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Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland


Postby Myth » Wed Jun 18, 2008 11:16 pm

Route description: Sandwood Bay

Date walked: 18/06/2008

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Up in the far northwest of Scotland, turn off the A838 towards, and then through, Kinlochbervie, continuing to the very obvious signposted car park on the left. Yes, it is a long way...

This is a simple walk of about 6.5 km (4 miles), with a relatively good path, leading to one of the best beaches anywhere on mainland Britain. Suitable for anyone who can walk about 10 km on the flat, as there is a fairly small amount of height gained and lost, and a rest can be taken on the beach before returning. Pack food and water (although there are streams and lochans on route for the confident, but Sandwood loch itself can be very brackish and unpleasant) and allow somewhat longer than the distance would suggest, especially if wet, as minor route deviations may be required - an hour and three quarters each way, or five hours including a leisurely picnic, will be plenty for ordinary walkers.

I've day hiked, night hiked, lightweight walked, and packed in tents, sleeping bags, food, firewood etc. for big group overnights - definitely easier the less you take! I've done it mid-winter, mid-summer, and most stages in between (the former was most impressive, although you get very limited daylight on New Years Day!) This path has changed a lot over the 30+ years that I've seen it, from parking off road, and an underused trail, through hideous badly eroded quagmire, to the current incarnation where the "repaired" sections are almost complete in places.

Starting from the car park (small - get there early, toilet available) you cross the road, take a leaflet, and follow the obvious landrover path. There *will* be sheep (and lambs in season) so dogs have to be on lead. This part of the route is essentially straight, and crosses the neck of a small loch (looks fishy) where a series of footpaths break away left, slightly downslope. These can be followed, however staying on the landrover path, and following the right angle turn back left towards the loch is almost as fast, and much drier if the ground is damp. The path then rises up and around a small hillock, gradually getting more rutted, before eventually dropping away again towards another lochan - the descending path here was very badly eroded last time I visited, but works are underway to repair.

Around this lochan the ground can be very wet, and squelchy, and we usually take to the beach unless the water level is right up. There's a ford/jump across the exit stream, and then it's onto another bit of rampant erosion (path up to a meter under ground level) which is also being repaired - by laying a path in the eroded gully. Over the next section there are a number of (sheep?) paths cutting away right directly towards the pass to Sandwood bay skirting the small lochans - I'd recommend avoiding them all - it gets waaaay too boggy in there, and you are not going to save time or effort (I have used the kids to verify this)!

The final haul up and over the pass is hard on the feet, as finally the path gets rocky (still wet and slippery if recent rain), then finally falls away towards the sea over a lovely soft sward. There are rabbits here to keep the dogs amused (or to avoid if yours runs easily), and the view opens out towards the beach as you come down. In the dunes there are a number of small likely sandy/grassy clearings for camping (please don't burn the machair/sod with fires or portable BBQs - it does not recover), and the beach is fantastic. Note that a bit of height for your camp is a bonus to retain a breeze...

I've seen the most impressive wave sets here marching like lines of soldiers into the beach - and conversely absolutely flat calm days with barely a ripple. I've talked with kayakers who've aborted landings due to heavy seas, and one who had to stay an extra night as she couldn't get back offshore, and surfers lamenting not bringing their boards. It's a fantastic, peaceful, wild, wide open space regardless of conditions. And in calm conditions in the summer it's FULL TO THE BRIM with midges. Seriously. Second worst place I've ever been for things that bite.

Waking in the morning last summer (8 of us in 4 tents), the space between the inner and flysheet was just midge soup - so thick they were like a grey cloud - no square inch of cloth without at least 5 or 6 midges checking for holes. I was prepared (running tights + polo-neck covering 95%, gloves, buff, beanie and midge net for the rest - I learn) and still got hounded and bitten in places I thought were safely covered as I escaped. My escape let several thousand midges inside to bug the wife - my bad. I'd wrongly assumed it would be better outside the tent - it wasn't. No wind, billions of midges, and one _demented_ dog. We ended up sprinting for the water line (carrying breakfast making gear) and putting up with sand beasties instead of the midges, which didn't cross the high water mark - very leisurely morning beachcombing, swimming, and pottering. Thankfully a mild sea breeze at midday enabled us to reclaim the campsite, pack and leave...

Lots of happy memories about this, and I'd suggest that if you are in this area, this is an essential walk, and quite suitable for most families - reasonable fitness required, but I know several 7yr olds who've managed easily.

By the way, if you want an open fire on the beach (below HWL please) to sing/chat/toast marshmallows around, pack in all firewood/starting stuff with you - it may be heavy and awkward, but I've never found enough flotsam to start a fire, let alone keep it going!
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby canisp » Thu Jun 19, 2008 1:28 pm

Excellent description. Its over 5 years since i’ve been to Sandwood Bay, long overdue for another visit.
Surprised The Shepherd did not get a mention. :wink:
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby wandererjon » Tue Jun 24, 2008 9:21 am

Boy that brings back memories!! I once walked out there as a teenager and spent a few nights under canvas. I remember it was early spring and the weather was really kind. The sound of the surf at night would lull me to sleep plus the solitude was lovely!! Is the bothy still there? I seem to remember it was looked after by the Mountain Bothy Association, meaning that it was kept unlocked for anybody to use.
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby maddjock » Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:40 am

not long back from my annual trip to this magical sandy kingdom...camped here for a week from 2oth-26th June. I love this place

view from my tent porch overlooking the bay and Am Buachaille (the shepherd)
Image

it is so hard to capture the sheer scale of this beautiful beach
Image

sunset nearly 11pm
Image


wandererjon, afraid the bothy now is just a ruin. this is an essential trip though, and would recommend it to everyone. It has been a fairly dry year so far, and the walk in is a lot easier and drier at the moment than last years.
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby Paul Webster » Tue Jul 08, 2008 11:07 pm

Maddjock - Fantastic photos - especially the last one which looks very arty! I've still never been to Sandwood Bay. Visited Oldshoremore beach and the beaches at Durness but it was during Foot and Mouth and a sign at the start of the path forbade access to Sandwood. We camped on the site at Durness during a strong gale and so pitched the tent almost in a gorse bush to keep it sheltered (we were the only people mad enough to be camping that day). The next day the weather went fantastically warm and sunny, and the other campers who arrived and pitched their tents overlooking the sea gave us very funny looks as we went into our tent in a thorny bush.

Hope to get up there late this year when doing the Sutherland part of the site - something I'm really looking forward to as the whole area is magical.
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby maddjock » Thu Jul 10, 2008 12:29 pm

lol....
yeah.. magical is the word for sure.. especially when you have the place to yourself...despite the remoteness there are quite a lot of day visitors and a number of one or two night campers. But a couple of times during the week I had the place to myself for a couple of nights... no other person for miles.. walking along the beach at night then is pretty magical..
glad you like the photos, i take the camera with me everywhere...

d
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby bio-man » Fri Jul 11, 2008 9:27 am

I went to this beach as a child when my mum and dad took me on a tour of Scotland. Could never remember what is was called, but knew the rough area. When I saw the photos, 'instant recognition'!!! I remember the breakers being the biggest I'd ever seen and the weather being excellent!! Nice one MJ!!
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby canisp » Fri Jul 11, 2008 7:04 pm

Great photo's, love the last one :D , beautiful colours, can almost hear the waves breaking on the shore
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby wandererjon » Fri Jul 11, 2008 8:57 pm

Fantastic pictures, as you say trying to catch the size is hard. Thanks for the info about the bothy, I think there was a tragedy happened there a few years ago and I guess nobody wanted to keep it up after that. But still a magical, wild and beautiful place!! I will go back sometime.....
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Re: Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Postby Myth » Mon Aug 11, 2008 12:16 pm

Looks like you had a fantastic stay Madjock - thanks for the photos...
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