Week 1 of my six week walk around the northwest of Scotland is complete and what a week it was. I will run out of superlatives by then end of this section so forgive me for the overuse of the words stunning, amazing, beautiful and many others.
I picked up my VW campervan from Stuart of Strathpeffer Campers and headed straight up to the north coast, crunching the poor gearbox at regular intervals. The unique setup of the gears left me floundering and cursing at critical moments but I eventually got used to first gear being bottom left and move up to second gear. I reached Reay and parked for a moment remembering the sad evening a few months ago where, exhausted and unwell I made the difficult but ultimately sensible decision to abandon NW Scotland and return home to get better. Reay hadn’t changed much but I certainly had.
I soon got into the rhythm of driving to my end point, hitching back then walking to the campervan. Over the course of this week, I improved my hitching techniques and then I stumbled on a better way of doing this. I park in a viewing area and wait for people to stop and then ambush them with my story. Suddenly I went from potential axe murderer with his thumb out to a mad eccentric Essex boy on a mission. So thank you: Tom, Ken and Deidrie (oh I know you couldn’t make it up! As a Corrie fan I pretended to be Mike Baldwin), Svetlana and Aurule (I didnt check spelling) and two others that I didn’t get their names. Maybe I could call them Jack and Vera.
Seeing the campervan in the distance makes the last section so much easier. I collapse into it and doze for a while then pop the kettle on. The evenings are a really special time. Closing the curtains and putting up the bed can take quite a while but the extra stretching is probably helping. Once the lights are off and I am tucked up in bed, the real magic of a campervan takes over. The patter of drizzle or the gentle rocking by the wind (external not mine) makes a soothing end to each day.
So, this week I racked up 76 miles with plenty of hills and it was all done in typical Scottish weather ie unpredictable and changeable. Kyle of Tongue and Loch Eriboll were some of the highlights even though the weather wasn’t particularly great, they both were stunning.
It was the beaches in and around Durness that blew me away towards the end of the week.
Saturday, with blue skies and bright sunshine I made my way to Keoldale to catch the ferry over the Kyle of Durness to go to the most North Westerly point on mainland Britain – Cape Wrath. I was overjoyed that it was such great weather for the trip however this elation soon turned sour as the ferryman told me that the winds were too high to go across. I was gutted. He has a little speedboat and towards the middle of the day, as the wind increased, I saw his reasoning.
I had got chatting to Terry, a man from Kent who was in a campervan close to the ferry and after a bit of deliberation, I decided not to waste the good weather and do Monday’s walk instead. So Terry and I drove to Shegra and set off of on an out and back walk to the amazingly stunning beautiful Sandwood Bay beach. There were couples having romantic lunches on the beach looking out across the white sands to the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly for them they were joined by big burly man from Kent and a show off in a BHF top but we didn’t stay long. The peace and beauty of the bay returned after we left.
The walk to and from Sandwood Bay was not that strenuous and I would highly recommend this day out on a fine day. The most remote corner of Britain has to be seen.
To finish off a splendid day we went to the pub as it is the law that all splendid days should end in the pub. Durness Sando bay Oasis pub was packed, well I say packed – everyone had a seat. Terry and I looked at the photos and videos of the day and drank the local ale. We politely mocked three people who were hitting the surround of the dartboard more times than the dartboard itself and listened to the locals talking about the weather. A young couple came in and as they sat down near us they groaned like old people do. I asked if they were ok and the man simply replied “Ben Nevis”
I said “Hello Ben” but he looked confused. Ester and Erik were from Holland and had came over to Scotland for 3 days to climb Ben Nevis, motorbike up to Durness and go back to the ferry in Newcastle and back to Holland. A speedy mountain fix. We all joked about being English, Dutch and wanting to be Scottish and as the pub got louder our Dutch Essex and Kent accents became more noticeable. Their eyes eventually began to droop with fatigue not my schoolboy humour and we decided to end the night at 10pm.
Terry, a biker himself wanted to see their bikes so we trampled in the dark to their campsite to take look. I have very little interest in motorbikes but thanks to my new “say yes” mantra I was to witness a surreal ritual. Here in a field in one of the most remote villages in Britain stood 4 adults in a circle beaming 4 mobile phone torches at two bikes. It was like a scene from Harry Potter. Phrases such as “fuel consumption” and “horse power” were like spells, cast into the blustery night and sent towards the artic circle ahead of us.
I wondered how long this ritual would last. Three petrolheads and one unleaded dipstick. I muttered “mmmm” every now and the, mainly just to tell them I was still alive. After what seemed like a all night long bike party, we parted safe in the knowledge that Anglo Dutch relations over motorbikes were as strong as ever.
Today, Sunday, is my day off and tomorrow I will attempt Cape Wrath again with the forecast less windy. Then I start heading south.