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Caithness & Sutherland - Spring 2004
In Caithness the complete renewal of signs within Achvarasdal woodland is nearing completion. This little known site, which actually comprises the woodland policy around the Church of Scotland Eventide Home at Achvarasdal, is a wonderful wooded site with a high density of mature deciduous trees making it a rare woodland resource for access on the North Coast. The renewed signage has been undertaken as part of a wider project involving the Achvarasdal Woodland Management Group, The Church Of Scotland, The Biodiversity Project and The Highland Council. A leaflet was launched for the site in Autumn 2003 and a picnic area is due for completion in the next couple of months.

In the Dunnet area two lesser-known access routes to bird hides have now been signposted to make finding the bird hides at St. Johnís Loch and the Loch of Mey easier for visiting birdwatchers. In addition to the attractions that these two Lochs hold Ė Loch of Mey in particular as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for both over wintering Greenland White Fronted Geese and breeding bird populations giving this Loch year round appeal to the birdwatcher. The Loch of Mey hide also benefits from being wheelchair accessible although wheelchair users should seek information on the condition of the path to the hide before arrival. This project was undertaken in conjunction with the Thurso (Caithness) branch of the Scottish Ornithological Club and the Mary Legg, Highland Council Ranger Service.

The Highland Access Project has invested nearly £10500 in the Lybster area on path upgrade works and improved signage and accessibility structures. The above wildlife-watching theme was further supported through the installation of new signs along with the provision of a stile to the new shelter bench and interpretive panel intended for sea watching on the Swiney Hill route. This was a joint project with Clyth, Lybster and Latheron Community Council, The Highland Council Ranger Service and the Biodiversity Project. Interestingly recent findings for tourism in the Highlands that 31% of visitors went bird and wildlife watching with 57% of all visitors stating that wildlife was important to their visit. Large scale path upgrades have also been underway recently in Rumster Forest with an improved link between existing forest tracks and initial works to create a circular route through the forest to Rumster Mast. These works will be multi user compatible with hordes riders and cyclists being able to use the resource together with walkers. This scheme although funded through the Highland Access Project and managed directly by the Forest Commission Scotland has received support from The Caithness Riders Access Group, the recently formed Caithness Mountain Bike Group and the Clyth, Lybster and Latheron Community Council.

The Wick Paths Project, led with involvement from the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council have succeeded in their bid for monies through the aggregates levy to improve the South  Head quarries route and several flights of Caithness flagstone steps that link the lower and upper South Head paths. These works are being undertaken through ILM. The design of a mapboard and possible leaflets is ongoing to cover this and all the other routes in and around Wick as supported by HAP and the Wick Paths Project.  In Durness all waymarkers and fingerposts are now in place along with some path upgrade works including bridges, stiles and kissing gates. The Durness Path Group along with representation through the Community Council are now proceeding with ideas for a second phase of path developments in the area and work to produce five map boards and a leaflet featuring the local routes is in progress. Anecdotal evidence from local people and businesses suggests that there has been a marked increase in people using the routes in and around Durness since the new signage was installed in the autumn of last year.

Routes within the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) landholdings at Carbisdale, Balblair and Rogart are all receiving assistance with path upgrades. The work at Carbisdale is in conjunction with a larger FCS scheme that has also resulted in the improvement of parking facilities to this popular woodland. The scheme at Balblair is a straightforward path upgrade whilst the works at Rogart are geared towards initial upgrades to routes that will be further improved in the future.

The cattle grid on the bridge crossing the Sleach Water at the head of Loch More no longer prevents access to horse riders wishing to experience the wilds of Caithness and the open vistas of the circular route via Dalnawillan Lodge or through to Forsinane. This area is due to receive waymarking and fingerposts in the near future to provide cyclists, horse riders and walkers guidance on both the through route and the circular route which together combine to provide almost 30km of forest and estate tracks through the hinterland of Caithness and over the border into Sutherland.

 

Remaining in the Kyle of Sutherland Area, the Community Woodland at Gearrchoille, Ardgay, is receiving help in the form of two kissing gates, fingerposts, waymarkers and benches to add to their successful community woodland scheme. This scheme has also seen assistance from the Biodiversity Project and the North Highland Forest Trust.

In Dornoch three kissing gates have been installed to replace older gates that were in a terminal condition, along with upgraded waymarking and finger posting of routes through Station and Earls Cross woods. Scope has been left to incorporate further waymarking in the future to Embo, with a secondary unpainted routed band being left on the waymarkers to include a further colour coded route if required. Following these works further requests of assistance have been received including the replacement of an existing stile with a rabbit proof gate in the grounds of the former hostel to give access to the Cholera grave.

In Skerray further routes are being considered and a map board is set to be designed to illustrate the local routes.  This is likely to have a historical flavour as the Skerray Historical Association is leading the project. Further fingerposts have been added to the coastal path between the Drownings Memorial and Portskerra Slip at the request of Melvich Community Council.

The Doll Suspension Bridge in Brora is nearing completion as this article was going to press. This crucial infrastructure link is being supported by HAP with funding towards bank works and path link creation on either end of the structure. This link reinstates a number of local routes together with providing a dry-shod link for residents in Doll to cross the River and avoid taking the perilous option of walking along the verge of the A9 into Brora. The link may also be used to promote an inland link between Brora and Golspie, which will allow a highly varied circular route for adventurous walkers mixing the coastal and inland links between the settlements.

Caithness & Sutherland area covered by David Barclay, based in Brora.
Tel. 01408 622676 Email:
david.barclay@highland.gov.uk

See Also
Highland Access Project

Routes For Riders In Caithness
Walking In Caithness
Camster Cycle Trail
Public Rights Of Way In Highland