Friday, June 17, 2011

Cape Wrath Trail, Day 13 to 15

Day 13

Strathcailleach to Cape Wrath, & on to Kearvaig

After yesterday's navigation debacle, I had the map & compass out to plan my route in detail. Oscar and Mark gave me the grid reference for the point they'd crossed the MOD fence the day before. I took a bearing, estimated the distance at 3 km, and judged it would take about an hour over trackless but clear ground. So 56 minutes later, I was gratified to be striding up to exactly the point where they had covered the barbed wire with plastic bottles, to climb over. From there, I took another bearing, taking me over a small hill and meeting the track to Cape Wrath Lighthouse, about 4.5 km away. At the top of the hill, I could see the track but not the lighthouse. I had a surge of relief and exctiement; barring a very unlikely accident, I knew I was going to make it!

I reached the track just over an hour later, and then strode out along it to the lighthouse. This is hidden around the other side of a small hill, so you don't see it until only a couple of hundred metres away.

I noticed there was a small cafe there, but I'd planned to make a brew myself. I sat in front of the wall, out of the wind, looking out over the Atlantic, next stop Newfoundland (I couldn't see it.) I'd been saving a small cake (chocolate brownie) for the occasion, and had it with a cup of tea, watching a skein of geese fly past. As I was packing up, a minibus arrived with a group of tourists. After 2 weeks of near-solitude, I was perhaps a bit too eager to talk to them. However they all seemed impressed when I told them I'd walked there! I caught up with their driver in the cafe, and arranged to be picked up from Kearvaig Bothy at 1pm the next day (thus saving me a long walk to the Kyle of Durness).

Strolling down the track towards Kearvaig, I had a sense of quiet achievement. I'd made it to the Cape within 2 weeks, mostly under my own steam (hitched rides aside!) I'd been under a mild but constant pressure to keep walking, and get just that little bit further each day. Now that pressure was lifted, and I now I could look forward to a relaxing night in a good bothy.

Kearvaig Bay came into view, and didn't disappoint. A perfect golden beach, enclosed by high cliffs, with a turquoise sea breaking over the rocks, and the white-walled bothy set on a green lawn. No-one else was there, but there was a box of firewood and a supply of bottled water, left by the MOD who use it regularly. I had a brew, then went out exploring. It was a windy and hazy day, with a slight haar coming in off the sea. When I got back to the bothy, three fishermen had arrived, with a very welcome bag of coal; and then later more walkers arrived. The weather improved, and we all enjoyed a clear if chilly evening, watching the lingering rays of the sun slowly fade, and the stars come out overhead. In the gloaming, we also spotted a fox trotting along the beach, no doubt in search of seabird nests. An idyllic end to a fantastic walk!

Distance: 17.5 Km
Time: 4.5 hrs

Day 14

Kearvaig back to Ullapool

I felt I deserved a lie in, but even so I was up reasonably early. It was a sunny and breezy day, and the bay looked even more beautiful in the clear morning air. I took a walk up along the clifftops, taking pictures of the nesting birds on the cliffs. At one point I disturbed the fox, which ran off from behind a rock, where it had presumably been dozing and dreaming of fresh eggs. The others had all gone off for the day, so fittingly enough I had a last brew and lunch on my own, then walked up the track to wait for the minibus.

I was picked up shortly after 1pm, and was soon at the Kyle of Durness, another beautiful spot. Seals basked along golden sandbars, and a variety of sea and land-birds wheeled around us. The "ferry" arrived, actually just a man in an open boat with an outboard motor. As it was still windy, we had a bit of a soaking on the way over, although it was still sunny.

At Durness, I first thought I might have made a mistake. I was relying on hitching a lift south to Ullapool, but it was a suspiciously quiet road! I just had to be patient though, and after a while a retired couple picked me up. They were on a scenic drive, and decided they might as well go to Ullapool too, so they very kindly took me all the way to the campsite. I celebrated that evening at the Seaforth Hotel, in their seafood bar, with a huge plate of their award winning fish and chips. 

Day 15

Ullapool to Glenfinnan

Another early start, and breakfast at the Tea Store; then I started hitching back to Glenfinnan. The day went very well, with my first lift taking me to the outskirts of Inverness; the second down Loch Ness as far as Drumdrochit; and the third all the way back to my car at Glenfinnan.

I arrived at the car two weeks and half an hour after leaving. A quite surreal feeling! I changed into some clean "ordinary" clothes, and set off back down to England; with a strange mixture of feelings. Relief at finishing and everything going to plan; proud that I'd made it without any major mishaps; delighted with such fine weather; anticipation of sleeping in my own bed that night; but sad to be leaving that beautiful country.

I promised myself, I'd be back soon!

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