23rd May – John O’Groats to Dunnet Head

The End!  Neil at the most northerly point of Dunnet Head

I guess that it is not too surprising that I woke this morning at 5.00am.  As Alan was also up, we decided to make an early start in an attempt to beat the worst of the weather.

I left John O’Groats at 7.15 to run the first 9k to East Mey.  This went quite well, apart from the light drizzle, and I met up with Alan and the car at the turn-off.

20190523 The Castle of Mey 02
The Castle of Mey

Having shed my wet gear, I set off for Dunnet Head.  I passed the Castle of Mey after another encounter with my bovine friends.  I went on through Harrow and reached Scarfskerry.  By now the wind had got up and was blowing a good Force 4.  I sheltered next to the Baptist Chapel before continuing to Brough.

20190523 Looking west from Dunnet Head
Looking west from Dunnet Head

At this point the rain was really coming down, and with the wind blowing from the north the walk up to Dunnet Head was not the best section of the whole trip.  Nevertheless after another hour I arrived at the end of my journey at Dunnet Head at 12.10pm

20190523 The lighthouse at Dunnet Head
The lighthouse at Dunnet Head

I went past the lighthouse to the most northerly point and then donned my Sobell House T-shirt for the publicity photos.

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Alan has been marvellous all this week.  He has always been waiting for me at the end of each day, except when it was my fault at Nybster.  He had also cooked each evening which has been a real treat.

We got back to the cottage at 1.45 so I have had time to wash and dry my kit.  Alan will bring most of my stuff south when he comes down next week to see Richard and Stuart and their families.

Tomorrow we will start to travel south, and will have a military history day as we are going to Fort George near Inverness.  Alan has spent this week supporting me so deserves a day pursuing his interests.  I will fly south later tomorrow evening.

I need time to consider all that has happened over the last two years while I have been on my journey.  At this point I can only say thank you to all my friends who joined me on the trip and to everyone who has donated to Sobell House.  Finally I’d like to thank my sister Katy, who has edited the blog and enhanced and uploaded all my photos throughout Bottom to Top.

21st May – Wick to Nybster

20190521 The path from Wick - much lower cliffs today
The path from Wick – much lower cliffs today

Another day in the office, but today the roof was leaking.  Consequently I geared up for wet weather at the cottage, and left Wick at 8.10.

20190521 Primroses on the side of a geo
Primroses on the side of a geo

The path to North Head introduced me to the lower cliffs and less dramatic scenery I could expect for the day.  Once round the point, roads led to the village of Staxigoe.  I was intrigued to find that in the 19th century, this was home to the largest herring-curing plant in Europe.  Little remains of its industrial past today.

20190521 Noss Head lighthouse
Noss Head lighthouse

More cliff walking led to the lighthouse at Noss Head, and an abrupt change from walking north to almost due west.  This change coincided with someone adding a fan to the leaking roof; naturally the wind was from the west.

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Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Just round the headland is Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, the first of several ruined castles.  This one was used by Cromwell’s army, but fell into disrepair soon after.  The next village was Ackergillshore, and a brief encounter ensued with some of my bovine friends.  Ackergill Tower is a magnificent house, just before the sandy beach of Sinclair’s Bay.

20190521 Ackergill Tower
Ackergill Tower

After a brief stop I raced the tide along the 5k of beach.  I won – thus avoiding being forced off the sand onto either the boulders higher on the beach, or the sand dunes.

20190521 The beach at Sinclair Bay
The beach at Sinclair Bay

Half way along, I had to cross the River of Wester.  The guide said this could be waded, but gave alternatives; and the map indicated that it was a dangerous river crossing.  In the end it was a total non-event, barely calf-deep.

20190521 The Railway of Subsea 7
The railway of Subsea 7

Beyond the river, there is a curious railway track which runs into the sea.  The track is 7km long: sections of pipe are assembled and then towed out to sea to be joined together underwater.  No activity was happening on the beach, but later driving to the cottage we saw the lengths of pipe on the railway.

20190521 Sinclair beach with Keiss on the horizon
Sinclair beach with Keiss on the horizon

I reached Keiss at 12.25, and was now only 3k from the finish for the day.  This was somewhat of a problem, as I had given Alan an e.t.a. of 4.00.  I emailed him explaining I would be finishing by 2.00.  He got the email, but did not pick it up until 2.35.

20190521 The New Castle at Keiss
Keiss New Castle

After an extended lunch, I sauntered on.  Old Keiss Castle is a fine ruin, with the New Castle only 200m away.  The defensive positions, where these coastal castles were built, are very impressive – they look impregnable.

20190521 The Old Castle at Keiss 01
The Old Castle at Keiss

Despite my best efforts, the car park at Nybster kept getting closer, and I arrived at 1.50.  After a second lunch break, I walked up to the Caithness Broch Museum for a look around, and soon after 3.15 Alan arrived to pick me up.

20190521 Mervin Tower at Nybster Broch
Mervin Tower at Nybster Broch

Tomorrow I will reach John O’Groats.

20190521 Another fine sea arch
Another fine sea arch

15th May – Dornoch to Golspie

20190515 Dornoch cathedral
Dornoch cathedral

Dornoch turned out to be a charming little town.  I left the hotel at 8.10 and walked down past the Market Cross and Cathedral before regaining the trail.

20190515 Dornoch market cross
The ancient market cross

At last I had some coastal walking, first beside the Dornoch Golf Course, and then onto a disused railway track to the little village of Embo.  From there I followed the railway once again to reach Loch Fleet.

20190515 Path beside Dornoch golf course
Path beside Dornoch golf course

The walk around Loch Fleet was very pleasant, even if it was on a road.  I passed Skelbo Castle, and then had a nature-packed few miles.

20190515 Skelbo castle
Skelbo Castle

A stoat ran across the road a few metres in front of me, and then a seal surfaced on the loch.  As the tide was in there were few waders around, but the loch was full of Eider Duck, and hearing their mewing call was a delight.

20190515 Great place to stop for a break
Great place to stop for a break


I delayed walking along the A9 for as long as possible by using a woodland path, but was forced onto it at the causeway of The Mound in order to cross Loch Fleet.

20190515 Mountains and mist over loch fleet
Mountains and mist above Loch Fleet

From the A9 a short section in a wood led to the railway line, which I followed across fields.  Inevitably I had to cross one field of cows, calves and a large bull.  Luckily they were all quite nervous, and the bull hid behind the cows. The farmer’s sign saying “Cattle in field.  Enter at your own risk” was not very helpful when you really have no alternative.

20190515 Highland cow
Benevolent Highland cow

After a short section of road and a beautiful wood, I returned to the coast and another golf course.  Golspie was now in sight, and I arrived at the town at 2.50.

20190515 Approaching Golspie
Approaching Golspie

I managed to get some tea at a cafe, but eating tonight will be problematic.  There is very little choice, so it will probably be fish and chips.

I have a very short day tomorrow – only 10km or 6.5 miles. As I will be passing Dunrobin Castle, I am going to spend some time there before going on to Brora.

When I left Dornoch, there was a trail sign saying John O’Groats 162km.  As today’s walk was 22km, which is the same distance between John O’Groats and Dunnet Head, tomorrow I shall be less than 100 miles from the end of my trip.

20190515 Sea mist on the road around loch fleet
Sea mist on the road around Loch Fleet


4th April – Youlgreave to Hathersage

20190404 Chatsworth house
Today’s highlight – Chatsworth

Today has been one of ups and downs.  The weather forecast for the afternoon was very poor, so naturally I could not get breakfast before 8.30 and the shop in the village was closed for repairs.

20190404 River Lathkill
The River Lathkill

I left Youlgreave at 9.10 and immediately dropped down into Lathkill Dale, crossing the river via a packhorse bridge.  I then climbed over the ridge to walk down into the valley of the River Wye at Haddon Hall.  This was the home of William Peverel, the illegitimate son of William the Conquerer.

20190404 Haddon Hall
Haddon Hall, veiled in mist

The route circled around the grounds of Haddon Hall, passing some very impressive cows, before climbing over another ridge and descending into the Derwent Valley near Chatsworth.

20190404 Cows with big horns
Cows with big horns, where I like to see them – in the next field!

The views of Chatsworth were magnificent and I enjoyed the walk through the Deer Park and the extensive grounds.

20190404 Chatsworth house from the deerpark
Chatsworth viewed from the deerpark

Leaving Chatsworth the weather started to deteriorate so I stopped to don wet weather gear.  Suitably clad I continued to Baslow where I had a coffee and bought some lunch.

At Baslow I reviewed my options.  The guidebook route was up over the gritstone edges of Baslow, Curbar and Froggatt. I know these well from climbing trips and a recent visit. Given the poor forecast it seemed wiser to take a low level route and so I choose the Derwent Heritage Way, part of which I knew from a recent MAC trip. This would also be faster.

At 2.00 I stopped near Froggatt village for lunch and it started to rain in earnest. As I watched Froggatt Edge disappear into the gloom I was pleased with my decision.

Walking beside the River Derwent was enjoyable despite the rain, and I think that I saw two mergansers near Curbar.  Leaving the Derwent I climbed up to Hathersage arriving around 3.30.  As there are plenty of gear shops I was able to replace my lost hat on the way to my accommodation.

20190404 Red deer at Chatsworth
Red deer at Chatsworth

I am overjoyed to be back in Derbyshire and especially in the Peak Park.  The paths are well-signed and tend to exist on the ground, which is more than can be said for those in Shropshire and Staffordshire.

Tomorrow my friend Carl is joining me for a couple of days, which will be great.  I am also taking a semi-rest day and only have around 10k to walk.  In the past week I have covered around 190k, about 20% of the total to Dunnet Head. Over the next few days the distances are less but there will be more hills.  Thankfully the weather looks better for tomorrow.

2nd April – Abbots Bromley to Thorpe

20190402 Dove Valley
Today’s destination – Dovedale

After an early breakfast, and thanks to a lift from my landlady, I set off at 8.15 on one of the longest sections of my trip.

20190402 Stile near Ellishall Farm
At least this stile was interesting…

The route to Uttoxeter follows the Staffordshire Way but is described as being the the low point of the whole trail.  “The path follows the edge of huge fields and the walking is monotonous and the scenery featureless.”  So it proved; and to add to the pleasures of the day it was cold and raining.  Definitely a time just to pound out the miles.

Uttoxeter eventually appeared and was left behind via a path through the racecourse.

Next came my first encounter this trip with my bovine friends. I am not sure why they only appear when I have to cut straight across large fields. This herd included some very fine Old English cattle with huge horns and calves. Luckily they were friendly.

20190402 Arkwright's Mill
Arkwright’s Mill at Rocester

Crossing the A50 I entered Derbyshire for the first time and headed for Rocester. Here I passed Arkwright’s Mill – now the JCB academy – and could see the JCB factory which dominates the town.  A handy seat at Rocester Church proved a good place for lunch.

20190402 Rochester church
Rocester church

The weather had now improved and the walk alongside the River Dove was enjoyable. Leaving the village of Ellastone I made my way up to The Hutts Farm.  Here I made a fatal decision.  I was now on the Limestone Way high up on a ridge but the way is not signed.  The guide route left the Limestone Way at this point to drop down to the Ordley Brook Valley.

20190402 Path near Ordley brook
Quagmire and fallen trees on the “good” path

The route description states ” There is an excellent route along the wooded valley bottom, although it is occasionally wet underfoot, the wood is a delight to walk through and mostly very easy walking”.   I went that way.   There followed about 3km of the worst conditions of the whole trip. The path is a quagmire of mud with fallen trees and clinging brambles. When I finally reach a road the relief was palpable.  Even the guidebook’s author admitted that the route proposed from the road was worse so an alternative had to be found.  I therefore walked back up to the Limestone Way on the road to find good conditions and much better scenery!!

A little road walking, during which it started to snow, took me to Woodhouses and soon Coldwall Bridge and Dovedale were in sight. I arrived at the Izaak Walton Hotel at 6.00 after 35k and an almost 10-hour day.

20190402 River Dove at Ellastone Bridge
The River Dove at Ellastone bridge

A few minutes later my sister-in-law Susan arrived with husband Michael and treated me to a delicious dinner.  I slept well.