Travel tips


LetsGoExploring has joined the prestigious Adventure Tourism Research Association. Sustainable tourism is the theme, and, with its sister site at, aims to display how a two development projects can be made commercial without public money.

We wrote the booklet “Creating the North Highland Way” in 2015 and Tina Irving owns the feasibility study and business plan for the North Highland Way, the first walking route of which has been implemented and we are now working with the Council to get the Core Path Networks promoted through Friends of the North Highland Way .

The heritage and culture project linking Scotland, Ireland and Spain was not able to attract public funding or assistance  either so we offer discounted tours to Friends of the North Highland Way instead to raise funds.


Far to the north of Scotland lie Caithness and Sutherland.  Twelve miles across the tempestuous Pentland Firth from John o Groats, Hoy, on Orkney, is even closer to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK mainland with its 100m high cliffs.  Orkney itself is also a wonderland of islands.  You could spend years exploring and not see them all.   The tours over the water stop in the winter.  Why would you want to cross to Orkney anyway. Caithness and Sutherland have it all.  Archaeology, history, geology, great opportunities for outdoor activities.  The North Highland Way from John o Groats to Cape Wrath is being developed.  In the long term it will be the only route in Scotland which will be multi use, and adhere to the principles of sustainable tourism.

The far north of Scotland is spectacular at any time of year.  The wild windswept moors, the wide open spaces, the driving horizontal rain, the snow on the magnificence of the Ben Loyal mountain.  Jeremy Clarkson loved it.  There are of course wonderfully crisp days – ice on Dunnet Beach, frost sparkling in the trees in Dunnet forest.  There is a general lack of trees in both counties.  Dunnet Forest was planted in the 1950s and the Forestry Commission have several plantations in both counties. In general, the high winds scorch the trees and stunt their growth.  Therefore there are very few wonderful trees as those you see in Ireland and France.

Walking out with the horses in the snow is fun, there are not too many cyclists at this time of year.  The winds make it difficult for them to stay on their bikes.  It is great walking country at any time of year.  As for the horses, they stay cosy in their stables if they are lucky.  If not, they are rugged up and left outside with lots of hay.  Shetlands and Highlands can weather the winter without being indoors, but the more fragile throughbred and Arab horses would not survive the cold.

Walking on Dunnet Head in the winter stimulates the senses and you return home feeling refreshed and invigorated.   It is best not to walk too close to the edge of the cliff.  Several folk have done so to their demise.  The geos (inlets) are particularly dangerous, even more so if they are covered in snow.  Dunnet Head itself doesn’t get much snow.  That is reserved mainly for inland villages such as Halkirk and the east coast around Wick which faces the North Sea.  The winds howl in from Orkney.  Sometimes at 120 mph.  It is impossible to stand.  There are grand tales such as geese lying flat on the ground with their wings spread so they don’t get blown away.  The roofs of houses are vulnerable, as is anything which is not firmly tied down.  Radio aerials are particularly vulnerable.  They are often seen bent at right angles as they cannot stand the furore of the wind.


The skies low and thunderous. Multi coloured clouds skudding across the leaden sky.  Fog in early winter is common place.  The wildlife are all hiding, even the seals in Brough Bay keep a low profile as the winter closes in.  The farmers have trouble with storing all of their produce – hay, straw and haylage.  More and more large agricultural sheds spring up every year.  The days are short, the nights long. If it is cloudy, it seems as though it never gets light.  Rain, rain and more rain lashes the coastlines on both north and east.

Further west towards Thurso the terrain is flatter and there are not such high cliffs. Weather patterns  differ to those on Dunnet Head, and at Halkirk.   The area around Halladale and Betty Hill have snuggly bays and golden beaches, havens for wildlife in the summer months.  Around Loch Eriboll you will have to walk on the road. There is a long section around the Loch where road walking is essential.  Mobile phone reception can be unreliable in this area.

The summing up is that the winter is just as good a time to visit Caithness and Sutherland as the summer.  Take the train and be rewarded by the views of the magnificence of one of Europe’s last wildernesses.  Vast swathes of land, mainly peatbog, environmentally important. There are snow warning signs. Snow breaks to attempt to prevent the drifting of the snow onto the line.  The drive north by road can be unpredictable in the winter.  Floods, snow, ice and high winds can make driving miserable.  At least there will not be much traffic on the roads.

If you are undertaking a winter adventure outdoors, make sure you wrap up well, with multiple layers of clothes rather than one thick sweater and a warm waterproof. Thermal vests and leggings are a must.  Then a tee shirt or two. Do not wear jeans.  They do not dry out quickly and are heavy when wet.  Good waterproof boots are essential.  If you get your feet wet, you will get blisters.  Thin socks next to your skin, preferably cotton, with thicker socks over the top.

Taking safety matters in such a remote area is essential, even in the summer.  Your mobile phone or GPS will not be able to get a signal in large swathes of the route, although things are improving

The North Highland Way is designed to be a multi use route from John o Groats to Cape Wrath and will also adhere to the principles of sustainable tourism.  There is no ambition to have a built path, but rather a “way to go”.  There is no public money available for this project, so we look at other ways to raise funds.

Tina Irving climbed Kilimanjaro in October 1994 on her fortieth birthday and is well versed in winter walking conditions.  She lived at Dunnet Head for 15 years and was very involved with the tourism. She organised the Caithness and Sutherland Walking Festival for four years and is currently developing the North Highland Way in conjunction with public services and the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso.

We will be leading tours to this area in 2020



The light was established in 1831 by Robert Stevenson.  The position is at latitude 58 degrees north, further north than Moscow.  The light is flashing (4) White every 30 seconds.  The tower is of white stone, 20m high.  There are 51 steps and 9 ladder steps up to the top of the lighthouse tower.

Dunnet Head Lighthouse marks the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland – being some 2.35 miles North of John o Groats.  Only 6.75 miles across the Pentland Firth lies the nearest point of the Orkney Islands.  Erosion of the rock on which the original fog signal (built in 1899( stood, made it necessary to abandon it and to establish another fog signal nearer the lighthouse.

Information kindly supplied by the Northern Lighthouse Board, Edinburgh.  You can read more in the book “Corners of Caithness – Dunnet”.


Most of Caithness is underlain by flatstones of the Middle Old Red Sandstone (ORS) that are mid Devonian in age, and were deposited as muds and sands in a large lake.  the famous fossils fish beds of Caithness and Orkney occur in these rocks.  Later in the Devonian period the lake was filled with sediment and the area dried out.  Locally there was uplift and erosion before the Upper Old Red Sandstone was deposited.  Dunnet Head and most of the Island of Hoy consist of red and yellow sandstone of the Upper ORS.  These sandstones have sedimentary structures that indicate an alternation of deposition by rivers (fluvial) and sand dunes (aeolian) in a semi-arid environment.  A few fish scales have been found on Dunnet Head, but they are rate.

The eastern margin of Dunnet Head is controlled by the Brough Fault.  This N-S fault separates the Upper ORS from Middle ORS flagstones to the east.  The rocks are highly deformed along the line of the fault.  Later, probably in Permian times, a small volcanic vent punched its way through the sandstones, and is now seen in the Burn of Sinigoe.

copyright:  Rachel Carson Enterprises 2019.  See full book for sale on the books list.

Geological Gallery

CHRISTMAS IN LIBYA – first published in New Panorama in Nerja, Malaga, Spain in December 1988.



The Christmas Story

The usual festivities of Xmas eve – carol singing, mince pies, hot toddies.  The scene is set – the Christmas tree in place (obtained from the Jabel in an illegal raid), glittery decorations hanging in loops, cards festooned around the walls.  People gathered – drinks in hand – large glasses of brown liquid to soothe throats after the singing (the Presbyterians of Ulster would be horrified!). Some red stuff too. Beda wine – this year’s or last year’s vintage. Who cares by midnight anyway. We are all in the rosy glow added to by the festive season.  The expatriates are in good form. It’s a happy band not at all intimidated by the rigors of the world outside the large wooden doors and high walls around the villa.  The weather is reasonable.  Perhaps a little windy.  This sends a chill through our bones as we step outside.  It’s all relative though – summer is about 40 degrees centigrade and the temperatures at this time of the year seldom fall below 15 degrees.

So where are we?  Benghazi, Libya, easy of Tripoli by about 1000 kms – a seven hour drive to the Egyptian border – Rommel country in WWII – the Desert Fox.   It is 13 hours to Crete by boat, and, according to Adrian Keane’s book “Walking on Water – my escape from Ghadaffi’s Libya”  landing on the Greek island of  Gavdhos which is served by a ferryboat from Crete twice weekly during the summer season.  Xmas Eve is spent pretty much the same as it is all over the world, oblivious of world opinion about the hotspot often discussed at length in the media.  Where is the problem?  The only disadvantage about spending Christmas in Libya is the shortage of foodstuffs.  This seems strange at first, not being able to nip down to Sainsbury’s and buy a bottle of Xmas brandy, Christmas Day and a hangover (my apologies to my Presbyterian friends).  It’s just like home.  Hangovers are the same anywhere.  However, we struggle bravely on.  Drinks around 10am kick off the day to a good start.  Then we pile in the cars and go down to the Mediterranean for the obligatory Xmas swim. It’s still a little windy but not devastatingly so.  The road is dry and the sun is out.  In fact, the weather could be described as “crisp” but certainly not cold.  The particular beach we choose is 40 kms out of town to the south.  We frequent the beach often in the summer, those halcyon days of sun and sea, ah, we await their inevitable return.  It’s a different scene than in the summer.  What is normally a gentle lull of waves on the shore is now a crashing maelstrom of water.  There has been a storm out at sea.  The greenery around encouraged by the rains which started in October are a far cry from the dust and yellowness of the summer.


We plunge into the Med.  Somebody says something about brass monkeys. It’s not that bad!  Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve is much worse!  Who said you need a wetsuit?  Five minutes in is long enough though and we emerge, shivering mainly from the wind, and quickly dry ourselves off and dress in sweaters and jeans.  The flask comes out – black coffee with a drop of the hard stuff – flash, the illegal spirit brewed by the hardy Polish expatriates, including big Stan whose shorts never quite fit.  I digress.  The drink warms all the necessary parts beautifully and we sit and chat in the cars before driving back to Benghazi for lunch.

The table is laden with goodies – you could be in Europe!  Roast turkey, locally grown, bought as soon as they appear in the shops and frozen.  You never know when they are going to disappear from the market again.  Except ours is fresh. It is bought in the mountains from an Arab farmer and brought home in a sack.  The guys who fetched it had a problem with a road block.  The Army fancied the turkeys and nicked one for themselves.  It was only Mick’s quick thinking that stopped them nicking both of them.  However, that story is not for delicate ears. It spent a week running round the kitchen in Mick’s flat before we could find anyone to kill it. I digress again. I wish I would stop doing that.  Nasty habit.   Vegetables are potatoes, carrots and beans.  We have been storing them in the freezer for months. Probably more months than we should.  However, playing things by the book in Libya may mean we don’t have any vegetables at all!  The rest is flown in by us.  Xmas puddings, mince meat, cranberry jelly, bacon (tut tut – offending Islam now) and other trimmings have to be brought from overseas.  Hams, port (contraband of course), Christmas crackers, yule logs.  The customs men would have had a heart attack if he had seen all of these goodies.  Fortunately most of are adept at distracting them when going through customs.  As for me, I am cute with blonde hair and blue eyes, and very petite.  Just the sort the Arabs like.  It is my job to distract them while Brian pushes the trolley through customs.  Here I go again. Digressing. Sorry chaps.

We sit down to a massive feast and pull cracker and wear silly hats, drink the illegal brew. It always tastes better when its illegal.  Wine, beer and other concoctions.  Then we crash out in front of the video.  No circus on the box here, but films carefully chosen for “the day”.

It’s 8pm.  There’s a choice between going visiting or watching more videos and topping up our intake of alcohol.  We feel mellow, so we reach for the wine bottle.  The wine has been carefully nurtured and stored after bringing hundreds of kilos of grapes from the Green Mountain.  We clutch the bottle in hand and don’t let go until it’s empty.  Then we collapse into bed, tipsy but happy and look forward to the New Year festivities.  Libyan is supposedly a dry country but today we have consumed more alcohol than we would have if we had been at home.  It’s a tough life in Ghadhaffi’s country.

This fits into the general theme of the LetsGoEast project under culture.  The projects are linked on the web site – walking, culture and language.

The Spanish group of the East Antrim University of the Third Age  went to Competa, near Malaga, from 14-28 April 2018.  There were a variety of events and activities.  A trip to the local vineyard, a guided tour of the village, lunch with the U3A Axarquia in Velez Malaga, a walk to Canillas de Albaida… a lovely little village about 4 miles from Competa.

I am Tina Irving, the ex convenor for the Spanish group in the local U3A in Carrickfergus, and led the visit.  I have spent over 30 years in Spain on and off, going to Madrid University in 1995/96 to study Spanish as part of my degree in Spanish and IT at London South Bank University.  I first went  to Competa, a small village in the foothills of the Almijaras… great walking country….. Competa is now a thriving town with shops, restaurants, a very nice hotel, B&Bs, banks, a town hall.  Competa is at the apex of the road from the coast roads from Algarrobo Costa and Torrox.

I bought my first house in Competa in the “campo” in 1986.  It was an old finca which I renovated over 15 years and then sold.  I also had a town house which I also renovated and sold.  In 2005 I bought an old house in Canillas de Albaida near Competa and started to renovate… then came the financial crash of 2008 and eventually the project was sold to a local estate agent who has finished and sold it.  It looks beautiful!







Competa visit

North Coast 500


‘Scotland’s Answer to Route 66’ – Daily Mail headline

My astute reader will have spotted all the turbulence concerning the opening of Scotland’s new route, ‘North Coast 500.’ All the great and the good and their slavish adherents are gathering to praise it and be associated with it and all the agencies are rushing to put cash into it; fine, certainly it is a step forward – or many steps since the route is 500 miles long (well, around 500 miles long) – and it will boost the Scottish economy.

The name and idea are not original though. Basically it is an amalgamation of some existing routes; in fact there is nothing novel even in the concept. Other countries have a ‘500 mile’ route (even a 500 kilometre route) of one description or another. The comparison with Scotland’s latest walking route to the ‘Route 66’ of the United States is hardly apt though.

The question for Caithness is how the 500 will fit in with the Great North Highland Way (GNHW), the walking project being supported by a small but staunch band of enthusiasts both in Caithness and along the north coastline of Sutherland.

Very well, I should think. The two routes do overlap and should synergise with each other. The world-wide publicity surrounding the ‘500’ can bounce to good effect with the GNHW. In fact, of the two routes, I believe the most fruitful could well be the much shorter GNHW. I base that on the success of the existing West Highland Way that runs from the town of Milngavie in the central belt to Fort William in the north. The West Highland Way, in essence, starts from a rail head and ends in another one and is so structured to fill a week’s holiday for those walkers coming up from the south. Given the length of the proposed walk of the GNHW that fits in with either a two week walk or a one week walk depending on where one starts – the shorter, one week walk being from Thurso.

Tina Irving introduced both Ian Ellis and Easyways to the concept of the Way. Easyways has become a firm supporter of the concept of a dedicated walking route across the top of the world; they have already committed some cash into the project and have had enquiries about walking the route already. And these enquiries have come from around the world: Andrew Fernie of Easyways considers that, although the Aurora Trail will not top the 80,000 or so walkers that the West Highland Way achieves annually, such is the interest that my reckoning of ten per cent of that number could be readily attained (and, as an aside, Paul Monaghan, the SNP candidate for the constituency has also given his not inconsiderable support to the project).

Cash though! That dreaded word cash. Where are we in raising the necessary finance required to run and maintain such a route?

Firstly, the good news.

The feasibility study has now been completed and is available to be purchased. This study was carried out under the auspices of assisted by London South Bank University. It furnishes a report on the infrastructure required to bring the Aurora Trail (or the Great North Highland Way, if you prefer it to be called) into viability along with an assessment of its potential economic impact on the north (a good impact) as well as a full marketing plan. It also provides structural costs and thus there is a costed out business plan in it.

And the feasibility study is for sale for relatively little (cost price almost); after all the people who undertook it do need to recoup their expenses, so that brings us back to funding.

There is a loop here; some bodies will not consider funding until they have sight of the feasibility study and, therefore, until money is put in to purchase this none of their money will be forthcoming. Given the low cost of the study perhaps that may not be a problem for too long. Once the study is generally available then several bodies will consider aiding with the capital costs of the route – notably Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Big National Lottery Fund (as per John Thurso) and Scottish National Heritage amongst others. The running costs are the problem, however. But, even here there is hope. Highland Council have said they would consider the matter once they had sight of the feasibility study and, really good news, SSE, the company that owns wind farms in Caithness, have also said they would consider an application (but only after October when their new sponsorship scheme starts). This is especially welcome since SSE is a co-sponsor of the Loch Ness Way and is always keen to put something back into the local communities where their wind farms are based.

Other private companies of goodwill towards Caithness may also be interested but IGas (Scotland) are too involved in the variability’s of the oil market at the moment and Atlantis Resources feel, rightly, that they want to get their feet tucked under the Caithness plateau first before they do anything.

I have a feeling though that once one sponsor commits others will follow and, although it is appreciated that a willingness to look at a proposal does not mean adopting that proposal, it is a first step and I will be keeping in touch with all the potential financial helpers.

I am confident that this aspiration of the Caithness Waybaggers on the Nineties will come to fruition and that we will eventually see the great and the good eulogising over the Great North Highland Way and congratulating themselves on their foresight in supporting the concept — ok, I’m being sarcastic.

Note.. this article was written by Bill Paterson in 2015. We have made considerable progress since then. No money but much more research. HIE want everything for free, despite the fact they do not have a feasibility study or business plan for the NC500. Why, then, are they asking one for free from us, as well as the 15 years of research free of charge.

The press are very interested in this story, and although I now live in Ireland, I have worked for 15 years to try to bring it to fruition. Here are some of the questions I was asked and my responses…..


Who was it who came up with the name and plan for the route, and when were plans first established to develop it?


The Caithness Waybaggers first mooted a different route in 1992 but due to land owner problems, it did not go ahead. Then a plan was put together in 2008 for the route across the North Coast by the sponsors you can see on my web site at, as well as some others, but they were the main ones.


Is there an overseeing committee set up to manage the project, how many people are involved and do you have a breakdown of positions etc.?


No… this is the problem. THC did a consultancy report (I can send you a copy if you wish) but a committee could not be formed so I have continued to market the existing route.


How exactly do you see the route developing (signposts, ambassadors, visitor centres, maps, advertising, corporate sponsorship etc.)?


I would hope to have all of what you have mentioned, plus toilets! We could also have our own Rangers to supplement the ones in existence, and transport to help people who do not make it to the next stop. We could not rely on existing emergency services… they are already overstretched. This area is very remote, and some areas do not have broadband coverage.


I notice you state a lack of “public funds” for the route. Who have you approached for funding so far, and what success have you had?


HIE is currently being investigated by Gail Ross and Jill Rosie as they refuse to engage, and will not set up a simple meeting of public services. Roy Kirk initially said he would set up a meeting, then reneged on his promise. I have everything in writing.

THC paid £1000 for the consultancy report which was not done by me, and I have asked for funds for a land owner survey. Again, they have refused, so Mrs. Ross is also looking into this. Matt Dent, THC Access Officer, does a great job and we work well together. He is, however, only responsible for the Core Paths. There has been a recent review to which I had an input.

//Dounreay thought I should do all of the work before applying for funding – refer to David Shearer. The Dunnet Head Educational Trust was in existence then and we had a lot of support, but they would not even consider funding.**

In short, the project has had precisely £1000 of public funding – this to a consultant who was not familiar with the route.

SNH are fantastic… they always provide information and assistance, but without a community group or charity to take it forward, it will be a very long process.

I have suggested that the Scottish Government fund my company directly as there has been so much controversy and so many difficulties.


What exactly is your overall goal for the project?

You state below that you want a “route similar to the South West path in England… not a built path through but a way to go.” Some might say “the way to go” already exists? How would you respond to that?


The overall goal is to have a route for horse riders, cyclists and walkers… all covered by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to which I had an input in 2003. This would be the only multi use route in Scotland.

As stated, similar to the South West Path. Some of the “way to go” does exist but there is a lot of road work and many difficult sections outwith the Core Path plan.


Some people would say that there is already a “way to go”… What would your response be to that?


It is not all accessible for horses and cyclists, and there are big gaps.


What about NC500


NC500 is a great initiative. It has certainly put Caithness and Sutherland on the map. I think the North Highland Way would complement this and we should be thinking about sustainable tourism, not folk driving round the North Coast of Scotland and missing out as they are in their cars and want to get from A to B… they are missing out on the real beauty of the area… the wildlife, the environment, the tranquillity…