Geology and Beaches
The Walrus and the Carpenter were walking hand in hand.
They cried like anything to see
such quantities of sand!
The geology of the area is very interesting. There is a divide at Strathy beach, to its west the rocks are mostly igneous, granite and quartz, and include some of the oldest rocks on the planet. On the east side is Caithness stone, layered sedimentary rock that is quarried in Caithness and its slabs used as walls, roofing and paving. It has paved the major cities of Scotland, England and further afield. Thurso museum has a superb collection of fossils of ancient fish found amongst it. At Strathy beach the sea has carved the stone into caves, tunnels and stacks.
There are spectacular seascapes along the whole coastline which is broken with geos, blowholes, arches, stacks, skerries and islands. Skerray, Strathy Point and Rubha Bhra at Portskerra are particularly attractive places to visit – also see the Armadale walk. A venture up any of the small roads to little townships to the north of the main road will reward you with stunning sea views.
STRATHY BEACH is reached by parking near the burial ground and walking down the dune path. The wildflowers here are wonderful. On the east side of the beach there are many caves and stacks to explore. There is a tunnel through the rock leading to a further small beach. The cave on your right immediately after the tunnel is Captain Ivy’s cave. At the back right hand corner of this cave is a big flat rock with a crack leading to a further hidden cave reputedly once occupied by the eponymous pirate. It is quite a sprauchle to get in, not recommended for children under eight and if you are going to try it, take protective clothing or a change of clothes and a torch. There is enjoyable walking and climbing on the flat rocks where flowers and seabirds of various kinds are abundant. The Strathy Burn runs to the sea on the west side of the beach and it is fascinating to see the mixing of the peaty burn water with the clear sea water. This is a marvellous beach to walk and to play on but the sea quickly gets deep so take care if bathing especially with little ones.
ARMADALE BEACH is now reachable from Armadale village. Look for the sign that says Aallt Beag Armadale Trust, park in the village hall car park, walk back, go through the gate near the sign and follow the path. It will take you past picnic areas and plantations of trees, take care when walking from the kissing gate to the steps as there is a sheer drop on your right. Descend by the steps, down the steepest part to the burn. It can be very wet under foot but there is a pretty wooded area along the burn which you follow right onto the beach. The bay empties a good bit revealing a huge expanse of level, golden sand. Two burns run across the sand leaving many shallow pools which reflect the sky so you find yourself walking on clouds. It is a great beach for walking and playing with many rocks to climb on and pools to look in. It is very good for beach-combing particularly after a storm. It has a shallow gradient so is good for bathing if you are hardy enough to enter the north Atlantic. You will probably have the place entirely to yourself.
It is possible to walk up the east side of the burn to the main road and back up the road to Armadale village but please remember that you will be going through working farm land so dogs must be on a lead, gates must be closed after you, and every effort should be made to avoid disturbing grazing animals.
MELVICH BEACH is reached from a track from the main road beside the blue hut half way down the village and is well signed. This leads to a car park above the dunes. The Halladale river is not so impressive as the Naver along its length, but it makes a most majestic entry to the sea sweeping round the sand dunes and a small promontory where the Bighouse stands. You can walk down to the footbridge then along the river bank to the shore. Please note that the area between the shore-line and the dunes is an important nesting site in summer so please give the nesting birds a wide berth.
Go round by the tide line and it is a delightful walk along the beach to the slipway at Melvich pier. The rocks on the way show evidence of ancient boilings and bubblings. There is a monument near the pier to men from the village who were drowned while fishing over the years. This is a more exposed beach than the others, very good for surfing, good for playing on gentler days, but very pleasant for walking along. A return through the dunes above the beach to the car park makes a very pleasant short, circular walk. The area round the car park is good for wild-flowers and butterflies. Seals are often seen off this shore or hauled out along the river banks, and we once saw a whale here.
FARR BEACH at Bettyhill, beautiful among the dunes with rocky outcrops to the sides with a burn and small streams running into it. The beach is easily accessible from the village with good paths from the main road. It is good for walking, playing and surfing. A huge whale was washed up there a few years ago.