Durness to Lochinver
An astonishing landscape now awaits south of Durness. Amazing Assynt which is believed to have inspired Tolkein to create mythical Middle Earth.I feel I run out of words to describe this western coastline and mountain landscape from here down to Torridon. I’ve not yet found anywhere else on earth to equal Scotland’s West Highlands and Islands coastline for sublime beauty. Assynt itself is a land of Inselberg mountains – each rises splendid and isolated from the knolly, rock – and – lochan strewn landscape giving this area a very unique look.Some people have reported feeling almost intimidated by it.For many others, including one of our finest poets, Norman MacCaig, it becomes an obsession.For more photos of the area – https://flic.kr/s/aHskeaRmCc
For Day 1 – NORTH COAST 500 DAY 1 Inverness to John O’Groats
Day 2 – NORTH COAST 500 DAY 2 John O’Groats to Durness
Day 4 – North Coast 500 Lochinver to Torridon
Day 5 – NORTH COAST 500 DAY 5 Torridon to Inverness
But before continuing south, we decided on the spur of the moment to see Cape Wrath.This trip requires a LOT of luck if it’s going to happen.You can’t book in advance – it’s a case of queueing up at the tiny jetty and taking your chance that the single minibus awaiting on the other side of the Kyle won’t fill up too quickly.It takes 16 people at a time max.If you don’t get on the morning trip, it’s a 3-4 hour wait till the afternoon. Also, the tide might be too low for the boat to cross or the weather might turn too nasty. The tide was so low when we crossed, they had to use the smallest boat they had which could only take 5 people at a time .So it made multiple journeys to ferry the first 16 people across to the bus. Many people were disappointed as the queue was like that for an execution.For more detail on our adventure (which we loved) see…..Cape Wrath and Kylesku
We had a great half day out.Not including queueing for the boat and the five minute sail across, it’s a three hour commitment, this trip – minimum. I wouldn’t do the trip again and it’s not a must see, but I’m glad we ticked it off this once. The cliff scenery is really impressive and it IS a famous spot, really remote. The bus driver was a hoot, great sense of humour, lots of laughs going out and back. It’s an experience!
The drive south from Durness, one we’ve done many times, is just incredible. Single track road but with long sight lines so you can see well ahead if anyone else is coming your way. This is huge and empty country. Even in gloomy weather it looks stunning. The big mountains of Foinaven and Arkle loom left, their quarzite screes glistening like snow. Take off for a walk inland here and you probably won’t meet another soul for days.
Oldshoremore Beaches (for more on our time here – The Oldshoremore Beaches
A stunningly beautiful series of shell sand beaches/coves set in classic Assynt landscapes. Ancient Lewisian Gneiss, the rock greyish pink, endless headlands and a hinterland which has been moulded by glaciers, leaving the landscape like something out of Jurassic Park. Hummocks and hollows and myriad lochans, home to one of our most beautiful birds, the wild Black Throated Diver or Loon. Its unearthly , haunting cries can be heard across Assynt in summer.
It’s around a 20 minute detour off the main road to Oldshoremore to the beach car park, a great drive in itself (they all are here). It shouldn’t be missed.
There are toilets and the first and largest beach is only a minute’s walk away. The views out to islands and headlands is mesmerising.
We wandered along the huge sands then across the slightly boggy ground at the end of the beach which leads to a more remote cove of stunning beauty. A minor clamber took us down onto the pristine, empty sands with views of pyramid – like Ben Stack. With wild surf rolling in, it was a fabulous spot.
For walkers who don’t want to venture onto the big hills, this is the long walk to do.It’s over 4 miles each way from the car park at Blairmore to Sandwood Bay, often called the UK’s most beautiful beach. It’s difficult to judge because the Outer Hebrides have stunning strands, but it’s one of the top 10 I would say, an amazingly wild, isolated pink strand , totally unspoiled, with layer upon layer of coastal cliffs disappearing 11 miles north up Cape Wrath. No access unless you walk, no buildings, houses…just moorland wilderness.
I was a bit sceptical the first time we made our way out here, wondering whether it would be worth the effort but oh, it was. The track is an excellent one and very easy with only a small descent to the beach.But it’s feels a long way over the empty moorland and my feet certainly felt the distance coming back. For our first walk in to Sandwood see Sandwood Bay and Durness
We loved it so much, we also wild camped here in June 2017, taking all our gear in and watching an amazing sunset. It’s a difficult place to leave. There is an old ruined house inland, long abandoned and reputed to be haunted by a sailor from long ago. It’s such a lonely place all round, it’s very easy to believe the story.
Fantastic half day trip to this Nature Reserve with superb cliff scenery, huge seabird colonies – 100,000 guillemots alone – nesting on the impressive Stack of Handa and the cliff faces. We drove to tiny Tarbert , another amazing detour off the main NC500, on a rollercoaster of single track road, a real introduction to Assynt driving!
We parked at the Seafood Cafe and, given the beautiful weather, decided to have lunch on their terrace.The cafe/ restaurant is right beside where the boat leaves for Handa.
The boat trip itself only takes about 20 minutes, a beautiful journey out into the bay with oystercatchers calling and bobbing seals. We were landed at Handa’s lovely white sand beach from where we made our way up to the Ranger’s Hut.
Everyone has to listen to the five minute talk on walking on the island which is protected. Duck boarding makes for dryish walking which climbs up to the unfenced cliffs.Before us was truly outstanding coastal scenery.
Great Skuas and Pomerine Skuas patrol the wildflower dotted moorland en route to the cliffs.This is their nesting area and woe betide anyone who ventures off the path! These are big , marauding, aggressive birds, magnificent to see, truly wild seabirds and they will attack. It’s quite an experience to see one coming in to see you off, its black eyes watching intensely as it hones in on its target – your head.
Last visit, we watched red throated divers, gorgeous birds, swimming serenely on a small lochan near the cliff edge.
It’s enough just to reach this point, where the cliffs rear up and the rocky mountainous coastline is revealed in its full glory. But it’s even better – after a picnic lunch at the top and watching for whales – to continue your walk round the rest of the island.It’s a tiny island and doesn’t take long and the track is clear. The views over to the Assynt mountains south of here – Suilven and Quinag and the rest – is outstanding.
Then back to the white sand beach and time to pick up the next boat back to Tarbert. It runs pretty constantly all day, back and forth.
It’s worth driving on after the Handa trip to the ends of the little minor road to either Foindle or Fanagmore. It’s like stepping back in time and either place gives wonderful views over ethereal Loch Laxford. Peace comes dropping slow here.
Boat trips take you round the loch, leaving from Fanagmore or Foindle , but check online for up to date info.
It’s well worth the 10 minute detour at Laxford Bridge junction to sit beside this loneliest of lochs. Stunning views all around this incredibly beautiful stretch of water, with mighty Arkle mountain rearing 2,500 feet over all.Higher again, Foinaven sits beyond.
A tiny settlement with an excellent Inn, a few petrol pumps , several houses and nothing much else.The Inn is well worth a stop for lunch. There’s a big focus on seafood, as ever around the west coast.
Another boat trip here goes out on Loch Glencoul’s cold, remote scenic waters to give a view (from a distance ) of Britain’s highest waterfall – Eas a’ Chual Aluinn.It’s not hugely impressive from this distance, I thought, but the trip itself is nice. Seals too. But my favourite activity here is just ‘being’ at the Inn, enjoying lunch or coffee. It would be a lovely place to stay and be based but gets booked up very quickly.
There are some lovely short easy walks in the area too. Before the Kylesku Bridge (north side) there is a little road goes off to the left and you can park and walk out alongside Loch Glendhu on a good track, amidst beautiful scenery and utter peace. Seals around also.
The Coast Road to Lochinver
One of the most tortuous, single track roads in the Highlands….plenty competitors but this one makes for tough driving! Plenty to see en route and Stoer Lighthouse is a great detour too.BUT – I prefer the drive over the hill pass to Loch Assynt and on to Lochinver that way.
What I never miss, but it can be accessed in about 20 minutes from Lochinver itself, is a visit to Achmelvich beach which, despite the caravan site behind it, is a place of great beauty.The 6 mile drive from Lochinver is also a superb introduction to more of the incredible Assynt landscape.
The Hill Road to Lochinver
A fantastic drive with mighty Quinag opposite, stunning views throughout as the road climbs then winds its way down to Loch Assynt. If clear, the views to Suilven, the Sugar Loaf mountain, are breath-taking.
Ruined Ardvreck Castle is well worth a stop, sitting on lonely Loch Assynt and surrounded by classic Assynt scenery. I just love it here.
The road sweeps round the loch, with wonderful up close and personal views of Quinag. Try to see it of an evening when the sun lights up its rocky flanks. Majestic.
Then finally Lochinver is reached, an attractive small village with a tumbling river running through it, the colour of whisky. It’s a small fishing port too with boats going out to the really deep oceanic water beyond the sheltered sea loch.
It makes for a great base, with some lovely accommodation ranging from The Albannach, a Michelin dining country style property; to Inver Lodge, a swish hotel with the dining room run by Albert Roux. The latter is in a superb location. Several privately owned B&Bs too are on offer and there are some lovely self catering cottages in the area.
This year, we stayed in beautiful Glencanisp Lodge, a country pile in the most stunning location with views of Suilven which took our breath away. The hiking track to the mountain goes through the Lodge’s grounds. Total peace beside trout-filled Loch Sionascaig.
We had an excellent lunch in the Inver Lodge but Lochinver does well for food for such a small place so there are several choices. Don’t miss the pies in the Lochinver Larder!
Next Day: Lochinver to Torridon –