[This walk was completed on the 17th May 2022]
It’s my first trip back to Scotland for nearly two years. I wake very early to soft sunlight, and take a photo out of the window of my Airbnb studio-apartment. Scotland really is very, very beautiful.
Last time I was here, I walked down one side of a peninsula along a dead-end road to the Rubha Reidh lighthouse. Today, I plan to set off from the other side of the peninsula, from a small place called Cove, and make my way back to the lighthouse across open countryside – a there-and-back walk of around 10 miles.
Cove is reached via another dead-end road. A beautiful spot to leave my new van. Yes, my NEW van. (Well, 6 years old, but new to me.)
[My previous van – my wonderful silver Japanese gentleman, aka The Beast – had been my companion for the past 4 years, and we reached the Humber Bridge together last year when I detoured from Scotland to tackle the Lincolnshire coast. But that was our last outing. At the ripe old age of 20, The Beast was beginning to fall to pieces and it was time to retire him.]
It’s unusually early in the morning for me, only 8:30am, and there is nobody around. I take a look at this piece of artwork/sculpture. It commemorates the Arctic Convoys that used nearby Loch Ewe as a harbour before setting off on their perilous journeys to supply Russia during WW2.
Climbing a small hillock, I find ruined remnants of the infrastructure that once guarded the entrance to Loch Ewe, and a stone memorial with a wreath of plastic poppies.
Looking down the loch – empty and peaceful in the morning light – it’s hard to imagine these waters filled with merchant ships and warships.
It’s time to begin my walk. My accommodation host told me there really is a path around the top of this peninsula, but it’s “not a very nice” walk. Whatever that means.
The morning sun disappears behind clouds, and the day becomes chilly and gloomy. I’m just back from a holiday in sunny France – to celebrate my youngest daughter’s twice-postponed wedding – and the coldness of the day takes me by surprise.
I cross the little bay and climb the next slope. It may be chilly, but the scenery is wonderful.
I’ve lost sight of the car park behind me. There is not much sign of a path, but I’m glad to spot the occasional footprint in the mud – proving I’m not the only walker to attempt this trek recently.
Ah, here is a path of sorts. Onwards, across an empty landscape.
At the next rocky outcrop, the path becomes more definite. Not a soul in sight.
I’m always amazed by how blue and clear the sea is around this northern coast of Scotland. The colours look tropical. I take advantage of a rare burst of sunlight to take photos of the rocky shore. I even manage a self-portrait (of sorts) by capturing my own shadow.
I’ve been walking for an hour and a half, and seem to be making good progress. Spot an unexpected sight – a bench! Time for a rest and a snack.
The nearby information plaque tells me that this was the site of an awful shipwreck in WW2, where the USS William H Welch struck rocks and broke apart. Sixty two American and British seamen lost their lives. The remains of their unused lifeboats are still visible on the beach below.
I sit on the bench and think of all the brave seamen who risked their lives either defending this island or protecting the merchant ships making perilous journeys to make sure we didn’t starve. Although, at the moment, with Russia waging a unprovoked war on Ukraine, I’m not sure what I feel about our allied ships supporting Russia during WW2. Seems ironic now.
The nearby island, where the USS William H Welch was wrecked, is called Eilean Furadh, or Foura Island. I check my map and am horrified to discover I’ve only travelled 1.5 miles, probably less. I’m never going to get to the lighthouse at this rate!
Over a rise, and the landscape opens up. The ridge ahead is on the far side of a river valley, which my host told me hides the remnants of a tropical forest. Beyond the ridge, somewhere, is the lighthouse. Invisible at the moment.
The photograph above doesn’t really do justice to the vast scale of this landscape. It takes me another 10 minutes to reach the pebbly beach in the next little bay, and the ridge still looks a long way away.
There are signs of fishermen on the shore – storage boxes and pieces of equipment – but nobody here. In fact, so far, I haven’t met a single person all morning. One solitary sailing ship moves across the waves. Otherwise, there is only me and the sea gulls…
… and a few surprised-looking sheep.
I look back at the way I’ve come. Out there, on the other side of this wide bay, is the entrance to Loch Ewe, and beyond that is yet another peninsula. Further away still, blue in the distance, are more mountains. In the sea, some vague shapes on the horizon might represent the Summer Isles… too far away for me to see clearly.
I feel a sense of despondency. So far to go. Such slow progress. Will I ever get to the northern tip of Scotland? Will I ever reach today’s destination – the Rubha Reidh lighthouse? Scotland is so vast and so hard to navigate. And I’ve lost the path again.
My map shows a track leading up from the beach – but I can’t see any sign of one. So I head towards a pole sticking up on the slope above the bay. Is that a signpost?
No, it’s just a rusty old pole, the purpose of which is unclear. I follow a vague path around the slope towards the next headland. This looks like a path – but it’s probably only a sheep track, not a proper route. I can’t see any human footprints.
On the other side of the next headland, my fears are realised. No path of any sort. And the plain below me is dotted with little lochans set in a messy landscape of hillocks and bogs. But, that silver streak over there… I check my map. That’s a river. The Abhainn na Leuma.
To get to the lighthouse I need to cross the river. Other walkers have done it (most coming from the opposite direction) so I know I’m nearly there. One last hurdle to go.
I scramble down the slope to the boggy plain. The slope is very steep and I have to go very slowly and carefully. Turning an ankle here would be a disaster. I haven’t even brought my walking poles – what an amateur!
When I finally reach the plain, yes, it really is very boggy – and, despite my best efforts, my boots are soon overflowed and filled by mucky water. Yuck. I make my way forward
The river is beautiful. Really spectacular. And is filled with a cascade of fast-moving water. There is a tremendous noise…
… which turns out to be the noise made by water rushing through a tight channel and falling over a waterfall, down into the sea. Look at that rocky channel! It looks almost artificial, as if carved into the stone.
It might be possible to leap cross the channel. In fact, it probably IS possible, but there is no guarantee I would make it safely. The water is flowing so rapidly – such a strong current – that I have visions of falling into the water and being carried over the rocks and into the sea.
Oh dear. There must be a safer way to cross.
I make my way up the river, following the bank, which gets progressively muddier. Head towards an area where there appear to be stepping stones, but, when I reach them, I realise this is an even more dangerous crossing place.
Again, the photo doesn’t really do justice to the scale of this landscape. Those “stones” are really large boulders, with wide gaps between them, and the water is freezing and fast-flowing.
Maybe there is somewhere safer further along?
The bank is muddier now, and I head up the slope. Should be dryer up here and I’ll get a better view along the river… look at all those rocks, but the water is still noisy and rushing.
My heart sinks. I can’t do this. Even if I managed to get across in one piece, I still have a couple of miles to go to reach the lighthouse, and then I have the return journey to make… and it’s beginning to rain. As well as forgetting my walking poles, I also forgot to bring my waterproof trousers on this trip.
By this time, I’m high up the slope, and I keep climbing upwards, while telling myself I’m looking for a better view of the river to scout for a crossing place – but realising that in my heart I’ve already given up hope of reaching the lighthouse today.
In a dry spot, on a rock, I stop and consult my Garmin.
Yes, if I keep climbing, and head towards a lochan – still invisible but somewhere just above me – I should intersect with a dotted line on my map. Hopefully this will be a proper track. The fishermen must have an access route to the pebbly beach – they won’t have walked all the way from Cove, like I did. So, I have good reason to believe the track actually exists, even if I didn’t see it earlier.
Keep climbing. And, with relief, I find the lochan (Lochan Dearg) and – yes – there really is a track here.
It’s drizzling with rain now. I sit on a rock (by the water in the photo above), turn my back to the wind, and eat a quick snack. What should I do?
The track leads down into the river valley ahead – where it crosses the river and so I presume there must be a bridge of some sort. After the river, this track intesects with another track, which should take me back to the coast, and then it’s only a mile or two to the lighthouse.
I’m shivering in the wind – I forgot how cold it can be in Scotland in May. I’ve only got my lightweight jacket, no waterproof trousers, and my feet are wet. The wind keeps blowing my hood off my head. I forgot my cap. I don’t have my poles. Really, carrying on is not a sensible option.
Instead, if I follow the track towards the shore, I’ll return to the pebbly beach. From there, I know the way back to Cove.
So that’s what I do. The final section of track seems to have fallen away in a series of landslips – presumably why I didn’t spot it earlier – but I soon reach the pebbly shore.
The return journey, as always, sees easier than the outward journey, and the path is easier to spot.
I stop at the bench which marks the shipwreck site, and take a self portrait. If I’m looking somewhat miserable in the photo, it’s because I’m feeling somewhat miserable!
I understand what my host meant about this route being “not a very nice” walk. The views of the shore and across the bay are stunning, but the path itself is difficult to follow, rather monotonous, full of muddy sections and bogs and, of course, completely blocked by the course of the river.
Next time, if the weather is kind, I’ll return to the lighthouse and make my way eastwards, linking up to the track and hopefully completing this section of the walk. Maybe not tomorrow – I feel too defeated and lacking in confidence – but maybe the day after.
Ah, there’s the car park at the end of the road. And there’s my lovely new friend, Perky, waiting for me. Seems he’s got company now.
Down by the Arctic Convoy monument, several people are wandering around taking photographs. They glance at my muddy trousers, my soaking boots, and my straggly hair, while I try to look nonchalant. Yep, I might be defeated today, but it’s my first trip to Scotland for two years, and I survived in the wilderness.
Tomorrow is another day.
Miles walked today = a measly 8 miles (4 in the wrong direction!)
Total around coast = 4,717 miles