Coast Part 5b 2009

From Skye to Cape Wrath

Day 15 Leaving Skye

Our intention was to leave Skye by the bridge but as we were heading for a campsite on the mainland with time to kill, we left instead by the excellent ferry down at Kylerhea which I believe is one of the last with a rotating deck.  Possibly unique though in having a collie helping with the mooring ropes.  £10 well spent as the trip towards it through Bealach Udal in the morning sun was breathtaking as was the view later of the Five Sisters of Kintail even though their peaks were in cloud.   After the ferry crossing we stopped briefly at Glenelg for morning coffee and a paddle (for the dogs not us), what's special about Glenelg?  Well apart from the natural beauty I think its the only place in Scotland whose name is the same if read backwards.  Later we had lunch in the car park at Eilean Donal castle but noted that they are erecting height barriers there and whilst over-height vehicles are directed towards the coach park, painted road markings signs there still say 'Bus Only'.

Kylerhea Ferry, Able Seadog

Arty! Eilean Donan


It turned out that the only camp site open in the area this early in April was a very simple one nearby and we spent the afternoon alternately reading, relaxing and looking at castle and loch in the varying light ending with the castle standing out in the evening sunlight. The reason that we are staying put here is because the logistic planning went a bit wrong.  We need a proper campsite about every fourth night, if we hadn't have stopped here we would have had to rush on to Applecross yesterday and really we intend to wild camp there.  Still I'd rather get it wrong occasionally than over plan our activities and half a days rest and relaxation isn't too bad a result is it?


Day 15 - 44 Coast Miles


Day 16 Bealach na Ba  The Pass of the Cattle


Into Kyle for the obligatory picture of the bridge and to visit the post office (email checking) then on by the coast road to Plockton.  By now the sky was bright blue from horizon to horizon and the sun shone brightly all day.


Skye Bridge : Plockton Sky


Good weather made the Baleach na Ba pass breathtaking.  I realise that I hadn't properly appreciated it before when climbing it in wet and murky conditions.  We overtook a cyclist half way up and when congratulating him upon his arrival at the summit he said that it was the first time he had achieved it without stopping, he took 45minutes!  We also passed two motorcyclists but only one made it to the summit the other we were told had had an attack of vertigo. 


Looking Up and Looking Back

 Looking at Skye from the top


Applecross as usual was a delight, we spent some time in the Applecross Inn garden.  A waitress there remarked that you really didn't need to go to Spain for the sun and I did notice that the staff were a bit more tanned than is usual for Scots this early in the year.  We ended at a wild camp within sight of the croft used in the BBC's 'Monty Hall's Great Escape'.  We will look at our recorded version of 'Great Escape' when we get back but I don't remember seeing a single shot of the MOD buildings which we found to be right next door, with it's very useful heliport. Its amazing what you can achieve with careful camera angles.  Every one we met there commented about it and somehow we all felt cheated.


The croft   The croft from above

The view often shown on the TV

The view they didn't show you : The MOD neighbours



A glorious evening followed looking across to Raasay, Scapay and Skye with some of the peaks on Rum visible over the top of Skye.  Unnoticed by me I did something went wrong with my camera settings giving me dark and rather grainy pictures so I have had to adjust the next few (they are still too dark) luckily whatever I had done to make it wrong I seem to have put it right a couple of days later. Thats our van in the lower part of the picture below


The view over our wild Camp Site 

16th Day - 65 Coast Miles



Day 17 Shieldaig, Diabaig and Red Point


Carrying on around the Applecross peninsula brought us to Loch Torridon and Shieldaig, (the first place of that name we would see this day).  We sat outside Nanny's, drinking coffee and trying to decide, not for the first time, if the black birds we could see were Cormorants or Shags.  At Torridon we turned left for another 'out and back', this time to Diabeg across the Bealach na Gaoithe.   A thoroughly recommended  detour if you have a powerful engine and are not too large.

Shieldaig and Torridon

Bealach na Gaoithe.

Oops : Lower Diabaig


Through Glen Torridon then and on to Kinlochewe and the Bienn Eighe National Nature Reserve.  This is a big detour from the coast but there is no other road.  We were back in tourist land so it was no surprise that lots of 'no overnight parking' signs appeared.  We also saw some midges alongside Loch Maree, the only ones we saw in the whole trip and they didn't bite us!  Turning down our next 'out and back' towards Red Point looked more promising but we still hadn't found a place when we came across an impediment to further progress.  A bull, I won't say a large one, was straddling the single track road, inconveniently not by a passing place.  A nudge on his rump right have been enough to move him on but if he decided to give us a good kicking as we passed it might have cost us a long stay in a body shop.  Various other motorists came forward to give advice but after one brave girl gave it a good poke in the rear it deigned to let us pass.  So that night saw us at the viewpoint at Red Point with one of the ubiquitous VW campers and a self built ambulance conversion for company.  From here we could look across Loch Torridon to part of our morning's route and see our last evening view of Skye.  Red sunset again, this marking our ninth consecutive day of dry and fine weather.

17th Day - 84 Coast Miles


Days 18 and 19  Rubha Reidh and Poolewe


Up early in the morning and drove the half mile further on to the excellent beach, yes I know, lazy, then after the dogs had run themselves to a standstill we retraced our track to the A832.  So who did we meet on our way back ?  Yes, the same Bull in roughly the same place. This time we took a photo. Again it was someone else who moved it on for us. 

Red Point Beach : This Is What Beaches Are For

That Bull


As it was a Sunday we looked out for a lunchtime pub/restaurant  and found one well off the beaten track at Melvaig.  This was after finding a cash point, which is not the easiest task in the north west corner of Scotland on a Sunday. (It was in a shop in Charlestown and cost me £1.75 for the privilege of withdrawing my own money, still when you are stuck that's OK I guess).  Before we went for lunch we carried on past the Inn to Rubha Reidh.  Note the last few miles have some awkward narrow corners combined with steep gradients and weak bridges but it is a metalled road all the way to the lighthouse. 


Charles Town                        Rubha Reidh

The Melvaig Inn has a 60s Juke box, books scattered around on subjects as wide ranging as Scottish clan history and pop groups, lots of Pink Floyd posters (Mine host has a Pink Floyd connection) and a TV in the Bar.  Oh and the food was very good.  I watched ten minutes of whatever F1 Grand Prix it was, then we paid our bill and left.  That was the only TV I watched on the whole six weeks.  I watched one film on dvd (Doreen watched two) and two or three episodes of 'Coast' and that's all.

Another Sunset



After arriving at Poolewe we did the trip up the other side of the Rubha Reidh peninsula up by Loch Ewe to Rubha nan Sasan where there is a memorial to those who never came back from the Arctic convoys.  There was something about the place and the memorial that really choked me up, haven't really been that affected by things that happened to other people since visiting Bluff Cove in the Falklands. 

The words


Later we turned up at the C&CC site at Poolewe for two days rest before the last section up to the very North.  We did some laundry and lazed the afternoon and evening away in the sunshine, there are people wearing shorts here!   


At last some rain.  The morning brought cloud and about 20 minutess of soft rain which we waited out on the campsite before going half a mile up the road to the renown Inverewe gardens.  Well worth a visit at any season but they have a stunning collection of Rhododendrons which were all in bloom amongst less showy plants like a rare Turkey Oak and Gum trees from Tasmania.   We also indulged ourselves with poached smoked haddock in the restaurant.   The dogs weren't left out entirely, after one sweep of the gardens we returned to the van and took them on a waymarked walk through the pines before returning ourselves to the gardens in the afternoon sun.  We will let the pictures tell the story


Inverewe Gardens

18th Day - 63 Coast Miles


Day 20 Loch Ewe, Gruinard Bay, Little Loch Broom


We had anticipated an early start but we woke up to rain and this time the weather wasn't mucking about.  A nearby caravan had its awning thrown over its roof by a gust of wind.  I didn't witness the incident but on peering out wondered why the caravan owners had chosen the wildest part of the storm to pack their awning away.   It was only when I saw them recovering the mangled awning frame that I realised what must have happened.  There was a lull in the rain and we started to pack up, empty the waste and take on fresh water, half way through the rain sluiced down and I got very wet.  By mid-day we were away in clearing skies, and heading around the other side of Loch Ewe.  It might have been because the sun hadn't put in an appearance by then but Aultbea seemed to contain  some very ugly housing.  We took a picture of a nearby cow instead



The visibility became very good after the morning rain and with only the local OS map to hand couldn't understand all the islands I could see in Gruinard bay. This was confusing me as the bay should by rights only contain Gruinard island, infamous for the anthrax experiments carried out there during WWII.  Later I realised that these were the Summer Islands which we wouldn't get close to for another day.  Our numerous 'out and back' excursions to make contact with the coast have seldom failed to please. Today the trips up either side of Little Loch Broom firstly laid on as pretty a set of newborn lambs as you could wish for, and later a beautiful birch lined road through the Dundonell estate, with glimpses of some the peaks we would see much better later. 




This road continued up the side of Beinn nam Ban before going back down to the lochside to Badrallach where a small and expensive C&CC CS is situated.  We retraced our path however and selected a position near the highest point on the road, at 236 metres our highest campsite.   During the evening  we were treated to an ever changing sunny vista across Little Loch Broom towards Sail Mhor and the peaks of An Teallach, and we also did a short walk to look over the next sea loch to Ullapool which was just over 2 miles away as the crow flies from where we were camped. There was also a five minute hailstorm which came out of the blue.


An Teallach from our wild camp


20th Day - 60 Coast Miles


Day 21 Destitution Road,  Ullapool and Coigach

In the morning all the mountains were sunlit and crystal clear as we set off to Ullapool.  The road from Dundonell was originally made during the potato famine that also blighted Ireland.  Here relief was given in exchange for working on building the road hence the name Destitution Road.  For us it meant a 25 mile inland detour compared with the hypothetical direct route.   At Braemore junction we sped past one of the main tourist draws in the  area, Corrieshalloch Gorge, on the basis of 'been there, done that' (1997).  Ullapool was hot. That isn't a sentence I would have expected to write.  It was 21degrees C in the early afternoon.  In Ullapool we stocked up with fuel and victuals and I had a haircut and beard trim before setting off North.  We were told that although expensive at £1.10 per litre, diesel would be more expensive still later, needless to say at every place that I saw fuel thereafter it was cheaper.  Now until we get to Thurso we are in, for us, uncharted waters having never gone further North on this side than Ullapool.


An Teallach                    Ullapool Pre-haircut




Well Coigach didn't disappoint us, I could understand anyone who just stayed put here for a holiday, whatever the weather.  At the end of today's 60 mile run we were overlooking the Summer Isles and could see the lighthouse at Rhue point near Ullapool which guides you into Loch Broom.  The visibility was now so good we could still see where we had been last Sunday and as darkness fell this was confirmed by the loom of Rubha Reidh light.

Coigach  and  Stac Pollaidh

Stac Pollaidh from the North , Summer Isles


21st Day - 60 Coast Miles (again)


Day 22 To Clashnessie

It rained a little in the night but all was sunny again as we left our overnight stop and we finally and positively identified a little bird we had seen a few times as a Wheatear.   A few miles away we stopped to give the dogs a run and a play on a sward of neatly cropped grass next to the beach.   In the distance the very peak of Stac Pollaidh had its own cloud that was swiftly lifting.   We followed the coast road towards Lochinver, by now three  peaks were very much in evidence every time the little road (weight limit 8 tons, length limit 26 feet) twisted and turned to point inland. Of the three the middle one Suilven looked like it belonged in Lord of the Rings. Mind you earlier Pollaidh looked like Mount Doom.

Stac Pollaidh again

Long and Winding Road


Thanks to the cycling book we found one of the remotest bookshops in the land just as we entered Sutherland near Inverkirkaig.  As we made our purchases we expressed surprise that they had no copy of said book.  Mistake! the owner launched into a tirade about the author,who admittedly had had some reservations. Lets hope that Bill Bryson doesn't visit them and include any of his observations. In Lochinver diesel was £1.06. 


Canisp, Suilven and Cul Mor (I think)


Once we got past Lochinver  and headed out towards Point of Stoer we began to see why some people regard Sutherland as the best place to be, it's magical. We finished up for the night half a mile past Clashnessie Bay only just off the road in one of those extensions to a passing place that occurs every few miles or so, not with a view of the sea but with our own loch.  Our dogs immediately crashed out to sleep, they had had two beaches plus a lighthouse walk.

Stoer Point LH : Clashnessie Beach

Our own Loch


22nd Day - 51 Coast Miles


Day 23 Some more Sutherland

We started the day with a walk to Clashnessie waterfall then carried on around our single track coastal road visiting the 'Best village shop in Scotland (2006)' at Drumbeg. Its now for sale.  Travelled on over the hills from Nedd to the main road.  Travelling east, only one of the hills is marked with a gradient, and that is by no means the steepest.  It rained as we crossed the bridge at Kylesku but it didn't last long thank goodness because my windscreen wipers have developed a squeak - the last  time I used them in earnest on the Isle of Mull they had an annoying 'click'. , 

Clashnessie Falls        :     Near Nedd

 Kylesku viewpoint car park 


The car parks either side of Kylesku have 'No overnight Parking' signs but the viewpoint a mile from the bridge (which is in the MHF wild camping database) hasn't.  We stopped there for lunch and I fixed the windscreen wiper blade that had started to fall apart and was the cause of the annoying noises.  A few miles later we got out the OS map number 9 'Cape Wrath', target in sight! 


Anyone in the area is advised to visit Tarbet, as neat a little quay as you can imagine and only a short circular detour off the main road.  In summer you can get a passenger ferry to Handa island from there.  Once you cross the Laxford bridge that is you more or less committed to the northern coast and eventually John O'Groats but we turned off one more time this time to Kinlochbrevie and beyond to Blairmore.  The car park there is close by farm houses but you are practically encouraged to wild camp there.   There is fresh water and two very nice loos.  It is part of the John Muir Trust estate and its the car park for those that want to trek to Sandwood Bay which probably is the remotest beach in UK as it lies four and a half miles away.  That evening a man in a John Muir Trust van pulled up alongside and pointed out a stag passing twenty feet behind our van - we thought he had come to move us on!  We hope that the Stag is still OK, ones that wander into villages are often shot.  We didn't hear any gunshot so fingers crossed.


 'Our Stag


23rd Day - 60 Coast Miles


Days 24 and 25 Cape Wrath

The next morning we havered about doing the walk northward to Sandwood Bay or not as it was very overcast but encouraged by seeing others start we duly did the walk and briefly picnicked on the beach.  Its a fairly straight forward walk but the track is very uneven in places and also wet so you need decent footwear, the dogs enjoyed it especially the eight small lochs  (large ponds) you pass enroute.  We felt a little achy by the time we returned.  The beach and dunes are magnificent and the top of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath was very clearly seen (though not easily seen in the photo).  Its also the closest we have got to a bottle nosed dolphin albeit a very dead one.


Are we nearly there yet?


Sandwood Bay


We spent the next two nights in the campsite at Durness.  This was to enable us to go on the ferry and minibus to Cape Wrath. 



 The trip runs from about May to September (it was still April) it also depends on weather at the cape, military activity (its a bombing range), the tides and having enough passengers to make it worthwhile for the ferry boat and mini bus operators.  Our first attempt at eleven am failed on the last criteria but we drummed up some support in a cafe at the nearby Balnakeil craft village (including a chap called Tim - more of him later) so we were able to go at lunchtime.    The minibus driver and on board entertainer was David Hird a correspondent for MMM and an author of a book about the Cape. The minibus was a sturdy Merc that remains on the cape all summer and is rafted off every winter for a rest plus PSV and MOT tests.  Now't goes wrong that can't be fixed with a hammer - a van lasts about six seasons say about 2,000 return trips on what is little more than a pock marked track for much of the way, goodness knows what he'll replace it with, I doubt that the new ones will be so sturdy.  The eleven mile trip takes about 40 minutes including such photo stops as are judged necessary by the driver.  The ferryman was urging hurry ups over the VHF radio on our return and when we got back most of the water had gone and we didn't have much under the keel in the middle section of the crossing. By the way the ferry boat is the tiny one in the photos.

Tide In : Tide Out

The Bus, The Cape and The Lighthouse


Just as we approached the lighthouse some very weak sunlight illuminated the scene and after giving us our safety briefing we went exploring, two parties immediately went where David said not to go.  I'm ok with heights, even 300 foot ones but I get very uneasy when other people stand on the edge. On the way back David told us in the 12 years he'd been doing the job he'd only lost two passengers. One a bird photographer forgot where he was and stepped backwards and a girl sat down on the wet grass with her nylon anorak underneath her and tobogganed over the side.


Safely Inside the wall : 300 foot Cliff


Kearvaig Stac


The trip cost around £14 including £5 for the ferry, money well spent.  We just feel privileged to have made the trip and given how misty and damp the day started we were lucky to have such a good clear visit to the most north westerly point of the country.   Durness is also famous for its Smoo caves (which we visited) and its association with John Lennon.  (Google for more details).  Balnakeil also delivered up a souvenir in the form of a small painting of an Oystercatcher and a new bird to see, a Great Northern Diver, in the bay nearby (it was pointed out to us).  We will leave the photographs of Durness and saying more about Tim until part 5c.


24th and 25th Day - 31 Coast Miles


Link to part C Coast Part 5c 2009

Cape Wrath Book Link