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.
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.
In the distance I could see the “almost island” of Ard Neackie I had passed last time.
The road climbed out of the valley and I soon passed the small church on the right.
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.
After about a mile the road joined the coast, by some streams that flow out into the loch.
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.
I continued along the road to reach the Sheepfold marked on the map and the isolated house of Foulin.
The sheep were wandering freely over the open land, the road and around the house, I guessed they belong to the owner.
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.
To my right the land was marshy and boggy and I could seeLochan Havurn.
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.
It was not what I had expected and it was lovely.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I followed the main road for the next 3 miles or so, to reach the junction for the dead-end road to Rispond.
Ahead I could see an utterly gorgeous beach with lovely white sand and clear blue sea.
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.
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).
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.
Just before I reached the main road I made my way down the steep bank to the stream and managed to cross this.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The terrain soon got a bit tricky so I headed back to the road. I was soon in the village of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The cave entrance also provided some shelter, it was nice to be out of the rain for a minute at least!
However it was now back out into the rain. I stuck to the road ahead this time through Leirinbeg.
This took me past the youth hostel, which looked rather run-down (it looked like a World War II pre-fab).
Another half a mile along the road and I reached Sango Bay.
This is a beautiful sandy beach, even if I wasn’t seeing it at it’s best.
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. 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.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.