Deanich Lodge to Ardgay Back to North of Scotland Way index Lairg to Crask Inn

The Walk

A day of transition, as we cross the Kyle of Sutherland (a.k.a. the Dornoch Firth) into the old county of Sutherland and the far north of Scotland. A substantial amount of today's route is on tarmac, there being few off-road paths or tracks available. The map suggests a number of possible routes northwest of Bonar Bridge but, without exception, they prove to be non-existent or non-contiguous and so back lanes have to be used apart from the forest track in Maikle Wood. In the afternoon we make our way alongside the river Shin, either by the back road on the west side or by the forest track a little further west. Don't miss the Shin Falls, which are worth seeing although are not spectacular. The road continues along the surprisingly lush Achany glen, eventually reaching the southern end of Loch Shin and the village of Lairg.

Map:  OS 1:25000 Explorer 441 (Lairg & Bonar Bridge)

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Ardgay and Bonar Bridge, facing each other across the Kyle of Sutherland, have a curious relationship. Bonar Bridge is much the larger and more important of the two, but it's Ardgay that has the railway station. The consequence of this seems to be that, in official eyes, Bonar Bridge is the junior partner to Ardgay. Look up any facility or business in the area - it will be situated in Bonar Bridge, but it will be listed under Ardgay. While both Bonar Bridge and Ardgay have post offices, it's Ardgay post office from which the local postbus services run.

Ardgay; the Dornoch firth

In spite of the official view Ardgay is tiny. You get off the train, and there's little to see and little to do. There is a cafe (the Lady Ross) attached to the post office, and there's also a small general store across the road. There's no accommodation. Your first objective is Bonar Bridge, and to get there it's necessary to walk along the main road - formerly the A9, until a new main road bridge was built downstream - and across the bridge into Bonar.

Bonar Bridge

The bridge across the Dornoch Firth

A metropolis compared to Ardgay, yet anywhere else in the UK this place would be but an insignificant village. I've been here twice - on the first occasion it was a dull morning and the place was deserted. On the second, it was a sunny June evening and the place was alive with people. Which of these is its true character I just wouldn't know.

Geological display north of the bridge;  views of Bonar Bridge

The main road runs alongside the firth, running to Lochinver and Lairg to the left, and Golspie and Wick to the right. Our route, however, runs straight on, up the hill, and past the hospital to a road junction about 800m beyond the village centre. Turn left here onto a lonely back lane for Tulloch.

Northern reaches of Bonar Bridge


Tulloch is a locality consisting of a couple of square miles of sparse, rough pasture dotted with trees. The map shows an off-road track a couple of hundred metres to the left, which on paper looks like a superior proposition to the road. Unfortunately the map is over-optimistic. This track barely exists. It's quicker and far more straightforward to stick to the road. Follow it to another road junction, not quite a mile north of the previous one, and turn left again to walk about 500m northwest to the point where it says "hut circle" on the map, at a junction of tracks with extensive woodlands all around.

Back road near Tulloch

Continue along the road for another 250m. As it bends to the left, a prominent forest road goes off to the left and immediately forks into two, the leftmost track bending hard back to the southeast. Take the other track, which initially runs parallel to the road you just left. After about 300m, there's a junction: go left here.

Woods near Tulloch

Maikle Wood

You're now well within the forest plantation of Maikle Wood. This forest track continues for some two and a half miles and is arguably the highlight of the day. The first feature of note is a clearing to the right backed by a high rockface, presumably an old quarry. The track curves left and downhill to approach the edge of the wood, then turns right to follow the contour until you reach an open area in front of you. There are excellent views here along and across the Kyle of Sutherland.

Maikle Wood and the Kyle of Sutherland

Keep to the track as it skirts the edge of the wood above the locality of Maikle, then goes right again into the wood. After a slight uphill rise it keeps to a fairly level contour for a good while. Ignore the side tracks above the locality of Balbair and keep going. Maikle Wood becomes Balbair Wood and the path now descends steadily towards the Kyle, with the occasional glimpse of the railway bridge at Invershin and the edifice of Carbisdale Castle on the hill opposite.

Ky;e of Sutherland and Balbair Wood

Balbair Wood and Carbisdale Castle across the kyle.

As you approach Bailachreagain turn left onto a descending track. This track twists and turns somewhat but eventually it brings you out onto the A836 road. Walk along the road to Invershin.


Railway bridgeInvershin hotel

Invershin has a railway station and a hotel and a handful of cottages. In Sutherland that makes it a big place. The railway station allows you to break the journey if you wish, while youth hostellers will head across the footbridge and up the hill to Carbisdale Castle, dating from the 1930s and now Britain's grandest youth hostel. It's one of two 20th century castles close to the route of the End-to-End (the other was Castle Drogo, back in Devon).

Carbisdale Castle;  road to Shin Bridge

Unless you take the forest road alternative from Shin Bridge to Achany it's road walking the rest of the way into Lairg (and indeed the whole of the next day, to the Crask Inn). Fortunately there's not that much main road. It's about a kilometre north of Invershin along the A836 before you come to the a road junction. The road straight on goes to Lairg direct, but we're taking the back road on the western side of the river Shin so we turn left. This road, the A837, is heading ultimately for Lochinver and Scourie on the west coast, but we shall follow it for just one kilometre, as far as Shin Bridge.

Shin Bridge

Shin Bridge

The road bends round to the right by a handful of cottages to cross the Shin by a smart new bridge immediately south of the old one (which is dangerous and should not be visited). The main road now goes off left round by the power station, but our route goes right to follow the B864. This is the minor road along the west side of the Shin and doesn't get a lot of traffic save that heading for the Falls of Shin a mile and a half ahead. The road is single track with passing places, it bends quite a lot, and it's fairly well hemmed in by trees with the occasional glimpse of the river Shin nearby on the right.

The B864 road to Shin Falls

Falls of Shin

A glimpse of the Shin;  the road

Two kilometres north of Shin Bridge the trees on the left suddenly give way to reveal a clearing, a car park and the smart wooden structure that is the Falls of Shin visitor centre. Most of the interior is a retail opportunity but there is also a welcome cafeteria. The Falls of Shin can be reached by either of two footpaths leading off the road to the right. The falls are pretty rather than spectacular, though if you are lucky you may spot leaping salmon from the viewing platform.

The River Shin and the falls

Falls of Shin

Having seen the falls, and perhaps whiled away a quarter of an hour in the visitor centre, resume your walk along the road. Not far to the north a crescent of former forestry houses stands to the left. Beyond here the road continues much as before, bending liberally among tree cover with the occasional glimpse of the river to your right.

Shin fallsthe roadforestry cottages


Eventually the scene changes. The trees thin out, and pastures and river meadows begin to appear. A few driveways to the left reveal the existence of half hidden cottages and lodges, and the vegetation is surprisingly lush. This is the Achany glen.

Road and river scenes at Achany

pastures and meadows

Soon afterwards the road crosses a small but handsome stone bridge and bends round to the right, hugging the side of a wood. There are several tracks into the wood, which might promise a respite from the road walk, but unfortunately none of these tracks lead anywhere useful. Some of them have little wooden markers adjacent that say "visitors welcome", a nice touch.

Scenes at Achany


The road bends round to the left again to resume its northward course. It's less lonely now and you're never far from a roadside cottage. This is the locality of Gruids, much of which is scattered off to the left among a maze of small fields and pastures. I did investigate the possibility of a route through Gruids to add some variety to the afternoon, but there isn't one. Stay on the road.


The road ploughs on, ever northwards, through increasingly open vistas. There's a long strip of river meadow down to your right, the forest being restricted to the land on the east side of the river.

Road and river meadows north of Gruids

Road junction and footbridge

About a mile and a half north of Achany bridge you will spot a suspension footbridge spanning the river to the right. It's a nice little place to stop for a late afternoon snack (midges allowing), river access having been pretty near impossible since Shin falls. A path into the forest beyond the bridge allows fast access to Lairg railway station should you be pushed for time.

river; footbridge; garden

The views continue to open up as the trees thin out. You really expect moorland and rough pasture this far north but the scene continues to be dotted with meadows and cottages. I was particularly taken by one of the gardens I passed (see above), which indicates just how lush this area actually is.

Strath Shin

You come eventually to the junction with the A839, which runs off southwest to join the Strath Oykel road across to Lochinver. The road now leads up to the dam of Little Loch Shin.

Road junction

Little Loch Shin

View of Lairg over the lochroad; entering Lairg

The road runs up along the west side of Little Loch Shin for the next half mile. The loch is not a beauty spot by any means though is pleasant enough on a sunny day. The village of Lairg is visible opposite and further along. The road becomes screened by trees again and the loch is hidden, but before long the road passes a number of "Welcome to Lairg" signs, with the Gaelic version of Lairg being spelt a different way on each.



The road crosses a narrow neck of Little Loch Shin on a bridge to meet the main A836 once again. The village centre is a few hundred metres further north, its main street leading off east from a road junction.

It's doubtful whether Lairg has a population of more than a couple of hundred, but it's the biggest place for a good many miles in any direction. In fact it's the biggest place left on the End-to-End. There's only one more place big enough to have its own shop, and that's Watten, which is six days' walk ahead. Through hikers should stock up here. Lairg has a hotel and a couple of guest houses and a handful of B&Bs, plus an eclectic sprinkling of shops. It's hard to see what actually keeps the place going apart from tourism and fishing.

Bus services are skeletal and most leave from the post office half way along the main street. The rail station is a mile and a half to the south, along the main A836; allow adequate time.

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Deanich Lodge to Ardgay Back to North of Scotland Way index Lairg to Crask Inn

This page last updated 9th September 2004