Location: Littleferry, Sutherland

Grade: Low level coastal walk

Distance: 5 miles/8km

Time: 2-3 hours

Loch Fleet is Scotland’s most northerly sea inlet and the fast tidal race between Coul Links in the south and Littleferry in the north is a sight to behold.

Much of the area is a designated National Nature Reserve, a place where you can enjoy plants, birds or sea mammals like otters and harbour seals.

Linger here at the edge of the tidal basin at low tide, and watch hungry waders as they feed over the soft mud. Harbour seals bask on exposed sand banks.

Walk along informal sand dune paths to enjoy wild flowers, bumblebees, butterflies and moths. Or wander along the old woodland path among pockets of rare pinewood plants such as one-flowered wintergreen. Alternatively, relax on the reserve’s fabulous beach at Littleferry to experience the peace and solitude.

This richness in wildlife makes it all the more surprising that plans to build a luxury golf course on part of the Coul Links were approved by Highland Council. The application was called in by the Scottish Government in February and, thankfully, thrown out.

These thoughts went through my mind as I stood by Littleferry pier and gazed across the estuary. Oystercatchers called shrilly and a raft of eider ducks crooned their melancholy song. Through my glasses I could see seals hauled up on the beach and earlier in the day a pine marten had crossed the road in front of me.

The area is a haven for wildlife, much of it considerably more rare than luxury golf courses, a particular breed that is overabundant in Scotland.

Loch Fleet was once crossed by a regular ferry here but today the pier is little used and the remaining houses are in a quiet and secluded setting.

I made my way along the coast from the pier, undecided whether to walk on the shingle beach or the path that runs through the dunes. I opted for the dunes, aware that within a mile or so I would have a long sandy beach to walk on, and probably all to myself if past experience is anything to go by.

Sadly, I misjudged the tides and instead of a pleasant wander up a broad and lovely beach I spent the next hour slipping and sliding on a shingly high-water mark.

Eventually I found a reasonable path through scrubland beyond the beach, a path that led me to the sound of high-pitched petrol engines.

I had never seen this kart-track before, probably because I had never walked the full length of the beach, but there it was, a proper go-kart track and youngsters enjoying the thrill of racing.

A rough track led from the racetrack to the Golspie-Littleferry road and I followed it before heading off into Balblair Woods, a lovely circular woodland walk that is part of the Nature Reserve. It was a bird-loud place, with chaffinches, blackbird, bullfinches, robins and wrens all competing for attention. Although some of the woodland is recent planting it is on the site of an ancient pine forest and there are granny pines scattered through the woods.

The rich understorey in Balblair woods supports many rare plants. Within Ferry Woods the forest is more open with clearings carpeted in dune heath. They are an extension of the open coastal habitat where the dunes grade from lichen-rich dunes, through areas where marram dominates, interspersed with dune slacks before reaching the bare mobile dunes of the coastline.

Scotland’s NNRs are special places for nature, where some of the best examples of Scotland’s wildlife are managed. While nature is always the first priority on NNRs, the reserves also provide opportunities for people to enjoy and discover more about our rich natural heritage.

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 21 (Dornoch & Alness); OS 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 441 (Lairg, Bonar Bridge & Golspie).

Start/Finish: Car park 200m north of Littleferry (GR: NH804958)

Distance: 5 miles/8km

Time: 2-3 hours

Public transport: None to the start.

Information: Inverness TIC (01463 252401), www.walkhighlands.co.uk

Route: Leave the car park and walk S down the road to Littleferry pier. Head E along a narrow path in front of the Ferryman’s Cottage and then the follow either the shingly beach or higher footpaths around to the point. From here head N along the beach. If this tide is in you may be forced to walk along the shingly high water-mark or alternatively find sections of footpath along the dunes. Follow the shore N until you see the Kart track. Go left here to pick up a track that passes the circuit and a caravan park. Soon this track meets the road to Littleferry. Follow the road S to a sign that indicates Balblair Woods. Follow the track around the woods and return to the Littleferry road. Follow the road S back to the car park.

Walks are subject to current restrictions