Peat Roads & Peatlands guided walk

Peat stacks on Beinn Mhealaich
Peat stacks on Beinn Mhealaich. Copyright John King.

In the final weekend of our current exhibition A Layered Land, we invite you to explore the peatland environment that is the subject of the artists’ work. Trace the routes taken by peat cutters, learn about the flora and the fauna and discover the natural and human histories present in the landscape with mountain guide John King.

Saturday 4 February 2017, 9.00 (meet at Timespan)
Booking necessary – please call 01431 821 327 or email to reserve a place.

This guided walk aims to give participants an overview of the landscape surrounding Helmsdale, focusing particularly on the peat moorlands that dominate the area, and highlighting some of the varying uses of this land from the earliest human habitation right up to the present day.

The guide for the day is local mountain leader John King who runs King Mountaineering. He is a qualified mountain leader, a member of the Mountain Training Association and holds a current Outdoor Emergency First Aid Certificate so provides safe hands for a good day out.

The planned route is 14km (8 3/4 miles) with 600m (1970 ft) of ascent and will involve some rough walking, away from recognized paths, on open moorland and include some steeper gradients. Participants should therefore have a reasonable level of fitness and appropriate clothing and footwear will be necessary. Please also bring lunch, snacks, and water!

The Route

Starting from Timespan, the route crosses the 19th century Thomas Telford Bridge, passes the ice house of the same era and climbs out of the village over the railway line, through West Helmsdale and out onto the “Peat Roads” above the village. These long-standing paths are followed into the hills to a site where peat is still cut, stacked and collected today. From here great views open up inland along the Strath of Kildonan to the Flow Country of interior Sutherland (Europe’s largest expanse of blanket peatbog) and the peaks of the west on the horizon.

Heading west, the peat roads are left behind for open hill country, crossing moorland typical of central Sutherland, heavily managed for the purposes of hunting game. This section offers the best chance to spot some of the area’s wildlife, especially red deer, and see a selection of the flora typical of Scotland’s peatlands.

After 2km a path is picked up following the west side of the Elderable Burn down toward Kilphedir, passing several sites evidencing historic human habitation in the Strath of Kildonan, including remains of a cairn, a broch and some abandoned croft houses.

The railway is crossed via a level crossing and the river by an old suspension footbridge to reach the lodge and farm cottages at Kilphedir. From Kilphedir a track is followed uphill to pass further sites of historic interest before heading out onto moorland once more. Passing below Solus Craggie, a ridge is descended to reach Caen and the remains of a township, which was cleared to make way for sheep farming during the Highland Clearances.

Transport from Caen back to Timespan at the end of the walk will be provided.