Head for the hills with a llama by your side; UK OUTDOORS - Travel - The Independent

Head for the hills with a llama by your side; UK OUTDOORS

They may come from the Andes but they are the ideal beast of burden when you're hiking in the isolated hills of Caithness.

Caithness is as far north as you can go on mainland Britain. The landscape is made up of, in turns, flat, boggy moor (these days increasingly planted with conifers) or mountains wilder than those traversed by most hillwakers. The hiking trails are little used, and you are unlikely to run into other people in the hills. However, you may meet the odd llama. Yes, you can hire llamas to explore the coasts and mountains of Caithness. The idea might seem silly or even troublesome (evoking pictures of stubborn llamas refusing to budge on a mountain trail in the rain), but the animals can make your life easier. More tractable than mules or donkeys, lower maintenance than horses or ponies, less mean than camels, their bad temper tends to manifest itself in spitting, sometimes into the face of the person pulling them along. But this is rare. Sure-footed and willing, a llama will carry your pack for days over the toughest terrain without tiring.

Like many eccentric outdoor sports, hiking with llamas is an import from California, where llamas are a fairly common sight on farms in the Sierra Nevada mountains west of San Francisco. Hiking with llamas is well established there and raises not the hint of an eyebrow if you say: "I'm off with my llama for a few days." Here, the sport still has enough dinner-table novelty value to be worth doing for that alone. But it also has definite advantages. Not only does a beast carry your gear for you, but its presence is calming to wildlife, which tends to scent or see it first and therefore let you approach closer. Even better, you do not have to look after the llama yourself.

Kingspark Llama Farm, Berriedale, on the rugged Caithness coast, offers both llamas and combined guides and people to take care of the beasts. The guides know the surrounding country well, the wildflowers, wildlife and historic sites (the landscape abounds in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age sites, suggesting that a much more clement climate must once have prevailed here). If you take a walk along the coast, you will often stumble across one of several coastal birdwatching hides built by the RSPB. Forays into the hills generally lead to encounters with red deer, grouse and sometimes peregrines.

You can either be a softie, staying at the farm and going on different walks each day, or arrange for longer treks of several days, camping out with the llamas in the barren, empty, but beautiful hills. You will have to supply all your own gear and food for these longer trails, and should arrange them in advance. If you just want a weekend break, however, a flight up to Inverness followed by a drive in a hired car will get you to Kingspark farm in a matter of hours, and you will find yourself walking a cliffside trail overlooking a rough northern sea, leading an animal from the Andes while spotting guillemots, puffins, auks and other seabirds through your guide's binoculars. If you are tired of city life, do it.

FACT FILE

Llama Walks, Kingspark Llama Farm, Berriedale

Caithness, KW7 6HA, Scotland (tel: 01593 751202)

Season:

Day-trails open all year. Long trails from Easter to October only.

Food

Breakfast; evening meals can be arranged.

Children

All ages welcome.

Disabled guests

Some wheelchair access on short trails.

Insurance

Guests should provide their own.

Safety

No special safety provisions.

Tariffs

pounds 12 per llama per day (can be shared) plus pounds 14 per day B&B. Guiding rates negotiable.

Booking

Deposits required only for large groups, non-refundable.

Access

Berriedale is on the A9 north of Helmsdale. Trains to Helmsdale station, buses to Llama Farm available. Centre picks up from train station (pounds 10 return).

Accommodation

2 single, 2 double, and 1 family room available at farm (pounds 14 per night). Camping is possible.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week