A long one this. But strong winds have kept us off the water again and so I have some time to waffle on!
Having exhausted the cafe facilities in Scourie for 48 hours whilst the big winds kept us off the water again, it was finally time to make a break for it.
We were up at 6am, gear and tent packed away just as the rain started. That’s the worst. Packing away your stuff wet knowing it’ll be making everything else wet inside the kayak.
We had a quick breakfast in the laundry room of the campsite – at least it was warm and dry – 5 Weetabix and some Alpen, cup of tea and a banana. It was just a light breakfast as we hoped to stop after 3 hours paddling for a snack!
We chatted to a lovely 70 year old Canadian who was cycling around Ireland and Scotland (wow!) whilst we climbed into our wet paddling gear. We said our goodbyes and launched by 7.45am.
No matter how wet or unpleasant the day seems when you wake up, as soon as you are in the kayak, all seems well with the world. It’s just the transitions that are uncomfortable – either getting kitted up in the morning or changed again in the evening.
We headed north out of the relative shelter of Scourie Bay and headed towards the mist covered, slightly intimidating, cliffs of Cape Wrath.
The sea felt different. A northerly swell was rolling in, typically between 2 and 3 metres, something we haven’t had for a while as we enjoyed the protection of the Isles along the west coast. We actually enjoyed the sensation of being lifted up high and then dropped low into the troughs. The wind rush over our ears picked up noticeably on the way down whilst it was almost silent at the top.
We chatted about what it would feel like to finally get round Cape Wrath. Only one more turn before we head south again.
Before we headed for Cape Wrath itself, time for a break on the stunning Sandwood Bay beach. We had to choose our landing spot carefully as the swell converted into quite a large surf. We cleared our decks of maps, camera, GPS and anything else that could be lost if we rolled. We didn’t pop the helmets on but we did deploy the straps on our Tilley hats! After a couple of cheeky surfs we landed and jumped out as quick as we could to avoid getting sucked back out into the surf.
A stunning beach and totally deserted. Or so I thought. In the space of the 45 mins we stopped to eat our rolls and heat up our potato cakes, we met 6 people and saw several others who had braved the 9 mile round walk to get to the beach.
The sun was out and the wind had dropped – it is times like this that can tempt us to stay off the water for longer than we should! Anyway, Cape Wrath was waiting for us and so we pushed off.
The launch was exciting to say the least. Geoff said he was going to wait till the sets died down before he launched. So imagine my surprise we he appeared to launch at the start of a set. He cut a dramatic figure as his 18ft boat soared almost vertical on each wave and slammed down the other side. I counted at least 6 of those. Poor bugger. Meanwhile, learning from his minor timing error I had sat in the shelter of a rock and pushed out once the set had come in. A couple of wet slaps in the face was all I got.
Mind you, later I discovered I had forgotten to do up my relief zip on the dry suit (must be my age) and so was uncomfortably damp for the rest of the day. Fate has a way of evening things up!
Cape Wrath was only 6 miles away. Strangely we felt a little apprehensive about this one. To add to our mood, the cloud cover increased and the water took on an inky black complexion.
As we rounded the Cape itself, we could just see the top of the lighthouse some 210ft above us.
The name Cape Wrath comes from the Norse meaning turning point. Mind you it’s English meaning is perhaps more appropriate now.
The north going flood tide and the east going ebb, which was just starting, was mixing and fighting with each other for control. The northerly swell and now and easterly swell combined to create quite a turbulent mix. Add to that the severe clapotis (reflected waves off the cliffs) and we found ourselves in easily the biggest and most confused conditions we have experienced so far. At times the sets were coming in up to 5m.
Geoff was keen to get a picture with his SLR. So we rafted up for stability once we got past the worst stuff and he got some shots of the lighthouse. Can’t imagine we would have contemplated that a few weeks ago.
We pushed on, but were caught in the west going tide as it accelerated towards Cape Wrath. Our paddle speed was down to 1.5kts. Ouch, less than half of what we would normally want. At this rate it was going to take another 4 hours to get to Durness. And of course what had been northerly head winds were now easterlies, but we have come to expect nothing less.
After an hour and a half of making slow progress and defending ourselves from incoming waves we seemed to break free from the pull of the stream and our speed picked up to a more reasonable 3kts. The tension began to ease, we began to talk more and admire the incredible scenery and wildlife around us.
As we finally rounded Fairaid Head towards Durness we were rewarded with the sound of whale blow hole behind us. Geoff ‘Oddie’ Cater spotted the dark fin of an Orca. We spent a few minutes watching it surface in the evening sunshine, but when we heard a couple more blows behind us and closer, we decided not to risk spoiling the day and paddled on.
When we arrived at the campsite, the lighthouse keeper from Cape Wrath was there and asked if we were the kayakers he saw earlier rounding the corner. When we said we were, he passed on a message from Tanya to say she loved me and well done! Oh my word! Tanya had called the Ozone Cafe at the lighthouse, as she thought we might stop there (we didn’t). The owner had told the lighthouse keeper who was staying at the same campsite so he passed on the message and made us a cuppa. What a wonderful end to an amazing day.
Today and tomorrow we’ll be in Bettyhill, mostly in the cafe eating, as gale force winds are building. But as Harry, one of Geoff’s daughters says, we must not worry about where we think we should be, we must just be where we are.
The photos are of the Curvy Bikers (West Coast) – a fun bunch we met at Scourie and the view from our campsite in Bettyhill.