323. Handa Island

July 2018

I made a decision on reaching the North Coast of Scotland that to visit every island would take so much time I might never finish the mainland. Instead I decided to concentrate on the mainland, with the intention of coming back to walk around most or all of the Scottish Islands. However almost as soon as I had made an exception, I will walk round islands where I can walk around them in a day. The previous day I had passed the quay at Tarbet where you could take a boat over to Handa Island, which is a small island and hence meets my criteria of being walk-able in a day. . Yesterday I had just missed the last ferry, which was disappointing.

When I arrived back at Durness yesterday there was an unusual cloud formation and I suspected that meant the weather was breaking. Sure enough, this morning it was wet. I set off for Scourie first, stopping at the shop there (and rather regretting that I hadn’t stayed in the campsite at Scourie, which was much nicer than the one at Durness and, importantly, quieter). Having hung around Scourie for a while, I headed on to the minor road leading out to Tarbet. I parked at the car park just a bit above the ferry departure point. It was raining and there was no one about and I wasn’t sure the ferry would run for one person.

Whilst sitting in the car contemplating what to do I was surprised to see the Durness Bus vehicle come down the road and stop. Passengers got out and headed to the ferry hut. I decided to head down to see if this meant I could get over to the island. I was in luck. It turns out this bus was being used by the same walking group I had met previously who managed to get ahead of me going over to Cape Wrath and were also going over to Handa Island today.

I joined them and we were soon donned up with lifejackets. I was the only person not a member of the HF Holidays walking group, which was slightly awkward, as everyone else knew each other, though several of them also remembered me from Cape Wrath and were interested to hear how I got on, given I was doing double the distance they were covering that day.

We had to wear life jackets for the boat trip over to the island, which as usual I made a mess of strapping up! Once done we set off for the short ferry crossing over the Sound oi Handa to the island. The boat used was a small Rib boat. Arrival was onto a beach where we disembarked via a metal “slipway” that was put onto the front of the boat and onto the beach were then met by one of the guides who lives on the island.

She walked us up over the beach to the little visitor centre hut.

Handa Island visitor centre

Here we paid our admission fees and got a map of the island. We had to stop for a talk giving the usual stuff about not diverting off the path and where the toilets were, what to see, where to go and also her mobile number in case of difficulties (not that most phones worked here).

Much of the path was on board-walk. Now we were then left to our own devices. The ferries returned subject to demand, there was no fixed schedule. So the advice was to head back to the hut when you were ready to leave and the ferry would be called once there were enough people. The walking group had a slightly awkward conversation over who would like to leave when and having to with the majority. I left them to it, since I was free to come back when I wanted and planned my route around the island. From the map I could see it was not possible to walk all of the coast, but it was possible to walk around 2/3 of it.

Handa Sound from Handa Island

Handa Sound

Heading away from the ferry and the hut the path climbed away from the shore briefly, soon reaching the remains of the old village. This was last inhabited in 1847 so there is little left, as it was uninhabited after the potato famine. Only the base of the walls can be seen now.

Handa Island former village

Handa Island former village

I continued ahead following the suggested anti-clockwise way around the island heading for the Great Stack. The path soon became board walked (there is a lot of board walk on the island!).

Handa Island

It headed past scrubby grass and heather. Now I had gained height I was back in the mist so visibility was limited. The next point on the coast is the Great Stack on the north coast, which was around 2km away.

Handa Island

Nearing the coast I found myself being dived on by the Great Skuas, as we had been warned might happen. They never actually touched my head, but came close and I was glad when I was past the area they were defending. Here is one of the angry birds!

Handa Island

Soon I reached the coast and was impressed. I hadn’t expected to find such high cliffs on this island. They are around 100 metres above sea level and vertical. On the cliffs themselves are numerous ledges packed with nesting birds.

Handa Island

One of the birds that can be seen on the island is puffins, and I was hoping to see some. Sadly none were about on the cliff tops that I could see and visibility of the ledges below was too poor to make them out.

Handa Island

Still there were hundreds of other birds to be seen, and it was a rather beautiful and impressive site. I continued west to soon reach the top of a deep rocky inlet. The cliffs here were out of bounds due to puffin nesting. However I could appreciate the stunning scenery, even if most of it was hidden in the mist.

I sat on a rock by the cliffs for a while in the hope the mist would clear. I did, briefly, spot a puffin, but not enough to get a photograph on. I turned left and continue around the coast on the good path. Mostly board walk and short grass. Further around the mist began to lift and I got a much better view of all the birds nesting. Guillemots were the most common that I saw. There must have been thousands.

Guillemots on Handa Island

Handa Island

As I headed west, the mist began to clear to reveal the ledges and stunning cliffs and caves of the north west coast of the island. It was much more impressive than I had imagined. I sat and watched them for a while.

Handa Island

As the walking group began to catch me up, I continued on. The cliffs now dropped in height and I was out of the mist. This meant I had a good view of the west coast of the island and it’s beautiful cliffs, now getting lower.

Handa Sound from Handa Island

The path now was mostly stone rather than board walk and a little harder going, but still easier than what passes for a footpath in this part of Scotland!

Boulder Beach, Handa Island

Handa Island

I soon reached the north west point of the island, Poll Ghlup. The path continues on the cliff tops here along this spectacular coast.

Handa Island

The coast of Handa Island

The coast of Handa Island

I soon reached what is almost another island, Meall a’Bhodha. Here the headland was low and narrow with just a thin strip of land keeping it connected to the rest of the island. Sadly access is not permitted to the end.

The coast of Handa Island

Beyond this I came to a few rocky inlets, which looked like they might once have been a small harbour, the cliffs seemed very straight, but I think it is natural. Out to sea, I was lucky to spot a seal.

The north coast of Handa Island

The north coast of Handa Island

Seal at Handa Island

I was really enjoying myself now, with the abundance of wildlife to be found on and around this beautiful island the real highlight. I soon came across a sheltered little bay. Here there were rocks that were dry and I was out the wind, making it warmer. I sat down and began my lunch, but typically soon found myself surrounded by the walking group who wanted to chat. When I had finished my lunch, I made my excuses and continued on.

I continued to spot a seal or two just off the coast of the island. Soon I reached Boulder Bay. From here the walk continued a little back from the sea edge and no almost at sea level, as I had descended from the high cliffs and the south and west of the island is much lower. Whilst not right on the coast the views were spectacular, with a couple of beautiful sandy beaches visible and the thin sound that separates the island from the mainland soon coming into view. The mainland too still had mist on the top of the cliffs.

Handa Island

Handa Island

Heading back to the hut I was re-assured to see other people here now that were neither the wardens nor the walking group. I had become a bit worried no one else had come over to the island apart from me and the walking group, so I’d have to leave with them and they might all be waiting. The presence of other people was good because it meant I could now be more flexible with timings. I decided to walk around the island a second time, now that the weather had improved!

Heading back on the path to the Great Stack.

Handa Island

This was now far busier, so I had to pass several people on the way and once again upset the Great Skuas.

This time the mist had gone, and I was so glad. I could now really appreciate the stunning scenery of this island, it was far far better than I had expected.

Handa Island

Handa Island

Handa Island

Great Stack, Handa Island

It was really stunning, and I took plenty of photographs.

Handa Island

The cliffs were some of the most impressive I had seen. Now I could also appreciate the wildlife, now I could see it and this time managed to get a brief photo of a puffin.

Puffin on Handa Island

There weren’t many, but there were some at least. This time I took things more slowly now I could see the amazing wildlife. There were so many birds, I hadn’t seen so many in one place since Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast.

Guillemots on Handa Island

Guillemots on Handa Island

Great Stack, Handa Island

Not only was the site of all these birds so impressive, but so was the noise!

Handa Island

After taking in the views I had missed earlier, I continued on the path back around the west coast.

The coast of Handa Island

The mist was beginning to clear on the mainland now, too. In fact I could soon see impressively tall rock stack at the Point of Stoer, which I’d see on a future walk (but not on this trip). I was looking forward to it already.

Boulder Beach, Handa Island

View from Handa Island

This time when I reached the wooden hut I stopped and chatted with other visitors and the warden. We had enjoyed ourselves and most people had spotted the puffins. It was a nice relaxing sit and when the warden deemed there were enough people for the ferry to run (half a dozen or so), she radioed for the ferrymen to come, whilst we were taken back to the beach.

Soon the ferry arrived and took me back to the island. After a quick visit to the toilets I headed up the small hill back to my car.

Hand Island is a lovely island to visit. The scenery is extremely varied but really the stars of the show are the wildlife and especially the birds around the stack. It is a very impressive sight and sound and I had a wonderful time visiting the island. I was certainly very glad that I hadn’t missed it out.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

The Handa Island ferry runs during the summer months generally from early April to late September or early October, subject to the weather, Monday – Saturday. Boats typically run on demand (subject to sufficient passengers) between 9am and 2pm on the days of operation.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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322. Laxford Bridge to Scourie

July 2018

Having struggled to work out a good route for my previous walk this walk promised to be a little easier. The road parts of the walk wasn’t all on A-roads (much of it on minor roads) and there were a couple of footpaths the map suggested I could use, the main one being from Tarbet to Scourie. It would be nice to have a proper path to follow again as most of my previous walks have either had to be on road or finding my own route, with varying degrees of success.

For this walk I was staying at the Sango Sands campsite in Durness. At Laxford Bridge parking looked a little difficult. A gravelly area was a possible option but I wasn’t sure if it was private, it wasn’t marked as a car park. Instead I decided to drive on to Scourie as a car park was marked on the map there and it wasn’t much further.

I drove down to Scourie and parked in the small car park opposite the village shop. I wasn’t actually aware there was a shop here, I had bought lunch in Durness before I left, but it was useful to know for my next walk.

In theory there were no buses north until mid-afternoon except that in fact the morning bus from Durness to Lairg actually leaves the A838 and takes a there and back diversion into Scourie, so I could use this to travel between Scourie and Laxford Bridge in the morning and get the public transport part done first so I had time to walk back without worrying about buses. I was a bit nervous as to whether the bus would turn up as some of the there and back diversions are listed as “if requested”. I hadn’t requested but this one also wasn’t listed as needing to be requested and I hoped that wasn’t a mistake in the timetable. Unfortunately the bus timetable in the bus shelter itself was approximately 10 years old according to the date on it and so completely useless (but a reminder of how much the bus service has reduced in this part of Scotland over that time). Fortunately the bus did arrive, with a few other passengers. I think the driver was a little puzzled that I wanted go to Laxford bridge, there being little there apart from the bridge itself, but I explained I was walking back.

To start with, rather than follow the A894 road west I had seen there is a footpath on the south side of the River Laxford that I hoped to follow to the beach called Traigh Bad ba Baighe and then return to the road from there.

I had already seen the start of the path was good at the end of my previous walk. So I was pleased to find there was actually a pretty good path alongside the river, well marked and easy to follow and it gave me nice views of the river.

Laxford Bridge

The RIver Laxford

Many Scottish rivers are fast-flowing but this one was quite serene, though I suspect that was as much due to the fact there hadn’t been much rain recently.

The RIver Laxford

I watched as the bridge behind me appeared smaller and smaller and soon there was a lot of gravel and small rocks beside the river, presumably the river flows here normally but the water levels were low.

The RIver Laxford

Loch Laxford near Laxford Bridge

Loch Laxford near Laxford Bridge

Part way along this path I was surprised to find a house.

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

It is half a mile or so from any road so it was certainly remote though I suspect the occupants get here by boat.  Though another possibility is they use the path I had been following from the road, which might explain why it had been so good.

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

The jetty marked on the map was in very poor condition so I doubt they use that regularly. The landscape too on the other side of Laxford Bay was quite remarkable with the land a roughly 50/50 mix of bare rock and grass.

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

Across the bay I could also see the house on the other side with a jetty too. It can’t be a coincidence there are two jetties on either side of the river here so as I suspected last time I was now more certain there was once a ferry here.

Heading uphill briefly to round the corner I was soon in the oddly named bay of Traigh Bad ba Baighe.

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

The map showed this all as a mixture of sand and shingle – at low tide. I had wondered if I might be able to walk straight across but I could see the tide was at least part in so that wasn’t going to be possible without wet feet.

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

The path ended as soon as it reached the bay, so instead I continued around the bay on the shingle and pebbles around the edge though further in the bay was indeed dry but the sand was soft and boggy so sticking to the edge was wise.

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

Traigh Bad na Baighe near Laxford Bridge

I originally planned to join the road at the south side of the bay but instead decided to try and find my own route around the coast.

Loch Laxford

I followed the shore around to the west side of the beach and then turned across the un-even and over-grown ground. It was a bit of a struggle but I made it more or less round to another tiny rocky bay.

Loch Laxford

The land behind was flooded, then a shingle ridge and then the beach, which had some woodland at the far corner. It was nice finding this remote bays.

Over the little headland and I had a fine view west along Laxford Bay.

Loch Laxford

The beach here is un-named but the island is Eilean Port a Choit. The map doesn’t show any structures or remains on it.

Loch Laxford

Sadly a tall wire fence came right down to the beach here and the map showed another a few metres beyond it. What is the purpose of two fences close together in such a remote area? It’s frustrating. So rather than try to climb it, I followed the fence line as best I could back to the A894. It was a struggle because the ground was so un-even but I made it in the end, having to climb over another fence at the road.

My little diversion had taken quite a while so I stuck with the road from now on. Below I could see Weaver’s Bay, about 300 metres away from the road with a few boats moored up in the bay. A track left the road down to a house and I assume the boats are associated with that.

Near Weavers Bay

Sadly I now turned inland, away from the coast with the road. However soon I had water on my right again, this time Loch na Claise Fearna.

Loch na Claise Fearna

The first part of the loch looked deep, but further on it was full of lilies, some of them in flower, which were quite pretty and some grass sticking up above the surface of the water so clearly it was shallow at this end.

Loch na Claise Fearna

Loch na Claise Fearna

At the far corner was a little beach with a boat moored up. I couldn’t imagine the boat was used much given the water was shallow and the reeds and Lilly pads behind it.

Loch na Claise Fearna

The boat had a sign inside it that it belonged to the Scourie Hotel and they also owned all the fishing rights here. That is a surprise, since I am still quite far from Scourie.

At the end of the loch I passed an old road bridge, now over to the right suggesting the road had been re-routed and widened at some point and this was the old, now disused, bridge.

Loch a Bhagh Ghanmhich

Just beyond was a quarry that the map suggested is disused but didn’t look very disused to me.

The road continued south to Loch a Bhagh Ghairmhich and at the north west corner of this I could turn off on the more minor road to Tarbet.

Loch a Bhagh Ghanmhich

Whilst there hadn’t been masses of traffic on this road when it does come it’s fast so you have to be constantly alert, so it was nicer to be on a more minor road with, I hoped, less traffic.

A sign also said that down this road was the Shorehouse Seafoord Restuarant, open from 12pm to 7pm, but closed on Sundays. 7pm seemed very early to be closing a restaurant! (I suspect it was more a cafe). Sadly I don’t like sea food or it might have made for a nicer lunch.

This road is a long dead-end.

The road to Tarbet

It starts out as one road to reach Loch nam Brac and then goes around the loch in the loop to the small villages of Foindle, Fanagmore and Tarbet. However from Tarbet I should be able to follow a footpath to Scourie, taking a more direct route to avoid having to go the full way around the loop.

The road was single track with passing places, but much of the road surface was covered with a thin layer of loose chippings. I soon passed a tiny loch in the right, it was a very shallow loch, with all the water having grass growing out of it.

Loch a Phreasain Challtuinre

Beyond it was the larger and named Loch a Phreasain Challtuinne. This was larger and clearly deeper.

Loch a Phreasain Challtuinre

Loch a Phreasain Challtuinre

Loch a Phreasain Challtuinre

I soon reached the fork and turned right for Foindle (not fondle!). The road climbed and then descended passing the little Clar Loch on the right.

Road to Tarbet

Road to Tarbet

Clar-Loch

Clar-Loch

The landscape here is stunning, even if it’s not actually a walk along the coast at this point. I could also see quite bit of the road ahead which meant I could relax a bit with the traffic as I usually had plenty of warning of approaching vehicles.

Near Foindle

As it was around 12:30 when the road ran directly alongside the loch I was able to drop down on a few rocks to find a pleasant spot for lunch.

After lunch I continued along the road to Foindle. The road went up and down over the many hills until I could see this small village ahead.

Near Foindle

I debated heading along the dead-end road to the village but it ended before it reached the coast and I could see all of the coast from higher up on the “main” road anyway, so I continued on the road and didn’t take this dead-end. I soon had the Loch na h Airigh Glaise on my right. This was large enough to boast a few tiny islands, none had a name (at least, not on the map).

Loch na h-Airigh Glaise, Foindle

Loch na h-Airigh Glaise, Foindle

These little lochs (or lochans) really are very pretty. More undulations in the road took me down to Lochan na Ba Ruaidhe.

Near Fanagmore

This was another shallow one with grass growing in much of the water but the heather in bloom around the side of the loch near the road was also really beautiful.

Lochan na Ba Rualdhe

Just beyond this the road crossed a small but fast flowing stream and I could see some of the houses of Fanagmore to the right.

Near Fanagmore

This time the dead-end road to the village ended at the shore so I decided to follow it. It ended at a tiny slipway, surrounded by old lobster pots. Clearly still used for some fishing, albeit on a small scale. It was a lovely peaceful place.

Fanagmore

Whilst there wasn’t a beach here, the bay was rocky the sea was incredibly clear and I could make out all the sea-weed covered rocks under the water even quite far out into the bay.

Fanagmore Bay

Fanagmore Bay

Fanagmore

I really liked Fanagmore but soon I had to drag myself away back up the road and then round to Loch Gobhloch.

Loch Gobhloch

Loch Gobhloch

Another beautiful loch, deeper with lots of tiny rocky hills all around it. It looked like the sort of lake you might find near the top of a mountain rather than almost at sea level.

Loch Gobhloch

Loch Gobhloch

Again the water was really clear. I continued on the road, another steep climb before reaching the top of the hill and a sign that welcomed me to Tarbet.

Tarbet

I had views down to the little Loch Dubh to my left just before the sea. It looked a very pretty spot.

Loch Dubh

Loch Dubh

The road passed a derelict and abandoned cottage on the right, though this one was in better condition than many I have seen.

Tarbet

The road soon descended down to the little bay, marked as Port of Tarbet.

Tarbet

That might seem an overly dramatic name but this one actually is still a port. A little boat leaves here a few times a day in the summer for Handa Island.

Tarbet

Tarbet

When I walked the coast of England I visited pretty much every island. In Scotland there are so many islands I realised if I went and walked around every one, I might never finish. So my plan for the moment is to mostly concentrate on the mainland and then come back and do many (or perhaps all) of the islands later. However I am generally making an exception for smaller islands I can walk around in a day. Handa Island is one such place and given how good the weather was it was very tempting to head over there now. However the last boat of the day was scheduled at 14:00. I checked the time. 14:06. Blast! It would have to wait for another day but perhaps that was no bad thing. If I went out now I’d likely not be back until gone 5pm and that would mean a late arrival in Scourie.

Tarbet - Handa Island ferry

There is the sea-food restaurant here (the one that closes at 7pm), parking, toilets and the shed for the ferry and a few houses but that’s about it. Still more facilities than you might expect in such a small place.

Tarbet

I sat on the beach for a rest for a bit. I checked the map and it looked like Scourie was only just over 4km (4 grid squares away). With the Ordnance Survey map having grid squares of a square KM in size I typically tend to achieve around 4km an hour, but that tends to drop quickly when there isn’t a path. Well here there was a path so I suspected I would be in Scourie in little more than an hour. That turned out to be somewhat optimistic!

Heading up from the beach I soon found the intended footpath to Scourie. It even had a sign “Footpath to Scourie” which was encouraging. What was less encouraging was another sign that said “The Tarbet to Scourie route is mountainous in character and requires a good level of fitness. Hill walking equipment and clothing is required. The route is poorly waymarked with no path surface, resulting in frequent boggy sections and the occasional steep slope”. That was very encourating but the noticed ended with “Please be well prepared and enjoy your walk”.

Path from Tarbet to Scourie

Hmm. It was clear 1 hour to cover that distance was likely to be optimistic. Still I had enough to drink with me and a KitKat left so I figured that counted as prepared.

So it was time to climb out of pretty Tarbet on the path. To start with it was easy enough going up a fairly steep grass slope. The views improved as I got higher, both on the coast and inland where I got a view back to Loch Dubh.

Tarbet

Tarbet

Tarbet

Soon I reached a wooden gate with a notice attached “Cows with calves and bull on hill, 10-6-16 to End August”. 2016? That was two years ago. The bull would be fully grown by now and the farmer must have used good sticky tape and pen for the notice to last that long!

Tarbet to Scourie path

The path from here was indeed much tougher. Can you even spot the path here? (It is there if you look closely near the bottom left of the picture).

Tarbet to Scourie path

It’s the sort of path where you can only see a few steps ahead but each time you think you might have lost the path more of it comes into view.

The views were stunning. Out to sea I could see numerous tiny little rocky islands and of course the much bigger Handa island.

View to Handa Island near Tarbet

View to Handa Island near Tarbet

I continued until I reached a loch. That was odd. The path shouldn’t have a loch for a while yet.

Tarbet to Scourie path

Then I doubled checked the map and realised that there were in fact two paths. One was a dead-end path which headed inland to this (un-named) loch and ended here and the other went to Scourie. I must have missed a junction somehow and taken this path but I hadn’t noticed the path splitting.

Frustrated I headed back and now spotted there was a junction, I just hadn’t noticed it. Already I had been on the path have an hour and I had covered about 200 metres!

This time I paid more attention and checked the GPS to make sure I stuck to the correct path. It climbed and climbed up and down over the un-even ground but passed numerous little lochans and lochs. It is a stunning, wild and remote landscape.

Tarbet to Scourie path

The path is difficult with many rocks and boulders to step over and some boggy bits but being the middle of summer and it having been quite a dry summer I suspect not nearly as many boggy bits as usual.

Tarbet to Scourie path

Tarbet to Scourie path

Near Scourie

Soon after a long climb I came over the brow of the hill and could see Scourie below me. It’s a beautiful village.

Near Scourie

The path seemed to improve too and eventually as it descended, became a farm track.

Near Scourie

Actually the sign told me it was a “Cattle Ranch” rather than a farm. That seemed to be over-stating things somewhat. I couldn’t even see any cattle!

Near Scourie

I followed this farm track down to the road at the north end of the beach at Scourie and then follow this road south to the main centre of Scourie.

Scourie

It’s a pretty place. Having already been in Durness for several nights I was a bit bored of the eating options. Having travelled to Scotland by air I didn’t have room to take any cooking equipment with me so my options were limited to the two shops or the only pub, Sango Sands Oasis.

Here however there was the Scourie Hotel. It looked quite nice and although quite early for dinner it was serving food and had a table free so I ate here. It was a little bit pricey but the food was very nice and it looked a lovely hotel. It was a bit of a come down to have to head back to my tent on the noisy crowded campsite! In fact Scourie had a lovely looking campsite and I did briefly consider trying to move here, but the effort of driving up to Durness packing everything up and re-pitching the tent put me off (and the fact I had already pre-paid for all my nights stays at Durness was a factor too).

After dinner I drove back to Durness. The sky there was really odd. I’ve rarely seen cloud formations like it.

Unusual clouds at Durness

Unusual clouds at Durness

Unusual clouds at Durness

I suspected if nothing else it meant the weather was changing which, unfortunately, it was. It looked like someone had put a blanket of cloud over the place, a blanket that was in need of a jolly good iron!

This had been a really lovely walk. The scenery was absolutely stunning the whole way and this landscape was really like nothing else I had experienced on my coastal walk yet. (The closest was perhaps around Holyhead mountain on Angelsey, but this was more spectacular and I’ve not written that walk up here yet). A mixture of large rocky areas, tiny lochans and lochs and lots of hills, mixed with some pretty villages and bays. It was wonderful and it was nice that I had been able to mostly walk on fairly minor roads and a path (which had not been as bad as the sign had suggested, once I took the right path) rather than a main road today.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Far North Bus / Durness bus route 806 : Leirinmore (Road End) – Durness – Balnakiel – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Laxford Bridge – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg – Lairg Station (for train to Inverness). One bus per day each way Monday – Friday. On Fridays there is an additional bus between Durness and Ardgay Station for connections by train to/from Inverness. It takes around 10 minutes to travel between Laxford Bridge and Scourie.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 805 : Balnakiel – Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie –Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg – Bonar Bridge – Ardgay – Ardross – Evanton – Tore – Inverness. One bus per day, Saturday only. Please note that this bus only serves Scourie on request. You need to call 01971 511223 or 07782 110007 by 6pm the previous day to request the bus serves Scourie. It takes around 10 minutes to travel between Laxford Bridge and Scourie.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 804 : Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Kylesku – Skiag – Lonchinver – Inchnadamph – Ledmore Junction – Ullapool – Ledmore Junction – Lairg – Lairg Station. One bus per day each way, Monday – Saturday during the local school summer holidays only (typically early July to mid August). It takes around 10 minutes to travel between Laxford Bridge and Scourie.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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321. Rhiconich to Laxford Bridge

July 2018

I had puzzled about how to walk this section of coast. There isn’t a coast path and the nearest obvious route to the coast is to walk along the A838 however a lot of that road isn’t very close to the coast. There are several dead-end roads heading west from this road to various tiny villages and hamlets nearer the coast, but to explore those would mean lots of there-and-back walking. An alternative is to try and find a route right along the coast. The map of this part of the coast really does look like a swiss-cheese. A deserted landscape dotted with many many lochs and lochans. Trying to navigate through that looked really tough. So in the end I settled on a compromise. I’d explore the dead-end roads and see if I could link them up to avoid lots of there and back walking but without attempting to navigate the trackless terrain by the shore.

I was staying at the Sango Sands campsite in Durness. I drove from there along the A838 to Rhiconich hoping to find somewhere to park. It looked like I could park next to the toilet block but it looked like a tight squeeze and in any case I’m sure people wanting to use the toilet would appreciate being able to park there. So I continued a few hundred metres further south where there was a lay-by.

Rhiconich

I now turned down the road to Achlyness. Although Achlyness actually begins almost straight away the road continues for about a mile beyond the village, becomes a track and ends at Rhivichie.

Loch Inchard

Achlyness is a small village, really houses widely spaced vaguely close to the road.

Loch Inchard

Some buildings have clearly been abandoned such as these barns.

Ruined barn, Achlyness

Ruined barn, Achlyness

I am at the head of Loch Inchard slowly heading back towards the open sea. It is drizzly today so the loch is not the beautiful blue it was last time I was here. I can see the line of buoys which I presume is some sort of fish farm.

Loch Inchard

The road runs close to the shore here and I can see the houses on the other side of the loch though the tops of the mountains beyond have disappeared into the mist.

Loch Inchard

Loch Inchard

I have passed the last of the houses of Achlyness now and clearly the road is not often used, clumps of grass grow down the middle.

Loch Inchard

Soon, and before the map suggests, the road stops being a public road and becomes a track but a sign indicates pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists are allowed to continue.

Loch Inchard

Loch Inchard

Loch Inchard

As I near the dry stone wall marked on the map at what the map shows is the end of the public road I turn left onto the open moorland following between this wall and the stream. There is no obvious path but I am aiming for the south side of Caol Lochan.

Loch Inchard

The route climbs and climbs over the rough ground and the wall ends beside the loch. On the map a stream links Caol Lochan with another tiny lochan 200 metres or so to the south, un-named on the map. As I hoped, crossing this is not hard.

Caol Lochan

I continue past this lochan and climb up onto the firmer land a it to the south now alongside the eastern end of Loch Crocach.

Loch Crocach

This is a large loch, mostly tall and narrow but at the north it is also wide and contains a few small islands.

Loch Crocach

Loch CrocachLoch Crocach

My plan now is to continue on the east side of this loch where I hope to pick up a path marked on the map along the north shore of Loch a Chadh-Fi that goes to Ardmore.

I have to keep high here as the ground slopes steeply down to the loch, almost sheer in places and with a lot of ricks. The height gained however gives me a wonderful view over this large loch and it’s islands. This is a wild landscape that I suspect is very rarely visited.

P1050876

Loch Crocach

Over to my left I have another tiny lochan, also un-named.

Loch Crocach

The side of the loch slopes steeply but this time I decide to keep low, it looks as if I can get over the bracken, even if it does mean walking at quite a slope.

Loch Crocach

Progress is slow. It turns out to be very awkward to walk on land at such a slope. Still the loch is beautiful and eventually I reach it’s south edge.

Loch Crocach

Loch Crocach

Loch Crocach

Climbing over the ridge I’m, now looking south to Loch a Chadh-Fi and the tiny settlement of Ardmore. (It’s on the first green area sticking into the right hand edge of the loch).

Loch a Chadh Fi

Loch a Chadh Fi

This is one of a small number of settlements that is not connected to the road network. Access is only on foot or presumably by boat. I can also see the island of Eilean a Chadh-Fi in the loch.

Loch a Chadh Fi

I am pleased to pick up the footpath to Ardmore and it’s nice to have a proper path to follow. It’s actually quite a good path. The postmen used to walk it to deliver the post to Ardmore but this ceased in 2006 after a postmen slipped and the post office claimed it was “too dangerous” to deliver mail here anymore.

Near Ardmore

As I am approaching Ardmore I see a man coming the other way the first person I have seen since Rhiconich. He asks me where I’m going. Well it should be obvious – the path only goes to one place, Ardmore. So I tell him that is where I’m going and then he asks, in a less friendly way, why I’m going there. I tell him I am walking the coast and want to walk this bit. He then says “well this is a small place, so just as long as you are not an axe murderer” and continues on his way. What an odd man. I had wondered why someone would choose to live in such a remote place, perhaps having no company turns you a bit odd! He clearly didn’t want anyone else coming here.

Ardmore

Ardmore is a cluster of houses down by the loch. There are a few boats here, which is not a surprise I would guess this is the more common way of reaching the place along with a lot of canoes. Rather than go right up to the houses I turn back here, as I’ve seen all I wanted to. I wonder if I’m going to meet that odd man again, but fortunately I don’t. At An Coasan is a small landing place but there aren’t any boats here. The steps make a handy seat for me to have a brief rest.

Near Ardmore

Now I follow the path back, heading inland around Cnoc Mhuilinn and to the small village of Portlevorchy.

Near Ardmore

Portlevorchy

This is another tiny place, about half a dozen houses at the end of another public road (that leads back to the A838).

Portlevorchy

Ahead I can see further into Loch a Chadh-Fi and a long flat building which is marked on the map as “adventure school”.

Portlevorchy

I had originally planned to follow the road from here back to the A838. But there is another dead-end road at Skerricha. To walk to the end of this via the road is about 3 miles. However if I can make it round the north side of the loch it is less than a mile.

So I decide to that instead. The tide looks to be out so I am hoping to be able to make it along a rocky beach marked on the north side of the loch. I head down there but find that the beach is really just rocks and at the shore they are all covered with thick sea-weed making them incredibly slippery.

Loch a Chadh-Fi

As I continue the tide is not as far out as I hope and I have to make my way over sea-weed covered boulders or climb up to the rocks to my left.

Loch a Chadh-Fi

It is tiring and I decide to stop for lunch hoping a rest will give me another burst of energy later. It doesn’t really and continuing around the loch turns out to be really really tough. I’ve made a mistake I suspect and after about 45 minutes of struggling over the rocks and boulders I finally have the road in sight!

Lochan a Mhullaich

Loch na Beiste Brice

The road is another narrow single track road that serves Skerricha. All Skerricha consists of is a single tiny farm and the adventure school further along the (then private) track. I don’t explore this but instead turn inland along the road. This passes Lochan a Mhullaich and then approaches a road junction.

Loch na Beiste Brice

This is a bit of a surprise. There are two separate roads from the A838 towards Skerricha that merge here, one for if you are coming from the south and another from the north. I turn right onto the one heading south. The road I’m following doesn’t have a single building on it. Given Skerricha consists of a tiny farm and an adventure school it seems a surprise it is seemingly deemed worth of having two access roads to the A838.

The map even shows an old part of the road looping off this but I can’t see any evidence of it on the ground and soon I reach the A838, just south of a parking area.

The A838 near Laxford Bridge

Here I turn right to follow the A838 south. I’m back to traffic-dodging again as this is a main road, though this is relative, it’s still very quiet by the standards of an A-road, though it does have a lane in each direction here. The road passes Loch na Fiacail on the right with crash barriers alongside.

Loch a Chadh-Fi

Loch a Chadh-Fi

Loch a Chadh-Fi

The road then begins to descend down to Laxford Bay and turns left once alongside the water. Laxford Bay is at the head of the next loch, Loch Laxford and I soon pass an old quay on the right. I don’t know what this is (or was) used for. Perhaps at one point there was a ferry here? (though clearly only at high tide, if so).

Laxford Bay

Alongside the quay is a large brick built shed with a van parked outside of it. Perhaps they use the quay but for what I don’t know. The drizzle has turned into rain again so views up the loch to the sea aren’t great and the sky and sea merge.

Laxford Bay

Across the other side is a mixture of sand and mud as the loch is narrow now.

Laxford Bay

Laxford Bay

I follow the road alongside the loch to reach Laxford Bridge itself. This is a pretty stone bridge with a single lane and marks the nearest crossing over Loch Laxford to the coast, where it narrows to become the River Laxford.

The River Laxford

Laxford Bridge

On the south side of the river is a path towards the sand and rocky bay of Traigh Bad na Baighe. I am glad to see that the path looks in good condition. It is marked on the map but as I have found that is not a guarantee that the path will actually exist! I follow it a short way for a better view of the bridge.

Laxford Bridge

Laxford Bridge is marked on road signs as a destination along this road from perhaps 50 miles or more away. I can see from the map it’s not a big place but I expected to find something a bit more. In fact all there is here is the bridge and a single house. It is also a road junction. After crossing the bridge the A838 turns inland (eventually reaching Lairg), whilst the A894 takes up the route onwards along the coast. That is probably why it features on road signs at all, being a junction of two A-roads.

Now it’s time to head back. I didn’t use the bus for this walk as it is a Sunday and it doesn’t run! So my route back is to return on the more direct route, the A838 all the way back to Rhiconich. It is about 5 miles but I am hoping at a brisk pace I can do in about 90 minutes or so.

Laxford Bay

Soon I am back at the point I joined the road and the rest of the route north is different from my outward route. Navigation is easy, just stick to the road!

The road soon passes over Loch na Thull that runs on both sides of the road effectively the road is a causeway here.

Loch na Thull

It is a bit of a slog back along the road. I am tired after the tough walk over the trackless land and the road is much harder on my feet.

So it is relief when my (hire) car comes into view. If you were paying attention you may have noticed that I actually started the walk a bit south of Rhiconich at the parking place, not where I ended the last walk. This means I have a tiny gap to fill from the parking place back to Rhiconich. So I drop my rucksack in the boot of the car and stop for a quick rest and then walk north along the road to the toilet block and police station where I ended my last walk, to fill this gap. Oddly for such a small place there is a more minor “loop road” off to the right and I can see the old stone bridge over the Rhiconich River here.

Rhiconich River

I presume that this was once the main road and when the road was widened from single track to two lanes (one in each direction) this bridge wasn’t suitable or couldn’t be widened so a new wider bridge was built but the old bridge left in place.

I continued up the road to the toilets and police station to close the gap.

Rhiconich

Here an information sign tells me I am in the North West Highlands Geopark and the sign is a “Geopod” I’m told. Apparently such signs are placed in locations where there is a mobile phone signal and you can scan a QR code to find out more information. I can’t be bothered with that. Instead I head back to my car and drive back to Durness.

I was pleased to have found my own route along this section of coast. It was a shame I couldn’t walk directly along the shore line without great difficultly so spent much of the time more inland than I might have liked. However the geology of this area is amazing with what must be hundreds of lochs and lochans in just a few square miles. It is a very beautiful place and made for a lovely walk albeit quite a hard one.

Although I didn’t use the bus for this walk, here are details of the public transport needed for this walk, to avoid the return along the road.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 806 : Leirinmore (Road End) – Durness – Balnakiel – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Laxford Bridge – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg – Lairg Station (for train to Inverness). One bus per day each way Monday – Friday. On Fridays there is an additional bus between Durness and Ardgay Station for connections by train to/from Inverness. It takes around 5 minutes to travel between Rhiconich and Laxford Bridge.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 805 : Balnakiel – Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg – Bonar Bridge – Ardgay – Ardross – Evanton – Tore – Inverness. One bus per day, Saturday only. It takes around 5 minutes to travel between Rhiconich and Laxford Bridge.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 804 : Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Kylesku – Skiag – Lonchinver – Inchnadamph – Ledmore Junction – Ullapool – Ledmore Junction – Lairg – Lairg Station. It takes around 5 minutes to travel between Rhiconich and Laxford Bridge.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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320. Blairmore to Rhiconich

July 2018

This was my first walk fully along the west coast of Scotland. In theory this would mean heading south but in practice I’d mostly be walking east along the north shore of Loch Inchard (I was going to learn quickly that the west coast of Scotland has a lot of sea lochs). This was a beautiful coast with many wonderful sandy beaches.

I was staying in Durness for this walk, camping at the Sango Sands campsite. This walk served two purposes. The primary one was to walk this part of the coast. The secondary one was to prepare for my planned walk tomorrow (which was the previous walk I wrote up). As tomorrow I planned and hoped to be walking around Cape Wrath and I planned to start from Durness and finish at Blairmore, the first bit of public road I’d reach after rounding Cape Wrath. That meant I wanted to minimise an extra miles at the end of that walk (which was already around 25 miles) and also I needed to leave the car I had hired here in order to get back to the campsite at the end of the walk tomorrow since there aren’t any buses to Blairmore (and even if there were I’d likely be back too late to catch them anyway). Today I would be getting back to Durness by bus, from Rhiconich at the end of the walk (and the junction with the A838), which does have a bus service.

So I drove round to Durness on the A838. Despite being an A-road it is almost entirely a single-track road, though it is quite beautiful heading through a remote and undeveloped valley, with just a couple of farms on the way. It is so remote I’ve taken to listening to Radio 1 on the car radio because the only radio stations it is possible to pick up in this area at all are the BBC national stations and even then only intermittently (most of the time you can scan right through the radio dial and not pick up a single station).

At Rhiconich I turned off onto the B801 to Kinlochbervie and after that unclassified roads to Blairmore. I am hoping that not only is there space to park at Blairmore but that the car park permits over night parking (many don’t, others only prohibit overnight camping, though how often these rules are enforced is another matter). I’m in luck on both counts because the car park does have space and does permit over night parking. There is also an honesty box so I make a donation two cover for two days before leaving the car. Now if I started walking east from Blairmore I’d be missing out a bit of coast, that to Sheigra, so first I head west along the road and take the turning left (unsigned) which heads down to the beach rather than right to the village of Sheigra.

At the end of the road there is a car park (not marked on the map) and a cemetery, which is. It seems an odd place for a cemetery really, there is no church or chapel nearby and the nearest settlement, Sheigra is nearly half a mile away and tiny. On a slightly happier note it is only about a quarter full.

Sheigra cemetery

Beside the cemetery the road ends at a gate leading over fields to the coast. A sign on the gate indicates this is a campsite (which is marked on the map) and payment is by an honesty box. I can’t remember what the toilet facilities were now, but I think it was just some chemical toilets. It looks a lovely place so it’s a bit sad to see no one is here, given it’s July and the school holidays, when you would expect it to be busy.

I pass through the campsite field to reach the beach. It’s a nice beach with some large rocks at the high tide line but plenty of sand at the shore.

Sheigra

Sheigra

Another reason that would be such a nice place to camp right by a good beach. I am slightly regretting not doing so myself. Whilst the campsite I am at is generally very good (certainly in terms of facilities and location) the big let down was the noisy anti-social behaviour of many of the other campers (and complete lack of any enforcement of the site rules) which reminds me why I normally try to avoid camping in the school summer holidays. Here it would have been so much quieter (albeit no shop nearby).

Now the obvious thing here might be to head back up the road since the road is a dead-end and there is no marked path along the coast. However I decided to try and get along the coast to the next bay, Droman, it’s only about half a mile away along the shore but over a mile round by the road.

It wasn’t too tricky there was a single fence to get over but the terrain was not to bad and the land reasonably firm. I also felt I needed a bit of “training” for tomorrow where I’d be covering many miles without paths.

Sheigra

Near Droman

Near Droman

Soon the rocky beach at Droman came into view. Actually the map marks the bay itself as Port Chaligaig and the village as Droman. I think port might be over-doing it. There is a pebble beach and a single small slipway. I mean you could land a boat here but that’s about all. There is also a nice picnic bench on the grass at the back of the beach, but it was a bit early for lunch just yet.

Port Chaligaig

Out to sea I could see the island if Eilean an Roin Mor.

Eilean an Roin Mor

Now I was down at the beach I actually came across a sign indicating a path back from where I had come. So in fact there was an official path even though it’s not on the map.

Path to Sheigra

Droman

Flushed with success I decided to try and get round the coast to the beach marked just east of Droman. This time it was only about 250 metres (but much longer by road). This time, though not marked on the map (again) I spotted a signed footpath and there was a path the whole way. The only confusing thing was that it signed me to somewhere called Polin Beach.

Path to Polin Beach

The Ordnance Survey map I was using, the 1:25000 scale one (the most detailed you can buy) doesn’t show any such place. It does show “Bagh a Phollain”. I assuming that must be the Gaelic for Polin. I later decided to try and confirm it and used  Google Scottish Gaelic to English translator to check and it told me it meant “Poole Bay”. That seems unlikely.

Port Chaligaig

Soon I am over the headland and looking down onto this beach and what a lovely beach it is too. A good sandy beach, quite wide backed with some dunes and with views of the mountains in the distance. Better still, no one else is here so I have the place to myself.

Polin Beach

Polin Beach

It had started cloudy but now the sun looks to be breaking through. I head down onto the beach and followed the beach to the other end. In the 9 minutes (I checked from the EXIF data of the photos) it took me to do that virtually all the cloud has gone and now it’s a glorious sunny morning.

Polin Beach

Polin Beach

Polin Beach

What a stunning beach, it really does surprise me so few people seem to come here. From the eastern end of the beach a path runs up to the car park at the end of the road in Drumnaguie. Presumably this car park is intended for the beach. I’m also told there are mermaids here. That also seems unlikely.

Polin Beach

I am worried about my plan for tomorrow. Yesterday I had made up my mind. This morning I’m having second thoughts and feeling my plan to do Cape Wrath in a day is too ambitious. Perhaps, since I’m so close to the car I’d be better off walking back up this road and trying to walk to Cape Wrath today, and back again and doing another walk from Durness to Cape Wrath tomorrow. I’m also a bit worried about leaving the car in a remote place over night in case it gets damaged. (In hindsight that was very unlikely and in any case it’s a hire car and I have the necessary insurance in place so it shouldn’t cost me a penny if that does happen). This seems like a much better idea so I begin to walk up the road. After only about a minute of walking I’m having second thoughts again. I had it all worked out. I know others have done it in a single day. The weather forecast is good. I should at least try. So now I convince myself my original plan was a good one after all and head back to continue this walk.

So rather than follow the road again I find another path to take me round to the next beach, only a few hundred metres away again. There is a little tidal island (Eilean na h-Aiteig) at the western end of the beach.

Eilean na h-Aiteig

This is Oldshoremore beach and it’s another absolute beauty.

Oldshoremore Beach

Oldshoremore Beach

I can see on the sand a sort of sand sculpture someone made yesterday (I presume) has survived and many footprints in the soft sand further up the beach, suggesting the beach can get quite busy.

Oldshoremore Beach

But not yet it seems, even though it’s nearly 10:30am. I head down onto the beach the only other person on it being a couple walking a dog.

Oldshoremore Beach

The beach is another absolutely stunning beach, with turquoise see and golden sands backed by dunes. It is such a lovely spot.

Oldshoremore Beach

I walk slowly on the beach, I’m in no particular hurry and want to enjoy it. This time the next bit of beach along the shore is at Loch Clash, a little over a mile away. I can see from the map a couple of streams, one flowing out of Lochan so I suspect trying to find a way along the shore here might be a bit trickier. I know I’ve got a long walk tomorrow and don’t want to wear myself out too much for that and since the road runs largely parallel with the shore (albeit about half a mile inland) I decide to use the road for this bit.

Oldshoremore Beach

The road takes me past the beach car park and toilet (only one car, probably that of the dog walkers) and over a little stream to the junction in the village of Oldshoremore, an odd name, but one of the bigger villages on this peninsula.

Oldshoremore

Oldshoremore

The road takes me past Loch na Larach on the left which is a lovely bright blue under the blue skies.

Loch na Larach near Kinlochbervie

Loch na Larach near Kinlochbervie

Loch na Larach near Kinlochbervie

Soon down to the right I can see Loch Clash.

Near Kinlochbervie

Kinlochbervie

I pass a house that has seen better days (I’m always surprised how many abandoned houses there are in northern Scotland).

Kinlochbervie

Here I can follow  the road down to Loch Bervie and the harbour of Kinlochbervie.

Kinlochbervie

It is rather ugly which comes as a bit of a shock after the lovely scenery I’ve had so far.

Kinlochbervie

It’s quite industrial but I guess there is not much other employment in the area. I am not sure what the large building is for but the “garage doors” all along the harbour side suggest it’s probably to do with fishing or boat storage.

Kinlochbervie is the largest village along here. Whilst only a village the road from here eastwards is now a B-road (the B801) and it’s considered important enough the buses will all make a diversion from the main road down to Kinlochbervie and back.

Loch Innis na Ba Buidhe

I follow the B801 through Kinlochbervie which is large enough to have another small shop. The road passes the head of an inland loch, Loch Innis na Ba Buidhe (don’t ask me to say it).

Loch Innis na Ba Buidhe

It is quite beautiful, with some buildings at the far end but much less industrial than the coastal Loch Bervie.

Loch Innis na Ba Buidhe

The road soon climbs up out of Kinlochbervie and to Badcall.

The B801 near Kinlochbervie

Traffic has picked up a fair bit now probably due to it being later in the day and traffic heading to Kinlochbervie. Approaching Badcall I soon go over the brow of the hill and get a wonderful view ahead. The water to the left is Loch Sheigra. It is a sea loch and joined to the water at the right, but it’s not immediately obvious, whilst beyond it is Loch Inchard, now considerably narrower as I head up the loch. Beyond that are numerous mountains. It is really beautiful.

Badcall

Here it’s nice to see a long-derelict building is being repaired, with a roof taking shape and it would surely make a stunning place to live with a view like that to enjoy. Heading past Badcall (which is only a dozen or so houses) the road turns to be alongside tiny Loch Sheigra, which it’s now much clearer to see is accessible to the open sea.

Loch Inchard and Loch Sheigra

The road keeps beside the loch and soon I reach the head of the loch where the water turns to marsh as the land and sea merge.

Loch Inchard

I stuck to the B801 here. There is a dead-end road to Rhuvoult and another to Achriesgill West but neither is joined and there are a lot of fences marked on the map I’d have to climb over so the road seems easier given it’s high up and I can see it all from here anyway, as both roads are 500 metres or so dead-ends.

Loch Inchard

Loch Inchard

The road soon continues into Achriesgill, the last village along this peninsula, overlooking Achriesgill Bay.

Near Achriesgill

The road descends down to a bridge over the stream (Achriesgill Water) that flows out into Loch Inchard here. It is another beautiful place.

Achriesgill Bay

The road soon climbs up away again and I can see the village of Achriesgill now on the top of the hill. Another place with a wonderful view.

Achriesgill Bay

I passed a picnic spot and stopped briefly here. I knew I would be early for my planned bus, but decided not to linger anyway and press on to the main road just in case I get delayed. The road soon climbs again and I am rewarded with a wonderful view along much of Loch Inchard. A line of buoys puzzle me.

Loch Inchard near Rhiconich

There are some metal sheds on the loch shore behind them (unmarked on the map) so I assume it’s a fish farm of some sort but from my experience these usually have round circles, not straight lines.

Loch Inchard near Rhiconich

In the distance I can just see the industry at Kinlochbervie. The road drops down to another valley and then continues at a lower level the rest of the way alongside the loch.

Loch Inchard at Rhiconich

Loch Inchard at Rhiconich

I follow this up to Rhiconich and the junction with the A838. That is the end of my planned walk for today even though it’s only 1:45pm. Normally I’d not finish so early and keep walking some more but I know I have a very long day planned for tomorrow so an easy afternoon seems like a good plan. I also need to get supply’s for the walk tomorrow before the Spar shop closes.

Loch Inchard at Rhiconich

Loch Inchard at Rhiconich

Rhiconich is an odd place. It seems to consist of only 4 buildings. A single house, a police station the Rhiconich Hotel and a toilet block (which has a banner to sign an online petition to keep it open stating that the Highland Council wishes to close the toilet so that may have gone by now too). The walking group I met at the Cape Wrath ferry the following day (but the previous walk I wrote up) were staying at this hotel.

I find the police station especially odd given it’s in the middle of nowhere. I can’t imagine there is much crime here. I suspect the main activity that goes on inside is deciding whose turn it is to make tea!

Behind the toilet block (and police station) is some grass where I can sit to rest and enjoy a fine view over Loch Inchard but also can see the B801 below me. This latter point is important so I can see when the bus is coming. It’s due to drive down to Kinlochbervie first and then come back again (where I plan to catch it), which means I should see it 20 minutes before I need to catch it, on the way out to Kinlochbervie.

Bang on time I spot what initially looks like a white van but as it gets closer I can see it’s a mini bus and it has a board in the front wind screen and “Far North Bus” on the side. Good to see the bus is running I just need to wait for it to come back. The driver must have seen me eyeing up the bus (even though I was sitting down and did not event attempt to flag it down), pulls over and shouts up out the window to me to ask if I’m waiting for the bus. I reply that I am but to Durness, so I’ll wait for him to come back. At least now he knows I’m waiting!

There are no other passengers on board and I suspect he would have been quite happy for me to ride to Kinlochbervie and back (perhaps that’s why he stopped). In fact perhaps that is what he wanted anyway, some company perhaps. Anyway soon I see the bus coming back so head down to the junction. I flag it down anyway though of course the driver knows I’m waiting.

We have a chat about the area on the way back and he asks where I’ve been for a walk. The bus also provides an oppurtunity to enjoy the view, now I am not driving and I took a couple of pictures through the window (though the white-balance seems to have gone wrong on one of them).

View from the A838

View from the A838

It only takes 20 minutes to get back to Durness and the bus stops by the Spar shop so I head in here to get food and snacks for my big walk tomorrow, but with no fridge I have to make do with food that won’t go off before tomorrow. Having got as much as I think I’ll need (and am prepared to carry) I head back to the tent to empty our my rucksack from today’s walk and fill it up with the food I bought in preparation for tomorrow.

Rather than just lie in the tent for the afternoon (which is hot in the sun anyway) I decide to spend much of the afternoon relaxing on the beach instead. The camp site is right beside a lovely beach so I head there for a rest.

Despite how big and busy the campsite is I can see from the cliff top that there is hardly anyone there.

Durness

Durness

Durness

Durness

Durness

That’s good for me, it should be nice and peaceful down there, but it does seem odd, it’s such a good beach (actually there are two bays either side of the little headland I am standing on, but both are practically empty). On the way to the beach I pass through the part of the campsite used by motor-homes. Here I spotted one motor home that caught my eye.

Jane Allens' "victory van"

The motor home I later found out belonged to Jane Allen, she called it her “Victory Van” . (Her website has since disappeared so this is a link to her Facebook page instead). When doing this walk I have often wondered if I would ever meet anyone else walking all the coast of Britain. The answer to that turns out to be yes. Jane is (or was at the time) also doing a walk around the whole coast of Britain, but in one go, rather than stages as I am, raising money for two naval charities (as she had recently retired from the Navy). She had started from HMS Victory in Portsmouth and would be walking back to there, hence why she called it Victory Walk. Her husband was her support crew and would pick her up at the end of each days walk. Later on that day I got in touch with her via Facebook to wish her well noting that I was also walking the coast (albeit in stages) and had spotted her van at the campsite and she was surprised to find I was staying on the campsite too.

I can’t remember now if it was that evening or later in the week now but she invited me in her van to say hello and for a chat. In fact we met up twice (once after I had done Cape Wrath so we could exchange notes!). It was nice to meet a fellow coastal walker too! I didn’t realise at the time but this was actually their home, having sold their house before setting off on the walk so the motor home was their temporary permanent home (if you see what I mean). At this point she had walked all the way from Portsmouth via the east coast of England and Scotland. Sadly Jane had suffered an ankle injury that day (or possibly the previous day) and had been to the doctor and had to rest for a few days so was laid up at Durness for several days and was not especially enjoying this camp site either, despite it’s lovely location. She did get going again but later also suffered a broken leg in Pembrokeshire. However she didn’t let that stop her and finished her walk, back at HMS Victory in Portsmouth in September 2019 after 22 months on the road! So she was indeed victorious. Well done to Jane and I hope that one day I will finish too. I gave them a donation (and another couple later on via the Internet) so was pleased to see the effort had paid off and she had completed her walk.

Anyway to end this day I headed down to that beautiful beach for some relaxation.

The beach at Durness

The beach at Durness

The beach at Durness

This had been a lovely walk. I had come across so many beautiful beaches on the way. In the South of England on a day like this in the middle of July they would be packed but here there was hardly anyone about, I felt privileged to have seen it all especially in such good conditions. As well as the beaches the scenery of Loch Inchard had also impressed, as well as the smaller lochs off it and it was nice to find it was possible to walk between several of the beaches without too much difficulty.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Note that there is no scheduled bus west of Kinlochbervie so to do this as a day walk (without leaving your car behind) it may be best to do the part west of Kinlochbervie as a circular walk (perhaps out along the coast and back along the road) and use the bus for the second part to Rhiconich.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 806 : Leirinmore (Road End) – Durness – Balnakiel – RhiconichKinlochbervieRhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Laxford Bridge – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg – Lairg Station (for train to Inverness). One bus per day each way Monday – Friday. There is an additional service on school days only between Kinlochbervie and Durness only. On Fridays there is an additional bus between Durness and Ardgay Station for connections by train to/from Inverness. It takes just over 10 minutes between Kinlochbervie Harbour and Rhiconich.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 805 : Balnakiel – Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg – Bonar Bridge – Ardgay – Ardross – Evanton – Tore – Inverness. One bus per day, Saturday only. Note that the evening bus (back from Inverness) will ONLY serve Kinlochbervie if requested by passengers already on the bus or by calling the previous day. It takes 10 minutes between Kinlochbervie and Rhiconich.

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route 804 : Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Kylesku – Skiag – Lonchinver – Inchnadamph – Ledmore Junction – Ullapool – Ledmore Junction – Lairg – Lairg Station. One bus per day, Monday – Saturday during school summer holidays only. It takes 11 minutes between Kinlochbervie and Rhiconich.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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319. Durness to Blairmore via Cape Wrath

July 2018

So this was it. The big one. The walk which much of this entire trip had been planned around. Today, if all went well I’d round Cape Wrath, the north western corner of Britain and begins walking south down the west coast rather than west along the north coast.

However I was under no illusions that today was going to be a tough walk and my plan was ambitious. You see Cape Wrath isn’t as simple as other “corners” of Britain. It can only be reached by walking north from Blairmore along trackless open moorland or west along the road from the Kyle of Durness. However that latter option also has a catch. A big one. Whilst there is a public road to Cape Wrath, it’s not connected to the rest of the public road network. There isn’t a car ferry to take you there. So to get a car to it you therefore needed access to a boat suitable for carrying cars that can make the crossing (funnily enough, I don’t posses one) or an amphibious car (also, no).

So to go from the Kyle of Durness to the nearest next bit of road at Blairmore is close on 25 miles of walking, a long way to walk in a day even on flat terrain and I knew this wasn’t going to be flat. There are other complications too. Much of the area is part of a military firing range so access is limited to times when the range is not in use. The ferry over seems to run on a rather hap-hazard schedule which largely seems to be when the operators feel there is enough demand and the weather is fine. Then once over there is no mobile phone coverage so if you get into trouble there isn’t the possibility to ring for help, or call a taxi. Indeed the advice I had read is to tell someone when you are going and when you expect to get back so they can raise the alarm if you don’t (though I didn’t do that either, I don’t really bother with much in the way of “health and safety” stuff).

Over much of the winter I had puzzled over how I was going to tackle this section. I considered, briefly simply missing it out and sticking to the road but I felt that even if that is ultimately what I ended up doing I had to at least try. I mean I wanted to walk all the coast of mainland not just the easy or pretty bits and to do that meant tackling the tough bits as well as the easy bits. I could perhaps try and do it as two days trips. Once over on the ferry the boats are timed to connect with a minibus that takes you on a little tour of the peninsula to the lighthouse and back again. I could perhaps use this to get to the lighthouse and walk back in time for the last ferry. Then the next day I could try walking from Blairmore to the lighthouse and back again. However the 2nd day of this would be a tough day too. Another possibility might be to wild camp and spend the night there, doing it over two days (but that did mean carrying lots of heavy equipment). Another possibility is that there is a bothy at Kearvaig. I could stay the night there which would mean carrying less equipment (no tent, for one). But it was only about 1/3 of the way which was not ideal and there was always the risk it might be full or even people having a party there!

In the end I decided that my preferred choice was to try and tackle it in a single day. That would mean I wouldn’t need to carry any equipment for sleeping overnight or extra food and drink and also that, obviously, I could do it in one day instead of taking 2 days. That was another reason for coming on this trip in July. The days are close to their longest. The firing range is not in use in July. The ferry is most likely to be running (as there are more tourists around and the weather typically better) so it would make my chances much higher. I also decided to do this walk fairly early on in this trip, weather permitting. That would mean that if I failed I had time to put an alternative plan into action (probably sleeping over at the bothy). I really wanted to end this trip having made it round Cape Wrath. It was to be a real test of whether I could complete the entire coastal walk because this was certainly going to be the toughest walk I had yet done and quite possibly the toughest walk of the entire coast walk around mainland Britain.

My plan required a some preparation the previous day. The previous day I had driven to Blairmore and parked my hired car in the public car park marked on the map. The first worry I had was that the car park would not permit overnight car parking (many don’t as over-use by “wild camping” motor-homes is becoming a problem in some areas). Fortunately, overnight parking was permitted as that was part of my plan. The car park is owned by the John Muir trust who do request a donation (which I made). Then I walked the next bit of coast. I walked from Blairmore west to Sheigra and then walked east along the coast to Kinlochbervie and on along the north side of Loch Inchard to the junction with the A838 at Rhiconich. Here I had taken a bus back to the campsite I was staying at in Durness, leaving the car at Blairmore. Then the next day (today) I planned to walk back to Blairmore via Cape Wrath where the car should, I hoped, still be waiting for me so I could then drive back to Durness (there is no bus to Blairmore, the nearest placed served is Kinlochbervie). I then stocked up on lots to drink and lots of salty and sugary snacks from the shops in Durness before they closed that would keep over-night (I was camping so didn’t have a fridge) in order to provide lunch and “dinner” for the next day and hopefully enough energy to help me get round. I had heard rumours of a cafe at the lighthouse at Cape Wrath so I was hopeful that might provide further fresh food on the way, but I didn’t want to rely on it. A risk with this plan was that if I failed to make it to Blairmore I’d likely have to give up at least some of the next day to get back to Blairmore in order to retrieve the car.

So now all was set. I made a fairly early start and was pleased to see the weather was good, as had been forecast. Looking at the expected ferry departure times and the bus timetable showed I should be able to get the first bus west to the junction for Keoldale (where the ferry to Cape Wrath goes from) in order to catch the first ferry over which I really needed to do, as I knew the walk would take a long time and I wanted to finish before it got dark. However it felt like a bit of a risk. If the bus didn’t turn up or was late my whole plan would fall apart. So I decided, even though it increased the mileage, to walk there. I had breakfast in my tent and then set off along the roads. I had walked the road between Keoldale and Durness before so I knew the way, I knew it was fairly easy and I knew how long it took. At this time in the morning I expected traffic would be light too.

I walked briskly along the road to Keoldale. I made it by 8:15am. I was, as I hoped, the only person here. That mean I should be sure of making the first ferry across the Kyle of Durness which was expected at about 8:45am. It was calm and quiet here. The cloud was hanging over some of the higher hills but I could see areas of blue sky coming across so the weather was picking up.

The Kyle of Durness from Keoldale

The tide also looked very low, as I could see sand banks in the Kyle of Durness.

Soon the first other prospective passengers arrived, as there is a car park nearby. Then a mini bus arrived with another group. I was keen to make sure I was first and soon the ferryman turned up and cleaned out the little tender boat at the slipway he needed to use to go and get the ferry, moored further out. He commented that the tide was low and we would likely have to wait a bit before the tide came in enough to allow us to cross, though he did say the tide came in quickly. The mini bus drivers soon arrived too. Unfortunately there was bad news, for me, anyway. The minibus that arrived was booked by HF Holidays as part of walking holiday to take the group of walkers on this holiday to Cape Wrath where they would walk to Sandwood Bay (to be met by the mini bus again). They were to be met by another mini bus once across the Kyle of Durness who would drive them to the lighthouse so they could start the walk from there south. Unfortunately this was bad news for me because I was told, even though I was first here, that the first ferry over would therefore be for the exclusive use of this walking group. I (and the others not in the walking group) would have to wait for the second ferry over, though the ferrymen did assure us he would come straight back. So the walking group got to jump ahead of me.

The Kyle of Durness from Keoldale

That was irritating as the website stated the ferry cannot be pre-booked, if it could have been I would have done so (but seemingly, it can be booked if in a group). We waited and watched the sand bank get smaller and smaller right before our eyes until it was entirely covered by water. A few minutes after this the ferrymen decided the tide was high enough to get across. The walking group got on whilst the rest of us were told to wait in the queue on the slipway. I made sure I was at the front of the queue. One advantage was at least if it turned out it was still too shallow to make it across at least it wasn’t going to be me stuck in a run-aground boat! However it did make it across and soon the ferry was coming back. By now more people had arrived. So as the ferry reached the slipway I was angry when a large family pushed past the waiting queue to get to the front of the queue. Despite angry shouts they ignored the waiting queue and got straight on, which prompted others to start pushing and shoving to get on the ferry first too. I’m not really one for aggression so much to my irritation the boat was full by the time I got to it. Another elderly couple behind me in the queue I had been talking to were angry both with this family and the ferrymen for not doing anything about it. They were also at pains to point out that I had been here first and told them, pointing to me “he was here before anyone of us were”. Despite this the family refused to budge. So now I had to wait for the 3rd ferry! Fortunately the remaining passengers were well behaved and stuck to the orderly queue. By the time the ferry came back we could all get on and there was no on else left waiting. It helped that I didn’t want the mini bus (they had checked this) as there was more limited space on the mini buses than on the ferry.

So finally, I was crossing the Kyle of Durness.

Aborad the Cape Wrath ferry

By the time I stepped off the ferry it was 9:45am. About 45 minutes later than I had expected to be across. However I had at least made it. I had no other public transport to depend on so now if I failed to make it, it would be my fault.

The Kyle of Durness

As to the large family that had pushed ahead of the queue, it had done them no good. The mini bus still had spare seats. The driver had therefore waited for the boat I was on to arrive to fill the remaining seats before he set off. So they had got nowhere any quicker, just had to wait in the minibus and all they had succeeded in doing was delaying me and annoying many of the other passengers (that they would now be sharing the mini bus with). I expected it might be a fraught journey!

Now the first part of my walk to the lighthouse should be comparatively easy. That is where the mini buses were going and so there was a road all the way. If the ageing mini buses could make it, then I should have no problem. It is a little over 9 miles to the lighthouse and with a “proper” road I was hoping to make good time and so walked briskly, it was the bit after the lighthouse that was bothering me.

The road soon climbed up passing the large white house I had seen from the other side earlier in the week. This is inhabited, at least in summer, despite the remote location (I think they have their own boat). The road climbed away from the Kyle of Durness and the sea was a wonderful turquoise colour.

The Kyle of Durness

The Kyle of Durness

Soon I heard the rumble of engines behind me. The mini buses taking the others to the lighthouse were coming up behind me, so I stepped onto the verge to let them past. I was the only person on any of the boats that was walking to the lighthouse. With this road not being connected to the rest of the public road I didn’t expect there to be any other traffic so I knew it was probably a good 90 minutes to 2 hours before I would encounter another vehicle (which turned out to be the case).

The road climbed up, offering fine views to the sandy beaches over on the other side where I had previously walked and ahead to the open sea.

The Kyle of Durness

I soon passed a stone marker with a 10 marked on it.

Cape Wrath mile marker

Was this the distance, in miles, to the lighthouse? I suspect it was (as my estimate was based on the “as the crow flies” route and the road is not straight so 10 miles seemed plausible).

Looking back up the Kyle of Durness it was beautiful, already wild the only sign of man was the road, a fence and the ferry house. Beyond that it was all wild country.

The Kyle of Durness

Soon I passed a barn and the ruins of another building, not marked on the map, alongside the ruins of a dry stone wall.

The Kyle of Durness

In about a mile and a half the road descended down to the start of the firing range, at a place called Daill.

Cape Wrath range

Cape Wrath range

Cape Wrath range

As I had expected the red flags weren’t flying and the range was open so I didn’t need to worry about all the warning notices. The road as you can see above is somewhat rough, with lots of potholes and grass growing down the middle of it. The mini bus drivers I gather make quite a fuss about this pointing out they have to pay tax to use the road that clearly hasn’t been maintained in a very long time. I suspect too this is why the mini buses are all old. Probably bought cheap when near the end of their life and shipped over here to be used until they fail, as I imagine the rough road and salty conditions mean they don’t last long. Not sure what they do for diesel though! I presume it must be bought over on the ferry as needed.

Daill, Cape Wrath

Daill, Cape Wrath

Whilst I had been following the coast until now sadly I’d now have to turn inland with the road. There was a footpath running north about a mile or so north along the coast which ended abruptly at a fence. If I had more time I might have tried to follow this but with so far to cover today I couldn’t afford to add extra miles exploring a dead-end path. The road soon crossed the Daill River which had a sandy beach at it’s mouth and a well-kept white building just behind the beach.

Daill, Cape Wrath

Daill, Cape Wrath

I think this was a farm, it didn’t seem to be open to the public anyway. The coast here is beautiful and I could see the bridge ahead and the road onwards heading uphill.

Daill, Cape Wrath

I headed down crossing the wooden bridge and followed the road heading up the valley.

The Daill River, Cape Wrath

The Daill River, Cape Wrath

The road climbed for quite a distance away from the river and the valley.

The road to Cape Wrath

Now all was quiet and it now felt very remote with moorland all around me and no other people.

View from the road to Cape Wrath

View from the road to Cape Wrath

I soon reached another stone, this one numbered 8 and with a puffin painted on. I must have missed the no 9 stone.

Cape Wrath mile marker

The road passed a small lochan on the left and over to the right I could make out the larger Loch Inshore (well, it is inshore).

View from the road to Cape Wrath

View from the road to Cape Wrath

I could see evidence of peat cutting around the loch, perhaps this is done by the farm I had passed. A short distance passed the loch I came across the first people I had seen since the mini buses passed me. Two cyclists! I was surprised they had got a bike here but they told me they took the ferry over yesterday, cycled to the lighthouse and camped the night and now they were heading back and were impressed I had made it so far since the first ferry (perhaps they might have been more impressed if they realised I’d actually been 45 minutes later than planned!).

Faded signs warned me to keep to the road due to the danger of un-exploded munitions, I was happy to oblige.

Cape Wrath range

Out on the grasses of the moorland I could see many of those “cotton top” plants that grow in remote northern part of Scotland (I remember seeing these a lot in Iceland when I went there too).

View from the road to Cape Wrath

View from the road to Cape Wrath

I continued along the undulating road soon with the mountain of Sgribhis-bheinn over to my right.

View from the road to Cape Wrath

View from the road to Cape Wrath

A road sign warned of a weak bridge ahead, but clearly strong enough to cope with mini buses.

The road to Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath

Talking of which they mini buses soon came back past me, the visitors now heading back, but I was continuing. The driver gave me a wave. I soon passed the number 6 stone (it seems I must have missed number 7 too).

Cape Wrath mile marker

After a while I reached the turning to Kearvaig. I would like to explore this too, but time was against me.

The Road to Cape Wrath

Another mile-long dead-end road this would take me to the beach and bothy. It was an alternative to remember if I failed to make it today and it looked from the map that it was rather beautiful as the beach was sandy and so far all the beaches I had passed were excellent.

The Road to Cape Wrath

The road descended into a valley and crossed another (stone) bridge and soon I could see the sea ahead of me, but not yet see the lighthouse.

Crossing the Kearvaig River

Crossing the Kearvaig River

Crossing the Kearvaig River

There were some more military buildings by the bridge here.

Military check point on the road to Cape Wrath

The road soon climbed up away from this valley of the Kearvaig River. To my right I got the first glimpse of Kearvaig. Gosh it was beautiful and I instantly regretted missing it out.

Kearvaig

Kearvaig

Look at that, with those rock stacks, it looked absolutely stunning. I stopped and checked the map and time. I really wanted to go back and see that beach up close. I dithered for some time before head won out over heart. I just couldn’t spare the time or energy. I decided that I could come back and use the mini bus one way and walk back to the ferry, which would give me time to come back and explore these places again.

The Road to Cape Wrath

However I could barely take my eyes of that view, it looked so nice down there!

Kearvaig on the Cape Wrath peninsula

The rough road continued and I soon reached the number 3 stone (I must have missed 5 and 4!).

The Road to Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath mile marker

Soon after this and over the brow of the hill the mini bus (this time only 1)  was soon coming back with the next group of tourists who waved as they passed perhaps surprised to see someone out here.

The Road to Cape Wrath

In some ways it was re-assuring I guess the driver could keep an eye out and sea the progress I had made. The moorland was dotted with little lochans and boggy areas so I was glad of the road to keep my feet dry. I soon passed the number 2 stone.

The Road to Cape Wrath

Well clearly they were counting down the miles to the lighthouse and so I didn’t have far to go now. Half an hour at a brisk pace and I should be there!

The Road to Cape Wrath

The road descended into another small valley (Clais Charnach) where another part of the track forked right to a little jetty marked on the map. Another dead-end and with no sandy beach this time so I didn’t mind so much missing it out!

Now I could see the coast south too where I would be walking later. In fact I’d now be turning north so the walk to the lighthouse would be a there and back walk now, but I couldn’t miss out the very tip or the lighthouse. Soon the road began to climb, I passed the 1 mile marker and at last the lighthouse came into view.

Mile market on the road to Cape Wrath

View from the road to Cape Wrath

The road to Cape Wrath

It looked stunning on this remote corner of Britain with the sea on 3 sides. There were quite a number of buildings here. Some would have been lighthouse keeper cottages but others I suspect to have had a military use. Outside one of these I could see the mini buses and tourists milling about. I would see the first people for several hours!

Cape Wrath Lighthouse

Around the lighthouse many of the buildings were in ruins, boarded up and fenced off with signs warning they were dangerous. At least one of these is the old Lloyds signal station.

Cape Wrath - Lloyd Signal station ruins

At these buildings it looked a bit like a scrap yard! Old mini buses and 4×4 were left here to rot presumably if they break down the difficulties of recovering vehicles and transporting them away by sea means they are left here to rust away instead!

There were a number of people around and I walked around the network of paths to take in the views of the scenery. I could see all along the coast back to Kearvaig too, with that lovely beach.

The coast at Cape Wrath looking east to Kearvaig

Kearvaig on the Cape Wrath peninsula

I was treated a little like a minor celebrity around here. Several of the visitors on the mini bus had recognised I had not come with them and kept asking questions like “are you that guy we saw walking?”. “Wow, where are you going?”. They were impressed at the walk I was doing. I just hoped I’d be able to make it!

Buildings beside Cape Wrath lighthouse

The scenery around the lighthouse was stunning and I can see why it’s such an attraction for people to make the journey here to take it all in.

Cape Wrath lighthouse

It is an incredible place and I was lucky to have such good weather for it. I decided to look around the coast and take photos in the hope the tourists in the mini bus would soon be gone!

The coast at Cape Wrath

The coast at Cape Wrath

The coast at Cape Wrath

I was delighted too to find there is indeed a cafe here. The Ozone Cafe claims to always be open. (The entrance is the door near the left of the picture below, with the rucksacks all beside it).

Cape Wrath

I didn’t want to put this to the test but was very glad to find it open now and not too busy, so I could get a table. The couple that run it live here (John and Kay Ure) and made the news in 2010 when Kay went for a shopping trip to Inverness on the 23rd December. Bad weather prevented her getting home. It was 30 days before they would see each other again! Such are the perils of living in such a remote place!

I was very glad of the cafe. The menu is limited (mostly cold food, except for soup) as drinking water is limited (there is no mains supply so it has to be bought in) and they live off-grid. However I was happy to have sandwiches, cake and tea, which was very welcome, along with a nice sit down.

I couldn’t linger too long though. So lunch allowed me to check the map (out of the wind) and confirm my onwards route. There are no tracks or paths marked on the map south from here until Sandwood Bay and neither had I spotted any from the road (I had hoped that I might). I had my GPS and would have to find my own route.

Along the coast was a large and steep valley, stretching almost a mile inland (Allt na Clai Leobairnich). I would need to get around this on the landward side, which was only about 500 metres from the road. So I decided to follow the road to this point (approx grid reference NC263730) where I would then head south west to the old Shielings marked on the map, then to the head of this valley and follow the south edge of the valley to the coast.

So I made my way back along the road first for a mile glad to still have a good surface to walk on.

Cape Wrath

The road to Cape Wrath lighthouse.

The road to Cape Wrath lighthouse.

As I approached the point I planned to leave the road I kept hoping I might see a path to my right, but no such luck. So I left the path and made my way onto the open moorland. It was rough underfoot, with lots of heather long grass and some boggy bits.

I was however less tired after my lunch and sit down at the cafe. Soon I reached the valley. It was steep but not quite as bad as I had imagined from the map although it was still steep enough I would not have liked trying to get down those banks even if the river didn’t look too hard to cross.

The valley of Allt na Clais Leobairnich near Cape Wrath

The valley of Allt na Clais Leobairnich near Cape Wrath

I made my way back to the coast and it was really spectacular here. At the cliff edge in places the grass had died back to leave rocks and gravel making in places a sort of path that was easier to walk on and was firm and dry. I suspect this is simply that in bad weather enough salty spray makes it up here that it kills the grass.

The coast south of Cape Wrath

Along the coast I had a lovely view of a large rocky bay (Geodha Ruadh na Fola) and could largely follow the coast along it.

The coast south of Cape Wrath

The various streams marked on the map (and some boggy areas) meant I had to head a bit inland at times to find a narrow and dry enough part to get over.

The coast south of Cape Wrath

However the walking over the cliff tops here was easier than I had expected.

The coast south of Cape Wrath

It had been hot and dry for a few weeks before so the land was fairly dry, helped by the wind. In places I even saw hints of a path as I knew others would have walked here (the Cape Wrath Trail comes this way for example but that walk is deliberately designed to be hard, following few if any proper paths).

Soon I was thrilled I could see the sand of Sandwood Bay ahead of me.

The coast south of Cape Wrath

I knew from there there was a proper path back to the road. I just had to get there. I was getting really tired now so I dug into more of my snacks in my bag.

The coast south of Cape Wrath

The coast south of Cape Wrath

At the end of the headland beyond Sandwood Bay I could also see an impressive rock stack. The geology of this area is quite stunning and there were a lot of granite cliffs, much as I remember at Lands End, the south westerly point of the UK.

I soon reached Bay of Keisgaig where there was another river valley to cross. This meant I descended more or less to sea level above this pebble and rock beach.

Bay of Keisgaig

On the cliff tops on the other side I could see the ruins of a building. Descending down into the valley I was only just above the sea and could use rocks to cross the river. It was a bit of a scramble up the other side to the ruins of the building where I stopped for another rest.

Bay of Keisgaig

The miles were beginning to take their toll on me now!

Ahead I continued south and could see a fence on the map. The end of the range is actually marked at the river itself but I suspected this fence, 100 metres or so beyond, to be the true boundary. I was worried I’d fine a tall razor-wire fence that might prove impossible to cross and I might have to follow it inland until I could find a suitable place to cross. Fortunately I had no need to worry.

It was a low wire fence, topped with barbed wire (naturally), however to my surprise and delight there was actually a stile along the coast! So I wouldn’t even had to climb the fence but had the luxury of a stile. It was re-assuring knowing other people must come this way even if I haven’t see anyone today.

Leaving the Cape Wrath firing range

In fact the fence does look to be the proper boundary, despite what the map shows, with it covered in the usual warning notices to be found in such places.

Leaving the Cape Wrath firing range

Leaving the Cape Wrath firing range

I continued south as the cliffs climbed steeply initially before climbing more gently to give me a good view back over the rocky beaches.

Bay of Keisgaig

Bay of Keisgaig

I still had a long way to go but I was starting to feel I had done the worst. Sandwood Bay was not far now and from there, there was a proper path.

The coast north of Sandwood Bay

As long as I could get down to that beach I would make it. The scenery continued to impress with high almost sheer cliffs and shallow rocky and sandy beaches below with the sea having a lovely turquoise colour again.

Geodha Ruadh

Soon I had reached the last hill above Sandwood Bay.

Sandwood Bay

This beach is becoming fairly well known having featured in many “remote beach” type books. It is a glorious sandy beach and one of the remotest beaches in Scotland being many miles from the public road. It is this comparative inaccessibility and it’s beauty that makes it more visited than the rest of the area (but that is relative).

The beach was stunning. The map suggested there was a river flowing over the beach and I was a bit bothered about crossing it. Now I could see the river it looked like it was easy to cross on the beach. So I decided my plan was to try and find a safe way down to the sands of the beach. The tide was (just) sufficiently far out I could make it the rest of the way on the sand which would be much easier on the feet after miles and miles over the rough moorland.

At the north eastern corner of the beach a small stream is marked just north of Strath Chailleach. This turned out to be gentle enough (in terms of slope) I could make my way down it. Yes this looks like a safe way down doesn’t it?! (hmmm)

Sandwood Bay

The stream was largely hidden under the boulders (that it had presumably washed down here after storms). I had to be very careful. Some of the rocks were lose and the last bit the river dropped to a little waterfall so I had to go down the rocks to the right of it. But at last I made it down onto the sandy beach. I was elated and quite relieved. It felt like I was now on the “home stretch”!

Sandwood Bay

I wanted to stop for another rest, drink and snacks but I decided to first get over the river since it seemed the tide was coming in again.

Sandwood Bay

I headed south and soon reached the river. It was time to take off my shoes and roll my trousers up to get across it. It turned out to be a little deeper than expected, but not quite knee deep (but also deeper than I had rolled my trousers up, so they got a bit wet but I didn’t care). I was right not to wait though as the tide had come in quite a bit just since I was on the cliff top and the waves were already touching the rocks in places.

Sandwood Bay

Mine were the only footprints on this part of the beach so I knew no one else had been here today.

Sandwood Bay

Once over the river I stopped on some rocks for a rest, snacks, drinks and another check of the map. It was now just past 6pm. I had about 4 miles to go I estimated so probably another 2 to 3 hours. That meant at least I should finish in daylight even if I was in no mood to rush any more!

Sandwood Bay

Once I was suitably rested, it was time to get going. Walking bare-foot on the beach made my feet feel much better. Whilst my legs were still tired, the cool sea water had been very refreshing and made me feel more energised again.

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

I soon began to come across other footprints on the beach and had seen people at the other end of the beach so I knew I was not the only one here.

I followed the beach for about 3/4 of a mile to reach the next stream, from Sandwood Loch. Once over this the path should be visible and I just had to follow the trail of footprints that led me there, this being the main point to access the beach.

Sandwood Bay

There was about half a dozen people about on this part of the beach. A couple were camping I think this is a popular place to come and wild camp. I can see why and this really is wild camping, on a beautiful beach along way from the road. It did look a nice place to spend the night but I was glad I hadn’t had to carry a tent all the way here to do it!

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Soon it was time to look back wistfully and take one last look at Sandwood Bay. I hoped to come back but for now the comfort of the car beckoned!

Sandwood Bay

Behind Sandwood Bay is an extensive area of dunes to the west of Sandwood Loch. The path through it was obvious as it is fairly well worn and indeed I passed a fair few people heading to the beach who I expected were going to camp there for the night. It did look nice.

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Away from the dunes the path became grassy and I passed the ruins of some buildings, what was once the village or hamlet of Sandwood after which the beach is named.

Near Sandwood Bay

Near Sandwood Bay

It was a proper path now that climbed out of the valley even with steps in places and welcome after the difficult moorland walking. Inland I could see Loch Sandwood and a few ruined buildings alongside. This is quite a large loch, it is over a mile tall with the beach at it’s north end and some woodland at the south (sand, wood, hmm I wonder how the name Sandwood came about?!).

Near Sandwood Bay

The path passed Loch Clais nan Coinneal and Loch Meadhanach both small lochs.

Loch na Gainimh near Blairmore

Loch na Gainimh near Blairmore

At the third, Loch a Mhuilinn there was another small sandy beach. I stopped here for another rest and the last of the snacks and drinks I had with me. Having eaten and drunk all that my bag was much lighter. I’d have liked to linger longer but the midges were everywhere now.

Loch na Gainimh near Blairmore

Loch na Gainimh near Blairmore

It was a pretty and photogenic spot even if it had clouded up a bit in the last hour.

Loch na Gainimh near Blairmore

It was now approaching 8pm so the sun was now getting low and the light reducing.

Loch na Gainimh near Blairmore

South from this large loch the path had improved to almost the standard of a road, certainly a car-wide track. It ran close beside this loch, passing the south east corner of the loch. Soon I could see buildings ahead. I was almost back at Blairmore. Just another half a mile or so now and I’d be back at the road.

Track between Blairmore and Sandwood Bay

Near Blairmore

I soon reached the road, glad for once to be back on tarmac. I had covered a huge distance today. I was so pleased that I had made it. I was tired but also very happy and somewhat elated after this wonderful walk. I only had to walk a few metres along the road to reach the car park, which also has public toilets. I was pleased to see the car I had left here the previous day was still safe and sound and un-damaged. I had heard it is advised when parking over night in remote areas to leave a note in the windscreen indicating where you are and when you plan to be back as people can worry and raise the alarm. On the flip side I have also heard this practice can encourage vehicle break-ins and crime when people know you will not be back for a while. So I had opted to leave nothing and was glad it hadn’t caused any alarm.

I used the toilets here and was pleased to also find a drinking water tap so I could drink more as I was still pretty thirsty. Several people were settling up for the night in the car park in campervans, cleaning their teeth from the tap at the toilets. I had left another energy drink and chocolate in the boot of the car. The chocolate was a bit melted but I was still very glad of it.

It was nice to sit down in a comfy seat now and know I didn’t have to walk any more. I didn’t want to sit still too long though in case my legs stiffened up too much as I still had to drive back.

Now all that had to be done was the drive back. I was very tired but glad it was still light-ish as I don’t like driving these single-track roads with deer and sheep wandering about at night if I can avoid it. I got back to the campsite at about 9:30pm. Just in time for the shop to still be open to get some more food as I needed it after all those miles.

After all that I should have slept like a log, but I had over-done it at the end of the walk on sugary drinks and snacks and after the elation of finishing the walk it actually took me a good while to actually get to sleep as I had a bit of a sugar-rush. The next morning I actually saw the elderly couple I had been talking to when waiting for the ferry (who had tried to persuade that selfish family to let me on the ferry, to no avail). They were also staying at the same campsite and were pleased to see I had made it back and were keen to hear how I had got on.

This had been a real adventure. It was a stunning walk with amazing scenery and a real privilege to walk through such a wild, remote and beautiful landscape, at the far corner of Britain. I was elated to have made it, it being the toughest walk by far I had done, not just along the coast but ever. Now I had done what I expected to be the toughest walk of them all around the coast I felt that I knew I could finish the rest. I hope that turns out to be the case and I will complete the whole walk around mainland Britain. This was a really memorable and wonderful walk. It took a lot of planning but the planning had paid off. I also knew I could enjoy the rest of this trip even more knowing I had now done the toughest walk of the trip successfully as I had been a bit apprehensive about it.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Cape Wrath minibus. Details of the minibus along the road from the Kyle of Durness to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. Timed to connect with ferries.

The Cape Wrath ferry. The ferry from Keoldale to the Cape Wrath peninsula.

The following bus services might also be used from Kinlochbervie back to Durness and also between Durness and the road to Keoldale (they don’t drive along the road to Keoldale but will stop on the A838.

Durness / Far North bus route 804 : Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Kylesku – Skiag Bridge – Lochinver – Inchnadamph – Leadmore Junction – Ullapool – Ledmore Junction – Lairg – Lairg Station (for trains to/from Inverness). 1 bus per day Monday- Saturday during the local school summer holidays only (approx 6 weeks from early July to mid August).

Durness / Far North bus route 806 : Leirinmore – Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Laxford Bridge – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg (for trains to/from Inverness). One bus per day each way Monday – Friday. There is an additional service Monday – Thursday on school days only that only runs between Durness and Kinlochbervie. On Fridays there is an additional service between Durness and Ardgay Station for connections to/from Inverness by train.

Finally Durness / Far North Bus also operate a dial-a-bus service in this area. This operates Monday – Friday and is open to all to use (you do not have to live in the area or even in Scotland) and must be pre-booked in advance on 01971 511223 or 07782 110007 so can be booked if the times of the existing scheduled services are not suitable.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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318. Durness to Durness via Faraid Head and Keoldale

July 2018

The further north into Scotland I’ve got the more planning these trips take. This one was harder than most to arrange as I would be tackling Cape Wrath on this trip and I had to come up with a plan on how I was going to do that. Once I’d done that, my plan meant it was necessary for me to be staying in Durness.

Another part of the plan was that beyond Cape Wrath to walk this part of the coast there was a bus between Durness and Ullapool but it only ran in the school summer holidays (presumably because it uses a bus and driver that would otherwise be doing school routes). In addition the walk to Cape Wrath is over a military firing range for much of the way so I needed to pick a time this wasn’t in use and hence public access was permitted. The dates aren’t published far in advance but in general the range is open for the whole of the month of July. So between these three constraints I decided that this year I’d wait until the summer (July) to return to Scotland and make a longer trip instead. These trips take a lot of planning! (Still at least in 2018 I didn’t have the Government telling me I am not allowed to go on holiday which managed to ruin my carefully made plans for 2020 and has already ruined my plans for 2021, too).

So after some consideration of the limited accommodation options I decided, given the fact it was the height of summer, to camp for this trip and so I booked a pitch at the campsite in Durness, Sango Sands. I planned to arrive on Saturday and return the Sunday of the following weekend, making a 9 day trip. I booked return flights from Luton to Inverness and a hire car from Inverness airport. Given I was camping there was no way I’d be able to make it just hand luggage only, so I also booked a suitcase on the flight and hoped that I would be able to fit my tent, sleeping bag, other camping equipment as well as slightly over a weeks worth of clothes into the limited luggage space (I could … just!).

So I set off for Luton airport and took the flight to Inverness. Inverness airport was in a state of chaos as 3 flights had arrived in the space of 30 minutes (it’s a small airport and they clearly couldn’t cope with this) and on top of that the only luggage carousel was constantly breaking down and having to be fixed so there was a huge crush of people waiting for their luggage. Having been caught out with this before I decided instead to head straight for the car hire desk at the other end of the terminal to sort that out. This was a good plan as I didn’t have to wait long. I had booked the smallest car, which was described as Fiat 500 or similar. This time I did get a Fiat 500 (as I had last time). Fortunately this time it was maroon rather than pink!

Now I headed back to the other end of the terminal to find my suitcase had now been delivered, so I could head out to the car park to find the hire car. Last time I had found the Fiat 500 to really struggle, to the point I wondered if something was wrong with it (especially given how much petrol it got through). Well this one was much better. I’m not sure if it just had a better or larger engine or whether it just confirmed my suspicions there was something wrong with the previous one.

I only headed a mile or so from the airport and decided to stop at the large Tesco supermarket nearby for some provisions given I knew there were very minimal facilities between Inverness and Durness and I wasn’t sure what facilities would be in Durness when I got there (and if they would be open). I also got lunch here. Then I set off for the drive to Durness. This was scheduled to take well over 2 hours (in fact, closer to 3), as it’s a long way from anywhere. At least the hire car had a full tank of fuel so this time I didn’t have to worry about running out of petrol, having found out last time there are very few opportunities to fill up on the way. I did worry a bit what I was going to do for petrol once I did get to Durness so I was very pleased to find that when I did get there, it has a self-service pump, open 24 hours a day (paid via a card) so that was that problem solved.

The drive to Durness is very beautiful. I had to be strict not to keep stopping to take photos, or I’d never get there! From Lairg all the way to Laxford Bridge the A838 is a single-track road. I don’t like driving roads like that because in general in the south of England most single-track roads have high hedges on either side, lots of bends and few passing places so you often have to crawl along because you can’t see far ahead. Fortunately I found this road much easier to drive because it’s mostly very open, there are many passing places (which are well signed) and little traffic. This means you can usually see traffic coming the other way a long way ahead and work out what the best passing place to use is (if both drivers are on the ball it is often possible to do so with neither driver having to come to a stop). I stopped for lunch along here at a particularly scenic section.

I made it to Laxford Bridge OK and here, briefly, the A838 gets a lane in each direction. What luxury! It didn’t last though. At Rhiconich it went down to a single track road with passing places again. This time I was unfortunate to get stuck behind a long convoy of Belgium motor homes. (I find this is a problem during the day in the summer months), who mostly drove at 20mph and never went above 35mph and stopped at the first passing place if they so much as saw headlights ahead, even if they had enough time to go to several further passing places before the oncoming vehicles would arrive. Although signs advise “Do not impede traffic. Use passing places to permit overtaking” the Belgium drivers either did not understand it or did not follow it. It was not possible for me to get past and it was a very frustrating few miles. Of course, at Durness they all turned into the same campsite I had booked, so I had to wait behind them to check in too!

The campsite was beautifully located right on the cliff top above a gorgeous sandy beach (with steps down to the beach). The facilities were modern and clean too. The only downside was that it was very windy so I struggled to find anywhere sheltered enough to even pitch the tent. Even when I did find somewhere it was still pretty exposed and then tent was flapping about. I hoped the weather would calm down and the tent would still be there when I got back.

When I had eventually done that it was not far off 4pm! I had hoped to do a walk today, but it had taken longer than expected to get here and get set up. I had a quick look round Durness and found the facilities better than expected for such a small place. There were 2 convenience stores too, which was a bonus. Since I’d done little more than travel today and had been mostly sitting down I decided to forgo a hot meal this evening and instead bought food for a cold dinner from the Spar shop that I could eat on the way. Since it was July, at that time of year this far north in Scotland it is light until well past 10pm and even when the sunsets it takes a long time to get dark, so I still had plenty of time for a walk.

The obvious thing to do was start from Durness. I could see that north of Durness was a long thin peninsula called Faraid Head, which I’d return from at Balnakeil and then follow a path marked on the map around the coast to Keoldale (where the ferry to Cape Wrath goes from) and then follow the road back to Durness (about 2 miles as the road route back is much more direct).

So now I had a plan it was time to get under way. From the campsite I found a path north over fields to the cliffs above the beach at Geodha Brat. From here I could turn left to the back of the beach and descend down a path above the back of the beach.

Durness

It was a beautiful beach and access was down a steep slope of sand which was difficult but I decided to go down anyway. Getting back up was a bit more tricky!

Even under the largely cloudy skies, the sea here was a glorious turquoise colour.

Faraid Head near Durness

This is a really beautiful stretch of coast. I am able to follow a path through the dunes north to near the end of the headland.

Faraid Head near Durness

Faraid Head near Durness

Faraid Head near Durness

Faraid Head near Durness

The end is closed off by the MOD unfortunately, so it’s not possible to go right to the tip, but at least an information board has been provided to tell me about the area.

Faraid Head near Durness

Despite not being able to get to the very north east tip of the headland I was able to get to the north west tip where I had fine views over the Kyle of Durness to the hills leading to Cape Wrath beyond.

Faraid Head near Durness

Faraid Head near Durness

Faraid Head near Durness

I hoped, if all went to plan, I’d be there in a few days. It was an impressive, if slightly daunting, site.

Faraid Head near Durness

Now the sand had given way to rocks and there were some rocky craggs a bit inland too, a bit like moorland meets the sea.

Faraid Head near Durness

The cliffs on the west side of the headland are impressively tall, though sadly at the top of part of them I got wet from a brief but heavy shower.

Faraid Head near Durness

Faraid Head near Durness

Faraid Head near Durness

Thankfully it didn’t last long and soon I could see the long sandy beach at Balnakeil Bay ahead.

Faraid Head near Durness

Just before the beach I was surprised to come across this tiny harbour. It looked to be used by fisherman but they can’t have an easy journey here because there aren’t any buildings nearby and the (private) military “road” out to the end of the headland requires you to drive over the beach so you’d need an off-road vehicle to be able to transport the catch.

Balnakeil Bay

Soon I was able to drop down onto the beach and it was a glorious beach. It stretches for about a mile and a half and again the sea was a lovely turquoise colour, despite the overcast sky.

Balnakeil Bay

Balnakeil Bay

About half way along the beach are some rocks.

Balnakeil Bay

Balnakeil Bay

If the tide is out it’s possible to walk along the beach in front of the rocks. It wasn’t and it wasn’t, so I had to make my way over these rocks to the second part of the sandy beach beyond, but at least the height gained gave me a good view of the lovely beach I had been following.

Balnakeil Bay

Ahead I could now follow this beach to the south end, where there is a small car park overlooking the beach.

Balnakeil Bay

Of course a car park brings other people so here there was also someone else enjoying the view and what a lovely view it is.

Balnakeil Bay

I suspect there was once more of a community here than there is now because beside the car park was the ruins of a church. The outer walls remain but the roof has collapsed, though some of the graves look more recent, so perhaps the grave yard is still in use.

Balnakeil ruined church

Balnakeil Bay

Although the car park is at the end of the public road, the road actually continued west a short distance to the golf course, so I was able to follow that.

Balnakeil Bay

This is Durness which claims to be the most northerly golf course on the British Mainland.

Durness Golf Club

A quick glance would suggest that is indeed a true claim. Beyond the club house, a path is marked around this little peninsula and I was pleased to find that there was indeed a good path on the ground too. This soon took me a to a rocky little inlet, with a pothole marked on the map.

The coast near Balnakeil

The coast near Balnakeil

I didn’t explore this but continued along the path to the little tidal island of Eilean Dubh. As the tide was in, it was indeed an island so I couldn’t explore that, but it was small enough I could see it all from here, including the cairn marked on the map, that I could just make out.

Eilean Dubh, Balnakeil

Eilean Dubh, Balnakeil

Rounding the corner there was another brief shower, but at least it was now to the side of me rather than in my face. Now heading south I was heading into the Kyle Of Durness, which has sand along this eastern shore and low rocks.

The Kyle of Durness near Balnakeil

The Kyle of Durness near Balnakeil

In fact the beaches really were glorious and I was surprised to see no other footprints in the sand. Given the number of people at the campsite at Durness I was surprised that seemingly no one else had explored this lovely area.

The Kyle of Durness near Balnakeil

The Kyle of Durness

As I continued south there was an area of higher cliffs which offered some wonderful views over these lovely beaches. It was far prettier than I had expected and these look to be good sandy beaches but being difficult to get to seem little known, one of the pleasures of walking the coast is discovering places like this that most people never get to see.

The Kyle of Durness

Across the Kyle of Durness I could make out a white house. The map showed this as Ferry House and I was surprised to see people living there given how remote it is, with no access to the rest of the road network and only a seasonal passenger ferry. I presume to live there you must have your own boat.

The Kyle of Durness

The Kyle of Durness

I was nearing the end of the public road at Keoldale now and I could already see the buildings of this small settlement ahead.

Near Keoldale

Soon I was down to the end of the public road and the location for the ferry over to Cape Wrath. The information I had been able to gather about this before leaving home is that the ferry schedule is largely made up  on the day based on the weather and expected demand, but usually the first ferry is around 9:30am. It doesn’t operate to a formal schedule.

Cape Wrath ferry, Keoldale

The sign only confirmed the unreliability of the service stating “No ferry” for today and first ferry tomorrow “8:45-9:00am” (earlier than suggested).

Cape Wrath bus and ferry, Keoldale

The signage was all a bit rough and ready and low budget. I looked at the clouds gathering over the hills of Cape Wrath and decided to get moving.

Cape Wrath ferry slipway, Keoldale

Another sign here gave me the firing times of the range for the month of July and confirmed that the range was not active at any time in July, which was what I had hoped and expected. So all looked set for my trip over to Cape Wrath, I just needed to wait for a day when the weather was good.

I now continued on the minor dead-end road to Keoldale passing the large Cape Wrath Lodge on the left. This was once the Cape Wrath Hotel which might have made a good base for this trip had it still been operating as a hotel.

The former Cape Wrath Hotel, Keoldale

The Kyle of Durness

At the end of the road to Keoldale I reached the A838, so it was time to turn inland along the road. Fortunately by this time (it was now about 9:45pm) there was little traffic and in any case about half of it had a lane in each direction. I walked quickly making brisk progress along the road, as it wasn’t very interesting. I soon reached the turning for the Balnakeil Craft Village (probably a good place to take coaches of American tourists in the days when American tourists were still allowed into Scotland).

I was soon back at my tent, which I was glad to find was still in place and intact. Sadly what had been a nice quiet pitch suggested that it soon wouldn’t be. Since I had left the campsite, my tent had been surrounded by motorcyclists who I suspected to be doing the NC500 but where nowhere to be seen. They returned from a pub (I presume), not long after midnight (I am not sure how they managed that given the only pub claimed it closed at 11pm) and on going into their tents decided it would be highly amusing to see who could fart and burp the loudest. Just what I wanted. Unfortunately this set the tone for this campsite. Though the bikers had, fortunately, gone the next day I found myself being disturbed late into the night by anti-social fellow campers on most nights I was there. That ranged from someone coming back late at night and deciding to play the bag-pipes, others sitting in their camper-vans with the noisy diesel engines running and headlights ablaze late at night, others that turned music on really loud and left it on until well past midnight (despite others asking them to turn it off). I wondered if I might have been better wild-camping though I did like having warm showers and clean toilets, which obviously isn’t possible when wild camping.

This had been a far better walk than expected with lots of really glorious remote sandy beaches to be found and some stunning scenery. There were also some beautiful rocky sections with higher cliffs than I had expected that offered wonderful views. It had also allowed me get my first glimpse of the remote Cape Wrath peninsula that I would be tackling on this trip.

Whilst I did this as a circular walk it is possible to skip the section of road walking on the A838 between Durness and the turning for Keoldale by using one of the following bus services (the turning for Keoldale is between Durness and Rhiconich and the bus will stop there if you ask):-

Durness / Far North bus route 804 : Durness – Rhiconich – Kinlochbervie – Rhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Kylesku – Skiag Bridge – Lochinver – Inchnadamph – Leadmore Junction – Ullapool – Ledmore Junction – Lairg – Lairg Station (for trains to/from Inverness). 1 bus per day Monday- Saturday during the local school summer holidays only (approx 6 weeks from early July to mid August).

Durness / Far North bus route 806 : Leirinmore – Durness – Rhiconich – KinlochbervieRhiconich – Laxford Bridge – Scourie – Laxford Bridge – Achfary – Overscaig – Lairg (for trains to/from Inverness). One bus per day each way Monday – Friday. There is an additional service Monday – Thursday on school days only that only runs between Durness and Kinlochbervie. On Fridays there is an additional service between Durness and Ardgay Station for connections to/from Inverness by train.

Finally Durness / Far North Bus also operate a dial-a-bus service in this area. This operates Monday – Friday and is open to all to use (you do not have to live in the area or even in Scotland) and must be pre-booked in advance on 01971 511223 or 07782 110007 so can be booked if the times of the existing scheduled services are not suitable.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

Posted in Sutherland | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

317. A bit north of Eriboll (on Loch Eriboll) to Durness

July 2018

If you look at a map of Scotland you will see that the west coast of Scotland is dotted with many many sea lochs, formed by glaciers, most of which I will have to walk around, which is why I will end up walking many times more miles to walk the west coast of Scotland than the east (also the west coast goes much further south, the southern most point of the Scottish coast is actually further south than Newcastle). The first of these loch is Loch Eriboll which is actually on the north coast, rather than the west. They are formed by glaciers. I had already passed the Kyle of Tongue but that had a bridge and it’s also not a loch. That led me to puzzle the difference between a Kyle and a Loch. The answer is (I think) that a Kyle is formed as a river narrows whilst a Loch (or at least, a sea loch) is formed by glaciers rather than rivers. I think that’s cleared it up anyway.

So the objective of today’s walk was to walk most of the way around Loch Eriboll, the first of the large sea lochs I will encounter.  I had mixed feelings about this walk. I knew that the area was very beautiful because I had been to part of it before, but also driven around the loch on the road I would be walking on today. However I also knew that the walk was likely to be almost all along a fairly busy A-road. Walking on roads is not much fun, and I would be along it for miles today, and I was not looking forward to that. However I hoped the scenery and the site of Smoo Cave near the end would compensate for that.

I was camping at the Sango Sands campsite at Durness and today was my last full day of this (slightly over) week long trip. One of the reasons this was the left to last on this trip is that unlike many of the walks there is a bus service I can use so that I only have to walk one way. The downside is that this bus only runs on Saturday. I had arrived last Saturday, so that was out because I did not reach Durness in time for the bus, hence doing this walk today, a week later.

I’d already met the bus driver on a previous walk, when he was surprised to find a passenger getting on at Scourie (I was going to Kylesku) and he turned out to be very chatty, so I explained what I was doing and that I planned to also use the bus on Saturday, where he told me he was due to drive it, so would likely see me on Saturday.

I stopped at the Spar in Durness to get lunch and headed out from the campsite to the bus stop. The bus was already there and waiting when I arrived, at around 9:15am. Though the buses here are actually transit mini buses (and a slightly rusty one, in this case). I got on the bus whilst the driver worked out my fare and I then paid my fare. There was one other passenger. I sat near the front as the driver wanted to chat and said that whilst the bus was empty it would likely be full or nearly fill by the time he reached Thurso. In fact he later revealed his wife would be joining us later, since we went past his house and she thought she’d join him there to go shopping!

He told me a bit about his life on the way. They had moved up here from Essex (I think) and owned a croft, with many acres of land and he told me he was now the only crofter still keeping cattle in the whole of Sutherland (according to his vet, he told me). I think he said they sold up and moved here, buying the croft outright and made a living from the croft, a couple of static caravans they let on the croft and, presumably, bus driving.

We had a nice discussion over the lifestyle up here and he showed me many of the sights on the way and the history of some of the buildings. It was quite a close-knit and friendly community. He told me he enjoyed most of the driving, but found this part of the road a bit tiresome, as to get around Loch Eriboll was about a 20 mile drive to cover about 1 mile as the crow flies! He also told me he’d look out for me on the way back in case I wanted to take the bus back, which was nice.

So the journey went quite quickly. I got off the bus at Eriboll Farm.

The A838 at Eriboll Farm

The beach at Durness, Sutherland

This was slightly south as where I had got last time, but I didn’t want the bother of trying to work out exactly where to get off the bus and sorting out the right fare. I stopped on the grass verge to sort my bag out, and get my map and camera out of it. As I was doing this the first vehicle came past – and stopped to ask if I was OK and wanted a lift! I had to explain I had only just arrived (by bus) and was fine. I like the fact people care enough to stop and offer you a lift, but at the same time it can get a bit tiring when you want to walk and have to keep explaining to drivers that is your intention, they sometimes seem a bit put out you don’t accept their offer of a lift!

So I set off first north along the road in search of the place I ended last time.

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

In the distance I could see the “almost island” of Ard Neackie I had passed last time.

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The road climbed out of the valley and I soon passed the small church on the right.

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

Eriboll Church

I’m not sure if it is still in use, it looked a bit run down. I continued until I reached the point the road turned right (at An t-Sron on the map) where I found the gravel area I had ended my last walk at. I had originally thought this might be a good parking spot (I don’t want to park on a grass verge or passing place), but in the end since I was staying at Durness and the bus was running, I did not need to use the car at all today, so did not need to worry about parking.

Now I turned back and re-traced my steps back to Eriboll Farm. Although this place gets a mention in the bus timetable, all that is here is a farm and a red telephone box.

Now it was time to head south along the road. I did consider walking closer to the coast, but it was all heather, gorse and bushes, mixed in with fences, not easy at all, so the grass verge beside the road was easier, or the road itself when nothing was coming (which was most of the time). This is quite a sweeping and open road, so you can see the route ahead. The road first climbed out of Eriboll Farm and then rounded the corner and descended again.

The road at this point was running about 1/3 of a mile back from the shore itself, but the height of the road meant I still had good views of the coast.

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The A838 beside Loch Eriboll

After about a mile the road joined the coast, by some streams that flow out into the loch.

Loch Eriboll

Loch Eriboll

For the next ¾ of a mile or so the road hugged the banks of the Loch. It was very beautiful, though I had to be careful of traffic. I had traffic about once every minute or so, mostly motor homes, so I had to hope I reached them at a point there was room to pass, as some parts of the road have walls on either side.

The weather forecast was for cloudy weather with rain later. I could already see the clouds were covering the tops of the hills on the other side of the Loch and hoped that did not mean the rain was going to be coming earlier.

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

I continued along the road to reach the Sheepfold marked on the map and the isolated house of Foulin.

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

The sheep were wandering freely over the open land, the road and around the house, I guessed they belong to the owner.

The eastern shore of Loch Eriboll

Old Sheepfold at the south end of Loch Eriboll

The road made it’s way over the valley at the landward end of the loch which was flat, but the land climbed steeply away, almost with cliffs behind the road.

Land behind Loch Eriboll

The southern end of Loch Eriboll

To my right the land was marshy and boggy and I could seeLochan Havurn.

At the head of Loch Eriboll

In another mile or so the road reached the main river that flows into the loch and and I was now heading north again, back to the open sea on the west side of the loch. This river is Amhainn an t-Stratha Bhig (don’t ask me to say it) and the view from the bridge is very beautiful, as the river flows out through a thin strip it has cut into the rocks, probably over millions of years.

The southern end of Loch Eriboll

The river flowing into Loch Eriboll

It was not what I had expected and it was lovely.

The river flowing into Loch Eriboll

In fact I dropped down off the bridge to sit on the rocks for a while and have a first part of my lunch. As I was ready to go I saw a man walking along the rough ground beside the shore (a fisherman, I think). I’d already had enough of the road so wondered if there might be an alternative.

I decided to try and head over the heather to reach the shore of the loch, where I hoped to walk along the beach. The ground was very rough and difficult to walk on, but I made it down to the beach OK. From here I turned left and headed over the beach, but it was not much of a beach, rocks and pebbles and sea weed, making it hard going.

The western shore of Loch Eriboll

I struggled over the beach for about half a mile, to Rubh Armli and when rounding this the beach got easier, but better still there was a bit of grass beside the “beach”. This made for easy walking and I began to come across a clear path.

The western shore of Loch Eriboll

On occasion, there were areas of bracken but again there was a path through it. This made for an easy and pleasant walk and soon up to the left were the backs of the few houses that line the road (including the one owned by my bus driver, who also has two caravans). The easy path continued and when I came across a stream I was surprised to find there was even a bridge (not marked on the map).

The western shore of Loch Eriboll

Confirmation this was indeed a proper path, though how you were meant to have got onto it I’m not sure – surely not over the rough beach? (Perhaps private access from the back gardens of the houses). I began to suspect it was primarily used by the residents of the houses to access the beach and shore.

The western shore of Loch Eriboll

I continued past the backs of the houses, one of which had a boat beside the loch. The good path continued and soon the beach had areas of some interesting rocks.

The western shore of Loch Eriboll

The western shore of Loch Eriboll

In fact I was able to continue along the foreshore without much difficulty all the way to Portnancon, where there was a pier. I made my way up onto this concrete wall and followed it to the road.

Portnancon with Loch Eriboll beyond

Portnancon with Loch Eriboll beyond

Sadly it was back to the main road (the A838) now because the beach ended at Portnancon and so the access beyond was harder. The traffic was not especially heavy, but there was more than their had been earlier in the day, so I had to take care.

Loch Eriboll viewed from the A838

I followed the main road for the next 3 miles or so, to reach the junction for the dead-end road to Rispond.

Loch Eriboll viewed from the A838

Ahead I could see an utterly gorgeous beach with lovely white sand and clear blue sea.

Beach near Rispond

This reminded me very much of Porthcurno at the opposite end of the country, at the far south west of Cornwall. I was torn here. The road was a dead-end and I wasn’t sure there was access to the coast, so the obvious thing to do was to continue on the main road. However I was also feeling a bit guilty about missing out a section of the coast by walking on the road a bit inland from the shore and also glad to get onto a quieter road so I decided to follow the road to Rispond, even though it was a dead-end.

This took me past a little rocky beach at Bagh nam Faochag.

The coast near Rispond, Sutherland

Sadly beyond this it turned out to be a mistake to follow the road. The road was soon marked private and I could see that it went through a gate into the private yard of a house with a large barn (Rispond Lodge).

Rispond

Although there is a right to roam in Scotland, this right does not extend to private gardens (nor would I feel comfortable doing so), so reluctantly, I retraced my steps back to the main road.

Rispond

Just before I reached the main road I made my way down the steep bank to the stream and managed to cross this.

The beach of Traigh Allt Chailgeag near Rispond, Sutherland

I could then follow the grassy banks to reach that lovely beach. There was another way down to, a rather unexpected one. You see a Zip Line has been constructed from the road here down to the beach. It did look rather fun but this was meant to be a walk, so no cheating by using the zip wire.

I was so glad to get to the beach after all that road walking and what a reward it was! It was just as good as it had looked from the main road.

The beach of Traigh Allt Chailgeag near Rispond, Sutherland

The beach of Traigh Allt Chailgeag near Rispond, Sutherland

I sat on the beach for 20 minutes or so and went for a paddle, which was very refreshing on my tired feet. Sadly, drizzle began, and this enticed me to leave!

The beach of Traigh Allt Chailgeag near Rispond, Sutherland

Rather then retrace my steps I tried to leave the beach at the far end. It was very tricky to get off the beach here (it was steep and quite slippery) and in hindsight not a good idea, but I made it up to the road and climbed over the crash barrier to reach the road.

The beach at Sangobeg

The beach at Sangobeg

Here the grass beside the road was short as it had been grazed by sheep, so rather than follow the road I was able to walk on the grass for much of the way. This was good because it was far more pleasant and also because it was raining, I didn’t want to get splashed by the passing traffic (I also find that if it’s raining drivers are even more likely to stop and offer a lift!) I soon passed signs of the Ceannabeinne Township Trail which was about the remains of an old village that was once here.

Near Sangobeg

The terrain soon got a bit tricky so I headed back to the road. I was soon in the village of Sangobeg.

Near Sangobeg

As I was passing through the bus came past on the way back to Durness, and true to his word the driver stopped to ask if I wanted a lift back. However I told him I was fine and thanked him for stopping. I was wet though, because the rain had got heavy but I didn’t want to give up now since I only had 2 miles or so to go. I continued along the road to soon reach the turning for Leirinmore. This is a short dead-end road and ends several hundred metres from the shore, so this time I did not bother to go down it. Instead I continued to reach Smoo Cave.

Here there is a steep rocky inlet, Geodha Smoo which stretches for almost half a mile.

Smoo Cave near Durness

At the landward end is a deep cave which I believe stretches some distance underground. It is open to the public and I believe you can travel by boat inside it. That sounds interesting, but I was too late for this, as it had already closed for the day, but the first cavern of the cave is open for free and steps lead down to the beach and into the cave so I went to take a look.

Smoo Cave

It was quite a location! In front of me was a rocky and pebble beach with the steep cliffs on either side. Heading into the cave itself there were photos and information about the caves.

Smoo Cave near Durness

Smoo Cave

Heading across the stream into the cave I was surprised how far you could go inside it, with many piles of pebbles having been built inside the cave.

Smoo Cave near Durness

Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave near Durness

You could also look into one of the deep caverns, with a little waterfall flowing down, the chamber was full of water. It was very interesting to see even if it hasn’t come out well in my photo.

Smoo Cave near Durness

Smoo Cave near Durness

The cave entrance also provided some shelter, it was nice to be out of the rain for a minute at least!

Smoo Cave near Durness

However it was now back out into the rain. I stuck to the road ahead this time through Leirinbeg.

Smoo Cave

This took me past the youth hostel, which looked rather run-down (it looked like a World War II pre-fab).

Youth Hostel near Durness

Another half a mile along the road and I reached Sango Bay.

The beach at Durness, Sutherland

This is a beautiful sandy beach, even if I wasn’t seeing it at it’s best.

The beach at Durness, Sutherland

Oddly, the main road does a big loop almost half a mile inland and back to the coast, rejoining the shore only about 300 metres further along, but another more minor road carries straight on, cutting off the big loop! So I took that latter road and wondered why the “main” road had been built on this big loop, given most of the road is single track with passing places anyway. I continued into Durness and back to my tent. I was glad to be in the dry.

The rain got heavier quite quickly and it was such a wet night. Heading out later I went to the campsite bar, but tonight all the seats were taken! So I had to wait for a table to be free in the restaurant, so I did not get to eat until about 8pm. Still I had worked up a good appetite by then.

Sadly the rain was the start of a storm. Around 10pm, the wind really picked up, to gale force. The tent was flapping and moving so much it was impossible to sleep what with the movement and the noise of the wind and rain. Everyone around me was also awake and I heard people trying to secure their tents. A few abandoned it entirely and drove off in the early hours (to where, I don’t know). I didn’t sleep at all that night, despite the long walk I had done.

This had turned out to be a far better walk than expected. The loch itself is really beautiful and though much of the walk is on road that does at least make navigation and the terrain easy. I was pleased to be able to find a proper path on much of the west side of the loch however which got me off the road for far more than expected. I would like to have seen inside Smoo Cave but that would have to wait for another time, but the geology along this stretch of coast really is stunning.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route no 803. DurnessLaid – Eriboll Farm – Kyle of Tongue (Youth Hostel) – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie Bridge – Bettyhill – Armadale (road end) – Strathay – Portskerra – Halladale – Reay – Isauld – Shebster – Janestown – Thurso. Note that the bus will also stop at Hope as long as you flag it down. Saturday only, 1 bus per day each way.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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316. Hope to a bit north of Eriboll (on Loch Eriboll)

October 2017

This was the last day of a 5-day trip to the far north of Scotland. It was also a Sunday. There is very limited public transport in this area of Scotland (though it is remote, so it is perhaps a surprise there is any at all!) with no buses on Sunday.

The weather forecast had been for heavy rain and gale force winds all day so I had originally planned to abandon any thoughts of going for a walk and instead visit Dunrobin Castle (which was still open in October) before continuing on to Inverness Airport where I had to return my hire car and fly home in the evening.

However after breakfast at my hotel the rain had stopped. I checked the “rain radar” on my phone and it seemed the last of the heavy rain had passed. The BBC weather forecast had improved from the previous night too, so I decided to make the most of my time here and do another walk after all.

The previous day I had reached the hamlet of Hope. Actually, I’d gone a bit passed it, having realised there was nowhere I could find that seemed safe to park in Hope. Instead I’d found a small gravel parking area about half a mile further up the road towards Durness where there was a path into woodland beside Loch Hope.

My plan therefore was to walk up and back via the same route (something I generally try to avoid) to Eriboll Farm. This was only a distance of around 4 miles, but since I’d be walking there and back, it would in fact be 8 miles. I had already researched and found there are buses (only on Tuesdays and Saturday) from Durness to Eriboll Farm (which is one of the stopping points listed in the timetable) which would be how I would do the next walk. So I only needed to do this smaller distance to fill in the gap before I returned next year to continue around the Scottish coast.

I checked out of my hotel in Thurso (which was, like most i’ve encountered in the far north of Scotland, pretty poor). Thurso was also a bit far away for a “base” for this trip, but there are few hotels in the area (having said that I passed one that looked pretty nice in Bettyhill, which might have been a more sensible option). So it was over an hour drive to the parking place I had reached the previous day. It is however a beautiful drive with some stunning scenery on the way, though it is also quite demanding, not because of the traffic but because the road is constantly going up and down hills and around bends and there are a few stretches that are only single-track with passing places (even though it is an A-road!). There are also a lot of areas of open moorland where sheep wander across or stand in the road. I parked in the parking area, under cloudy skies, but at least it was dry.

The road here does have one lane in for each direction but there is little traffic. In fact it was about 10 minutes before the first vehicle even passed me. I could see the road twisting up the other side of the hill ahead and because it is quiet you can usually here traffic coming from about a mile away!

The road initially descended over the open and wild moorland. The only company was sheep.

The A838

On the drive here the sheep did not seem to move at all when cars drove right past them. But oddly, when out of a car they seem far more wary of humans. So as I walked along the road the sheep grazing at the side of the road would usually panic as I approached and start running along the middle of the road instead. Once a “safe” distance ahead of me they’d stop, until I got closer, then they’d start off again. It felt like I was herding sheep and I was a bit worried that having seemingly and inadvertently herded them into the middle of the road a car might hit them.

Fortunately as I reached the corner by Loch Cragaidh they seemed to change plan and ran off onto the moorland rather than on the road, so I was able to get past them and they were able to go back to eating grass!

Loch Cragaidh was small but beautiful with a few trees at one side and open moorland and rocks all around it.

Loch Cragaidh

I could just see out to the sea beyond it, too.

Loch Cragaidh

The road climbed here and as I climbed I got a better view out to sea. I would like to have been closer to the sea, but I could see no obvious route to get there other than walking across the boggy moorland littered with streams and since I had to travel home in the clothes I was wearing I did not want to get in too much of a state!

As I neared the top of the hill I switched to walking on the grass to the right of the road which the sheep had grazed so it was nice and short. Rounding the corner I passed an isolated house (perhaps part of a farm?) at Heilam (I’ve realised that in this remote part of Scotland, even individual houses are named on the map).

Rounding the corner I came to the wonderful view of Loch Eriboll. The other side of the Loch was less than a mile away as the crow flies – but more than 10 miles to walk! But at least I was back on the coast now and the road proved a firm surface to walk on.

Ard Neackie

Once I turned the corner though, I was hit by the full force of the wind. Gales had been forecast and it certainly felt like a gale force wind. The sky also looked quite threatening. I carried on until I came to a lay-by just above the “almost island” of Ard Neackie (which apparently means “Farm on a Beach” in Norse) and seemed and apt description. However it was clear this “almost island” had been used for different purposes in the past. I could see the remains of some kilns (I later found these were lime kilns) and the house is marked as “Heilam Ferry” and with the remains of a pier visible, so it was clear there was once a ferry over the Loch here (sadly, there isn’t any longer).

Loch Eriboll is a deep sea loch and has been used for many years as a safe deep-water anchorage between the wild seas of the Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath. It has also been used a lot by the Royal Navy (and still is, from time to time) though the crews generally did not like coming here and nicknamed it “Loch ‘Orrible”. They used to write the names of their ship in chalk on the hills on the loch. It was also filled with numerous German U-boats who surrendered here at the end of World War II.

I decided given the forecast (a weather warning was issued) it might not be sensible to go too far from the car as I also didn’t want to get soaked as I needed to travel home in the same clothes later in the day (I was travelling hand luggage only). So I decided that since I was going up and back anyway, I’d turn back here then move the car to this point and see what the weather was like then.

So I turned back and re-traced my steps back to the car.

Loch Cragaidh

There was a bit more traffic on the way back – the motorbikers on the NC500 were out now. I soon reached the car and drove the mile or two along the road to this layby. As I did so a shower started, so I ate a sandwich in the car. Then it stopped, so I decided to continue.

The weather was perhaps typical of the Scottish Highlands in Autumn, a mixture of sun, showers and strong wind, often all at the same time! I followed the road as it descended. I considered walking out to Ard Neackie and exploring that but I was a bit put off because the road that led down to it had a gate across it and as I neared it a man drove through it in a van and I could see him down near a caravan on the island. So I decided rather than get told it was private etc, I’d just stick to the road.

Ard Neackie

It was really beautiful now, too, with a bit of sun around.

Loch Eriboll

The road descended down towards the little bay at Roadstead. The road had narrowed now and is single-track with passing places. The road is now just above the shingle and pebble beach and the little bay here is so pretty with a few trees in their best autumn colours.

Camas an Duin on Loch Eriboll

Camas an Duin

Beside the road near the end of the little bay there is a little waterfall, too.

IMG_3833

The bay has a couple of houses and buildings and I suspect these are related to what looks like a salmon farm in the loch. At the end of the little bay the road began to climb up again.

Roadstead on Loch Eriboll

Roadstead on Loch Eriboll

In places, the road had been cut into the rock. It was getting more gloomy now and at a place called Kempie I came across another gravel area you could park, and with a fine view too. I decided that again, I’d turn back to head back to where I’d parked and move the car, so that is what I did.

Roadstead on Loch Eriboll

Roadstead on Loch Eriboll

Roadstead on Loch Eriboll

At the lowest point on the road, I dropped down onto the beach and sat there to have the rest of my lunch, as that bit was quite sheltered.

The beach at Camas an Duin

The beach at Camas an Duin

Then I continued up the hill back to my car. As I got there there was a brief but heavy shower – I had timed it well!

Loch Eriboll

Ard Neackie

I drove on to where I had just walked and parked up again, just as a second shower arrived – but it did make for a beautiful photo, as a rainbow formed over the loch.

Rainbow over Loch Eriboll

Loch Eriboll

Once this stopped, I set off again. But as I rounded the corner, the wind picked up even more. It was incredibly strong, so much so that I struggled even to move forward. All I could hear was the wind, and my clothes and bag were all flapping in the wind. Then another, heavier shower came in. The wind was so strong that the rain was painful as it hit me. I could barely keep my eyes open and in the end decided to lay down beside the road as it was less windy right near the ground and shelter whilst it passed. A few cars passed and I was a bit worried someone might see me lying there and think I was injured or something! As the shower passed I continued a bit further, but I could already see the next shower coming. A couple of minutes later it too arrived. As this cleared there was more rain visible coming up the loch. The wind was really intense.

I checked the map. I estimated it would take me about 25-30 minutes to reach Eriboll Farm (as I tend to make quicker progress on roads). And obviously a similar amount back. Then the next shower arrived. It seemed the weather had turned more to what was forecast with seemingly shower after shower now coming through, and the wind was picking up. I tried to check the “rain radar” on my phone, but there was no signal at all, so it wasn’t possible to check.

I decided that it would not be a problem to add another hour, at most, onto my next walk here. I’d just take the bus from Durness to Eriboll Farm, then walk back up to this parking spot and back before walking onwards and back to Durness. I was going to get soaked if I carried on and I was worried about the worsening weather – it is also unpleasant to walk on a road when it’s raining, as each passing car kicks up the spray.

So I turned back. It was easier going back, with the wind behind me and I was soon back at the car. I sat in the car for 15 minutes or so, hoping the weather might lift and I could try again. But as I had suspected, each time a shower came within no more than 2 minutes, the next one had started and they seemed to be getting heavier. I was glad I had opted to keep moving the car, so I did not have far to go back!

So I decided to abandon the walk here (to resume from the same place next year) and head for Inverness, though this too was not without problems!

When I left Thurso the car (a Fiat 500) had just over half a tank. But it struggled a bit over the hilly moorland and by the time I had reached the first place I’d parked to start today’s walk it was only a little over a quarter of a tank remaining. I was worried about running out of petrol. There are few filling stations around here and being a Sunday I was not sure if they would be open. I drove back to the parking area on the Kyle of Tongue where I could pick up a mobile signal and find the nearest petrol station. The nearest one en-route seemed to be in Tain which was a little over 60 miles away. I turned on the “trip computer” on the car which showed I had enough petrol to go 120 miles, so all seemed well.

I drove into and out of Tongue and took the A836. This is a single track road with passing places for almost 30 miles – to Lairg. The road headed steeply out of Tongue and I had to stop to let a couple of cars pass on the way up. By the time the road levelled out I was alarmed to see that I had done a little over 4 miles – but the “range” on the car had dropped to 80 miles – it turns out a Fiat 500 really doesn’t like hills! Actually I did wonder if there was something wrong with that car. I had heard good things about the Fiat 500 but never driven one until now. Whilst it handled well enough it was really sluggish and the fuel consumption was really poor, presumably the engine is designed for city driving and when you work it hard to get around the hills of the Scottish Highlands, this is the price you pay – it drinks fuel. (I don’t know what size engine it had, I suspect the smallest available).

So I was now getting worried. How on earth could I have used 40 miles of range in travelling 4 miles! I decided to continue (there was little choice) but was very careful to avoid touching either the brake or accelerator as much as possible and try to maintain as close to 50mph as I could and was safe. Now the range was going up again, and I was soon up and beyond 120 miles.

After about 10 miles or so I reached the village of Altnaharra. Here I noticed a couple of petrol pumps beside the road, opposite a hotel, with the name of the hotel on them. They were padlocked but I assumed that because this is such a remote area the hotel had decided to offer petrol too and I could go into the hotel and ask for them to unlock it for me. I knew the petrol would be expensive, but it was better than running out. I headed into the car park and was met by a couple of motorcyclists who told me that they too wanted petrol, but they had tried and found that the hotel seemed to be closed and locked up and there was no one around. Very odd.

So I continued on to Lairg. It felt like I was nearing civilisation again and I was even next to a railway line for a while. At Bonar Bridge the next village I spotted a petrol station, pulled up and put the pump in (this one was not locked) but when I pumped nothing happened. I walked to the shop only to find that it too was closed on Sunday. So I had to continue to the A9. The higher speeds and roundabouts of the A9 soon meant the range was plummeting again, but thankfully I reached Tain and an open petrol station – sort of. Because when I arrived, it had “Back in 5 minutes” written in the window and was locked up, but just as I got out of the car the man arrived back and opened up so I was able to fill up again. I guess I have to learn that next time I’m in this remote area to keep the petrol near to full (especially if travelling a long distance on a Sunday) so as to avoid the risk of running out again!

I continued to the retail park near Inverness to fill up again (I had to return the hire car full to avoid paying an excess fee) and stopped here for a meal before continuing to the airport. I returned the hire car and headed into the airport. My flight home left about 30 minutes late and Easyjet were being very strict (unlike on the way up), forcing every single passenger to put their bag into the “sizer” with the warning that if it was too big and didn’t fit or didn’t fit “without a squeeze” you would have to pay a fee to put it into the hold. I was a bit worried my rucksack might be a squeeze so had to busy myself removing things from side pockets and putting them in my coat and trouser pockets instead to avoid having to pay a fee. This worked but then I had to waste time putting them all back again, but at least I did not get charged extra. My journey home too was fraught with the motorway closed so I had to divert on un-familiar roads, to face a further diversion before I could finally get home, around quarter past midnight – not great, because I had to go to work the next day (or rather now later the same day). But by taking a later flight at least it allowed me to make the most of the day and get some walking in at least!

It had been a successful trip though and i’m looking forward to returning, now that I have reached such a stunningly beautiful and remote stretch of coast – but Cape Wrath looms for next year and I will need to work out how to tackle that!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Durness Bus / Far North Bus route no 803. Durness – Laid – Eriboll Farm – Kyle of Tongue (Youth Hostel) – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie Bridge – Bettyhill – Armadale (road end) – Strathay – Portskerra – Halladale – Reay – Isauld – Shebster – Janestown – Thurso. Note that the bus will also stop at Hope as long as you flag it down. Saturday only, 1 bus per day each way.

Transport for Tongue also used to operate a bus on Tuesday but it is currently “temporarily” suspended due to Covid 19.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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315. Kyle of Tongue to Hope (and back)

October 2017

As I mentioned in my previous post I had some difficulty deciding the best approach for this walk. The coast between the Kyle of Tongue and Hope has no paths or tracks along the coast, there are numerous lochans and streams and burns to cross. On top of that the only day there is any public transport at all along this road is Saturday and that wasn’t today which meant whatever I did, I’d have to walk back again (there are no taxis, either). So in the end, my compromise was to walk from the Kyle of Tongue up to East Strathan and back, to explore that part of the coast. Then today I’d walk west from Kyle of Tongue to Loch Hope along the road, despite it being some distance inland.

Given that it was October, daylight hours were hence rather more limited and I was staying quite some distance away, in Thurso, I didn’t think I’d have the hours of daylight needed to find a route over the moors and get back again at this time of year. I suppose I could have split it into two there and back walks starting from either end of the A838 that joined up but given the day I had already spent walking to East Strathan and back, it would mean I’d spend 3 full days walking from Kyle of Tongue to Hope which seemed too much for about 15 miles of coastline. I also couldn’t find any reports from other coastal walkers that had successfully done this route at the time (though after I did this walk Alan Palin did write up his successful walk this way – so it can be done!). So in the end I settled on a there and back walk along the A838. The downside is it would mean a total of 15 miles (7.5 miles each way) walking entirely on tarmac.

So having made a decision on how to tackle this part of the coast I drove to the viewpoint on the Kyle of Tongue bridge where I had parked twice previously (it was becoming rather familiar!)

The Kyle of Tongue

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The tide was lower today and there was a small area of sandy beach.

Kyle of Tongue

I parked the car and walked over the bridge, with a couple of cars passing as I did so. The road soon began to climb and I soon passed the turning to Melness on my right. Then on my left the minor road to along the west side of the Kyle of Tongue which was once the main road, before the bridge was built. The road was climbing fairly steeply uphill. However there was little traffic.

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A Moihne

I soon passed a standing stone on the right, at least I think it was (maybe it was just a big rock) and I could hear the rushing waters of a river on the left. I went over to see the river, but it was hard to get a view through the bushes.

The A838 near Kyle of Tongue

The road was levelling out a bit now. Though that did mean I got that song stuck in my head. You know the one by the Hollies “The road is long, with many a winding turn….”

The A838 near Kyle of Tongue

After a little over a mile I found the route of the old road. It seems that at some point the A838 over the land between Tongue and Hope has been widended and improved. I suspect it was once single track with passing places. Now it is a two-lane road all the way but where the road was re-alligned it seems the old road had been left in place. No longer maintained but it meant a more pleasant route than the main road because there wasn’t any traffic on it.

The former A838

I soon found the first area of this road and followed it. It was now quite wet and boggy and large areas of grass and moss were coming up through the middle of the road.

In the distance I could see a mountain, Ben Hope I think. The old road joined the new road, but a short distance ahead was another stretch of the old road. This was a little more strange because it seemed dead straight and it was puzzling to me that it had been replaced. I started to walk on it and there were still the remains of the old passing places and even the signs in some cases. I had not seen anyone, but ahead I soon came to a parked car along the old road. I was surprised you could even get a car along it now, such was it’s state and I was a bit nervous as to what it was doing there. There were parking places on the main road – why drive off it to park here? As I got closer I could see a man doing something on the moor and as I got closer still I realised he was peat cutting. There were large pieces of peat all piled up like bricks on a wooden pallet.

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Not sure if it is legal to do it on the open moor here, but I wasn’t going to challenge him, so I just walked past. More peat was piled up further along.

After a mile or so of the old road I rejoined the new road, but could almost immediately rejoin a section of the old road, but it was in worse condition. After about halt a mile I was back on the main road. Ahead now I could see a ruined building.

Moine House

The next stretch of old road was harder to join as there was a couple of metres of boggy open moorland between me and it, and I got a wet foot reaching it. But once on the road it was easy and soon headed to the derelict house. Oddly, wire fence had been put around it – suggesting someone must own it? But the house was roofless and windowless, with graffiti (though the artistic stuff) inside it.

The ruins of Moine House

It turns out that when the road opened in 1830 the house was built as a half way house for weary travellers. No one seems quite sure when it ceased to be used, and it still had a roof until about 20 years ago.

It would have been nice to have stopped and had a drink if it was still open as a halfway house! Onwards I was looking forward to the next part, as the old road went right past Loch Maovally. It was quite pretty as I had hoped, though the road was flooded a bit in places. It is surprising how quickly things return to nature without maintenance.

Loch Maovally

Just past this there was more signs of mans activity, with some areas of pine woodland obviously having been planted next to the road since they are almost perfect rectangles of woodland.

Loch Maovally

I left the road here and sat further down the bank from the road for lunch as it was incredibly windy on the road and this was the best shelter I could find.

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Onwards I found more old road, now not marked on the map but it was in a dreadful state.

The old A838

At the end of the woodland a path was marked on the map heading down to Hope. But I could not see any sign of it (the road was built originally on the route of a footpath I think, I think this might have been some of it).

The A838 between Kyle of Tongue and Hope

As I came down to Hope it became gentler, with trees visible in the lovely autumn colours.

Hope

The road went through a rocky cutting and then began to descend down to Hope itself. I knew Hope was not a big place, but I was surprised how small it was. Half a dozen houses, perhaps – all of them seemed quite large. There were no facilities at all, just these few houses.

Hope

Hope Bridge

The river was very beautiful though particularly with the autumn colours of the trees on the right. The waters were flowing fast over the weir.

The River Hope, Sutherland

The River Hope

The A838 near Hope

The River Hope

The bridge over the river itself was single track. I was conscious that for my next walk I needed somewhere to park. There was no where at all marked on the map anywhere nearby and I didn’t think parking on the A-road was a good idea. It is not a busy road at all – often it was 10 to 15 minutes before a car came passed – but what did come was often fast and I did not want to cause an obstruction. I also hate parking on the grass verge (it messes it all up). The old road around Loch Hope was too narrow to park without blocking it up unless I parked almost on the junction – also not a good idea. So I walked a bit further west out of Hope until I reached, after about half a mile, a parking area at the top of the hill. It served a walk through the local woodland which might also have been nice – but I didn’t have the time or energy to find out, it was time to head back. (It was at the first right hand bend in the road after Hope Bridge).

Now all I had to do was walk back again. I considered sticking entirely to the A838 but decided in the end to go back the exact same way. The reason is that I don’t like walking on main roads and whilst there is little traffic here when it comes it is fast so you can never really look away from the road for long, a car might come around a corner or over the crest of the hill and give you little time to get out the way if the driver is not paying attention. So I decided to stick to the old road as much as possible again.

The only difference I noticed is the peat cutting man (and his car) had gone, which I was pleased about. But other than that it was a rather boring walk now, back the way I had come – but at least the wind was behind me for the return trip!

I was tired when I got to my car. I’ve done longer distances than this, but doing such a long distance all on hard roads is harder on the feet than paths, so I was glad of a sit down before I drove back to Thurso. I had done the drive at night previously and it required a lot of concentration so I was keen to get going fairly quickly so I could get the single-track sections done before it got dark (there are also lots of deer around at night and you can’t see them unless they are in the road). I made it back to Thurso a little after 6pm, at dusk. But I was disappointed not to have seen anything very coastal on this walk.

This was not the most interesting walk because it was all on roads and the only time I saw anything that could really be considered coastal was at either end, at the Kyle of Tongue or Hope Bridge. However either side of the road was some beautiful scenery, even if it wasn’t the coast and there also wasn’t that much traffic to avoid. Navigation was also easy, so I’ve also had far worse walks. It was just a bit frustrating I had to do it twice!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Durness bus / Far North Bus route 803. Durness – Laid – Eriboll Farm – Kyle of Tongue (Youth Hostel) – Tongue – Skerray – Borgie Bridge – Bettyhill – Armadale (Road End) – Strathay Inn – Portskerra – Halladale Inn – Reay – Isauld – Shebster – Bridge of Westfield – Janetstown – Thurso. Saturday only, one bus per day each way. Note that Hope is not listed as a stopping point, but is between Eriboll Farm and Kyle of Tongue, the bus will stop provided you stand somewhere it’s safe to stop and give a clear signal.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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314. Kyle of Tongue to Melness and East Strathan (and back)

October 2017

How to tackle the coast between the Kyle of Tongue and Hope had been something I had been pondering for a while. After crossing the Kyle of Tongue causeway there is a road up the right hand side of the peninsula but it is a dead-end. After that it’s trackless, pathless open moorland all the way round to the river Hope and Loch Hope. There are several rivers to cross on the way and lochs and lochans to pass. It looked really tough. So I debated between trying to find a route around the coast or sticking entirely to the A838. The latter was simple but felt like a bit of a cop-out. The former might not even be possible in a day in October, given the hours of day light and would be very tough. So in the end I opted for a compromise between the two options. I’d do a circular walk from the Kyle of Hope, up the east side of the peninsula along the road through Melness and East Strathan to Strathan bay and then walk back to the Kyle of Hope. Then the next day I’d follow the A838 from the Kyle of Tongue to Hope. In this way I’d cover all the coast that was safely accessible, over the course of 2 days.

This was the first day of a 5 day trip to Northern Scotland. It was later in the year than I would have liked, October, but I had struggled to get accommodation any earlier in the year and even then I had ended up staying in Thurso and in what trip advisor told me was (at the time, at least) the worst reviewed hotel in Thurso.

I drove from home to Luton Airport, parked in the long-stay car park and then flew from Luton to Inverness where I had booked a hire car. As I mentioned last time, I was not especially pleased (and the lady extremely apologetic) to find the only car available in the cheapest “group A” I had booked was a pink Fiat 500. I really didn’t want to be driving a pink car, even for 5 days. However I also really didn’t want to pay extra for an upgrade, either, which was the only alternative I was offered. So, pink Fiat 500 it was. I had to hope no one saw me getting in or out of it! Well fortunately I felt it was more a pinky red than shocking pink, but I was still not impressed.

I drove this via the A9, then the A839 to Lairg and lastly the bit I had not been looking forward to – the A836. As almost this entire stretch of A-road, over 30 miles, was single track with passing places. I’m not sure how such a road can be called as an A-road really, but it was better than I expected. I am used to single track roads with high hedges so you can’t see far ahead. This wasn’t like that though, mostly it was wide an open, so you could actually see traffic coming towards you from quite some distance away so there was usually time for one of the drivers to go into one of the regular passing places, so no constant reversing. This took me to Tongue where I turned left and parked on the causeway at the Kyle of Tongue, at the western of the two car parks on the causeway, where I started the previous walk from.

This shorter walk made sense for today since it was around 2:30pm when I reached Tongue after all the travelling, leaving only about 4 and a bit hours to do a walk today.

Having parked up first took in the view on the Kyle of Tongue. This was a wild, beautiful and remote part of Scotland and I was looking forward to what lay ahead.

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue

First I crossed the Kyle of Tongue bridge. This opened in 1971 and before that you had to drive all the way around the Loch (though there was a passenger ferry for a while, but that ended in 1956).

Once over the bridge I took the first road on the right along to Melness as this sequence of villages seems to be called. Initially I followed the road passing close to a cemetery on the right and then heading closer down to the waters edge.

The Kyle of Tongue

As I walked along the road there was a rainbow ahead as there was a rain shower around. I was expecting to get wet, but thankfully it just missed me.

Melness Road

Cemetery near Achuvoldrach

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

As the road turned away from the waters edge I was pleased to come across this sign.

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A footpath – not marked on my map. But it was the usual Scottish affair in that the only effort that seemed to have gone into the footpath was to put a sign up. I couldn’t see any sort of path, it was too overgrown, and the sign directed mt straight into some gorse bushes! I assumed perhaps the path went along the beach and dropped down onto that.

This was hard going, it wasn’t really a beach at all. Mostly rocks, with a few pebbles. It was slippery and hard to walk on, so I made slow progress.

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

I tried at times to walk on the grass just above the beach, but there were large gaps in it too and I couldn’t see them for the long grass, so I returned to the beach. It was hard work and I made slow progress, but gradually the rocks became a bit easier to walk over, or I became more used to it.

Ahead I had another pretty rainbow and this time caught the edge of the shower, but it was not heavy rain at least.

The Kyle of Tongue near Achuvoldrach

Soon, at long last, the beach became sandy and I could walk along that, which was so much easier.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

This was the beach below Midtown though I was not sure what Town was referred to in the name! There was a women walking a dog down here but other than that it was just us two.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

I followed the beach north which was lovely walking along the firm sand.

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As I headed north there were some low rocks and the waves were right up to the edge of them, however I could just squeeze round standing on the edge of the rocks to get around and then continue a bit further on the beach because beyond those rocks it was back to sand again.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

I passed a small cave on the left and ahead there was another area of rocks sticking out onto the beach. This time the water was too deep to go around on the beach so I had to climb on the rocks.

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

Tongue Bay near Midtown

To my right are a couple of islands, known as Rabbit Islands the map suggests these are linked to the main land by a sandbar at low tide but it must need quite a low tide because the tide seemed to be quite low to me now but there was no sign of any sand bar and the water between me and the islands looked deep.

Rabbit Islands in the Kyle of Tongue

Rabbit Islands in the Kyle of Tongue

I climbed my way up the rocks onto the unveven moorland on the top though it was mixed in with rocks so the going was not too hard and the views wonderful.

Approaching Talmine

I made my way around the corner and soon had a fine view of the beach at Talmine Bay.

Bagh Thalmin Beag

It was split into two with a small shingle and sand beach in front then some low cliffs and a larger beach beyond and out to my right was another small island, Talmine Island.

Bagh Thalmin Beag

I headed down onto the first beach, Bagh Thalmin Beag as it is called on the map and followed the sand near the shore.

Talmine Bay

When this ended I continued on the low rock around the coast and soon went to the left to the minor road which was now alongside the beach as there was a small stream to cross and the road had a bridge.

Talmine Bay

This was a lovely beach backed by grass and hills behind that, a ruined old boat and an old boat house with a very rusty roof which also looked disused.

Talmine Bay

I followed the road ahead which soon split and I took the right fork which is a short dead-end road leading to the harbour.

Talmine Bay

The sun was getting low now, but the light was beautiful.

Talmine Bay

I stopped to take a few photos. At the end of the bay, at the small harbour, as I hoped, I found a another footpath sign “Portvasgo 2 Miles, following coastline”, exactly as I hoped!

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This was initially a good track, wide enough to be used by cars, but soon it became a narrower footpath over the moorland.

Kyle of Tongue at Talmine

In places it was boggy in rough and in others quite clear but at least I could always see the route of the path ahead.

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I passed a memorial decorated with roses, but didn’t read it, and continued on the path. This went past various rocky inlets and undulating cliffs which got quite high.

Near Talmine

The coast between Port Vasgo and Talmine Bay

The coast between Port Vasgo and Talmine Bay

Near Port Vasgo

Soon this gave me a wonderful view over to Port Vasgo. The name suggests a port and presumably it once was but the couple of houses here were derelict and roofless. It looked like a path for boats had been cut into the rock at some point to form a tiny harbour, but whatever used to happen here didn’t happen any more.

Port Vasgo

Port Vasgo

I descended down to the beach and could then follow another track along a valley to the sandy beach which seems to be un-named (Midfield, maybe). I would like to have stopped but the sun was nearly setting – and I still had to walk all the way back, so I didn’t have time.

East Strathan

Now there was no path so I tried to make my way over the cliffs. This got quite steep but at the top I was annoyed to find a fence blocking the way. More annoyingly, the landowner had put up a sign telling walkers not to cross and tied an additional barbed wire fence on top of the existing fence and tried to make it impossible to cross. With the Scottish access laws, I knew I could legally cross as it was open land beyond. I could also see a glorious sandy beach below. The waves were getting quite big now, reminding me of the west coast of Wales and England and I wanted to get down on that beach.

Achininver Beach

Achininver Beach

Either side the ground fell away too quickly to be safe, there was really only about half-a dozen wooden fence posts before the ground fell away so I had to either go back the way I came or cross here. I tried several ways before I managed to stand on the top of one of the lower fence posts and balance my way over. I had a near disaster when I bit of wood I went to stand on gave way but I managed to regain my balance and make it over. I did make a hole in my t-shirt but amazingly, I didn’t rip my trousers. Once over the fence I could make it down to the beach, but I was annoyed at the landowner deliberately blocking access, as the Scottish access laws are clear that access is allowed and should not be deliberately obstructed like this.

Achininver Beach

Now down on the beach I walked a little way along this stunning beach where I hoped to find a path up at the far end – as I did.

Achininver Beach

I followed the steps of the path up to the road which was now behind the beach again to a tiny car park (space for a couple of cars at most) and a sign indicating this was Achininver Beach. West of here a track initially goes out onto the moor, but ends after a little over a mile.

Achininver Beach

Achininver Beach

Here I had a choice. Originally I had planned to make this a circular walk, continuing along the road here which headed inland to Dalvraid and ended. Beyond this a track was marked over the moor to Manse Bridge above Talmine Bay where the track rejoined the road and I planned to then continue south on the road back to my start point. However the sun was more or less setting. I would be walking over the moor in dark or near dark and, stupidly, I had forgotten to bring the torch I had meant to bring with me, so I would also not be able to see well. I had got as far along the coast as it was safely possible to go I felt so either way I’d be leaving the coast and walking more inland. So I decided rather than risk the moorland path I’d return on the road back to Talmine instead. There was little traffic and I soon passed the loch of Loch Vasgo on my left and came to the junction where I continued ahead.

Loch Vasgo

Loch Vasgo

The sun had dropped behind the horizon now and it was getting dark. I passed the church above Talmine Bay and then was soon down at the bay itself.

Chapel at Talmine

The sky still had a bit of pinkness from the sunset but the light was fading fast now.

Talmine Bay

I did the last three miles or so along the road through Skinnet and Midtown passing a couple of dog walkers.

The Kyle of Tongue

I did consider stopping at the pub at Skinnet for dinner but by the time I left it would be totally dark so I decided reluctantly to continue along the road to reach the main road. From here it was only a short walk along the causeway to my car on the picnic site on the causeway.

It was dark now and I had been joined by a motorhome – the drivers of these seem to park in more or less every car park along the coast overnight I have found. My irritation with this was more that I needed the toilet and was hoping to go without being seen, but that was not possible!

I didn’t enjoy the drive back. Much of the road was single-track with passing places, hilly and twists and it was pitch black meaning it took a lot of concentration. I was relieved to finally reach Melvich which was then on the road I had driven before for the rest of the way. Driving this road at night does bring home how remote this part of the country is. Very little traffic and pitch black so it was soon nice to see the welcoming “Bright” lights of Thurso appearing ahead. My hotel, the Royal Hotel was on the main road.

I had booked this as the only hotel available but it was a mistake really, it was quite a long drive from Thurso for all my walks. The hotel was also the worst rated in the town the main issue seeming to be that it was run-down and rooms on the front were very noisy, because they were single glazed and the traffic lights in front were loved by boy-racers racing around the town at night making as much noise as possible and sleep difficult. I initially couldn’t find a car park so parked in the public car park just behind and took my bag in to checkin. I was pleased to find a welcoming open-fire in the reception and on checking in and finding my room that I had been allocated a double room, not a single (which is what I had paid for) and it was over the back. The room was a bit basic and showing it’s age, but it was nicer than expected and quiet so I was fairly happy. I also found the tiny hotel car park later but although tiny (it had about 10 spaces) there was one space free, so I moved the car there then and went to the hotel bar for a late dinner and then up to my room.

The hotel was a bit rundown and sadly seemed to have been changing hands on a regular basis. When I booked, the hotel was owned by Bespoke Hotels and I booked through their website, the room also had signs with their logo on. By the time I had arrived the hotel had been taken over by MGM Muthu Hotels (I’d never heard of them), whilst the WiFi connection screen told me it was part of Swallow Hotels and the menus on the tables in the restuarant had the name Oxford Hotels and Inns on them. I suspect that’s why it had clearly lacked investment, companies buy it, find out how much work is needed and sell it on to someone else. However despite the poor rating of the hotel I found it better than the hotel I had previously stayed in in Thurso, and more centrally located.

This walk had been one of unexpected beauty. This section of coast had been astonishingly beautiful, with lots of sandy beaches, islands, rocky coves and old harbours. I also saw it in the most beautiful autumn light, with the sun low in the sky and even the bonus of some rainbows. I was also pleased to find a route closer to the coast than the map suggested even if the paths sometimes seemed to be little more than signs at either end!

Although I didn’t use a bus for this walk I was surprised to find that there is one. So here are details of the public transport for this walk:-

Transport for Tongue Melness bus : Tongue – Kyle of Tongue Youth Hostel – Midtown – Talmine – Portvasgo – Achininver. Two buses per day on Friday only. No service on any other day of the week. It takes just over 20 minutes to travel between Achininver and the Kyle of Tongue.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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