Monday 20 July 2015
Durness to Sandwood Bay
5 miles walked
Wild camp at Sandwood Bay
It wasn’t raining this morning so packing away was pretty straightforward. I popped into the local shop for some bread to make a couple of cheese sandwiches and then I drove down to Keoldale to get the passenger ferry across the Kyle of Durness. The ferry is weather dependent and the ferryman stopped a couple taking bicycles as he said the wind was going to pick up to nearly gale force later and so we would be his last passengers (except for collecting us at lunchtime).
It is possible to walk around Cape Wrath, but it’s a peat bog and there’s a minibus that drives the 11 mile road to the lighthouse. When I say road, it used to be a road but now, courtesy of terrible storms in 2013, it’s a series of potholes with a bit of Tarmac in between.
Our minibus driver, Reg, was full of information, even though he was from Yorkshire and just doing a retirement summer job. It took over an hour for the minibus to negotiate the 11 miles.
There are 2 houses on Cape Wrath, both owned by top surgeons as holiday homes. The lighthouse is also permanently inhabited by John and his dogs. The only way to Cape wrath (without walking across the peat bog) is by boat to access the road that was built by the Northern Lighthouse Board. It was very windy and cold on the edge, but I have made it to the far North West of the UK mainland.
I could just about see the Outer Hebrides through the gloom, and I could also see Sandwood Bay a few miles down the West coast. At one point we did also get a goodview of Kearvaig Beach just East of the point and at a break in the highest cliffs in the UK.
The boat trip back across Kyle of Durness was a wet one as the strengthening wind caused whipped the sea into the boat. I was sat in the firing line!
I was soaked when I got in the car so heater went on full blast to dry me out. I drove down the road to Kinlochbervie. The landscape has suddenly changed as I’ve moved from the North coast to the West coast; it’s definitely rockier.
The short road to Kinlochbervie heads up the side of Loch Inchard and passes 10 small settlements (Kinlochbervie being the largest). Despite the all-pervading greyness this was a picturesque road.
I had decided that it was time I wild camped, and what better place to do it than the renowned Sandwood Bay. Despite being windy and a bit chilly I parked the car in the (full) car park and packed some food in my rucksack. Sandwood Bay is a 4.5 mile walk from the car park, thus making it possibly the most remote, yet easily accessible, beach in the UK. The John Muir Trust maintains a good footpath across the boggy hinterland so it’s not a difficult walk. I saw a lot of people (and sheep) on the track; the sensible ones were heading back to the car park as it was starting to rain. I did think about turning around but decided to tough it out.
Coming over the last rise the view of the beach and Sandwood Loch behind it was lovely. The sand dunes are tall and steep, great for jumping off! I walked around to find somewhere to camp and decided on a spot overlooking the sea with a bit of shelter from the almost-gale force wind. The next rain squall hit so I quickly put the tent up and got inside.
As soon as the rain abated I took the tent down and moved further into the dunes as I was concerned the wind was going to tear the tent apart. I pitched for a 2nd time, this time in the biggest dip I could find. I now had no views of the sea and my tent was still being buffeted like mad. It was 5.30 pm and I briefly considered (again) packing up and heading back. But no, I was going to stick it out and wild camp if it killed me!
I think wild camping takes some practice to develop the skills of: excellent kit organisation (this is crucial), cooking something vaguely decent with one pot for everything, cleaning pots and oneself with no facilities, managing water. I do not possess these skills and struggled a bit. Dinner was terrible – pasta parcels and a tomato sauce. Note to self – tomato sauce is particularly messy and should be avoided next time. It was spitting again and I had cooked, eaten and cleaned up (sort of) in about 15 mins. It was blowing a gale, raining and any romantic thoughts of sitting on the beach watching the sunset (with a BBQ, a fire and a glass of wine) were so far from reality. I was in bed by 6.30 pm, trying to read while listening to the howling wind ripping at my tent. No chance of hearing the sea above that racket!
There was a short break in the wind and rain at 9.30 so I got up for a last pee. You wouldn’t believe how quickly the midges come out! The problem of being in a sheltered(!) spot I suppose. Fortunately I managed to get back in the tent before I was harassed too much. What an evening!
Eventually I must have fallen asleep sometime after 10.30 pm. At least sand makes a comfortable bed.