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davidx Durness - A travel report by David
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Durness,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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davidx's travel reports

Durness and Scotland’s far northwest.

  14 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Isn’t Durness itself Scotland’s far northwest? Certainly you won’t get farther NW by car, but we can be more general and refer to the far northwest as a whole area or more accurate and look at Faraidh Head and Cape Wrath. Here we’ll do both.

We can define our area as the road from the bridge at Kylescu/Kylestrome to Durness, anything west of it and the mountains of Ben Stack, Arkle and Foinaven to it’s east. We haven’t finished with Torridonian sandstone yet but now it is coastal stacks and the bird island of Handa, rather than the mountains, which are now capped with quartzite. Kylescu, reached as we drop from Quinag, [see Achiltibuie/Lochinve-r report] was the site of a ferry, free for many years, across the waters of Loch Glencoul and Loch Glendhu which join there. The Kylescu Hotel does boat trips on Loch Glencoul. If you’re lucky, you may see an otter but you can guarantee activity in the heronry at the right season and your chance of seals and red deer is good. Near the head of the loch is Eas a Chual Aluinn, Britain’s highest waterfall, but only the height could impress. The width is insignificant and it’s a bit like a high drip. From Kylestrome the road winds past some pretty lochans, where you might be lucky enough to spot a nesting red throated diver in the right season. After Scourie the road [A894] turns northeast so you have to take a minor road to the west to reach Tarbet and the passenger ferry to Handa. [see later] Shortly after this the road runs into the A838 from Lairg to Durness. If we turn right for a moment, towards Lairg, we shall shortly run between Arkle to our left and the small but fascinating Ben Stack to our right. Back to the junction and towards Durness we soon come to Rhiconnich and a turn left onto a B road to a surprisingly important fishing town, Kinlochbervie and beyond leading ultimately to the track towards Sandwood Bay. The A838 continues northeast to Durness, shortly before it passing a minor road left to Keoldale and a passenger ferry across the Kyle of Durness [see later]. At Durness there’s still a tiny bit more, unclassified road west then north to the craft village of Balnakeil And a short roadless peninsula stretches north to Faraidh Head.

Favourite spots:
Wow – what a choice! It might be different if we hadn’t had dense mist on our trip to Cape Wrath but I’m going to choose Faraidh Head. This wonderful peninsula stretching NNW from Durness has so much and I’ve been there three times. On one of them we watched the eider ducks [not a drake in sight] each leading a family group through tough waves, having somehow got them from Scandinavia to Scotland. This is on the east coast. The west coast is a long and lovely beach, where gannets can often be seen diving offshore. There is also the craft village of Balnakeil, the buildings being erected in the late 1950’s for the possibility of nuclear war! At the headland there are high cliffs with great gullies where seals can be watched swimming and playing on a fine day. You might prefer to avoid looking at them in very high winds as you can do nothing to help them in their struggles.

What's really great:
Handa Island can be delayed no longer. www.kylescu gives the details of ferry crossings from the tiny village of Tarbet. The island might well be considered attractive enough, even without its main asset because the Torridonian sandstone cliffs and stacks are pretty majestic but what draws people is the world standard bird reserve. All the awks are to be found there, kittiwakes in profusion, fulmars, terns and gulls, sheerwaters and great and arctic skuas. These and their eggs, of course, attract other birds, though I don’t know whether the magnificent sea [wuite-tailed] eagles, re-introduced successfully from Norway after extinction in the UK, are yet to be spotted here. See also www.undiscoveredscot-l and try to imagine the life of the people who lived on Handa prior to the potato famine of the 1840s. Last time I was there, the cafe at Tarbet did delicious ‘small bites’.

It’s a bit cheeky putting it under sights because sadly we saw mostly mist, but you can’t win ‘em all! I mentioned the passenger ferry at Keoldale across the Kyle of Durness. Having crossed you find a road that connects with no other roads in the UK, leading to the far northwest tip of Scotland, where a lighthouse stands [unstaffed as they all are now] at Cape Wrath. Whereas there’s a sort of magic about that idea, and I’m told that John o’Groats simply doesn’t compare, you may prefer to be dropped off about a mile before by the minibus that only ever does this route for the high, steep and potentially dangerous bird cliffs.
If you’re in the mood for serious trecking, you can plough on round the coast to reach Sandwood bay, claimed by some to be the most beautiful in the UK. Not for me; I went to this beach via the road previously mentioned via Kinlochbervie, which is a boring walk but a superb objective at the end at this long, gracious empty beach with magnificent sea stacks.

I camped with four of my children at Sango Bay in Durness. It was a lovely setting with the Orkney Islands clearly in view. Unfortunately that’s a bad weather sign and two neighbouring tents took off for goodness knows where during the night. We tried to help to keep one but gave up when Bill at about 12 seemed likely to join the tent in its flight!

Other recommendations:
Mountains of course. I mentioned three. Arkle looks OK from afar but I found it a bore. Foinaven is a very different proposition. Whereas it never makes the magic 3000 feet to be a Munroe, it forms an extensive range with numerous separate tops. Unbelievably wealthy looking shooting parties from nearby estates are to be seen setting out, after sending back their minions to remove people like us, parking with no possible harm to anyone off the road! Even so, your chance of seeing a herd of deer on one of the ridges is very good.
Ben Stack is lower still, considerably. It’s not even a Corbett, mountain between 2500 and 3000 feet. OK laugh, members who live among high mountains but if you saw it, you’d want to go up and it would be a wish justified in the outcome. I can’t possibly convey its appeal as well as www.undiscoveredsco

Published on Thursday May 5th, 2005

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Sat, May 07 2005 - 07:39 PM rating by gloriajames

good report, its a pity it lacks pics.

Fri, May 06 2005 - 01:13 PM rating by carolr

Hi David,
you have brought back many memories - we too camped at sango sands - and also tried to save an airborn tent!
I just loved the way they had the weather forecast in the Tourist Information there.
All the best in your further adventures!

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