It must have been something like 10 years ago when I was watching an episode of “Coast” on the TV with Nick Crane walking out to Sandwood Bay and I was blown away with what I saw and vowed to visit there one day. Fast forward to June 2015 and we had a week staying in a tiny bothy on the edge of Balnakeil Bay, near Cape Wrath and it was during that stay, that I got my chance to visit Sandwood. It was just a flying visit, with only an hour or two on the beach before I had to make my way back, but it did wet my appetite for more. What I really wanted to do was take my tent and stay a night or two, to really get a flavour of the place, but like so many things, this idea ended up on the back burner and before long, covid came along.
So, fast forward again and early this summer, I found myself sitting in the garden with a cup of coffee and thinking about how time was marching on and how covid had robbed us all of 18 months of “living”. So I decided there and then, that despite continuing to be careful and avoid crowded indoor spaces, life had to be kick started again.
I have a couple of big adventures planned for early next year, but I wanted more, so I decided to re-visit the Sandwood Bay idea. I was hoping to have one or two nights at Sandwood and another at Kearvaig Bay if at all possible. We looked at hiring a motor home, but Janet had a preference for a cottage, so we booked a cottage at Polin, less than a mile from the start of the track to Sandwood Bay.
As the trip drew nearer, we monitored the weather forecast and it was clear that the weather window was closing in, with rain and high winds forecast for Tuesday and rain every day for the rest of the week, but I might just get to Sandwood on the Monday. So it was a case of now or never if I was going to go to Sandwood Bay.
The day dawned reasonable, if a little windier than the 14mph winds that were forecast, so Janet drove me to the car park at Blairmore and I donned my boots and hefted my pack (20kg all up with cameras and tripod) and set off at 8.35 in the morning. The track has really been improved by the John Muir Trust since I was last on it in 2015 and is now a good metalled track, so I made really good time. After 2 miles, the track reduces to a path, but is still largely good going. But by now the pack was feeling really heavy on my back and the camera bags were proving a bit of a nuisance, so I was looking forward to getting there and getting it all off my back.
With the wind on my back and clearing skies, I was feeling really optimistic about the trip, despite it being much windier than I would have liked. I reached the view overlooking the bay in 1hr 20 mins, then walked on down the dunes and onto the beach.
I spent a bit of time looking for a sheltered location to pitch my tent, but it really did prove difficult to get any shelter from the wind. Once I got my pack off my back, I realised just how tired I felt! The next problem was pitching the tent. Every time I put a peg in the sand, the wind blew it out again and all the little bags containing the pegs etc tried to blow away! The solution, proved to be to get some big rocks to pile on top of the tent pegs and I eventually got the tent up, but it was flapping like crazy and full of sand.
Once installed in the tent, I had to decide what to do next, so I boiled some water and had a coffee. Once refreshed, I set off to try and take some photos. I had a long list of photos I hoped to capture while I was there, but using the tripod proved hopeless as it kept blowing over, even when set low and my small camera bag far too light to help. I walked down to the stream, but it was running too deep to cross, so I took a few hand held shots towards Kearvaig Bay, then wandered back taking some wave shots along the way.
I wanted to capture some long exposures, but it proved hopeless trying to use the tripod, then it rained, so I packed up and headed back to my tent for some lunch. After lunch, I headed back to the water’s edge to try and shoot the sea stack, but even placing the tripod low down on solid rock proved un-successful. By now the beach was very busy and there were loads of people in the sea swimming.
I tried some long exposures of the stack, but it proved impossible to keep the tripod still and then it rained hard again. By now the wind had got really strong, so it was decision time. The sky was grey and I wasn’t managing to get any of the shots I was after and the wind was a real issue. I clearly wasn’t going to be able to shoot anything other than hand-held, so any sunset and sunrise images were out of the question, as were any night shots and the time lapse I had hoped to shoot. Add in that I was also worried about the tent blowing down in the rain during the night, so I reluctantly made the decision to pack up and head back, despite very tired legs that really didn’t fancy the walk.
Taking the tent down in the wind was a bit of a pantomime, but at least I got it rolled up and packed in its bag second go. My legs and shoulders were all very tired, so I was quite concerned about the return trip, but by now, I was now committed to going. The first 30 minutes’ walk uphill on soft sand was a hard work, then once on the top, the heavens opened and it rained horizontally into my face for about an hour. My legs were sodden, but at least it wasn’t cold and I soon dried out once the rain stopped. Thank goodness for modern synthetic outdoor clothing!
I’d had mobile signal for the first couple of miles on the way out, but I was nearly back before I got any signal on the return journey, in fact I could see the houses at Blairmore before I got enough signal to ring Janet. The call went straight to voicemail, so I was concerned that she wouldn’t get the message and I’d have to walk the last mile to the cottage, but with a couple of hundred yards to go, I was relieved to see Janet drive by, so finally I was back but well and truly shattered!
So that was it, I’d had a plan in my mind for six years, I’d tried it, but it didn’t work out. Fortunately I’ve plenty of other projects to look forward to, so the disappointment of this trip will soon be forgotten.