[This walk was completed on the 14th August 2020]
After lunch, I drive along the private road towards the Rubha Reidh headland and lighthouse. It’s a narrow road with only a few, infrequent passing-places, so I drive slowly and worry about meeting something head-on. In fact, I meet nobody.
I soon arrive at a car park near the tip of the Rubha Reidh headland, heave my Monster bike out the boot, and set off pedalling….
… back along the the private road to the point where it begins/ends at the main, public road in Melvaig. Here, I chain the Monster to the fence at the edge of the little parking area.
The walk back to Rubha Reidh is only 5km, according to a finger signpost. Another, larger, sign explains this is a “narrow privately maintained road”. The morning mists have lifted and the day is glorious with sunshine.
I had worried about this route in advance. It shows up on the map as a simple track. Would the surface be suitable for cycling and driving? Would cars even be allowed to use it? Luckily, I had found out from another coastal walker that the kind owners of the track were happy for people to use it, and so I had no need to worry.
Also, to my relief, the private “track” turns out to be a perfectly good tarmac road.
The first part of the road is steep. I’m glad I’m not cycling up it.
I pass the point at which the group of cyclists who I saw this morning stopped and turned back. Near the top, I pause for breath, and take some photographs looking back over Melvaig and the coastline stretching to North Erradale and Longa Island
From here, the road runs high above sloping cliffs, with heather and bracken on either side. A line of electricity poles marches along the upper hillside, while the road is dotted with speed limit signs. 20mph.
Occasionally, the route bends inland and dips down to cross a steep river valley. Here is the first “weak bridge”, over the Allt a Bhutha.
While plodding up the slope on the other side of the bridge, I’m overtaken by a woman cyclist. She pounds up the hill with considerable ease – and speed – and I only manage to catch a snap of her back before she disappears over the rise.
When I crossed this bridge on my heavy bike, half an hour earlier, I had to get off and push the Monster. Now, I’m glad I wasn’t pushing my bike when Mrs Speedy overtook me, as it would have been a little humiliating.
The road undulates gently up and down. The sea is a bright blue, and I can see all the way to the horizon…
… a horizon only broken by the faint humps of land which mark the islands of the Outer Hebrides.
I remember how excited I was when I first saw the islands of the Inner Hebrides. Now I’m close to the most north-westernmost outposts of the British Isles, and I still feel a thrill at the hazy view of those remote islands.
There is a roar of approaching traffic, and a couple of touring bikes come past. What a lovely road to bike along.
Ahead, two tiny figures appear on the road. They seem to be miles away, and grow in size very slowly, until they reveal themselves as a young couple walking with their dog. I wonder if they’ve parked at the lighthouse, or if they have walked there-and-back from the public road.
They don’t stop to chat, and I take a photo of their backs once they’ve passed.
On goes the road. Really, this should be a boring walk. The landscape is pretty featureless and there are few distractions. But, with the gentle sunshine, the blue of the sea, and the faint breeze which keeps the midges away, it’s a most wonderful experience.
Sometimes, when out walking, you fall into an easy rhythm where your steps are effortless, time seems to stand still, and you are enveloped with the sheer joy of being alive and the beauty of the moment.
This was one of those moments. They don’t happen very often, but are memorable when they do.
I cross over the narrow cleft of another river valley, where a stream fights its way over stones, before tumbling towards the sea.
The map promises me “natural arches” and “waterfalls”, but of course I am too far above the shore to see any of these features.
Inland, a track leads off the road and heads towards some telecom masts. They aren’t much higher than the road, so I’m surprised to see their tops are lost in the mist.
The speedy lady cyclist is coming back towards me. We exchange cheery “hellos” again, and I take another photo of her back as she disappears down the road.
There’s another kink in the road, which drops down to cross another “weak bridge”. Over the Allt an Fheidh. This is another place where I got off and pushed the Monster bike, but I bet Mrs Speedy barely needed to change gear!
A few cars have passed me. Definitely more traffic around this afternoon.
Hello sheep. Mother is looking cool after being sheared recently, while her youngster is still round and fluffy with his woolly coat.
Onwards, along the road. This 5km walk to Rubha Reidh seems to be going on for ever. Surely, I’m nearly there now?
There’s a whirring of pedals behind me, and a couple of cyclists trundle past. Not as fast as Mrs Speedy, but certainly faster than me.
A few minutes later, the cyclists reappear, coming back towards me. Ah. I really must be near the end of the road.
As the road swings nearer to the shore, I look down at the steep slopes below. A thin ledge sticks out into the sea like a wall – so straight and sheer, that at first I think it really is a man-made wall.
One of the joys of a good walk, is discovering unexpected things and coming across new views. The sad thing about driving the route before you walk it, is that you know what’s coming next. The tiny thimble that first pokes up ahead…
… soon grows larger and larger, and turns into the top of the lighthouse.
I walk past my car, and carry on down the road, because I want to see where it ends, and hope to get a much better view of the lighthouse.
Funny how models and paintings of lighthouses usually show them as striped blue and white, a colour combination I don’t think I’ve seen so far. The standard colours in the UK seem to be white with creamy-orange highlights. Sometimes you see red and white towers, as in Plymouth and Beachy Head. Dungeness had two lighthouses – black and white.
The lights are often not where you expect them to be either, as this one certainly isn’t on the highest point of the headland, but tucked into a flattened area on the side of the slope.
[This page on the Trinity House website explains why lighthouses come in different colours, and why they aren’t necessarily on the highest point around: https://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/about-us/trinity-house-faq/why-are-lighthouses-different-colours-and-heights]
It’s a great example of a lighthouse, anyway, and looks stunning against the blue sea.
Closer access is barred by a gate, as the lighthouse is now privately owned.
A signpost tells me it is only another 3km to Camus Mor, which is a beach on the north coast of the headland. Tempting, but I’m going to have to walk this way again next time I come, and it really is time to go home.
Tomorrow, I’m heading back to Manchester. Will return to Scotland in September, hopefully with my camper van (aka The Beast) which has been in a garage in Trafford for weeks, awaiting repairs. (Spare parts take a long time to arrive because they have to be shipped from Japan.)
Maybe, if we get some decent September weather, I’ll reach Cape Wrath before the end of this year.
Post-walk note: Sadly, Manchester went into lockdown a few days after my return home. With Covid cases increasing rapidly in a second wave, I realised I wouldn’t be returning to Scotland in 2020. It is now a year, almost exactly, since I completed this day of walking and much has changed.
I’ve bought a windmill on Anglesey, which has been my refuge during the dark days of the second and third waves of Covid.
Later, I discovered the Rubha Reidh lighthouse is now a luxury B&B. I looked at their rooms on the website, because I was hoping I could get ideas for my windmill – round rooms are hard to furnish, as you can imagine. But all the B&B rooms in the Rubha Reidh lighthouse were in the ordinary buildings attached to the lighthouse, and not in the tower itself. There is no wifi and no telephone signal, and no television either, so I’m not sure I would be very happy here, but I’m sure it appeals to some.
Miles walked today = 8 miiles
Total around coast = 4,521 miles
Route today (black is morning, red is the afternoon)