Sunset over Sandwood Bay.

Cape Wrath Trail: Day 9 – Glendhu to Sandwood Bay

The bothy at Strathan seemed like the wisest place to head to today. With only one tent pole I was not sure that I should rely on my tent. Even if the French girl had been told that better weather was on its way, I wasn’t sure that attempting to use my tent with only one pole would be my smartest move. The bothy was a good 45-50 kilometres away, so I knew I would have to make an early start to cover the distance.

My alarm woke me at 6am and shortly afterwards I was on my way. It was a fine morning and almost before I knew it I was climbing towards Ben Dreavie. At 503 metres tall, this was my last big hill of the journey and I had no intention of avoiding it by taking a shortcut along the road.

I bounced along the top of the hill looking around me in all directions, feeling on top of the world. It’s amazing what good weather and good paths can do for your mood. There would be no path off Ben Dreavie in the direction I was going, but despite a much harder hike to Lochstack Lodge I had no intention of letting the bog, or my distinctly unhappy knee, get to me. My knee seems to be mostly fine on the flat sections and the uphill sections; it is just downhill where it is struggling. In some ways I was glad to be completing the last big downhill of my journey, in other ways it felt a shame that, as the sun was coming out, my journey was almost over.

The sun was shining and I was determined to enjoy my last full day of hiking. This continued until the end of the path and along a straight boggy patch through to Rhiconich, where I promised myself I would stop in the hotel bar for that cup of tea.

In my way was the first of the three river crossings that the guidebook had warned me about. I knew there was a chance that I would be making a long backtrack and detour if it turned out to be as bad as yesterday’s crossing. At least today had been dry.

It started raining.

Walking through the bog in the wet, I at least appreciated that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on this trip if it didn’t rain on me at least once a day. And I hadn’t appreciated how much the river crossing had been on my mind until I reached it. The rain stopped and the river crossing turned out to be a cakewalk, only shin deep. One down, two to go.

Onwards to Rhiconich where I found the hotel bar closed for the afternoon. I had arrived at precisely the wrong time of day. No matter. I passed the police station and found that there was no military action scheduled for the cape this week. Cape Wrath lighthouse here I come!

I decided I could stop for my cuppa at Kinlochbervie Hotel. On my way towards it I met a girl heading south on the Scottish National Trail. She explained how she had broken the shit shovel at Strathan bothy and had left a poo unburied at the top of the hill. This was her third day out from the cape, having stopped at two bothies along the way. It seemed that she was somewhat averse to hiking in the rain and rather fond of conversations with everyone she met. I hope she manages to finish the trail, but at her current rate of progress it was going to take her a very long time.

I stopped off at the oddly named London stores in the wonderfully named Badcall for a bakewell flapjack to power me towards my cup of tea and refilling my water supplies in Kinlochbervie.

The afternoon turned into a beautiful evening, with only a few clouds hanging in the sky. As I left Kinlochbervie I knew the only sensible thing to do was to head to Strathan Bothy, but there was the option of heading straight to Sandwood Bay and attempting to camp there. I wasn’t convinced my tent would withstand any rain or high winds, and camping on beach in Scotland left the possibility open for either to occur.

I embraced my inner idiot and bounced along to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” as I made my way to Sandwood Bay. I couldn’t remember any of the lyrics to any of the versions of the song, so I sang something along the lines of:

The elephants went in two by two, hurrah, hurrah;
the elephants went in two by two, hurrah, hurrah;
the elephants went in two by two,
the piggies ate the kangaroos
and we all go into the ark
for to get out of the rain

I am reasonably sure that these are not the actual lyrics.

My optimism waned amongst the midges on the path to Sandwood Bay, before rising again as I got closer to my destination.

Soon enough I found myself trekking through the dunes around the back of the bay. Having learnt my lessons, my first mission was to check out the river crossing. Again, no worries; it was ankle deep when walking on the right rocks.

I found a place to camp before crossing back over the river to enjoy the beach and the sunset. Other than a couple having a picnic on the beach, I had the place to myself. I sat on a rock on the sand and looked out across the sea towards the setting sun. A sea stack, Am Buachaille to my left; an island, Am Balg, in front of me; and the Cape Wrath lighthouse off to my right.

This was such a good place to be. I didn’t know how my tent was going to deal with the sea breeze, but regardless this was so much better than being stuck in a bothy.

The sun set, the temperature dropped and I got to work putting my tent up. I found a flat bit of grass with a small drop that I could peg the rear of my tent over. I wasn’t left with much room inside, and the tent would be noisy as it flapped in the wind, but as long as it didn’t rain I’d be dry and happy.

I awoke a few hours later to rain. I didn’t care. I was still happy.

Sunset over Sandwood Bay.
Moments like this are why I take on challenges like this.

Today I found: happiness.

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