“‘Mountain Bothy Association – To maintain simple shelters in remote locations for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places”
We work over 40 hours a week full time. That’s over a third of the hours that we are awake for. I switch off the emails. My phone is logged off. We escape the office for our evening flight from London to Inverness, the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. After a late arrival to Inverness, we spend our first night at SYHA Youth Hostel.
Our journey there is spent researching the best Scottish Breakfast, where we eventually settling for The Rendezvous Cafe. With excited anticipation, the next few days will consist of secret beaches, long treks and a journey into one of the most isolated corners of the U.K! (Essential viewing is a Bear Grylls episode in Scotland available here).
I’m presented with an enormous plate of food. Rubbing my hands with glee, I take in mushrooms glazed with melted butter. Piled high are crispy streaks of bacon, peppery black pudding, and the new, delicious addition of a lorne sausage. Served with a silky smooth egg and a tattie scone, we begin our journey into the Highlands with a wonderful and quintessentially Scottish Breakfast.
Suitably fed, we’re ready for a train, bus, ferry and trek to the furthest NW corner of Scotland. From Inverness, we continue our journey northbound to Lairg by train. With a population of 891, the village is nestled on the shores of Loch Shin and often referred to as one of the last great wilderness of Europe. Upon arrival at Lairg, we eagerly wait for our onward bus connection, The Durness Bus. On disembarking the train, a lady spots our large rucksacks. She asks where we’re off to and we inform her we’re going to Durness with the aim of getting to Cape Wrath. With a smile, she replies “Oh the bus driver will be happy to have you, the bus is normally empty!”
On initial research, it stated that the bus to Durness would meet the train service. The roads are eerily empty and there isn’t a soul in sight at the station. It dawned on us that the bus service no longer ran on a Friday. An update on the website shows that a scenic bus will run from Lairg to Durness via Ullapool in the late afternoon. With additional time in Lairg, we take a short trek up to Church Hill Woodland with glossy benches, wooden sculptures and outstanding views of Loch Shin afar. We relax at Lairg Highland Hotel until our bus arrives.
Our bus journey to Durness leaves at 3:30pm and takes in a good portion of the North Coast 500, a popular road trip bringing together the stunning coastal scenery of Scotland. With a 5hr bus ride, the road swings, ascends and descends like a rough sea. We arrive at Durness where Ronnie (the bus driver) kindly drops us off right at the Youth Hostel. Our initial plan was to trek to the Bothy that evening. Paired with the realisation that the Kyle of Durness ferry was also cancelled due to high winds, we secure last minute availability at the hostel in Durness. Our action plan was to leave at 6:00AM and wade across the estuary during low tide.
At 6:00AM, we leave Durness Smoo Youth Hostel and begin our 4 mile trek down the road towards the most shallow bank of estuary we can find. Through high winds and grey mist, came startling bands of rainbow that hung in the sky above us.
We threw caution to the wind and descended down to the sand banks of the estuary. We cross here, it was now or never. The longer we took to select an area to cross, the more the tide would come in.
Boots off and trousers rolled up, we link arm in arm and wade across the estuary. There is a battering wind to contend with. When we reach a sand bank midway, the gust pulls fistfuls of sand into the air, striking against the bare skin on our legs like a mini dust whip.
Reaching a small beach, we clamber up a sheep trail and find a faint path leading to the Cape Wrath track.
We enter the military zone (having checked in advance that the Ministry of Defence were not firing). Cape Wrath sprawls over 50,000 acres and is home to the largest bombing range in Western Europe. We enter a barren and windswept landscape potted with mysterious craters and wild hills. We battle against gale force winds for the entire trek, stopping briefly to top our water supplies from fresh water trickling down peat craters. The moment we stop, the wind chill seeps through our clothing. We can’t pause for long due to the gale force winds.
We reached Kearvaig Bothy after a 4hr trek. Often described as the most beautiful and isolated Bothy in the UK, we whoop and cheer in total glee. We made it!
Kearvaig Bothy was the most luxurious Bothy I’d ever stayed in. Along with the standard Bothy resources such as a roof over your head, 4 walls and a toileting spade, Kearvaig had a fireplace, dining area, two upstairs bedrooms and a private beach.
We dump our 10kg rucksacks in the Bothy. Having left at 6:00AM this morning, we made it Kearvaig for the early afternoon. We check the Ordnance Survey Map and estimate a round trip of 10 miles to get to the Cape Wrath lighthouse. With strong gusts of wind to contend with, we swallow our desire for shelter and continue our trek to Britain’s most north-westerly mainland point.
After 5 miles, the lighthouse bobs into view. It’s a lonely lighthouse, surrounded by stone walls. The site teeters on the highest cliffs (281m) on the mainland. We’re surprised to find an open cafe in the lighthouse, where we take the chance to devour nutty chocolate bars, hot drinks and ginger beer. Run by a father and daughter, Cape Wrath has opened it’s doors as the most secluded hostel in Britain, hosting guests for just £5 per night.
The sun is setting upon our return back to Kearvaig Bothy. Having completed 47km / 29 miles in a single days walk, we returned to the Bothy and prepare a home cooked meal of vegetable risotto. In keeping with a Bothy tradition, we prepare a bowl of hot, creamy custard and a side of shortbread for custard dipping.
With our weekend drawing to a close, we prepare porridge and hot drinks for our trek back towards the Kyle of Durness. With a sprinkle of luck, the ferry service (run by Mr Morrison) is in action today and we avoid having to cross the estuary by foot again. The ferry ride is 5 minutes and costs £5 to cross back towards Durness.
We have a free afternoon upon arrival at Durness. The village boasts spectacular scenery with a rocky coastline and pristine beaches with turquoise waters.
- Timing: We took Friday and Monday off work to reach Britain’s most north-westerly mainland point. The itinerary above can be done across a long weekend.
- Transportation: The cost of the flight from London Gatwick to Inverness was £55 (return). The train ticket to Lairg was £12 (advance booking) and the bus ticket from Lairg to Durness was £18. Total transport costs are £80 from London.
- Accommodation: The SYHA provide an excellent base for accommodation at Durness Smoo and Inverness Youth Hostel (approx £20 per night)
- Resource: We brought a water UV purifier and a Trangia to cook our food on. Durness had a Spar that was closed on a Sunday and I would recommend bringing all of the supplies you need for the trip.
- Kyle of Durness: I would strongly advise any trekkers to check the tide timings, you can also ask Mr Morrison about the ferry schedule. The website is here
- Food: Risottos, pastas, porridge sachets and artificial cheese (such as babybell and dairylea triangles) work a treat.
- Terrain: Although the Ordnance Survey map shows the trail as a faint line to Cape Wrath, the track itself is wide, rocky and easy to navigate. A minibus is able to follow the same trail that we walked on (subject to running times)
If you have any questions, please comment here or email me and I’ll be happy to help!