Day 107 Driving the Sutherland West Coast

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Sandwood Bay to Lochinver

5 mile walk

Clactoll Bay Campsite

I woke up when the heavy rain started at about 5 am. Then the wind picked up again. The sky looked very dark grey with no sign of a break. I snuggled down thinking I might just give up and lie there until the weather improved (next year?) but after a while the wind became so strong that I thought the tent was going to break. Every so often a huge gust would slap the wet tent against my face as if to wake me up and eventually the rain was coming in. When my sleeping bag started to get wet I had to get up. I packed away, chucked the wet tent in the top of my bag and started the 4.5 mile trek back to the car. In the end I didn’t even walk along the length of Sandwood Beach. Not sure about this wild camping, maybe in sunshine with friends.  

Walking out of Sandwood Bay (just before the rain got heavier)
 There was at least a toilet in the car park so I managed to have a quick wash and clean my teeth, but my hair was a lost cause. I got soaked through on the walk back so had to sit in wet shorts in the car with the heater on full blast listening to the weather forecaster on the radio saying Scotland would have a dry day. What did he know!

I drove out of the car park and back along the Kinlochbervie road. The Old School restaurant in Kinlochbervie had a sign saying it was open so I went in to see if I could get a hot drink and some breakfast. The people in there had all been staying at the B&B but the waitress didn’t seem to mind catering for one more and I had my first big breakfast in ages. I was glad of it. It also gave me a chance to dampen another seat other than the one in my car! 

Feeling a little drier, fuller and warmer my feelings of driving all the way home changed to looking forward to seeing a bit more of this West Coast because, so far, the North Coast is winning it for me. Despite the persistent rain until 3 pm and the awful visibility until the evening, I was in for a treat. 

Wow wow wow. How can somewhere be so beautiful in such awful weather? (Unfortunately the photos do not do it justice because of the bad weather.) I would describe the West coast as lumpy, rocky and watery. There are so many lochs! I always think of lochs as being at sea level but many of these are higher up, some with streams flowing from one to the next) and remind me of Lake District tarns. I wonder if anyone has swum in them all?  

The road near Foindle
 It was really fun to drive some of the roads; so narrow, twisty, turny, up and down, up and down. I have never driven so much in first gear! It would be fantastic to cycle these short, steep hills.  My favourite driving road was the Foindle, Fanagmore, Tarbet loop. I stopped at The Shorehouse in Tarbet for a coffee. Having eaten a huge breakfast I unfortunately didn’t need to eat anything from their Rick Stein-recommended seafood menu. This restaurant catches its own just off-shore. Ordinarily one can catch a ferry from Tarbet to Handa Island just across the Sound of Handa. Unsurprisingly today’s ferries were cancelled due to bad weather. The sea looked rough.  

I’ve never seen one of these signs before
 Oh the views. Despite not being able to pick out the back drop of mountains (or sometimes even the middle ground) through the mist and rain, there were still breathtaking moments, mainly as I rounded yet another bend and overlooked a fantastic loch with lots of islands.  

Looking out from Scourie
 Three big lochs (a’ Chairn Bhain, Gleann Dubh and Glencoul) all meet at Kylesku. I didn’t get a good view on the approach but there was a picture on a notice board so I could see what I was missing.  

The view I could have seen

The reality!
 There was also a commemorative cairn dedicated to the XIIth Submarine Flotilla whose top secret x-craft submarines and human torpedoes trained in these deep lochs.  

Commemorative Cairn to the X-Men
 The bridge over to Kylesku was built in 1984. Before that there was a daylight ferry or else a 110 mile trip by road!  

The Kylescu Bridge
Loch Glencoul
I was now in Assynt and took the coastal detour via Drumbeg and Stoer. The views across Eddrachillis Bay were out of this world. The Eddrachillis coastal parish is made up of 35 islands.  

Eddrachillis Islands from Drumbeg
 I drove up to the Stoer Lighthouse and I wanted to walk to the Point of Stoer but it was 4 pm and I had nowhere to stay yet and a wet tent. Maybe tomorrow. 

Just down the road was Clactoll Bay campsite. I drove past it initially and went down to the next one at Achmelvich, which has a hostel. I didn’t like the look of it so I carried on to the bustling town of Lochinver. There was a hostel there as well. I hadn’t had any phone reception all day but now I had I knew by looking at the car park that the hostel would be full, and it was. I decided to get some dinner at one of the restaurants here and then drive back to Clachtoll Bay. I had read somewhere that Peet’s restaurant was good so I went in there. It was only 5.30 so fortunately empty enough that I felt able to go in un-showered, wearing clothes I’ve worn for the last 6 days without washing and with the worst hair ever. At least I can’t see it! Their speciality was Peet’s burger and it was rather good. (Not a healthy eating day – I must do some exercise soon.) 

The clouds lifted driving back from Lochinver and the mountains were visible (Suilven in the centre)
 I got to the campsite just before 7 and the bad weather had cleared up; the all-pervasive grey cloud had lifted somewhat. My tent was up by 7 and drying. I got my shower and then walked across the lovely little beach to the split rock and sat there looking at the view.  

Sat on Split Rock at Clachtoll Beach, campsite in the background
 I could see some mountains. The best looking one was Suilven, with its steep sides. I could see Skye…and the Outer Hebrides. At last some proper views. We even had a sunset…my first since Cullen in Morayshire! 


4 thoughts on “Day 107 Driving the Sutherland West Coast

  1. rohan July 22, 2015 / 8:32 pm

    I am glad you have finally enjoyed a reasonable evening in this wonderful part of the country.The beach at Auchmelvich is lovely but I can’t believe you missed the famous Lochinver Pie shop so you have to return. I hope the weather stays clear for a view of the Assynt mountains. Quinnaig is another John Muir Trust property but there are so many fantastic hills up there when the views are good. I do think you have been exceptionally unlucky. This summer has been a total wash out.


  2. Zephyrine July 22, 2015 / 9:49 pm

    Hi Lucy – I’m enjoying your journal of the rather gruelling weather/Highland journey. My friend Rohan – at Todhead lighthouse – put me on to your blog. – I lived in the Highlands nearly 40 years ago when I was young enough & daft enough to think nothing of hitching the length of Britain with my ferret Fidelma in a box, over my shoulder! – I did Cock Bridge (where I lived) to Bettyhill & back, & then Cock Bridge to the south coast & back north again, all in the same summer, all hitch-hiking… – Over the years, I have also travelled right up the east coast, through Strathnaver (several times), across the north coast, & down the west coast… So your photos are bringing back a few memories. – Keep going! The weather can only get better… Best wishes, Zephyrine (looking forward to more traveller’s tales 🙂 )


  3. jomunday99 July 22, 2015 / 10:24 pm

    Wow wow wow. I just saw a photo where you are almost smiling! Could it be related to the glimmer of sun behind you and a most rare break in the rain?!?

    Can’t believe this weather. What I need to understand is whether this is actually normal ( but maybe slightly worse than normal) or extreme ? If its normal I’m never going there. If sometimes it stops raining then you ( and me) must return as it looks amazing and most unexpected. I thought I’d seen enough of Scotland to know what it’s like but your photos show a very different and unique place. Xxxx


  4. Chris Frazer July 23, 2015 / 2:43 am

    Poor you what a awful day…….at least the wind and rain kept the mosi population from flying……nice hat by the way…..and beautiful sunset. Hope you have a better day today. Chin up.


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