IF THE question of day five had been ‘is it still raining?’, that of day six of my September 2019 trip was ‘what to do about Cape Wrath?’ This had actually been a significant question looming over much of the trip and I had run out of room to avoid it.
Routes to Cape Wrath
Access by Road
Cape Wrath is Great Britain’s most north-westerly point, upon which is a lighthouse and not much else. It is surrounded by an MOD firing range, so you can only get to it on days when doing so won’t explode you, and it has just one road. That road, however, leads not to the rest of the road network but to a pedestrian ferry, which is seasonal and (for obvious reasons) also doesn’t run when military exercises are underway.
Cape Wrath Trail
The other way to get to Cape Wrath — the one followed by those intrepid souls hiking the largely nominal Cape Wrath Trail — is to set off from Sandwood Bay and navigate about ten miles of trackless, boggy coastline, crossing streams and clambering over barbed wire fences on the way.
This sort of thing, you may recall, is not my idea of a good time; there are distinct limits to my intrepidity. Even so, I had planned to put that aside and, on this one occasion, give pathless trailblazing a somewhat soggy go.
Pondering Over Plans
Getting to Sandwood Bay
To even get to Sandwood Bay, I would need to take the B801 turn-off from Rhiconich (An Ruigh Còinnich, ‘the mossy slope’) and head along Loch Inchard (Loch Innse Àird, ‘loch of the high meadow’), past the fishing port of Kinlochbervie to the end of the road, there to continue by footpath.
But, to get out there and up to Cape Wrath and then all the way to Durness would be a 30+ miler, and vague twinges in my knee suggested that I wasn’t in shape to do that.
Fortunately, I had planned for that and, if I set off early enough, I could get to Cape Wrath in time to catch a minibus from the lighthouse to the ferry. Some further messing about with ferries and minibuses could get me back to Cape Wrath on day seven to do the final dozen or so miles. So, that was a plan.
The Pail Scale
I had been looking at the largely sodden ground state over the course of my trip, trying to gauge just how much more like wading than hiking the hike from Sandwood Bay to Cape Wrath would be. For this, I use a mental ‘pail scale’ whereby I consider what would happen if you upended a bucketful of whatever was masquerading as ground.
There are three main results on the pail scale, namely that it would pile up, plop down as a splodge or simply pour. Most of the off-road moorland I’d seen was somewhere between ‘plop’ and ‘pour’, with very little ‘pile’. Worse, I had also kept an eye on the fullness of streams and they all looked to be in spate. None of this enthused me.
Coming to a Conclusion
I found myself considering my knee, plus a blister forming on one foot, weighing up if they might have an impact. They might, they might not. It was hard to tell.
What wasn’t hard to tell, I suddenly realised with a moment of unexpected clarity, was that I was looking for a reason not to do it. And this annoyed me. But not, as you might suppose, because I had caught myself wanting to back out. No, because I had caught myself thinking I needed an excuse.
I had started thinking that I had to do Cape Wrath or I wouldn’t be doing things ‘properly’. Or, more to the point, that other people might think I wasn’t doing it properly. That I would be cutting corners, which I suppose would be literally true.
The Singular Rule
I have one basic rule on these walks, which is that they are supposed to be fun.
The trek to Cape Wrath was not at all striking me as fun-like. And that being so, I didn’t need anyone else’s approval to not do it. And so, just like that, I suddenly wasn’t doing it.
Days Six and Seven
I spent day six sorting out that blister, resting my twingy knee and — because why not? — wandering out to Kinlochbervie and back.
Meanwhile, day seven of this trip would now be a walk up the road directly from Rhiconich to Durness…
This time: 0 miles
Total since Gravesend: 3,540 miles