REWALK JUNE 2014
Walks Caithness Author: Richard Hallewell
Walks Caithness is one of our slowest selling books, but one of my personal favourites. Walkers tend to be drawn away to the hills of neighbouring Sutherland; explorers heading north keep straight on to Orkney or Shetland. If it weren’t for John o’ Groats and Castle of Mey there would be nothing to bring it to the mind of the general tourist. But Caithness is a unique little corner of the country: an undulating blanket of heather moorland dotted with countless lochs and lochans, edged by a selvage of good quality grazing land, with a final fringe of beetling sandstone cliffs and enormous sand beaches. Windswept and treeless, with a tiny population and only two significant towns – Thurso and Wick – it has, nonetheless, a charm all of its own. The wide silvery skies, low-slanting Sun, vast empty silence (on those occasional windless days) and peculiar field walls of flagstones buried on edge, are all typical of the place and unmistakable.
Besides these qualities, it is a splendid place for students of early archaeology, with a mass of burial cairns, stone rows and brochs. Having entirely rewalked the book this Spring, we have included one new route – the short climb to Cairn of Get: a 5,000 year old burial cairn with an Iron Age fort nearby. It is a short walk, but has the advantage that it allows us to mention the neighbouring Whaligoe Steps – not a walk at all, really, but an extraordinary place to visit: a flight of over 300 steps cut into a cliff to allow access to a tiny fishing harbour surrounded by cliffs.
That apart, there are just the usual alterations and updates to keep the descriptions as accurate as possible, but there is one general alteration to the county which is worth mentioning. Not having been to Caithness for some years I was surprised by the scale of the new wind farms. There is, perhaps, some logic in harnessing wind power in a place with so much wind, but it would be difficult to argue that the partial industrialisation of so stunning a landscape has been an improvement.