The North of Scotland Way
Cannich to John O'Groats, 184 miles
Part 12 of the End-to-End Walk from Land's Wnd to John O'Groats


The North of Scotland Way (formerly called the Caithness and Sutherland Way) is my own invention. Out here, in the wild northeastern extremity of the Scottish Highlands, there are no recognised long-distance paths. Indeed, the opportunities for off-road walking are very limited. To plot a route across this bleak landscape of lonely, heather-clad moors one needs to use estate roads and forestry tracks wherever possible.

The route has already changed substantially from that which I originally drew up. It commences at Cannich, in Inverness-shire, and adopts what were formerly the last 3 days of the Great Glen Way. It heads up Strath Glass to Struy, then takes the Orrin Dam hill track into Glen Gowrie and a series of local paths (mainly through the Fairburn estate) around the edge of the Beauly and Cromarty firths. At Contin we head through the Torrachilty Forest and the Blackwater gorge to Garve, then by forest paths to Inchbay. From here a series of estate paths pushes through remote, empty country; Strath Rannoch, Strath Vaich, and Gleann Mor bring us to Glencalvie Lodge, then the public road along Strath Carron leads us to Ardgay on the south side of the Dornoch firth. We cross here to Bonar Bridge.

Back lanes and forest tracks lead along the north side of the Firth to Invershin, from where more forest tracks and unavoidable stretches of main road take us to Lairg. Another day of road walking takes us to the lonely inn at Crask. From here a track leads eastwards to Loch Choire, from where an estate road and public road lead out to Kinbrace station. The main road must be used as far north as Forsinain, from where a small maze of forest tracks - the only viable route across the marshy ridge that is the Flow Country - heads towards the railway halt at Altnabreac. From here a track leads to Dalnawillan Lodge from where an estate road leads out along the valley of the river Thurso to Westerdale. Finally, two days of road walking among this strange, stilted countryside leads to the north coast of Scotland and to John O'Groats, the northwestern tip of Britain, and journey's end at last.

Important note, June 2010:

A correspondent who recently walked the route tells me that two significant obstacles have cropped up, affecting walks 3 (Altgowrie to Contin) and 4 (Contin to Inchbae). He writes:

1. The route across the dam at the base of Loch Achonachie between Muirton Mains and Torachility (NH446545) is to be closed permanently from 1 June 2010 'for health and safety reasons'. The fence has already been constructed with large gates, and we were fortunate we arrived on 28 May! No other obvious alternative exists other than the road at Moy bridge.

2. The footbridge across the Blackwater river exiting Longart Forest near Inchbae Lodge has been demolished by the Forestry Commission 'for health and safety reasons' and is not being replaced. Again no alternative exists - we waded the river, which with 50lb rusksacks was not very safe, but the alternative 10ml down and back up the road (we were staying at Inchbae) was also unthinkable at the time.

The closing of the Loch Achonachie dam to walkers is a real blow and for the present walkers will need to use the road bridge at Moy Bridge (direct along the road from Altgowrie) and thence alongside the main road to Contin. This is very unsatisfactory indeed and I will need to research whether any alternatives exist. The removal of the vehicle bridge at the exit from Longart Forest is an even bigger blow in the short term - the Forestry Commission have stated their intent to substitute a footbridge here at some future date, but for now it seems that there is no alternative to walking alongside the busy main road all the way from Silver Bridge to Inchbae.


Planning this walk is not easy. There aren't many places to stay. There isn't much public transport either, and the Inverness to Thurso railway line is almost the only lifeline through Sutherland and Caithness. Between Cannich and Inchbae there are sufficient bus services running to and from Inverness, though at Struy the service is infrequent and only runs on certain days of the week. Here and there postbus services will need to be used, and their awkward timetabling will necessitate breaking up obvious day walks into half day expeditions with long walks in or out. In other places the only alternative to backpacking is to gird up one's loins for very long day hikes. Inchbae to Ardgay involves around 30 miles of walking and either a tent, a bothy night or a mountain bike will be needed, unless you use the postbus and "cheat" by walking from Glenalvie Lodge to Inchbae in the reverse direction.

The various one-day walks that make up the North of Scotland Way:

(Click the links for the individual walk indexes and photo galleries)
1 Cannich to Struy 8 miles
2 Struy to Altgowrie 10½ miles
3 Altgowrie to Contin 6 miles
4 Contin to Inchbae Hotel 13 miles
5 Inchbay Hotel to Glencalvie Lodge 20 miles
6 Glencalvie Lodge to Ardgay 10 miles
7 Ardgay to Lairg 14 miles
8 Lairg to Crask Inn 13 miles
9 Crask Inn to Kinbrace 25 miles
10 Kinbrace to Forsinard 7½ miles
11 Forsinard to Altnabreac 15 miles
12 Altnabreac to Westerdale 14½ miles
13 Westerdale to Hastigrow 13 miles
14 Hastigrow to John O'Groats 14½ miles


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This page last updated 12th June 2010