Monday, 6 June 2011

Day 15 - Loch a'Garbh-bhaid Mor to Sandwood Bay

Monday 2 May
Alarm failed to go off at 6 but we woke up anyway, chilly but happy. Every time I woke up in the middle of the night the sky was ever more spectacular, a huge expanse of benevolent darkness dotted with diamond sparkles. It felt good to sleep out in such a setting.
As I tried to shake the sleep from my brain, before venturing out of the sleeping bag, I thought I heard deer footsteps on the hillside behind us - but by the time I'd wriggled out whatever had been there or not there had gone or not gone.
Got up, had tea and cereal and got packed up and on our way by 8.30.
The traverse along the edge of the loch had looked quite challenging the night before but in reality it was relatively easy and we made good time along the eastern bank of the first loch and then along the wind swept Loch a'Garbh-bhaid Beag (with interesting looking crags on the western side and a huge but lonely looking swan swimming around in the middle of the loch), forded the Garbh Allt and then joined a track down to Rhiconich.
At Rhiconich we were the only patrons of the hotel where we had tea and carrot cake and a little chat with the owner who pointed us towards the nearest little shop on our route and bemoaned the closing down of local facilities. He pointed out that anyone living around there who wanted to go to Inverness for proper shopping would have to go overnight if they were going by public transport.
We carried on, again under hot blue skies, and headed along the winding B801 road towards Kinlochbervie. The road was quite long but not a bad walk and the opportunities to admire the loch-filled, sea-viewed vistas were plentiful. We paused at the local shop on the way through Achriesgill - where we bought some great apples and realised that we hadn't had much fruit for the past two weeks. The walk along the road was made more interesting by the occasional wreck or rusted pile of heavy farm machinery and tumbledown shacks with car seats randomly outside.
In Kinlochbervie we detoured away from the route for a little trip down to the harbourside where the fishing boats were docked (the fishing and seagulls and the wreckage along the way reminding me of the town portrayed in Ken Kesey's Sailor Song) and went to the Spar for some ice cream before doubling back and heading to the Kinlochbervie hotel for a coffee and a refresh of our water. We didn't meet anyone along the whole way who objected to us topping up our water or to our hot and sweaty and, by now especially, unwashed bodies. In fact, apart from that one nasty bloke near Strathcarron, everybody we met seemed to be friendly and helpful and interested.
More road walking followed until we hit Blairmore and the car park from where a track would lead us down to Sandwood Bay. We were going quite quickly by now - covered about 8 miles in 2 hours and it wasn't even flat walking (though nor was it hilly as such) - and we started meeting people who were coming back from a day at the bay, chatting to a few of them as we passed by. It was another gorgeous bank holiday.
We didn't really get a good view of the bay until we were very close to it and then we finally saw what all the fuss was about. I'd been told by various people before we left how fantastic this whole bit of coastline was and they weren't wrong. Ahead of us stretched out a long crescent of golden sand with blue but white-topped waves crashing in around some of the rocks that littered the beach. As we descended down sandy dunes towards the sea we could see the Sandwood Stack off to our left, slightly fuzzy in the haze of the afternoon sun.
Walking in the sand was hard work as it always is, sinking backwards and downwards at every step, but we made our way along the beach before having a quick strip and dip (again in freezing cold water) and then getting dressed hurriedly as a couple who'd arrived behind us started heading our way.
We found a nesting place in the dunes, ate and got ready to settle in on our groundsheet again for the night and trusting now that it seemed it was highly unlikely to rain - our luck just seemed to be holding so well in terms of the weather.
As the sun started to go down so the temperature dropped and the wind started to pick up and we dressed in duvet jackets and fleece hats so that we could admire the sunset in comfort from the top of one of the walls surrounding our little nest. For a while, it was still a fair time till the sun would hit the horizon out to sea, we watched a beetle struggled up the steep slope of the dune towards us but our enjoyment turned to slight panic as it became clear that the beetle was heading directly for us and seemed determined to climb up onto Dave's jacket. Fearing some sort of attack Dave panicked and sent the beetle scurrying back down the slope beneath an avalanche of sand. He then had to hurry down the slope himself so he could dig the beetle out and make sure it was okay!
The sun, becoming a blood red orb, set right over the sea - a very fitting last night scene - and we finally got up and walking down again to the sea's edge to watch the final sinking of the sun beneath the horizon before retreating back and snuggling down in the warmth of our sleeping bags. The light from the sunset seemed to last forever but when I woke in the middle of the night the stars were all out again and I remember feeling really happy to be there. One time when I woke up there were the bright but small lights of a fishing boat visible out at sea.
It was hard to believe that our walk was nearly over, it was hard to believe that we were actually about to make it (barring final accidents and emergencies).
I was looking forward to a hot shower and clean clothes by now but I didn't want it to end.

Time on feet: 8.30 to 5.30, about 9 hrs
Distance covered: about 29k

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