In the far north of Scotland, Sinclair’s Bay forms a sweeping crescent, perfect for exploring by bike.
It’s comprised of silk-smooth dunes, staggering cliffs and numerous ancient and medieval ruins, most of them sitting right across the bay from each other.
Named after the pre-eminent Sinclair family, the bay embraced Norse raiders and settlers sailing from Scandinavia and the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland.
My plan was to take in as many of these ruins as I could in one day, covering around 25km (16 miles) with a total ascent of only 213m (700ft).
Setting out by bicycle at 10am, I began a few miles north of the bay at Bucholie Castle. This is a ruin of such improbability, reachable only from an extremely perilous and razor-thin passage with sheer drops on all sides, that I can only recommend seeing it from a distance as I did.
Several local castles along the bay, including Keiss and Sinclair Girnigoe, also seem to have been built with the unifying principle of, “how close to the edge can we go without tumbling over?”
It is remarkable how many ruins you can see along the cliffs, but not surprisingly considering the excellent vantage point over the North Sea. Make sure you keep a weather eye on the horizon when you come here, to look out for potential Viking raiders. From the north, Sinclair’s Bay begins with a stoney beach and coastal crags, but by the time you reach the village of Keiss, the cliffs even out into a large, white sandy beach. Unfortunately for locals, this would have been the perfect mooring ground for Viking longships. I continued my journey around the coast to Wick, with my final destination just a few miles south of it.
The Castle of Old Wick is a fragmentary coastal ruin just south of the town. I dismounted and strode along the edges of the wave-worn cliffs leading to the castle, the elements serving up a feast for the senses. It was almost sunset by the time I got there, and the castle appeared to stand at the head of a torchlit procession, with the evening sun setting the clouds on fire behind it. Old Wick, which is among the oldest castles in Scotland, dates to the early 12th Century, and seemed to be enacting its very own version of Shetland’s famous Up Helly Aa.
As the very last trace of light dipped beneath the adjacent fields, I made my way carefully back along the coastal path into Wick.
It is possible to do this route in a much shorter time, but I like to linger at each ruin and take a leisurely pace. I got back to Wick around 8.30pm, feeling as though I had just witnessed a lost chapter of the sagas brought to life by the forces of nature.
More at fionaoutdoors.com
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