Day 149 Wild Camping at the Ring of Brightwater

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Kinloch Hourn to Sandaig

16.5 miles

Wild camp at Lower Sandaig beach

Twice I was woken up in the night by the sound of scratching on the carpet. I knew it was a mouse and the second time I was quick enough with my head torch to catch it (no electricity remember as the generator turns off overnight). The cheeky thing didn’t even feel the need to scarper so we had a face-off until he finally walked away, totally unhurried.  

A beautiful still morning at Kinloch Hourn
 The sun was out in the morning and the midges were out, although they only bothered you if you stood still. Following a hearty breakfast I set off and immediately had a steep climb out of Kinloch Hourn on the Drover’s track to Corran. The young Frenchman who also stayed in the B&B was just behind me so I waited and we walked together until our paths split.  

Pierre walking up the hill out of Kinloch Hourn
 He is from the Alps but is walking the Cape Wrath Trail because he was looking for something hardcore.  

What a view down the valley
 The views were outstanding, particularly through the gaps in the peaks down to Loch Hourn.  

Loch Hourn – I walked along there yesterday!
 The weather was closing in though and before 10am my waterproofs were on and i had 5 minutes of rain followed by 15 minutes surrounded by fog. The waterproofs came off and then the whole thing was repeated a short while later. Waterproofs were on and off for the rest of the morning.  

There’s a mountain behind me, honest
 The 9 mile walk through the mountainous landscape and then down Glen Arnisdale to Corran was wonderful. It felt really remote and, even though I have not scaled any peaks, I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the landscape. In some ways it’s more like people would have done in the past: picked their way from A to B around the mountains rather than climbing then. It certainly has developed an appeal with me.  

Gleann Dubh Lochain
stunning, and steep, scenery
I arrived in Corran, on the North shore of Loch Hourn, in time to walk to the last house, where the shed has been converted into Sheena’s Tea Hut. I love places like this and I settled down next to the wood burner to dry off while I enjoyed soup, a pot of tea and a cake. Perfect.  

Sheena’s tea hut, Corran
 The weather was clearing up for the afternoon and the rest of my day was a road walk. I was heading for Glenelg and could have walked through the mountains instead of along the coast road, but I didn’t because 1) I’m doing a coastal walk, 2) I would have missed Sheena’s Tea Hut, and, most importantly, 3) I wanted to visit the Ring of Brightwater.  

The town of Arnisdale has a huge mountain rising out the back of it
 My only preparation for this trek across Knoydart and Kintail was to read The Ring Of Brightwater by Gavin Maxwell. I knew his house, Camusfearna, had been in this area and by studying the map it was easy to work out where it had been. Now that I was so close I became determined to make my own little pilgrimage to see where the otters had lived. So it was only fitting that on the long road walk alongside Loch Hourn I should finally see an otter playing in the water. I have been looking all the way down the West coast and this was my first sighting since Shetland.  

Looking back across Loch Hourn towards Barrisdale Bay
Sandaig islands with Skye in the background
 The sun came out late afternoon and I was enjoying my walk in this beautiful land. Sixteen miles today was a lot and by the time I arrived at Upper Sandaig I was weary. But I had to walk the extra mile down through the Eileanreach Estate to Lower Sandaig. This area is now all part of a timber harvesting programme, providing wood pulp to the world, and so the landscape is littered with tree stumps. Needless to say the path on the map didn’t exist and I fought my way down the slopes, including a stream crossing balancing on small rocks. (Thank goodness for walking poles.) 

Sandaig Islands
 And there it was, the ring of brightwater.  

The Ring Of Brightwater
 There were other people there (as it turns out there’s an easier route from the road if I’d walked a bit further on) who had also come to see the memorials to Gavin Maxwell and Edal the otter. The house called Camusfearna no longer exists (it burned down). There was, however,  a rope bridge across the burn so naturally I had to cross it.  

…even with my pack on!
 As I walked around this overgrown place I suddenly had a brainwave – why don’t I just camp here? It was after 4pm, I was tired of walks and had nowhere to to stay. Perfect. I found a flat spot where the grass wasn’t too overgrown and pitched my tent, right by the beach.  

perfect pitch
 The people were leaving and I had the place to myself. First thing was a bath in the burn; very cold but refreshing. Second thing was to make my dinner – past followed by chocolate and green tea. Third thing was to light a fire to enjoy the fading evening sunlight and keep the midges away. It took me about an hour but I eventually managed to get a roaring fire. I am not experienced in lighting fires from scratch and I had no paper or kindling so I was pleased I managed to do it. What a wonderful evening sat on a great big log on a deserted and beautiful beach listening to the roar of the fire and the ebbing sea, feeling the heat of the flames and watching the sun disappear over the mountains of Skye. Perfect.  

perfect location for dinner
 I finally experienced an amazing wild camp. I went to bed utterly content and stinking of smoke. 


Day 106 Cape Wrath and Sandwood Bay

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).  

The ferry to get to Cape Wrath
 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.  

The 11 mile,hilly, road from Cape Wrath Lighthouse to the ferry pier
 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. 

Driver Reg filling up his minibus with petrol
 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 made it to the far NW of mainland Uk
 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. 
Kearvaig Beach on Cape Wrath
 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! 

Looking across the Kyle of Durness from Cape Wrath ferry pier
 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.  

Rocky landscape; like a prehistoric world!
 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.  

Driving the Kinlochbervie road, looking at Oldmoreshore Beach
 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.  

Sandwood Bay
 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. 

The first tent pitch
 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! 

The second tent pitch
 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.