Saturday, September 12, 2009

Walk 226 -- The Point of Stoer

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 127 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 269 days.
Weather: Dull, a little light rain. Cold wind.
Location: A geological walk round the Point of Stoer.
Distance: 12 miles.
Total distance: 2073 miles.
Terrain: A lot of quiet road-walking, a short sandy beach, and a lot of moorland walking on a ‘sort-of’ path which was a bit boggy in places. Undulating, sometimes very undulating.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: None.
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 were staying in our caravan at Achmelvich. This morning we drove to Stoer Village Hall where we left the car to do a circular Walk.
At the end, we finished back at the car. We drove immediately back to Achmelvich where we had tea and biscuits in the caravan.

We had no difficulty in setting up today’s Walk because it was a circular. In fact, we needn’t have done this Walk at all because it was, in effect, a dead end — but we wanted to walk past the rock stack called “The Old Man of Stoer”. Since that involved a twelve mile detour, we decided to devote a whole Walk to it. So we changed our minds about starting Walk 226 from the caravan, that will be Walk 227.
Today we started from Stoer Village Hall, where they held the ceileidh last night. We took the lane opposite and walked up past a school. We commented, “What a fantastic location for a school!” It is up high overlooking a small loch, and we thought it looked wonderful.
We followed the lane all the way to the Bay of Culkein. We passed a house with a pile of cut peat outside — no prizes for guessing how they heat their residence. We found a beautiful toadstool in the verge, very delicate. There were green hills away to our right, and ahead we could see a rock arch at the end of a bluff.
It was all very remote — I think more sheep than people live on this headland.
We descended to the Bay of Culkein where we went down on to the beach. There we met a couple from Manchester who had just arrived — I think they said they had driven all night — to stay for a week in a static caravan. We got the impression that they wondered where on earth they had got to — lovely views from their caravan, but very empty and remote. They asked us what there was to do in the area. We replied, “Walking?” but that idea didn’t seem to go down very well! The woman said she wanted to go on a boat trip, so we suggested they drove themselves down to Ullapool and made enquiries there.
There was a roofless building behind their caravan giving the bay an abandoned look. I think they were already regretting their choice of holiday destination — they didn’t quite seem the type to be comfortable out there in the sticks.

A group of oystercatchers were congregating on the rocks nearby.
At the end of the beach we passed a jetty, then we followed a path up to the headland with a natural arch at its end. The way was easy-going on short grass nicely clipped by the local sheep, both black and white. There is no racial discrimination here!

The rocks in the sea are black — basalt at a guess.
Looking at the geology map I discovered that the whole of the peninsula is Torridonian sandstone (much the same as the Cape Wrath peninsula) but there is a bar of basalt — a lava flow from a long-dead volcano — along this section of coast from the Bay of Culkein to the Point of Stoer.
That explains the black rocks in the sea, but paler rocks make up the cliffs.
A group of cormorants were making good use of one of the black rocks, in fact they had made such a habit of resting there they had turned it white!
There is no path marked on the OS ‘Explorer’ map, so we were hoping the walking wouldn’t be too difficult. We were delighted to find that there was a faint path all the way round the Point of Stoer from Culkein to the lighthouse where we picked up the tarmacked lane again.
The one barrier marked on the map, which could have been a barbed wire fence, turned out to be a wall with a gate in it. We sat by this wall out of the wind to eat our lunch (no pies today).
We passed spectacular scenery all the way round to the Point of Stoer — caves, waves, etc. I took a number of videos of the waves, I just love watching the movement. It makes me feel very calm, even when the sea is rough.
We also past a host of the flowers I call ‘cottontops’ which looked very pretty in the grass.
At the Point we climbed over a low fence (not barbed wire) to get all the way down to the true Point. (Well, not quite all the way down as the last bit looked a bit dodgy.)
Then we came back up the western side (over the non-barbed wire fence again) to see the geological feature which was the real reason we did this circular Walk — the spectacular rock stack called “The Old Man of Stoer”.
We had seen it in the distance from as far back as Tarbet, north of Scourie, and now we were here! It sticks out like a giant thumb (or another piece of male anatomy if you like!!) detached from the cliff and standing alone.
It was quite windy where we were walking, so much so that we had been wondering if we were safe walking as close to the cliff edge as we were. Imagine our amazement, therefore, to find that climbers were attempting to scale the Old Man’s lofty heights!!
How did they get across there, for a start? We could only see a single line across a very rough sea. Admittedly they were on the side of the stack away from the wind, but even so! There were four bods climbing up and four at the bottom. We never did see if any of them got to the top because it was too cold to stand and watch for long, but I don’t think any of them did. I don’t think it was actually possible to stand on the very top in that wind without being blown off.
We walked on, and met a man from Stirling who agreed with us that the climbers must be absolutely mad!
Looking back we could see the Point with the Old Man rising at its side. Looking forward we could soon see the lighthouse which is sited on the westernmost bluff of the peninsula.
At the top of the hill we came across a rusty pole that we thought might once have been a winch. Nearby were the remains of a building which could have been a pillbox, we didn’t know. It was all so long ago, time has taken its toll — but a little scary to think these were in use during our lifetime! (Colin and I were both War Babies. Thankfully we have lived in peace and freedom all our adult lives, unlike our parents and grandparents.)
We came to a deep cleft, and failed to see the path which led round it, So we descended to the bottom, and it was only when we were climbing out of the other side that we saw the path which led round. From that direction it was so obvious we couldn’t understand why we hadn’t seen it — Ah well!
We sat on a seat near the lighthouse to eat our chocolate. We didn’t walk right up to the lighthouse as it was a dead end, and we were a bit tired. Colin said his knee hurt and he was hungry, he blamed the latter on the fact that we’d had no pies. He was very quiet, and admitted he’d had enough. Up until then it had been a cracking Walk, very enjoyable. But we still had several miles of lanes, plus a bit of track which cut a corner, to get back to the car.
It seemed to take forever! We were tired, and there was nothing more to look at really — except the sheep and the cows. The cattle were mostly hairy with ferocious-looking horns. Fortunately they were all fenced in their fields, and looked at us lugubriously as we passed by. The sheep were all over the place, and nervous as we passed although we tried to be as quiet and calm as possible. One group scattered before us. Most of them got through a hole in the fence, two squeezed underneath and one tried to jump but merely bounced off the wires. Not renowned for their intelligence, I think.
At last we reached the lane to the school, and walked down to the village hall where our car was parked.

That ended Walk no.226, we shall pick up Walk no.227 next time at our caravan parked at Achmelvich. It was twenty to six, so the Walk had taken seven and a half hours. We drove immediately back to Achmelvich where we had tea and biscuits in the caravan.

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