Cape Wrath Trail

Day 11: Sandwood Bay - Cape Wrath - Kinlochbervie

I awoke at 4am with the alarm. I had tears rolling down my cheeks with tiredness as I cooked up some breakfast. Waking at this time for a 23 mile walk is hard at the best times, but after 200 miles in 10 days, it takes a little extra grit and resilience.  Two cups of coffee later I was a little more prepared and readied. I’d decided not to pack up fully and leave the tent in situ, taking only food , water, and a few bits of equipment in case of emergencies. With a light pack I figured I could walk the 14-15 mile return journey far quicker.

[To the Cape]

It certainly worked that way on the way there. I set off at a blistering pace. The route I took detoured more inland before finally meeting the road that would take me the final 1-2 mile to Cape Wrath. The walk is tough, and despite it being evident on the maps, I wasn’t quite expecting the number of hills and gullies that had to be climbed and navigated. Intent and focussed though, I made the road not short of 6.30am. I had been expecting to see the lighthouse quite early on, and for it to tease the last few miles out of me. Due to the wider route I’d taken though it didn’t become visible until I turned the corner for the last few hundred feet. I was delighted to see it, ecstatic in fact.

_ _
[Cape Wrath]

I made Cape Wrath at 7am, but had gone at a ridiculous pace and was already starting to feel it. The sense of achievement dulled the pains though, I’d finally done it! I was so chuffed with myself. Making Cape Wrath at 7am on the 11th morning is some going especially given my earlier challenges and several half days.

I had a good look around and took several photos whilst there, but never really relaxed. The end of one challenge simply gave way to the start of another: get back to Sandwood, pack up and get to Kinlochbervie by 3pm. 7.5 mile down, 15.5 to go!

_ _
[Cape Wrath]

Keen to get back I decided to stay closer to the cliffs and follow them all the way back. I’d hoped a more direct route would be quicker. In retrospect, it could never have had been quicker due to the stupid pace I’d set there, and I’d also say that the cliff route is far harder. Many of the deeper gullies are avoided further inland, and in several sections of the path, it disappears over the cliffs where landslides have occurred. It took three hours of bog walking, hill and gully scrambling before I made it back to my tent.

Back at the tent at 10.30am with 15 mile behind me I dropped to my backside and had an early lunch, I needed the rest as much as the food! It was already a scorching day and I half played with idea of just staying there an extra night, but the ties that bind were pulling and I soon dismissed the thought.

Packed and off across the beach not long after 11.20am I had just over 3 hours to do the 8 mile back. I was feeling quite confident time wise, but was shattered from the morning’s exertions. The trail to and from Sandwood isn’t necessarily an unpleasant one, but with the surrounding circumstances of the twice I’d walked it, it’s not one I remember fondly. Having had nowhere to get water since leaving Kinlochbervie too, I was now running low and taking just little sips as I toiled through the heat and racing the clock.

The car park at the end of the trail brought some relief. There’s a freshwater tap there and some toilets. I had a little rest and a big drink, and with the time now only 1pm my thoughts turned to the possibility of a shower at Kinlochbervie before catching the bus.

That thought spurred me on down the road where several cars passed ignoring my outstretched thumb. With a mile to go though, a couple from Cheshire picked me up for which even though it was only a short distance, I was immensely grateful for. I think that the knowledge that this was the end had led my body to start giving up, my knees were in pain and I was limping heavily, feet felt like they’d had a hammer taken to them, and my shoulders felt red raw.

I headed straight for the harbour where I’d been told the day earlier I could get a shower. There was indeed a large room with launderette facilities, toilets and an electric shower (which requires a £1 coin). I assume it’s for the sailors who visit here. To my horror though the shower was broken! Gutted and ready to head off to wait for my bus still dirty and smelly when in came a lady and gentleman to try and fix it. They didn’t manage to get it working but that worked to my advantage as I’d explained my trek I was invited upstairs to use the harbour masters shower. It was a luxurious end to a hard day’s labour. I’d also held back some clean clothes and I left the harbour feeling brand new.

The bus came a little later than advertised, and I enjoyed the journey back to Inverness, recognising some sights and making a mental note of others I didn’t (yet!). I arrived in Inverness at 8pm, bought a Chinese takeaway, and then got a taxi to the municipal campsite there.

I’d done it! The small matter of an early morning train lay ahead, but that was nothing given the challenges of the last 11 days!