Heaven and Hell - Cape Wrath

Day 56 – Durness to Scourie – 15th July – 30.0 nm

We are as far N as we can get really, and not that far distant from the longest day either. The sun goes to bed at late o'clock up here. Though the clock tells how late it is, the body clock ignores things, you still find yourself pottering around when you should be long ago tucked up. Just another little factor to add to the mix.

Yesterday I wandered down to the Tourist Office. There a pleasant notice took a weight off my mind, the bomb-droppers are away on their summer hols and the range is shut. I hope the Russians don’t pick July to invade. Wind and swell are still part of the immediate future, but thankfully bombs and bullets shouldn't be.

It’s blowing from the SW today, there’s a hint of swell running around the corner too, 2-4 ft of it. The forecast is for the wind to move to the E tomorrow, which would make life much better, but of course there’s a catch, the swell is forecast to go to 4-6 ft with it, and on the corner the route would be close to the edge of the 6-8 ft band.

Impatiently I decide to go with better the devil you know, 06:45 OTW means a bleary eyed paddle out.  I'm nervous, there wasn't much sleep in the bus last night. I want to get on with the job, but it’s another reputation to contend with. I feel that this isn't going to be a good one though. It looks like another day of questionable weather and limited options.

The offshore wind takes the Taran quickly to the end of Faraid Head, via the impressive rocky outcrops. Turning left now and the chilly wind is funnelled down from the hills via the Kyle of Durness. It rattles out of the bay to make a short but splashy crossing.

Soon I'm under the cliffs once again and I sneak past the grey and naked lump of ‘Bomb Rock’, hoping that the Tourist Office sign was up to date. I'm still nervous of the wind blowing over the tops, perhaps if I ignore it it will go away...

I'm busy working on my blissful ignorance skills when I suddenly find myself in a lumpy tiderace at Kearvaig. Like Harry Houdini, I didn't see that one coming. It’s big and intimidating but along the cliffs it’s pretty linear at least. But as I round the end the wind comes from the side and it all becomes unpleasant, confused and breaking. I turn left, out of the flow and into the eddy of the bay. I don’t have to travel far to leave the flow and things become manageable again.

I'm exposed to the wind once again until I regain the cliffs just short of the Cape. Here the man in the little pink boat is viewed with curiosity by the visitors at the lighthouse. It’s windy, I'm nervous and I can see hints of what lies around the corner drifting by. I seriously consider calling it a day and turning back, but that would be a lot of a hassle.

I'm there now, this it, I poke my nose nervously around the corner, it’s chunky and confused. If I have to turn back, Kearvaig beach and bothy would be the option, followed by a long trolley out. It would all be a real pain but at least there is an option there.

 I don’t really have the spare processing power to assess things too deeply now, I just get on with it for a while. It’s confused along the eddy line so I head out to get clear. It’s lumpy further out as the swell stacks up with the flow, but it’s a little more predictable. Eventually I feel I’m getting clear but it’s slow going, the eddy is miles long. I finally get a little time to think, I can handle this if things get no worse. Southwards we go. It’s Hobson’s choice now anyway.

The SW wind is stiff and gives a good impression of wind over tide conditions, the swell is from a little further N though. Thankfully this means it is not square on to the flow but it is still stacked up a little, the angular difference from the wind confuses life a touch of course. But as I make progress further south things start to look a little more positive and I guess they will ease the further S I get.

Then I notice some white stuff down by the small rocky islands of Am Balg. I can’t really judge the size from here, I continue. Nearer now and it looks like a bit of a bouncy tiderace, but I guess we’ll soon be clear as we pass the island. 

The OS map didn't tell the full story here, a chart may have hinted a warning. Later I realise that the gentle ebb of further up was now funnelled through the mile wide gap, and the swell stacked up accordingly. For the next 35 minutes I work harder than I can remember. It is absolutely sodding awful. Big, intimidating, breaking, relentless and full width - from my perspective I can’t see a way around nor any easy route through. It goes on, and on...

It’s more than a mile before I have the balls to turn the boat anywhere other than square on, now I turn S looking for any way out. This puts me at an angle which gives a welcome increase in wavelength and eventually gets me away from the breaking stuff, but now the I’m parallel to the coastline and the rebound is large, lumpy and from everywhere.

But it’s all down to just one person, it’s not going to go away, get on with it. Have a cry later...

Finally it’s over and I sneak into the gap behind the island of Seana Sgeir, jeez...

I earned my money on that one.

I park the boat on a just-submerged rock and fill my stomach and empty my bladder. I try to call Team Manager but there’s no answer. Later I find she’s sat on a beach a few hundred metres away. But eventually we meet up and sit on the beautiful beach at Oldshore Beg. The sun makes such an appearance that I have to cover up the old bald patch. The clock says it’s only just lunchtime, but I find that hard to believe, it’s seems so long ago since Durness dropped behind.

By 15:00 it is time to get back on or it will never happen, the wind has dropped somewhat and there is little swell here. After this morning’s escapade conditions are positively wonderful as I continue down towards the final destination of Scourie. It’s a relaxed paddle and enjoyable now. By the time Handa Island is reached the tide has turned and I need to do a little eddy hopping, but this is enjoyable too, it’s mellow and adds a little thought to the moment. I thread through my way blindly through the rocky gaps. The sound is flat calm and the scenery is special, it’s a magical place. One to add to the return-to list.

Next is a bit of a ferry glide as I cross to find the gap to Scourie Bay and then I can see the welcome sight of the peaceful natural harbour and welcoming campsite.

The campsite at Scourie is a very friendly and pleasant place to be, all the more so because it now marks the end to my last ever trip around Cape Wrath. The campsite is one of those that makes you feel relaxed the instant you cross the entrance, the best so far?

Kit is laid out in the sunshine, Team Manager sets the kitchen up and I take a while to think things through. Once again I learnt a lesson today on the ebb, it was the same scenario of ebb v swell and wind that I had met previously, nothing new there now. But what was new, and what caught me out, was the sheer scale of things. I learnt a serious lesson there.

Ending up where I did was not the best of things, but on the upside I had to consider that, technically and tactically, that was the best paddling I had probably done in the last 15 years. Nothing had come close, I had to be pleased. Paradoxically the day actually lifted my confidence.

We eat well and ponder life, while the midges ponder us. The sunset is spectacular and voices become hushed as the peaceful campsite turns to watch the great orb fade beneath the horizon.

It’s a heavenly end to a hellish day.