The Cape Wrath Experience. Watery postcards from North-West Scotland.

A powerful waterfall above Bucktooth’s Meadow in Glen Golly. We were going to camp in the meadow on our third night, but nay sooner than we’d selected a passable pitch a swarm of midges materialised and we legged it sharpish.

Two weeks ago I was on a hike in the extreme North-West of Scotland with two friends from uni. This was Team Seatle’s fourth big walk together, having previously done Lake Windermere and Coniston Water in the Lake District in 2007, Blair Atholl to Aviemore through the Cairngorms in 2008, and the Skye Trail in 2010. This year, because of some spectacularly wet weather, we had to cut short our planned route. Yet despite our perpetually saturated boots (leading to some impressively sore feet on my part), we still managed to enjoy four days of walking and three nights of camping in an incredibly remote and beautiful part of the country.

I drove us up from Edinburgh on Saturday the 28th of May and we stayed the night in the Durness youth hostel. The bunkhouse was pretty basic, but as we discovered later in the week, the communal area in the second building was lovely and cosy. In the morning we caught the ferry across the Kyle of Durness - we were lucky the ferrymen decided it was safe to cross as the sour weather had prevented any crossings being made the previous day. On the other side of the water we walked through an incredible rainstorm to arrive soaking wet at Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point of mainland Britain; we camped just south of the Cape that night. A sunny Monday saw us walking south towards Sandwood Loch before turning east up a long glen where we made camp again. It bucketed it down during the night, but Tuesday (Day Three) gave us pleasant weather. This was a long day of walking up and down glens, past lochs and waterfalls, for miles and miles and miles. We camped not far from Glen Golly, and as we were eating our evening meal the rain started up again. It rained hard all night and we seriously thought the tent wouldn’t make it through to the morning, the wind was giving us that much of a hard time. (We should never have doubted the tent.; it was only forty pounds from Halfords but it has seen us through all four walks!) We were rained on all day Wednesday as we followed the road down Strathmore to Loch Hope. Here we turned onto the Moine Path, which was pegged as one of the trip highlights. Unfortunately, three weeks of unseasonally bad weather (and I suppose that’s saying something for this part of the world) had turned the path into a seriously unpleasant quagmire. After trudging uphill for an hour (my wet boots had been busy on my feet the past few days so I was limping quite badly), we came to the first of fourteen rivers marked on the map. The river before us was a raging torrent, though I suspect it is usually a quiet stream. Well, we were wet enough already without performing another river crossing, and we reasoned that we might struggle across seven rivers only to be well and truly blocked by the eighth, so we made the decision to retrace our steps back down the Moine Path.

I hitch-hiked back to Durness to collect the car, then I drove us to Tongue were we spent Wednesday night in considerable luxury at the youth hostel there (where we had planned to stay anyway), after a grand meal in the bar at the Tongue Hotel. The next day we were tourists, visiting places like the cleared township of Ceannabeinne, the ‘beach of the burn of the old woman’, and the awesome Smoo Cave. The night we spent back in Durness hostel, and we drove back to Edinburgh on Friday the 3rd of June. Quite an adventure!

I know that hasn’t got anything to do with trees, but it sets the scene for the handful of photos I took that actually have trees in them. There aren’t many trees up in that wild land.

We passed this rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) on Day One soon after crossing over the Kyle of Durness on the ferry (which was just a really small boat). It was just coming into flower.

The Kyle stretches out behind the rowan. In the distance we saw a group of seals chilling on a sand bank.

On Day Three a landrover track we had been following ended abruptly at a loch. We followed deer tracks around the edge of the loch and had to cross over this boisterous stream which was at the foot of a very impressive waterfall… (The tree in this photo is another rowan. The vast majority of trees we saw were rowans or downy birches (Betula pubescens)).

…this waterfall. Seeing the waterfalls in full flow was definitely a worthy pay-off for suffering with incessantly-soaking boots. We filled our water bottles at this one. The water was good.

This is another ‘tree’ that we saw a lot of. It was common on the boggy moors and grew no taller than the grass and heather. I’m fairly sure that it’s some dwarfish species of alpine willow, but I can’t make a positive ID. Can anybody help me out with this one?

We walked past this broch in the rain on Day Four (the stone structure by the river). We passed it again driving back to Edinburgh so we stopped to take photos in better weather. According to the information board: ”When built about 2000 years ago, Dun Dornaigil (or Dornadilla, as it is also called) would have stood about twice as high. Its drystone walls formed a complete circle, pierced only by a single narrow entrance. The walls were hollow, and within their thickness a stone stair gave access to several narrow galleries, probably used for storage. The inner courtyard would have held a thatched wooden dwelling which housed the small farming community who had built the broch as a shelter against marauding raiders.” The Strath More river is calm in this photo, but when two days earlier it was flowing frighteningly fast.

We stopped for a bit at Glenmore near Aviemore on the way back to Edinburgh. This is the view across Loch Morlich to the Cairngorms; those leaves in the foreground are common alder (Alnus glutinosa). The weather was phenomenally nice, so it was a bit weird to be seeing snow on the tops. After resting by the loch-side for a while, we headed to the café adjoining the visitor centre for cake and a drink… which was exactly what we did as we passed through near the end of our big hike in 2008! I thought that was a nice touch.


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June’s video-laden edition of the Festival of the Trees - No. 60 - is hosted by Brenda of Rubies in Crystal. Go read / watch!


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