Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Walk 217 -- Eriboll to Durness

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 39 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 181 days.
Weather: Beautifully sunny to start with. Then cloudy, rain for twenty minutes, then sunny again. Very warm.
Location: Eriboll to Durness.
Distance: 15½ miles.
Total distance: 1967½ miles.
Terrain: All road walking, but a very quiet road with amazing views. Undulating.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: No.184, Amhainn an t-Sratha Bhig at the end of the loch. No. 185, Allt Smoo at Smoo Cave.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We towed our caravan to Durness, all the way from Malvern taking two full days to do so. We set up last night on the same caravan site in Durness which we had used back in May. This morning we stood outside the site hoping to catch the school bus on its way back to Eriboll. But we also thumbed the very few cars which passed, and eventually a lovely young couple stopped and gave us a lift to Eriboll. They were up from Bristol, staying at the local Youth hostel, and were on their way to climb Ben Hope.
At the end, we finished the Walk at the caravan in Durness.

A mere month has passed, and here we are back again in the far north of Scotland! The weather is beautiful and we are hoping it will last. Cape Wrath looms! We gave a blog card to the lovely young couple who gave us a lift today — they were on their way to climb Ben Hope. They really seemed to be on the same wavelength as us despite the fact that they are less than half our age. They reminded us of our son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Caroline.
There was a tank and other military paraphernalia outside the farm at Eriboll. We took a photo, then set off quickly along the road before the owner came out and yelled, “Up yer clunge!” or some other Scottish oath. (We remembered him shouting when we were last here!) We were both in a buoyant mood.
Today’s walk was a bit of a route march all the way, but the scenery was wonderful. I took loads of photos because the light kept changing, then had to dump a good many of them because they were repeats. I just couldn’t stop clicking my camera.
The road we were following is the A838, but it is a narrow road with passing places. This is because there is very little traffic, but Colin was pleased when a group of motor bikes roared past.
We could hear any vehicles coming from miles away because it was very quiet, no background noise. We could also see them right over the other side of the loch, and it seemed to emphasise just how far we were having to walk, to the end of the loch and all the way up the other side.
There were lots of butterflies, mostly painted ladies, fluttering about in the sunshine. We also saw a heron, an oystercatcher and herring gulls. Sheep were everywhere — we saw a sheep with its wool hanging off standing on the stony beach with its lamb. I felt sorry for her, the farmers don’t seem to bother to shear the sheep these days because it costs more than the fleece is worth.
And orchids, they were everywhere! Very small, but exquisite when you studied them up close. I have never seen so many wild orchids anywhere else as I have in the far north of Scotland. And I bet most people don’t even notice them.

We sat on a rock near an isolated cottage at the end of the loch to eat quiche and cereal bars. A big furry caterpillar crawled across my boot while we were doing so!
We rounded the end of the loch where there were several tidal pools — very pretty. That is where we saw not only the prettiest orchids, but a lot of ‘cotton-tops’ (I don’t know their true name) which we have only seen before in such proliferation in Iceland.

It is truly wild there at the southern end of Loch Eriboll, inland it is just mountains and the map shows not a single path for miles.
We crossed the river which feeds the loch, then started walking north along the other side.
About three miles on we came to the village of Laid, which is really about half a dozen properties between the road and the loch. Therefore we were very surprised to find the first house was number 99! In the garden of one property was a variegated pig. Another had a mound of earth by the loch from which protruded gas outlets — we wondered what that was all about.

Another had a deer’s skull with antlers still attached hanging on the gatepost. And there was the cafĂ© / B&B from which two ladies had given us a lift from Eriboll to Tongue a month ago. Some of the cottages were roofless and derelict, it must be very difficult to live and to make a living in such a remote place.
We looked across the loch towards Ben Hope, the northernmost Munro. We wondered how the youngsters who had so kindly given us a lift this morning were faring on their climb. At least they had decent weather for it, though clouds were beginning to form in the sky. It did rain later, and got quite windy. I hope they got down in time, conditions can change so rapidly on mountains. We crossed a stream, and sat on a rock opposite the houses to eat our lunch.
The road stretched on for miles and miles. There was some traffic, but so little it didn’t bother us. The road began to veer away from the lochside and took us uphill. There was a rocky hill between us and the breeze along the loch. We got too hot, so we removed our fleeces and donned sunhats. We could have been in the mountains of Spain!

At last
we could see the sea ahead, and we descended to the beach near Rispond, though we didn’t take the track to Rispond Quay because it is a dead end. We sat on the grass above the beach to eat our chocolate. A coach-load of Germans arrived — yes, we were back in ‘tourist country’. Two of them stripped off and went into the sea for a bathe. They didn’t stay in long, about ten seconds! Even though it is June, that water must have been perishing. It is a lovely stretch of sand, but we didn’t go down to walk there because the beach is so short and we would have had to come back up the same way.
The road now led us along the shore to Durness, It is a beautiful bit of coast, especially on a warm sunny day like today. Some of the rocks scattered on a nearby hill looked as if they would roll down anytime. And there were beautiful dipping rocks out at sea. We had to climb a hill, then descend to the hamlet of Sangobeg where there is another beautiful sandy but tiny beach.
On the way we passed a ‘Clearance’ site. A notice told us that in 1841 there were fifty people living in ten households in the village. They were a close-nit community, grazing their cattle on the nearby hills as they had done for generations. By 1842 they had all gone. Lord Reay, the owner of the land, was in debt. So he increased the rents for his tenants, and they were unable to pay. So they were forcefully evicted, and sheep were brought in. The people did not go quietly, there were riots in the area and a lot of resistance. But they had to go in the end, and it was to be many years before those families got justice.
We were tired, and couldn’t be bothered to follow the ‘trail’ round the site. We felt it was very hyped up because all we could see were a few stones in the field where the cottages had once stood. It turned out this was a good decision, for we looked behind and a big black cloud was fast approaching from the east. We were hoping it would miss us, but it didn’t. So it was away with the cameras and out with the umbrellas and capes. It was quite a downpour which followed us all the way to Smoo Cave, which was further than I had anticipated.
As we approached Smoo Cave we passed some magnificent deep pink wild orchids growing in the road verge. They quite took our breath away!
On the forecourt of the Smoo Cave entrance was a seat with two lines of poetry written on the back. It was an extract of “Glen Golly” composed by Rob Donn, 1714-78, of North Sutherland in praise of a local glen:-
“Land of corn of great worth for wild and domestic animals
A quiet place against the storm where the wind will not wither”

Smoo Cave
We visited Smoo Cave on a different day because we knew we would be too tired to appreciate it properly towards the end of such a long Walk. It is free to enter, you only have to pay if you want to take a short boat trip into the inner chamber.
Cave is unique in that its first chamber is a sea cave but the inner chambers were sculpted by fresh water. It was formed over thousands of years, carved along the line of a weak fault by the river which runs through it and by the sea which laps the back of the cave during exceptionally high tides. There is a long inlet which was created as the cave roof progressively collapsed.

It is a karst cave formed inside limestone of the Durness group. It is of Ordovician and Lower Cambrian age, meaning the rocks in which the cave was formed were laid down about five hundred million years ago.

You do not need to be a troglodyte to explore Smoo Cave, nor even a potholer. Steps take you down from the road at the top of the cliff, and a good path leads into the largest cave entrance in Britain. Once inside, the floor is fairly flat and even. Light shines down through the many holes in the roof and some artificial lights have been set up to aid vision. Wooden walkways take you smoothly over some of the more uneven sections, and there is even a ceiling so that drips don’t fall down the back of your neck! It really is quite civilised. The waterfall pouring down through one of the roof holes is particularly pretty.

It was only a short distance between the cave and the caravan site, and that is all downhill. We passed Durness Millennium Cairn, but we weren’t informed whether they had buried a time capsule or anything similar underneath it.

The beach below the caravan site is lovely, affording gorgeous views from the vans. It is a wild place, and we didn’t park our caravan on the cliff edge this time having been so frightened by the wind last time we were here. There were wild orchids all over the site, our caravan was surrounded by them! This is an amazing place.
That ended Walk no.217, we shall pick up Walk no.218 next time at the caravan site in Durness. It was half past five, so the Walk had taken seven hours and thirty-five minutes. It was nice to be able to relax and have our tea in the caravan, not to have to go anywhere or fetch anything.

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