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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17 Responses to 319. Durness to Blairmore via Cape Wrath

  1. Wow! Just WOW! How far was this walk Jon?

    • jcombe says:

      Yes it was a long walk. I would estimate the walk from the ferry is somewhere between about 23 and 24 miles. Then I did another couple of miles from Durness to the ferry first thing.

  2. That was an incredible achievement and a wonderful adventure. Inspires me to visit there, I loved reading about it. Thank you. Look forward to future episodes.

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Philip. I don’t think you will regret a visit to Cape Wrath and I hope you enjoy future episodes too. Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it.

  3. 5000milewalk says:

    Well done Jon

  4. 5000milewalk says:

    I’ve been pondering over how to do this section too. I wasn’t sure I could manage that distance – about 23 miles I reckoned. News of your success gives me some hope!!!

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Paul. I reckon you’ll manage it, I’m sure you’ll be very fit by the time you get to Cape Wrath even if not now.

      Knoydart is another challenging area too, as I found last year.

  5. Epic! Very impressed. We caught that ferry and minibus combo once, about 20 years ago. Fortunately, the queue was well behaved, although there was one guy who kept moaning and asking how long he would have to wait. “Until it’s your turn” was the answer. That family sound awful and the operator should really have done something about it.

    • jcombe says:

      Glad you’ve been there too and hope you enjoyed it. It does sound like things were a bit better managed back then. I got the feeling the ferry operator couldn’t be bothered as long as they got everyone over and unfortunately it only takes one to jump the queue to trigger a stampede!

  6. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, i’ve been trying unsuccessfully to post a number of comments but have been unsuccesful

  7. owdjockey says:

    ………………until now…Hi Jon, an excellent read and one that brought back many memories of my Cape Wrath walk some 10 months later. Like yourself I agonised over many permutations of routes and logistics. I ultimately settled for the leave car at Durness, bus to Kinlochbervie, walk to Blairmore, then Sandwood Bay then Lighthouse, the Diall, wild-camp, then walk past the ferry house and around the Kyle of Durness, cross Grudie and Dionard Rivers, walk back to Durness. I never did use the Keodale Ferry and would have been quite vociferous if a bunch of ignorant people had barged in front of me! Although I was also apprehensive about my planned itinerary, this walk was not particularly remote, at least when compared with passing through Knoydart. I love the “walking holiday” people who get a minibus out to Cape Wrath and then complete the walk down to Sandwood Bay.
    I was surprised to find that the lighthouse was offering bunk house accommodation when I arrived there, which if I had known may have influenced my choice of route. I met two walkers who where staying at the lighthouse, who had just completed the Cape Wrath Trail. Now that is a challenge!!
    Hope everything is going well with you. I think we can just see a ‘chink’ of light now at the end of the tunnel and I think I may just finish this year.
    Meanwhile, I’m still at the vaccination Centre volunteering for Covid stewarding which is taking up much of my time as well as getting the odd local walk.

    • 5000milewalk says:

      A bunk at the lighthouse sounds a good solution Alan! There’s the bothy at Kearvaig as well, which I had originally planned in, but like Jon says, what do you do if it’s full when you get there? Like Jon, I’m not sure I fancy carrying all the gear to wild camp either, but congratulations to you for doing so!

    • jcombe says:

      Sorry about the problems you had posting comments Alan (WordPress must be playing up), but I’m glad that you did.

      Yes Knoydart was also tough as I opted to walk around that too. Actually I still haven’t done the western most bit, I plan a circular walk from Inverie west round the road to Socttas, Doune and Airor then on the path to Inverguseran and then on a track back south to Inverie. I plan to do that as a day trip from Mallaig (via the ferry) later this year. However I’ve walked the rest of Knoydart including east from Inverie round Loch Nevis to Bracorina, which was the hardest part.

      Yes I did speak to a couple on the walking group (I actually met the same group again later on a different day) who asked after my walk and expressed a bit of disappointment about some of the walks not actually involving that much walking and that they would have liked to walk the whole way round. I saw also they were paying well over £100 per night each and the holiday only included pick up from Inverness (or Inverness Airport) so still had to pay for transport to Scotland. I suspect my costs were less than 1/4 of theirs!

      Yes I did wonder about the lighthouse as a place to stay but couldn’t find out anything about it online beforehand. I do remember Nick Crane slept on the floor there when he did this walk for one of the TV programmes (Coast?) but I wasn’t sure if he just got special permission for that.

      I read the guide book to the Cape Wrath trail but it didn’t particularly appeal. It rather sounds like a walk deliberately designed to be as difficult as possible! I met some walking that last year on Knoydart who told me I was the first person that they had seen since leaving Fort William though I think they were a bit surprised that I had managed to cycle in on bumpy tracks from the nearest road to the point I met them (I suspect they thought they were a bit more remote than they actually were).

      Good work at the vaccination centre and I hope I can get back to the coast soon (I had already booked for early May, but I think that is not going to be allowed again).

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  10. Oh bravo! Looks like you had a lovely walk (and a splendid write-up of it too).

    I fell into the “easy and pretty routes” camp and missed this whole bit out, partly because of wet weather and partly because of firing range times but mostly because I much prefer to have at least some semblance of a path. That the ferry wasn’t running didn’t help and a ma plan I had to bypass that turned out to be summer-only, if possible at all (and it was definitely not summer when I was in Durness). Still, I have no regrets; I am content to experience this walk vicariously through your excellent photos!

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks for the lovely comment and glad to hear you enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say the kind of distance you cover in a day could ever be described as easy! I read about your attempts to ford the Kyle of Durness so I know you gave it a good go in the circumstances! Hopefully you (and I) will be able to get back onto the coast soon and I look forward to reading more of your reports (I’ve got the link to your new site).

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