Saturday 18 July 2015
Melvich to Durness
Sango Sands campsite
I woke up reasonably early and, despite telling myself I could have a lie in, I decided to get up. It was a fortuitous decision as the sky was grey and no sooner had I packed the tent away than it started raining. I got in the car and started driving West. I stopped at Port Skerra so that I could get a better look at Melvich Bay, and I popped into the shop thinking I might get a newspaper. The only decent newspapers were all reserved but it was worth stopping as there was an old man in there talking through some very old photos with some of the locals. Most of them were of 2 very harsh winters in the 1950s and 1970s. The snow was at least 2m deep and a special snow clearing vehicle was brought in to dig the locals out. Interestingly the general consensus was that the last proper winter snow was 15 years ago, when they used to have 4 distinct seasons up here. Now they seem to only have one continuous season; cool and wet.
I carried on along the N & W Highlands Tourist Route to Bettyhill. The coastline here is absolutely stunning. The beaches are like nothing I’ve ever seen with perfect sand, rocks and then a turquoise sea (even in the rain).
Sadly, as the weather was so poor it was not inviting to get out and walk (although I did walk down to Strathy beach), and certainly not to go for a swim.
Due to the rain and reduced visibility I didn’t bother going out to Strathy Point. Both Strathy and Armadale Beaches looked amazing.
I stopped at the cafe in Bettyhill and travelled back in time to the 1970s. Tea and a cake was below average but I needed a hot drink to warm up. Bettyhill lies just on a corner overlooking Torrisdale Bay. Wow. Two rivers flow out into this bay, one at either end. Beautiful.
The road goes up and down a lot as it snakes its way along the coast. I saw lots of motorbikes, campervans and touring cyclists. Most of the road is single track with constant stopping required at the many passing places. Everyone waves.
Next up was Tongue. Wow again.
The road starts up high and then switches back as you descend to the bridge across the Kyle of Tongue.
Castle Varrich was just about visible on its hill through the gloom.
The landscape started to flatten a bit as I crossed the A’Mhoine, which seemed like a moor. Then I came to Loch Eriboll. WOW. This was my favourite of the day. Simply stunning.
Ard Neakie was the jewel in the crown, an ‘almost Island’ that is connected to the mainland by a small spit of land that looked rather like the tombolos in Shetland. There was an old limestone kiln visible on this almost island.
The road ran all the way around the loch and up the West side to yet more beautiful beaches. So many in one day.
Just before Durness is Smoo Cave. This is a set of 3 large caves that were once used as workshops and as home to generations of seafarers. There are a couple of big blowholes above the caves and the cut in the cliffs leading to the caves is also impressive. I was now in the Geopark: 800 square miles of outstanding landscapes and geological interpretation. I have definitely been blown away by the landscape so far.
I arrived in Durness and drove through it for a look. I ended up at the Balnakiel Craft Village and stopped at Cocoa Mountain Cafe for one of their hot chocolates (this place had been recommended to me by a cafe owner in Helmsdale). It was pretty good and very rich.
The rain had stopped, although the clouds were still dark and foreboding. The campsite is right on the cliff top above Durness beach, yet another stunning beach. There were even some surfers in the sea as the waves were decent.
I pitched my tent, had a shower and a bite to eat and then settled down for an early night with my book. Inspired by my visit to Dunbeath Heritage Centre I have bought Neil Gunn’s Highland River.