Walking the Cliffs of Caithness

The greying, sombre skies seemed to clear for the winter sun - the clouds dissipated by a bracing wind that frothed the sea below.

As we followed the jagged edges carved by the waves, it seemed like the setting for a Gothic novel.
But I wasn't imagining myself in Wuthering Heights; I was navigating the Caithness cliffs on one of a series of walks co-ordinated by the Highland Council's countryside ranger service.
After making our way to Sandside Bay, near Dounreay, my friends and I, along with other keen walkers, met with senior countryside ranger Mary Legg.
Shrinking from the chill in the air, we bundled up in scarves, waterproofs and fleeces, and headed towards the cliff tops that beckoned behind dry-stone dykes and wisps of yellowed grass. We were going to walk for around four hours, hugging the cliff edge before heading inland to the county border at Drumhollistan.
Until quite recently, I had never truly appreciated the scenery that Caithness had to offer, and so the jutting cliffs and undulating terrain provided breathtaking views.
"It seemed like a good idea to run a series of walks covering our cliffs to allow folk to enjoy the grandeur at their doorstep," explained Mrs Legg.
"I have walked Caithness cliffs for many years now and never cease to be amazed at their dramatic beauty and variety.
"I have also never found a favourite one as they vary so much with the seasons and weather."
We were all certainly amazed too, trekking across shallow gorges and pebble-strewn marshes and over a tiny bridge that managed to support us all. We were just waiting for a troll to pop out, searching hungrily for three goats.
As we moved further along the coast, the sun behind us cast distorting shadows on the razored peaks in front - we were stilt-walking giants; shadow puppets projected onto a mossy and cragged backdrop.
Revelry was not only provided by the scenery, but by the antics of one friend who managed to fall not once, not twice, but three times - too engrossed perhaps, in the views around her.
We saw hidden waterfalls trickling down rocky staircases, conical hills transformed by puffins into hole-riddled landmarks, and huge glacial crevices opening up to the sea.
As we approached the end of the expedition, it was clear that simply walking in the less explored parts of Caithness provides for an invigorating, and free, activity. It is made all the more interesting when you have a guide who can tell you about the geology, history and wildlife of the area.
After finishing the walk, having been kindly delivered back to our waiting car at Reay by one of the rangers, my friends and I unwrapped our numerous layers and headed, home rejuvenated, if a little tired, ready for an afternoon nap. Ready too for the next adventure, hoping the sky will be clear once again.


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