19th September to 29th September
For years I had wanted to visit Cape Wrath, the most north westerly point of the United Kingdom. My venture aroused so much interest that I have condensed it to 44 pictures and a brief account of a wonderfully interesting, sociable, funny and epic solo road trip; the sort of dotty idea that caused my nearest and dearest to say, "You're on your own with this one."
Once establishing I was on my own, the choices were all down to me, which makes travelling solo quite an indulgence.
I chose to drive (as opposed to rail and car hire) in an anticlockwise direction via Rattray, Blairgowrie, Tomintoul and Tain, taking three days each on both the outward and return journeys, unwittingly, when planning, starting the day after the Scottish Referendum. Returning via Ullapool and Dunoon, all were stop-offs which interested me for a variety of reasons.
I booked six nights bed and breakfast in Durness, the closest point at which to access the Cape Wrath peninsula by boat. Access can be made from the south but it is a long and tricky route, now described as the hardest of all the UK long-distance footpaths as it crosses miles of sand dunes and peat hags, windswept, isolated and with swiftly changing weather conditions. The partner of John, who runs the country's most isolated café at Cape Wrath lighthouse, Ozone, famously was marooned near Durness for four weeks, having left Cape Wrath to do the Christmas food shopping and was unable to return because of the inclement weather.
I went to Cape Wrath on two days which satisfied my curiosity, but I never expected to love the whole area so much and to find it so interesting.
Travel to the lighthouse begins with a short ferry trip, weather permitting, from Keoldale, then a minibus crosses the remaining eleven miles to the lighthouse via the U70 road, largely unmaintained and built to accommodate nothing larger than a horse and cart.
Sparsely-populated Sutherland has a beauty and grace all of its own, the stunning beaches are sandy and empty and the historic associations with Highland Clearances and World War 2 full of interest.
Total mileage in the 875cc Fiat Panda was 1,305 miles, averaging 39 mph (including the motorways, when I covered ground much faster), much of the north coast having single track roads with passing places.
Excellent walks, some thanks to the useful and downloadable Durness Walking Network book, and some just by using the map and largely well-signposted paths.
Impressively connected take-away in Rattray
Cargill's Leap information
River Ericht between Blairgowrie and Rattray
Tomintoul Museum language lesson
Looking back to the Cairngorms
Looking back at the Cromarty Firth
First glimpse of the Sutherland coast at Tongue
The first of many beautiful beaches, Sango Bay
Keoldale, near Durness
Flexible ferry arrangements, max. 16 passengers
Cape Wrath 1905 foghorn
Long-held ambition realised
Relic of the neglected U70 road
Lloyds building radio signalling and receiving
The Parph, Norse meaning turning point
Permanent residents, just one
On an ancient point of mixed gneiss and sandstone
No trees on The Parph, just peat hags
Beautiful, dangerous, lonely
Kervaig Bay and 'cathedral' sea stack
Friends in Durness
Smoo, Durness, site of Smoo Cave
Smoo, huge cave
Access down the ladder into the boat
John Lennon memorial, Durness, his family connections and holidays
WW2 bunker, Durness
Sandwood Bay, access only by foot, 9 miles round trip
Kinlochbervie, tiny but busy
Danish potter, Lotte Glob, lives near Durness
Lotte Glob's work reflects her hobby
Wind causes the weather to change quickly
Runriggs, field systems at Scourie
Loopallu music festival, Ullapool
By Panda and ferry, Dunoon to Gourock