Day 100 – Portgower to Dunbeath

After a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs (I’ve been trying to avoid cooked breakfasts but once in a while it’s very nice), I was on the road by 9. Literally on the road – more lorry-dodging and leaping onto the verge of the A9. Still, at least it wasn’t as cold as yesterday.
I tried hard to get off the road, and attempted to follow the route from Helmsdale set out in the Scottish coast website. All I can say is that they must be a lot more sanguine about barbed wire fences and gorse than I am; after a few backtracks I abandoned the attempt and stuck to the road until Badbea, which I reached at lunchtime.
Badbea is the site of an abandoned village, perched on the clifftops a few miles south of Berriedale. The village was built and settled as a result of the Clearances (presumably because the land wasn’t considered to be good enough for sheep), but life in the new site was so hard that the inhabitants chose emigration (to New Zealand and Canada) instead, and it was deserted a few decades after it was built. It is said that the winds in Badbea were so strong that livestock and children had to be tethered to keep them from being blown off the cliff. I doubt this is true, but even in the sunshine, it was hard to imagine life there being anything but very bleak. There were some curiously anodyne noticeboards, which almost entirely failed to refer to the suffering and injustice of the Clearances, perhaps because they were part funded by the local landowning trust. Instead, they made bland statements like “the introduction of sheep farming was so successful that the laird was able to move people to Badbea” and “the laird offered people jobs in the herring fishing fleet” which I thought was somewhat odd to describe mass forced eviction and the wholesale destruction of a whole community. I’ve noticed similar understatement in other references to the Clearances before, and wondered why; it is hard to see how ‘Homecoming 2014’ can work without addressing one of the main reasons why Scots ended up all over the world in the first place. But anyway, Badbea was a sad place; ironically the only signs of life there now are sheep, grazing in between the ruined longhouses. There’s a monument commissioned by a descendant of one of the inhabitants, and I sat on its base and ate my lunch gazing out over the sunlit sea.
From Badbea I was able to walk across the clifftops all the way to Berriedale, first across heather and then on a grassy track that curved down over the cliffs. This was a beautiful walk, high above the sea, with only the gulls and the odd sheep for company. I was almost sorry when I reached the two towers near the haven at Berriedale, but consoled myself with a break on the ‘Millenium bench’ overlooking the sea.
From Berriedale I tried and failed again to find any route along the clifftops, as it didn’t seem to be possible to walk without climbing multiple barbed wire fences (I’ll do the odd one, but one every 150m or so is too many). I sighed and returned to the A9 for a long stretch into Dunbeath – busy, hard underfoot, dangerous and tedious. Things improved when I got to my B&B – a very warm welcome and the best shower I have had in months! 2 days and about 40 miles to go.

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5 thoughts on “Day 100 – Portgower to Dunbeath

  1. I’m very much looking forward to you finishing the walk and coming home (I think the kids are looking forward to it as well). London is crazy busy for the rest of the family and we didn’t spend hours everyday alone. I’m very proud of you that you have managed to walk all the way and you are really going to enjoy living in a house again.

  2. Your postings from yesterday and today bring back vivid memories from three years ago. I can visualize your grade level crossing yesterday, because I crossed at the same place — over the fence at the end of the golf course, just before the rocky beach; I remember sitting on a rock pile at the Badbea carpark, too tired to venture into the historic village; then and there making the fateful decision to stop at Lybster the next day (rather than continue to Wick), and proceed to Watten the day after to escape the dreaded A9 — all of which added that one extra day to my walk, closing the clear weather window and inviting the storm of storms to disrupt the final day. Still, it was an incredible feeling of accomplishment, which you will soon be sharing. Thanks for bringing back such wonderful memories, and best wishes on your final LEJOG days.

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