step-by-step guide, perhaps?)

When driving nor…

Cairn o' Get

Highland | Whaligoe | Chambered cairn | ★

The Cairn o' Get is a 5,000 year old burial tomb sitting in the middle of moorland close to Loch Watenan. The roof fell in centuries ago, but this gives the advantage of being able to view the interior chamber in full daylight, instead of the gloom inside more intact tombs. Other better cairns exist in the area, but given its proximity to the amazing Whaligoe Steps, you may as well pay it a visit.

Location & info

📌 Cairn o' Get
Off minor road at Loch Watenan, half a mile northwest of Whaligoe, G.R.: ND 313411 ///nods.relies.shelter
Always open | Free

Anything else? From the layby at G.R.: ND 319408 ///glee.loudness.ringers it's a 15-min walk to the cairn. Walk back (south) towards the A9 for a few paces, then follow the footpath on the right, waymarked by black and white posts. Duckboards help cross a very boggy section.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Highland | Wick | Castle | ★★★

Another impressive coastal ruin in a spectacular location - northern Scotland has lots of these, but Castle Sinclair Girnigoe deserves better recognition. According to historical accounts there were actually two castles here, Castle Sinclair and Castle Girnigoe, connected by a drawbridge. The former is believed to have been built for beauty, the latter for strength. Over half a millennium, the exposed location hasn't been kind to the castle(s): various tottering towers and walls look ready to fall into the sea below at any moment. Fortunately the Clan Sinclair Trust has now set about stabilising the site. The scaffolding present when we visited detracted from the atmosphere a bit, but you can see its necessity.

Location & info

📌 Castle Sinclair Girnigoe★★★
Off minor road to Noss Head lighthouse, 3 mi north of Wick, G.R.: ND 378549 ///
Open May to September according to official website (site is unstaffed so access may be possibl…


Highland | Town | ★★★

Once a busy herring port, Wick is one of northern Scotland's largest towns. Several main roads converge here, so you're likely to come across it sooner or later if you're exploring the region. This is an ideal destination for a rainy day, with plenty of indoor attractions. Whisky lovers will be drawn to one of Scotland's northernmost mainland distilleries, an easy walk south from the town centre. If history's your thing (and even if it isn't), don't miss the deceptively large museum, tucked down a slightly unlikely side street towards the town's harbour. Speaking of unlikely streets, Wick is home to the world's shortest street: Ebenezer Place has been officially measured at just 2.06 metres long! There are also two underappreciated local castles nearby, of which one is walkable from the centre.


📌 Wick ★★★
Highland, G.R.: ND 363509 ///

🚶 The town sprawls but is small enough to explore on foot. A…

Castle of Old Wick

Highland | Wick | Castle | ★★

There's not much to it, but the 12th century Castle of Old Wick - also known as the Old Man of Wick - is one of Scotland's oldest. Romantically situated on cliffs surrounded by deep coastal inlets, fairly little is known about the castle. This is probably a contributing factor to its lack of visitors, along with the short but beautiful walk along the coast needed to reach it (for which it gains an extra star). The castle's surroundings are a stunning place on a sunny day, and probably very atmospheric on a wild one.

Location & info

📌 Castle of Old Wick★★
Off minor road by the coast, 2 mi south of Wick town centre, G.R.: ND 369488 ///unfit.hurray.contents
Always viewable (exterior only) | Free

Anything else? Park at the end of the minor coast road that heads southeast from Wick. The castle is a further 10-min walk south along the coast on a rough path.

Hill o' Many Stanes

Highland | Mid Clyth | Standing stones | ★★

The Hill o' Many Stanes is exactly what it says on the tin. And downright bizarre. On a nondescript area of heather moorland, more than 200 stones are arranged in at least 22 rows. It's believed that scores more, maybe hundreds more have been lost over the years. At first sight you might be underwhelmed, and there are several other stone monuments elsewhere in the region (although this is the largest and best preserved). But when you learn that they were placed here 4,000 years ago and nobody really knows why, the intrigue deepens.

Location & info

📌 Hill o' Many Stanes★★
By minor road just off A9 at Mid Clyth, G.R.: ND 295384 ///wake.dare.situates
Always open | Free


Highland | Village | ★★

Helmsdale's small size belies its regional importance: it's population of well under a thousand still makes it the largest settlement in the great swathe of coastline and countryside between Brora to the south, Wick to the northeast and Thurso to the north. The village first grew up as a resettlement location for evicted inland crofters during the notorious Highland Clearances, with a busy harbour once home to one of the world's largest herring fleets. Find out about all this and more in the excellent Timespan Museum, close to the village centre.


📌 Helmsdale ★★
Highland, G.R.: ND 027154 ///continued.glue.sniff

🚌 Helmsdale lies on train and bus lines between Inverness and Wick / Thurso.

See & do (<1 mi away)

📌 Timespan★★★
Description: Excellent museum, art gallery and community hub showcasing the region's heritage and history, logically laid out through time.
Dunrobin Street, village centre, G.R.: ND 026154 ///…

Walk: Morven wilderness

Highland | Braemore | Full day walk | ★★★★

This is a walk unlike any other in Scotland. The highest summit in Caithness, Morven (not to be confused with Morven, Aberdeenshire) looks more like an Icelandic volcano than a Highland peak, with extremely steep, grassy sides tapering to a windswept summit with fantastic views. Maiden Pap is a miniature version of Morven, but perhaps even steeper with cloudberries growing in lush, shady gullies on its northern slopes. Smean completes the trio of energy-sapping ascents. In between the other two hills, it looks less dramatic from a distance but its summit is adorned with huge rocky tors. Somehow the hills' respective names describe each of their characters perfectly. Difficult terrain makes this a tough circuit; wait for good underfoot conditions, otherwise you'll be cursing yourself as you struggle through wet, pathless grass and heather between the various high points.

📌 Walk: Morven wilderness ★★★★
Start / finish at car park at mino…

Berriedale bay

Highland | Berriedale | Beach | ★★★

Good progress along the A9 coast road is rudely interrupted by the deep glen at Berriedale Braes. Lorries used to be reduced to a crawl as they negotiated a series of tight hairpin bends on the northern side, though a new section of carriageway opened in 2020 to bypass the worst one. With new road layouts and interesting scenery, it's easy to miss the village nestling in the valley folds. A lack of signposting seems to suggest that the locals like it this way, but the secluded bay by the mouth of Berriedale Water is an exquisite spot well worth seeking out. A whitewashed row of houses and tumbling burn here is overlooked by ruined Berriedale Castle on the cliffs above.

Location & info

📌 Berriedale bay ★★★
At the mouth of the Berriedale Water, Berriedale village, G.R.: ND 120225 ///tracks.backup.chiefs

Anything else? Access is by an unsigned minor road on the right when heading north on the A9, just before the bridge over the Berriedale Water. …

Grey Cairns of Camster

Highland | Lybster | Chambered cairns | ★★★

Driving north from Lybster across the barren interior of Caithness Flow Country, you'll come across the unexpected sight of some of Scotland's most amazing chambered cairns. 5,000 years barely appear to have changed The Grey Cairns of Camster, with the Long Cairn nearly 60 metres long and 20 metres wide. The smaller Round Cairn is nearby - both cairns are linked by boardwalks and grassy paths to the roadside. Three entrance passages still allow you to explore the burial spaces inside both cairns: this involves a tortuous crawl, but you can stand up inside.

Location & info

📌 Grey Cairns of Camster★★★
By minor road between Lybster and Watten, G.R.: ND 260442 ///
Always open | Free

Dunnet Head & Bay

Highland | Dunnet | Headland & beach | ★★★

From the sweeping, sandy surfer's paradise of Dunnet Bay, a narrow road leads north through the scattered settlement of Brough, then across moorland sprinkled with lochans. Dunnet Head is the destination - a remote lighthouse, unspoilt headland, seasonal puffins and superb views all make a visit here worthwhile, but something else is drawing the motor homes and sightseers. Indeed, Dunnet Head's claim to fame is that it's the furthest north you can go on the British mainland: 835 miles by fastest road from The Lizard, Dunnet Head's southernmost counterpart. The views out to sea, however, will remind you that Scotland doesn't end here, with Orkney's delights only a few miles away across the Pentland Firth.

Location & info

📌 Dunnet Bay ★★
Off the A836 immediately south of Dunnet. Visitor centre is at G.R.: ND 219705 ///youngest.scatters.unhelpful
Always open. Visitor centre: daily except Wednesday and Saturday, May…