Cape Wrath Lite

Day 55 – Clasheddy to Durness – 14th July – 15.6 nm

It’s going to be another day of buggering about. The forecast is for 20mph winds from the west, with a 4-6 ft swell running up from the west / south west. I'm not going to get around Cape Wrath today, but then White Head could be seen as a mini-version with limited landings, it will probably give me today’s I-don’t-want-any-more-of-this fix.

On the upside, with geography and weather working together, it means that the day is limited to a short leg to Durness and no further, that’s a bit of a relief really.

It’s an early-ish 0700 on the water, leaving sleepy Skerray Bay behind – a pleasant spot. The wind is forecast to pick up strongly early on and so it’s going to be another day of farting around to see what we can get away with. Initially the aim is to sneak across Tongue Bay and then work up along the rocky coastline, taking a time-out at Strathan to see how things develop.

My left shoulder has been grumbling for a few days now; yesterday’s scream-if-you-want-to-go-faster outing didn't help, so I've swapped to my Legend Hydra paddles for the first leg today. I wouldn't normally swap to something new in poor weather, but I've done a lot of miles with the Hydras and the gentler catch is needed. I need to look after the old top-arm shoulder or there could be problems ahead.

On these trips, the aches and pains tend to relate to the intensity of the previous day(s) rather than the outright number of miles paddled I find.  Stress causes more pain than miles alone - a sharp 10 nm day of grimly hanging on to those blades will hurt more for the following days, than a 30 nm steady cruise does. A form of unpleasantness quality over quantity I guess. Unfortunately yesterday had an element of both.

It is breezy as I head across, squalls and heavy showers litter the first hour or so, the clock ticks slowly. At least the fetch is short and while it’s draughty the conditions are fairly flat. It’s a good opportunity to have a bit of a compass and map nav exercise. I part Rabbit Islands and work across to sneak through a gap below the headland. The turn into the bay reveals a pretty, sandy beach hiding beneath atmospheric scenery at Strathan.

It’s peeing down, and the clock shows less than 90 mins since I set out, if feels like a full day already. It’s chilly too and I take a sneaky opportunity to change into some fresh kit while we try to decide what to do. I'm a little nervous about the headland true, we can’t see around the other side, it is blowing hard and there are no get-outs, not one, for 9 nm or so. That’s probably a couple of hours or more in this wind.

I'm working now on the principle that Cape Wrath should take the sting out of the swell and Faraid Head will limit the fetch a little against the wind. If the swell is from the SW this may all work, it it’s more from the W then diffraction enters the game to a greater extent and if it’s from the NW then my ideas could turn out to really be a great big load of bollocks. At times like this I just want someone who can tell me what I should do. I want my Mummy!

The old we’ll-just-sneak-around-the-end-and-turn-around-if-it-doesn't-work cliché card is played and I leave the steadily increasing patch of flat sand. Downdraughts batter down from the top of the cliffs, close in life is noisy but fairly accommodating. I am aiming to reach the top close to slack water, I really don’t want any wind over tide hassle today. Obviously this means a slog on the other side, but I'm hoping that geography might help me out with a bit of an eddy behind Faraid Head, actually about 4nm or so of an eddy. It’s a bit of an optimistic call, but hey, you never know your luck...

It is lumpy at the end, the turn-back warning light flickers but it’s not fully illuminated yet. I push on into the wind and as I move steadily away from the cliffs the rebound fades and things start to settle, blue skies sneak over the top.  Soon it is just a long, but fairly flat slog into the stiff wind. I can see the cliff top campsite at Durness, it takes a while to get any closer, but eventually the Taran makes a sandy contact with the rocky Russian-roulette beach. I'm glad it’s over, it wasn't all that bad in the end, the wind was just a slog really. It’s the decisions that are tiring and stressful. There’ll be more tomorrow.

Durness has a strange feel to it, it’s really just a few houses, a pub, campsite and a couple of stores, yet somehow it feels more like a small town. There is a constant bustle about the place. The campsite is busy but we find a nice spot, unfortunately I forget to turn off the Moron Magnet and soon we are crowded in. Our new neighbours are pleasant people it seems but I just want a bit of peace and quiet - the dog, motorbike and music shoe-horned into the narrow gap soon mean a grumpy repositioning of the Team Fatboy bus.

The wind takes the clouds away and as the sun comes out Team Manager heads out for a get-away-from-it-all bike ride. I find myself chatting to a gentleman about his tidy little 1970 VW van, he imported it from California to get a rust-free model - impressed, that seems like serious van owning stuff to me. He’s a nice guy and as the conversation wanders on it turns out he’s from my home town. Now he’s just pottering about the place in his smart little van. He says he likes the sound of my trip, ‘what an adventure!’  - I most definitely like the sound of his though, you can keep a chunk of the adventure.

He glances across at the unglamorous positioning of our van and suggests we could park next to him on the cliff-top, his neighbours are due to leave soon and we could achieve a much sought after sea view.

I look out over the bay, I know he has a point. Logically I can see that it is a pretty impressive view, it ticks all the boxes. But my emotions are strangely flat, it does absolutely nothing for me, nothing at all. All I see are eddy lines and flow, fetch, re-bound and swell, cliffs and landing options. It’s all I have been looking at for the last 50 days or so now. I look across to the van too and realise that the back of the shower-block wall will do for me. It makes a pleasant change.

TM returns from an impressive sounding bike ride, with tails of dérailleur gears and sand dunes, a nice combination for the team bike mechanic I reflect. We decide to eat out for a treat, but it isn't. Still the bundled wi-fi helps with the weather forecast.

It looks another should-we / shouldn't-we day lies on the doorstep.