Posted by: natsevs | August 24, 2010

Strathcailleach to Kirtomy

The couple in the kitchen were up and setting off really early, Tom was got up at 7 and was heading off back towards Blairmore around 8. Unfortunately the weather hadn’t rewarded his mammoth drive up but he had a little adventure anyway. I think he was keen to get further south and to a hostel and pub though. I hung about a but longer making myself some breakfast and trying to pack up without making too much noise. It was really eerie weather again when I set out, my first task eing to cross the river by the bothy. My dried out boots therefore got wet again straight away but the crossing wasn’t actually as bad as I had been expecting. On the other side it was back to the bogs but I made decent headway as I strove to get up to Cape Wrath in decent time.


I was pleased to see that the red flags weren’t up when I came to the military fence and over I popped. First duty once over was to get past a stream in a sizeable gully but managed quite well before coming up to an area where the bog gave way to a kind of moonscape. Up there I couldn’t see more than about 10m in front of me but followed a stream along using the map to get my bearings. Coming down, I came to a much larger and deeper gully that proved more of a challenge than the last. Up the other side I returned to the cliffside and followed it right up to the lighthouse to complete the west coast at last. It was less rainy at the point and out to see even looked sunny, and there were a fair amount of people wandering around the lighthouse buildings having taken the ferry and minibus from Durness. I popped into the café there to find it typically overpriced, so I just set off along the track instead, now heading east across the north coast. There were 11 miles from here to the ferry and once halfway along I learnt that the last ferry was at 4pm. It was 2.30 so I had some quick walking to do. I made it there just as the last minibus rolled in, the driver with his massive cigar in his mouth.

The ferry was a 1 minute nip over which cost me a pretty steep £3.50. I still had a little way to go to get to Durness, taking the cliffs around to Balnakeil then in on the road. I was meeting Gil and his partner Jill in Durness and found them parked outside the hostel I was hoping to stay in for the night. I went and said hello and had a drink in the van before checking into the hostel and getting cleaned. Back at the van after, they fed me some risotto then we went to the pub down the road along with some friends of Gil who were also staying in the hostel. I was drying out my boots so was barefoot now my flip flops had broken. It was a fun evening and I had a few more drinks than I’m used to at the moment.

In the morning I went straight to the shop after breakfast to get supplies, then packed up ready for the day. I had left my bread in the kitchen whilst at the shop and half of it had been pilfered when I returned but then I have admitted to a bit of biscuit stealing in previous blogs so can’t complain. Jack said they’d give me a lift down to Balnakeil where Gil was parked up so Geri drove me down then I had a cup of tea with Gil and Jill. We then set off along the beach and out onto the peninsular from there which is mostly dunes. Along the way we came upon a whole herd of cows having a walk on another beach. Coming back we had to retrace our steps a bit before I went out along the coast round to Durness whilst they returned to the van.

Back in Durness the smell of fresh bread tempted me too much so I headed into the shop to get myself a little baguette. When I got to Smoo I made my way down the steps to the caves. Gil had told me that the pebbleman was stating down there and he’d met him yesterday. A1 pebbleman is also walking the coast but is stopping in places to make pebble sculptures and get together money enough to carry on. I had first heard about him from a B&B owner in St Bees. He told me what he was hoping to achieve, raising awareness about homelessness being the main cause, and I was down there for longer than expected. The caves themselves were quite impressive with their underground stream, when I came back out I went up out of the bay and set about making up distance and time. I met back up with Gil and Jill at the loch head around 5.30pm to pick up my bag and say our goodbyes. When I set back off at 6 I typically left my map behind but Jill ran it back to me. I stopped in a field by the road and set up quickly with the midges around. My right boot now had a hole in the toe and I had lost the last hat I was carrying with me.

The night had its fair share of wind and rain but in the morning it had calmed down with just enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay. I walked down through the field to the road and followed it along the beach at first then uphill along the loch side. Once round to Hope and over the river I went out along a track by its banks. The sign on the gate said ‘No Admittance’ but the guy fishing further on didn’t seem to mind me being there. From the track end was a path up to an empty house surrounded by bracken and just as I got up there it began to rain. I went along at one height but then had a long climb to avoid navigating a pretty sheer slope. At the top of this climb I had a pretty good view of the waterfalls and valleys beyond. The first of these valleys was right below me and I had to make my way all the way back down again to get over the rivers.

The first river crossing was fine but for the second I had to climb up a bit to get above a waterfall blocking my way. The second big climb took me up to a boggy plateau for a while. I was soon back to the northern cliffs and following the edge most of the way from then onwards. There were lots of troughs and it was more of the same bog land but interesting and challenging walking with great views across the north coast. When I reached a river I could follow it along to a loch and then a track down to Achininver. Once there I got onto the road and round the bay before heading up and round to Talmine with the sun now shining. I was there at 5.45 so thought about carrying on to the hostel at Tongue but it was booked out. I stopped at the campsite in Talmine instead whose owner had slightly crazy eyes but she was able to drive away so I guess she could see ok.

The site got quite busy as the evening wore on so I was glad I had arrived when I did to get one of the few decent spots. Even so I had a poor sleep, waking up at 4am and not getting back to sleep for ages. The campsite only cost me £2 though so that cheered me up. When I peeked out at 7am it was really sunny but as I set off 2 hours later the weather had turned overcast and chilly. On the way out I stopped in the shop which typically had no bread but I was able to get a fajita slice and some snacks. The road took me down to the causeway over the Kyle of Tongue where I was able to look back to the mountains or out to the sea beyond. The coast road on the other side was soon climbing up to meet the main road that led round to Coldbackie.

There were people actually swimming around in the sea in the bay below even though it must have been freezing in there. I took a path down the valley, over a river, then up the other side to meet a little road. At the end of the road I was onto pathless, heathery land which was actually not too bad going. I got to a ruin from which a path was meant run but I couldn’t see it and was slightly disorientated. It was time to have some lunch and get the map out to work out where I was and where the path should be. This worked in the end and I found my way along to a track leading onwards to a road. Paths linked up the roads for a while before I took just the one road right along to Torrisdale bay. There was a ford over to the beach from the road so I took off my boots and went for it. The river bed was stony and painful underfoot which wasn’t ideal especially as there were three separate branches of the river to get through. It was knee deep at worst but I could dry out whilst I had a bare foot stroll along what was quite a picturesque beach. The beach is bordered on both sides by rivers so when I got to the other end I had to start inwards along the dune edge and put my boots on as it started to get rockier. Once I got to some stables I came up to a road and along to the bridge over the river. At Bettyhill I nipped into the shop there for some decent food, then I took the wrong road trying to get down to the beach. I chose better the second time and made my way down, through some fields and onto another really nice beach. There was a path onwards to Farr then a mixture of road and paths to Kirtomy. As I came into there it got dark and absolutely tipped it down. I had seen it coming over from out at sea so I had got on my waterproofs in preparation. Out of Kirtomy I took a dirt track up the hill and set up my tent on top where it was quite exposed and windy but at least I found a flat spot.


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