This was the first day of a 5 day trip to the north of Scotland. I had hoped to come up earlier in the year but finding accommodation this far north is difficult and the earliest I could get 4 nights in the same hotel (I booked in January!), was mid October, so that would have to do (and it turned out to be a crap hotel). At least it was before the clocks changed so it was still light reasonably late.
I made an early start, drove to Luton Airport and then took an EasyJet flight from Luton to Inverness, which departed and arrived on time. I arrived in Inverness under clear skies. I had booked a hire car from the airport and was second in the queue, so did not have to wait long. I got the booked car, a Fiat 500 this time in grey.
After checking the car out for damage there was, as usual, more than recorded but the man dismissed all the additional damage I flagged as already covered or too minor to worry. I always have my doubts about this, but so far they have proven to be unfounded (as indeed they were this time).
I see off on the long drive to Clashnessie. I took the A9 north to just passed Tain, then the A836 to Bonar Bridge. I soon turned left onto the A837, where the long streches of single-track road with passing places begins. This time the first section was a bit of a pain as being wooded it was hard to see far ahead and so I had to keep slowing. Once the road opened out onto the moorland I could make better progress.
I then joined the A894 and then lastly the B869. This last road was a bit of a challenge and very slow to drive. The reason being it is all single track with passing places, but also very narrow, twisty and hilly meaning you cannot see far ahead and so have to keep slowing down. It is a challenging drive and took me much longer than expected, though I did at least arrive safely and without any mishaps!
The downside is that it was around 2:30pm when I did finally arrive. I parked on a small car park beside the beach at Clashnessie.
I had planned this walk for today knowing it did not require any additional public transport as it was a circular walk. However I had expected to arrive far earlier than I did – the drive had taken much longer than I had planned for. I knew that meant I would not complete my planned route before it got dark and I had not bought a torch or anything like that. My head said I should abandon it and do a shorter walk. My heart said I had planned this walk, I hate changing my plans and not doing it would throw my plans out. It was also a lovely day in terms of weather and I suspected the scenery on this walk would be excellent. My heart won out, I convinced myself that it did not get dark so quickly this far north so it would be fine.
I was impressed by Clashnessie, it was beautiful and had a wonderful beach, far better than I had anticipated.
My planned route was a circular around the Point of Stoer. I planned to follow the B869 west for a mile and then walk to the end of the minor road to Stoer Head lighthouse, then make my way over the moorland to Point of Stoer and continue to the road at Culkein, follow this for a bit and try and make my way over moorland back to Clashnessie, How much of this would prove to be accessible I didn’t know, but there was only one way to find out.
I had decided to do the “neck” of the walk first, over the B869 south west to the road to Stoer lighthouse. The reason being this was the busiest road I was likely to encounter and given I was unlikely to finish before night fall I didn’t want to walk it at night when I would be invisible to traffic (I hadn’t got any high visibility clothing either).
The road immediately turned away from the coast, crossed the small stream and then headed up through the village. The village was tiny really, but there are very few settlements along this remote part of the coast. The road soon climbed away from the coast and I walked quickly, both keen to make up time and also to get back to the coast. I passed a few houses and there was a bit of traffic (more than I had encountered on the way here). Soon I reached the junction for the road to the Stoer lighthouse. I was pleased to see it was also signed to “Point of Stoer”. I wasn’t sure (because it’s not clear from the map) if you could actually get to the point, so this sign was reassuring that you probably can.
The road soon passed the small Loch Neil Bhain. Beside this was what must surely be one of the prettiest and best located schools in the country, right overlooking this loch, what a stunning place it looked and how I would have loved to go to school here. It was particularly beautiful in the low afternoon sunshine.
Soon I turned away from the loch and followed the road through the scattered hamlet of Balchladich. This soon took me down to the coast again, at Balchladich Bay. This was a lovely beach with large round pebbles at the back and some sand near the shoreline. There was a pretty cottage at the far end of this lovely beach.
Originally, I had thought I would have to follow the road back inland but I was very pleased to find a decent enough path along the grass north of the beach.
The land was low initially, though boggy in places, but there was always a faint track visible ahead. I soon climbed up onto what was now remote and open moorland.
This soon descended gradually to a small stream, small enough I could simply step over it.
This led down to another pebble beach.
My path continued past a couple of cottages I could see on the cliff ahead. I could see from the map a track headed back from here to the road if I needed it.
The cottage nearest the sea looked to be disused, at least as a cottage and I suspect is now used for storage.
I was unsure of the other one, but suspected it was also no longer lived in. A shame and I did wonder who owned them (if nothing else, they would surely make good holiday cottages). Passing these cottages I was in some way relieved they wern’t in use as I could walk right past them without feeling like I was intruding. The good path I had found continued right along the coast, my walk was going well.
Soon the path climbed and became more undulating but I could now see the lighthouse ahead (and the road led to it).
I soon made my way along the road to the lighthouse. Sadly you can’t visit it now and I don’t think it is in use because the sign showed you can rent it for a holiday.
Still I do like these buildings and I was pleased to see it was clearly being well cared for. The car park was quite busy and so a lot of people were around the lighthouse, and quite a few walking. I headed to where they were walking and was very pleased to find a proper signed path to Point of Stoer.
I set off on the path. It was quite boggy and actually harder to use than the un-official paths I had used to get this far! I guess because more people walk it, and it has not been surfaced.
Ahead was a large deep valley with another stream, but crossing it posed no problem.
I passed another rocky little bay with a small waterfall flowing down it. The scenery was beautiful and reminded me a bit of Cornwall.
Inland the view was also stunning with the open moor, dotted with a few lochs and lochans and views to distant mountains. That last part was a real surprise to me as I hadn’t seen so many mountains on my previous trip. I could also see the telecom mast inland, which was a useful landmark, being marked on the map.
The path I was on soon wound it’s way up to the trig point at Sithean Mor. The Ordnance Survey maps in Scotland are not great. Sometimes paths are marked but don’t exist and other times like this there is no path or track marked but there is a well-used route, it is frustrating and makes planning hard. Someone had even built a circle of stones around the trig point!
From here a good path descended back to the coast and it was a spectacular location with the sea almost on 3 sides in the low early evening sunshine. The waves crashed below and the walking was easier than I had expected. Soon I caught site of the Old Man of Stoer, a point nearby.
Here there is a tall rock stack and I could see I was going to get a good view of it in the sunshine. I headed down and was not disappointed. What I was surprised was a wire visible going out to it from the cliffs. I believe it is possible with the right knowledge and equipment to climb up it, but I would not like to do it!
It was a wonderful location and better still I had it to myself, now most people had not walked this far from the car park (though like me they probably also knew it would soon be dark).
I continued past the Old Man of Stoer to the end of the Point of Stoer itself. It had a little of the feeling like Lands End about it.
I continued south from the point of Stoer, still finding a faint path along the cliff tops. I could see the mountains in the distance and around the coast to I think Cape Wrath where I was earlier in the year. The sun was now getting very low and I was clear it would not be long before it set – I still had a way to go.
It was however exceptionally beautiful and I passed a couple of small lochans.
The low orange sun was now lighting up the land and picking out all the little hills, and the distant mountains, it was stunning.
I rounded a couple of large bays one with a rocky beach below. I was now following the remains of a fence (don’t they love these in Scotland?!) but there was no wire left between most of the fence posts and in fact many of the posts had gone too!
At times I had to switch sides of the fence to avoid some increasingly boggy areas. At Geodh Ban I soon reached some rocky little islands and rocks just below me. The sun was going down now though and had just dipped below the horizon.
Rounding the corner of Rubha an Dunain I was now heading south and soon reached the farm track. I could follow this, accompanied by sheep to head south to the Bay of Culkein.
This was a mixture of rocks and sand, so I briefly headed down onto the beach to walk on the sand around the bay, accompanied by a dog walker.
At the end of the bay I rejoined the road and followed that out of the village and crossed the cattle grid. As the road turned further inland I headed off on a faint path off-road heading south. I could see the houses of Achnacarnin, as the lights came on one by one, but I followed the faint path around the cliff edge.
The light was fading, but I could still see enough. The land got lower as I approached Port Achnancarnan. I could see more houses ahead, the lights now burning bright.
I continued around the little rocky beach at Port Achnancarnan, hard to imagine it ever being much of a port!
Ahead I had some more steep cliffs and rocky areas to get around but managed to find a faint path. Soon the coast levelled out again a bit. Now I was approaching a farm at the end of the road and I was pleased about this because I could see I could make it to the road if needed. I was encountering a lot of farm fences here but was pleased to find at all of them, there were stiles, which helped me to cross. I was not sure if these were meant for the public or for the farmer, but they were most welcome. I was starting sheep now, who were settling down for the night and not expecting to find someone walking around here!
It was getting so dark now I was struggling to see and I was getting a bit concerned that I could get into trouble if the light faded any more. Still I continued to find stiles until at last I was alongside the north end of the beach at Clashnessie. Almost back now.
I could see from the map a river or stream was marked here. To get around it I’d have to make my way over the rough ground further inland to the road bridge. I decided to head down onto the beach to see if I could wade across instead, but in the very limited light I could not see how deep it was. I decided to try and cross and so took my shoes and socks off. Initially the first part of the stream was only ankle deep, followed by some sand. I thought for a minute I was over but the sound of rushing water ahead suggested a lot more water than I had crossed. Sure enough just ahead it became deeper – much deeper. I rolled up my trousers as much as I could (to my knees) and began to wade through. It got deeper and with a few uneven rocks underfoot. It was getting to the point if it got much deeper I could be in trouble, and it was cold too. But I persevered, soaking my trousers and the water soon narrowed and I was on the beach. Unfortunately I was wearing jeans (I had lighter walking trousers in my rucksack that I had taken as hand luggage, opting to wear heavier jeans in order to keep the size and bulk of my hand-luggage rucksack down for the flight and given the late start had opted not to waste further time changing and put them into the boot of the car).
Safe at last, I made my way to the far end of the beach over the sand. I reached the dunes at the edge and stopped to wipe as much sand of my feet as I could and put my shoes back on. My trousers were wet (and I later found, covered in sand), but I couldn’t do anything about that now. I was, according to the map now right beside the road but I couldn’t even see the car at all though, and with no street lights either I was not sure whether to turn left or right. I then realised the solution was simply to use the unlock on the car key. Fortunately I was in range, the lights flashed and it turns out the car was only about 10 metres away, but I couldn’t see it at all until I’d done that! (Perhaps the problem with a grey car!).
I was relieved to had made it and rather enjoyed this walk. Stunning scenery, beautiful weather, much better paths than I had expected, a good coastal route, a lighthouse and some interesting rock formations. There was also a bit of a sense of adventure at the end! Fortunately my plan to go ahead with this walk anyway had worked out OK and I had loved it. Thankfully, I had a change of clothes in the boot of the car so I could change out of my water logged trousers before I drove to my hotel, which was in Ullapool. It was nice to warm up in the car, but I was not looking forward to the drive over this road in the pitch black.
That road just seemed to on and on. I could sense I was passing water at times, with the reflection from the moon. I saw few cars and did feel very isolated. Fortunately at night the lights of cars coming are visible, even around corners, so I avoided having to reverse in the pitch black. What I did find is a lot of deer, sometimes very close to the road and once running across and you can’t see them until you are almost on top of them as the lights only light the road ahead, not to the side of it. Time was getting on and on, there was no radio signal and I was heartily relived to eventually reach the main road near Lochinver, the A837. Now it was a road with one lane each way all the rest of the way, I was relieved about that. I was less happy when I saw the mileage. 36 miles still to Ullapool! I hadn’t realised it was so far as that (I thought it was about 15 to 20). So it was just after 8:30pm when I finally reached my hotel in Ullapool, the Calednoian Hotel.
This is a large and nice looking hotel from the outside, but I saw from the reviews online that suggested it was not good at all. But it was all I could get for 4 nights and it was at least not too expensive at just over £50 a night. The first problem was there was supposed to be a car park. But there was only room for about 10-15 cars opposite the hotel and all spaces were taken. Driving around the hotel I eventually found a “car park” at the back. I put it in quotes because it mostly seemed to be an area of waste ground, formerly occupied by buildings (you could still see the old floors and the edges of the demolished walls of buildings) with a few run-down but still intact out buildings, with faded and deteriorating signs indicating this was the car park and a skip full of mouldy mattresses. They say first impressions count, and it wasn’t a good first impression!
On entering the hotel I followed wide corridors lined with empty display cases (and some water stains on the ceiling) to reach reception. The reception area actually looks quite nice and I was met by a friendly receptionist. She handed me a key with the name of a different hotel chain printed on it. The corridors in the hotel were stark, tatty and seemingly un-heated, lit with bare fluorescent tubes and decorated with faded pictures. My room was on the top floor at least, because other reviews warned of squeaky floorboards. My room was basic but a little bigger than expected, but the bathroom had no sink (only a shower or toilet) and no shampoo and a horrible bright blue lino floor that looked very 1970s. The sink was in the room.
Cobwebs were hanging from the ceiling. A sign advised me to keep the window closed due to midges. Despite this, the window had been left open and the heater unplugged, so it was cold (but fortunately, not full of midges) and the seal had gone in the window so it was all misted up inside. A half drunk water bottle was left on the floor next to the bed (and I found a sock just under it). It seems my first impression was the right one. Unfortunately I was later to discover that the walls were paper thin, seemingly every floorboard in the hotel creaked and the fire doors in the corridor would loudly bang closed every time anyone came up the stairs. I hung my damp jeans in the wardrobe to dry out (which meant the next time I touched them, in the morning, it sent a cascade of now dry sand into the bottom of the wardrobe – whoops). When I came to have breakfast the next morning, the cutlery had stuck to the table! On pointing this out I was told it was not because of dirt but was due to the type of varnish used on the table (hmmm…..). (I put some photos and a joke (but factually correct) review of the hotel on this previous post).
Due to the late arrival dinner had to be a takeaway from the chip shop next door, which I ate on the bench outside but at least somewhere was still open for hot food, as Ullapool is a small place.
Despite the disappointing hotel, it had been a good first day. I had managed to do my planned walk, I had found a better and easier route than I had expected (which was just as well given the late start), the scenery had been stunning and the weather very good for October.
There is no public transport available for this walk. In theory, the Assynt Dial-a-Bus service could be used however I tried and failed to get hold of them on the number listed.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.