A stroll over Oldshoremore’s magnificent beaches
More Assynt photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskeaRmCc
After a peaceful night’s sleep, woke at 7am to a sunny morning with cloud building in the west. I had answered Nature’s call around 3am and the night sky was gorgeous . One advantage of having to get up in the night is, the sky can be mesmerising. I feel I can almost hear the stars sparkling above me, they seem so near, countless thousands appearing as my eyes adjust and then the thrill as the soft streak of a billion distant suns that is the Milky Way comes into focus.
Our beach was pretty gorgeous to wake up to also, with the surf breaking gently on the shore and the sea surprisingly calm.Too cold still for midges. A quick freshen with scented Nivea Wipes, a brush of the teeth and fresh undies and we were set to meet the day.
Made myself a Cup – o – Porridge, which you just pour hot water into and it was not bad at all.I like sugar in it however and it was a wee bit lacking in that for a porridge philistine like me. All washed down with a good few plastic tumblers of tea.
Oh, the luxury of not having to pack up again! Instead, we popped some supplies for the day – water, crisps, chocolate and fruit – into rucksacks, got the waterproof gear sorted and headed up to the car.
On the OS map, we’d spotted a little road leading off the main route above the beach which ended at the intriguingly named settlement of Rispond. Sounded interesting and decided we’d check it out first. The single track road took us up onto the cliff top above our beach then swept steeply down into the prettiest little harbour you could wish for.
We parked carefully on a grassy verge and strolled down the broken tarmac towards a small cluster of houses.The four or five 19th century buildings – two were very large – had been beautifully restored and overlooked an old stone jetty where a fishing boat was moored.Bathed in sunshine, it was breathtaking, an idyll, something you would see on a calendar front page.
Our footsteps broke the silence and brought a woman out of the handsome Estate house to check we weren’t up to no good.We must have scrubbed up enough to not look too much like ‘n’er do wells’ because she was soon smiling and friendly and telling us all about what had brought her and her husband here 15 years ago. She was an attractive blonde, an American and they had bought up the derelict properties after falling in love with the area. The properties were rented out as holiday accommodation while they lived part of the year in the main house itself.Tucked into a narrow, tiny inlet of the sea, the cluster of buildings was well protected from the storms that can ravage the coast in winter. One to note for the future – it looked like otter heaven all around here too.Said our goodbyes and headed back to the car, having fallen a little bit in love with the place.
It’s a spectacular drive to the beaches and that alone was worth looking forward to as we rushed past Sango Sands campsite and the signs for Smoo Cave. Neither of us are cave fans but it does attract a lot of visitors.In face, It almost seemed a sacrilege to shoot away from this wonderful area but the ‘problem’ with Durness and Assynt is, it’s all pretty fabulous.The high tops were still quite cloudy with summit gales and now that we were out of the shelter of the bay, we could feel the wind.Good choice, again, to avoid Arkle or Foinaven, frustrating though that was.
About 40 mins took us back along the Oldshoremore road.The scenery was outstanding everywhere and we vowed we’d come back in winter sometime and rent one of the many holiday houses which the croft land was dotted with – there really were some beautiful properties with outlooks to die for.
The large carpark at the beaches was quite empty at 10.30am and we headed up the steps onto the headland overlooking the bay. Under blue skies and the sharp light, it looked magnificent. A beach that just has to be walked on, irresistible.
It was a glorious half mile walk along the creamy sand, much paler than Sandwood Bay, quite different in character despite how close they are.The tide was still ebbing and wading birds scuttled here and there feeding near the surf – oystercatchers, dunlin, ringed plover and of course, black-headed gulls and an occasional skua.Offshore, gannets dived, snowy white against an ink blue sea.The light in western Scotland is the stuff of legend, an ever changing kaleidoscope of colour as clouds billow and clear and the sun lights up one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes.The more I travel, the more I see some of our planet’s beautiful places, the more I recognise the world class quality of what we have on our own doorstep. I’ve not yet found coastal scenery to beat the North West Highlands and islands, though some of South Africa’s Western Cape has come close.
The first beach peters out into rocky headlands and a tidal island but we scrambled up onto higher ground again and climbed over a broken drystane dyke with the aim of visiting the second, hidden beach. It’s beautiful country to walk through – hillocky and undulating, a mixture of emerald grass and pinkish Lewisian Gneiss rocks – amongst the world’s oldest.Consequently, Assynt LOOKS ancient.The rocks really are the giveaway and they seem to change colour in the light, from rosy pink, to silvery blue-purple. They colour the landscape all year round. Now, spring wildflowers added to the colour, carpeting the ground with the yellow of tormentil, white clover and daisies, pink sea thrift and purple vetch.The air in the Highlands is always sweet but in spring and summer, it becomes almost heady with the perfume of wildflowers – nowhere more so than in the Hebrides with their meadows of machair.
And there it was suddenly, the ‘secret’ beach, coming into view as we topped a little high point. A few minutes making our way down by the easiest route and we were strolling its sands, an ‘even further from the madding crowd’ spot.
Ben Stack reared its shapely head in the far distance, the only mountain which seemed to be clear. It’s one of these places you don’t really want to do anything in, except just BE. Drink it all in and feel the sun in your bones and just be very thankful that you are alive and healthy and here, seeing this special place at its very best.
We found a sheltered corner a little out of the breeze and got ourselves up on a dry flat rock and enjoyed some nectarines and just admired what is a stunningly beautiful place, one of many in the NW Highlands.
More than two hours after setting out, having taken our time on the stroll back and hunkered behind a rock to escape the worst of a sudden drenching shower, we were back at the car, not quite believing our luck in having another – mostly – sunny day to enjoy this wonderful coastline.
It was now almost 1.30pm and the lunch we promised ourselves was only 25 mins or so away in tiny Tarbert, the setting off point for Handa Island.
The Shorehouse is a converted white washed croft house sitting in its own garden, a haven of prettiness in the rocky, emerald and very wild landscape.The tortuous single track felt like a rollercoaster ride as we headed off the fast main road and began the winding 3 miles or so to the jetty. Kept a look out for Black Throated Divers (Loons) but no joy. It was a beautiful afternoon now – despite the forecast of more heavy showers – and we made a beeline for the Cafe’s outside deck and the chance to soak up a few more UV rays: they can be in short supply in Scotland.
Inside, it was quite busy and the small car park was full, mostly with folks who were already over in the beautiful RSPB reserve of Handa. It’s a wonderful trip out to the island with its mighty cliffs and huge seabird colonies, its circular walk over the moorland with peregrine falcons hunting and Great Skuas patrolling above your head.They nest on the island in very large numbers and you are warned not to go off the duck boarding or risk getting attacked by a pretty scary seabird which we’ve seen drown other birds.They are big and aggressive, quite fearless.
Ordered a seafood platter to share and Chris had a glass of Sauvignon while I had sparkling water. Smoked salmon , smoked mackerel, 4 langoustines, excellent herring,dressed crab and some salad with oil and vinegar to douse with (never hugely successful I always think), some bread and a serving of boiled potatoes.We enjoyed it hugely, quality stuff and the location is unbeatable but the platter – £28 I think – could perhaps have been a bit more adventurous and generous.Scotland has some of the world’s best seafood/shellfish but you do pay for it.
The all important question though – would we come again? Oh yes we would , in a heartbeat.The whole place is memorable, even getting here is an experience in itself.
I was driving now and was keen to detour a little bit on our way back to Durness and have a look at Loch Stack, below Arkle. It’s another spot we thought we might camp, if we’d been doing the hill, a wild, lonely loch with just a couple of shielings and an old Estate house.We’d had a picnic lunch there years ago and it had made a big impression on me.As it did again as we pulled up alongside its deserted shores and just sat in the silence for a few minutes, admiring it all.
We were keen to spend a bit more time at the Beach of the Burn of Loss, such a lovely place despite its sad name.Picked up some fresh rolls in the Spar in Durness and some tuna, cannellini beans, red onions and balsamic dressing to make up good old Tuna con Fagioli for dinner, a big favourite and, always a plus, no cooking.
it was a gorgeous evening and we had another stroll on the beach before heading up to the tent and relaxing on the chairs.Yes – they were out again.Two days in a row – a record.I still find them an absolute luxury as for years, Chris hated the idea of them and we were always perched on a rock somewhere instead. I don’t have back problems but by heavens, I felt as if I soon would if we didn’t invest in something more comfortable for my 57 year old weary body to rest on of an evening.So I mutinied one day at Go Outdoors and bought two for £14 – complete with dinky little drinks holders.Chris eyed them suspiciously when I brought them out on a trip to Mull last year. We’ll be setting up on a motorway lay-by next, said he, depressed at the idea of succumbing to such middle-aged behaviour.Sitting on a rock is much more macho.It took one evening settled in comfortably with his wine nestling in its holder, to convinced him that just for once , I was right. So the chairs are now part of our growing ‘must have’ stuff for comfortable camping.
We toasted our plastic tumblers of sparkling wine to this, our lovely wee home for two nights, sorry that this was our last night here.Tomorrow, we were back at Stoer and Stac Fada, our B&B for one night. A chance to shower, freshen up properly and do some wi-fi stuff and catching up.
Spent the rest of the evening until 10pm ish , reading and sending some text messages (there was just enough signal for that) and hearing how the boys were getting on back in Glasgow and Edinburgh.Caught the Shipping Forecast earlier which promised showers and a pretty wet night tomorrow so we consoled ourselves with the thought that we were probably much better off tucked into a comfy B&B than getting blasted by the rain, no matter how beautiful it all was here.But we vowed to come back.This was a very special pitch, a dream boat of a place which had rocketed into our Top 10 list of fine camping spots.