The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Friday 21 May 2010

Day 57 - Achriesgill to Cape Wrath (to Kervaig)

Wednesday 19 May (0745-1630)
Distance: 18 miles (plus 5 to Kervaig) (Tot to CW: 975)
Weather: fair, except one drizzly interlude
Number of times one of us was alarmed by a grouse taking flight about 3 inches in front of us: 3

There had been a bit of discussion as to whether, after our late finish, we should have a lie-in and a short day, or whether we should get up at the usual time and see how close to Cape Wrath we could get.

The verdict was that, depending on the terrain beyond Sandwood Bay, it may be possible to reach CW within the day, and thus the earlier start would be had.

The day started better than expected. The band of heavy rain, which the BBC had forecast would hit overnight and last about 7 hours, didn't materialise. It did start to rain, quite lightly, about 5am, but by 6.30 it had stopped and it was looking pretty fine out by the time we emerged from the tent.

To make things better still, I was wearing a brand new pair of socks. I'd been carrying the things for weeks (having incorrectly thought 650 miles back that the previous pair were wearing out) so I figured I may as well wear them for what was possibly the last day. They felt positively luxurious!

Off we set, finding ourselves outside of the London Stores sooner than expected (the store being before, not in, Kinlochbervie). It's a well stocked place for passing backpackers, and on this morning they were coming thick and fast (kind of). As we left the store, up the road came Pete.

It wasn't the fastest start to the day, as after the interlude at the shop came an interlude at the Kinlochbervie Hotel. It was early for 2nd breakfast but seemed rude to pass by without giving the place some custom. Cups of tea and breakfast rolls were consumed whilst watching a group make lengthy preparations to leave. Outside there was a Lambourghini (sp?), a Ferrari, a TVR, three Porches, and a couple of other sporty little numbers. The owners spent a long time admiring each others' cars before throaty roars were heard and off they went.

Off we went too, coincidentally meeting Pete again at the end of the hotel drive, and with him we walked up to Sandwood Bay.

Sandwood Bay is renowned as being a spectacularly nice bay and so it was, with golden sand, dunes, rocks, a sea stack, and blue sky. Our lives would have been easier by walking straight across the dunes, but it seemed wrong not to pop down to the sea, even if walking across deep, soft sand with a backpack is far from easy going.

The Bay begs that you stay a while and we obliged. Lunch was had at its north end, as people milled around below us, then it was off into the unknown.

With six miles of yomping before we reached the road to the lighthouse, we had no idea what the terrain would be like, how arduous the walking would be and how long it would take.

As is so often the case, when you have it in your mind that something will be tremendously difficult, it turns out to be better than expected. Thanks to the recent dry weather, our passage was much easier than I had anticipated.

I imagine that it could be quite an arduous yomp in poor weather or when it has been wet, but aside from the drizzly spell, we could see all around and the going was, for the most part, pretty dry. Even the bits that looked like they should be bog-fests were only mildly wet really. They didn't even move me to don my over-socks and my feet only got damp around the edges every now and then.

There were a few incidents with grouse, mind. There have been several on this trip, in fact. The grouse is a bird with a special talent for startling people. On this day, Mick came within inches of treading on one and when it suddenly flew up immediately before him, the reason for its reluctance to move became clear: it was sitting on a nest full of eggs. Onwards we hurried, hoping that it would soon return to carry on the incubation process.

Popping over the last lump of the route, we could see the road ahead of us, but had to caution ourselves against thinking that we were home and dry. "There's bound to be a man-eating bog, just to catch us out" I said, and it was a touch damp and haggy, and it did slow us down, but it could have been far worse.

Oh, but that road was a magic-moving-road. Across the bogs and around the hags we picked our ways, but the road seemingly got no nearer.

It was an illusion. We did reach it (and for future reference for anyone walking that last section in good and dry conditions, the six miles took us three hours almost exactly, including a couple of extended shoe-faffs (emptying half a beach out of my shoes, mainly)).

With a celebratory cheer that we had completed all of the pathless yomping of the trip, all we had left was an easy mile and a quarter along the road.

Reaching the far NW tip of Scotland, we grinned, patted each other on the backs, faffed at length with photos and, realising that we weren't going to be carried out on the backs of cheering elves, we made for the cafe at the lighthouse. With the weather having suddenly changed from lovely and warm to freezing, a cup of tea was in order.

"Are you closed?" Mick asked the girl mopping the floor.

"We're never closed" she said.

Having asked about the ferry and gleaned some very useful information, we were offered more tea, on the house. Apparently, the man-at-the-lighthouse hasn't met anyone who has walked so far to get there (of course, we know of quite a few people who have walked much further to get there, but as the cafe only opened last year I guess that talking to the lighthouse man hasn't been an option for most).

Two cups of tea down, it was time to make a move. Our vague plan was to walk about 3 miles or so, to the River Kervaig, and see if we could find a pitch. We had discounted going to the bothy in the bay, as it involved a 1.5 mile round trip detour from the road, not to mention a steep hill, which all seemed a bit unnecessary.

Fortunately, we caught sight of Kervaig bay before we looked for a pitch and our plans changed. What an absolutely magnificent place to spend a night. Absolutely stunning. Really, truly amazing place (I was quite taken with it!).

That the (excellent) bothy was full to bursting (fifteen school kids plus staff being the main occupants) was no issue. There's flat grass enough to pitch 100 tents.

We'd met Pete again on the road as we left the lighthouse, and not long after we arrived at Kervaig he got there too, by which time we had made the acquaintance of cycle-touring brother and sister Alice and Martin. An excellent evening was spent talking in the not-school-children-occupied bit of the bothy, as Mick and I ate and ate and ate (46 miles in 2 days tends to make me hungry!).

Eventually, with too few hours remaining before we had to get up, we toddled off to our tent, pausing on the way to admire the last glow of sunset.

It had been a cracking day. We'd finished what we'd set out to do. We'd enjoyed the scenery of Cape Wrath in fantastic conditions. We'd had a social evening. And we were camping in the most amazing spot. A good end to an excellent trip.

Except that wasn't the end, because we still had to get home (and despite requests, we weren't going to walk!!).

(For Much: Total number of crabs seen = lots. All of them were dead. Most of them were in the bay by Sourlies, but one was on someone's plate (does that count?).)


  1. Well done! It's a blooming good achievement.

    Sandwood Bay is a truly magical place (home of the whisky fairies), and somewhere that I yearn to visit again.

    I wish that the cafe had been open the couple of times I had reached Cape Wrath - it is such a spectacular place and deserves to have something there.

    I have mixed emotions about Kearvaig - it is a spectacular spot, but is spoilt by memories of the worst midges I have ever known, and of meeting a good friend of the lady who died there.

    As I said, well done. Are you already planning your next trip?


  2. Congratulations. Fantistic reading .... what are we going to do now?

    Look forward to you next adventure.

    Best wishes

  3. Well done to you both :-)

    A wonderful account, kept me glued to the laptop.

  4. Congratulations! I really enjoyed your blog.

    All that way and not a single midge bite!

  5. Well done the pair of you.
    Sheila and I are applauding you on your achievement.
    Your postings have been a pleasure to read and considering that you have done it all from a phone is amazing.

    Well done again.---Alan

  6. Thanks for the comments and congratulations!

    As for 'what next': we have no set immediate plans, but I do have itchy feet. Hopefully we'll get out and about for a week or two later in the year. In the meantime, I have (rather over-enthusiastically and perhaps prematurely)) been planning the next Big Walk. I will announce it in due course...