Ullapool to Balnakeil 3-11 June 2023

HCC Trip Report
Club Expedition Ullapool to Balnakeil
June 3rd – 11th 2023

Participants: Steve Wheaton, Gordon Smith, Ian Walker

This trip is a continuation from three earlier trips: Helensburgh / Oban May 2019, Oban / Arisaig Sept 2021, Ullapool / Arisaig Sept 2022.
Support for the trip looked good a month earlier with six people showing interest, as the date drew nearer that had dwindled to two which would not have met the club criteria for a minimum of three. Fortunately, Ian popped up at the last moment enabling a Club Trip.
The trip was graded as a ‘C’ due to tidal streams, likely conditions and lengths of exposed coastline without access to the shore.
There are three significant tidal areas on the route, the most exposed being Cape Wrath. Despite the forecast showing predominantly Northerly winds all week, the weaker tidal streams occurring at the end of the week suggested a S. to N. journey.

Sat 3rd Helensburgh to Ullapool (car)
Mid-day departure and arrival after a couple of stops in the early evening at the Heathfield Campsite. Drinks and food in town as it would be our own rations for the week.

Sun 4th Ullapool to Isle Ristol N F3, High Cloud / Sun, 31 Km
On the water for 10:00, large cruise ship coming into Ullapool. Stopped for morning break on the mainland beach NNW. of Isle Martin. Spotted a pair of sea eagles. Lunch stop on beach adjacent to Badenscallie burial ground. Crossed Southern end of Badentarbet Bay to Tanera More, Taneras Beg for short stop then onto Isle Ristol and beach on N. of the island to camp.

Mon 5th Isle Risol to Bay of Stoer N F2 am & F5 pm, Sunny, 25 Km
04:00 wake up to be on the water at 05:00 and the NE going stream around Rubha Na Coigeach. Tucked into sheltered area behind rock just short of the headland. Slack water gave gentle conditions around the headland. Crossed Enard Bay via A’Chleit and Soyea Islands. Pushed on up to Achmelvich’s Northerly beach – 4.5 hrs paddling, so really good to get out of the boats for a stretch. Spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon exploring the area and lounging on the beach. Such an idyllic setting and could easily have stayed but decided to continue on up to the Bay of Stoer to make easier what will be another very early start tomorrow. With wind in the N. the beach was an easy landing but any Westerlies would have the surf running. Good camping just above the beach.

Tue 6th Bay of Stoer to Handa Island N F2/3, Sunny, 41 Km
Another 04:00 rise for paddling at 05:00 and Point of Stoer at 07:00 with the start of the NE going stream. Stop on beach 1.75 Km S. of point and another on Oldany Island before crossing Eddrachillis Bay via Meall Mor and Ox Rock to Rubh’an Dobhrain. Had planned to camp but not a great location. 12:30 after lunch moved on up to Scourie to check out the camping eventually deciding on continuing up to Handa Island. A long day but rewarded with a superb site on a grassy terrace on the Southern bay. Fine views of the Old Man of Stoer in the SW. Swim, dinner and bed for 21:30.

Wed 7th Handa Island to Bagh Sheigra NE F3 am F4 pm, Sunny 20 Km
Walked the bird spotting trail around the West of the island. The breading season being in full swing we saw guillemots, puffins, shags, skuas, kittiwakes, terns and more. Clear skies gave us views of both the Point of Stoer and towards Cape Wrath. Apparently, a pod of Orcas had been spotted last night heading N. outside the island.

Back on the water for 11:30 to get the last of the NE. going stream in the Sound of Handa. Brief stop in a narrow bay before crossing the heads of Lochs Laxford and Dughaill. Quite choppy proceeding into the wind towards Kinlochbervie. Stop on beach behind Eilean a’ Chonnaidh before checking out the beaches at Oldshoremore, Beg and Droman. Finally settling for Bagh Sheigra and a fine elevated terrace on the East side of the bay for camping. Running low on water but a fortunate meeting with a couple of climbers and an offer to drive us up Blairmore to refill at a standpipe gave us supplies for the rest of the trip.

Thu 8th Bagh Sheigra to Sandwood Bay NE F/4, Sunny 8 Km
Forecast for F4s out of the N. so decided on a short day up to Sandwood Bay. Hugged the coast to avoid the wind most of the way. Bit of surf going into the bay. Set our tents up on the SW. corner of the bay below the cliffs. Lunch and out for a walk on the track to Blairmore then E. to Strathan Bothy. Chat with the keeper out making a list of jobs for a future working party. Back to the bay via Strath Shinary and the E. side of Sandwood Loch. Not back until 20:00 for dinner chat and bed.

Fri 9th Sandwood Bay NE F4/5, Sunny
Forecast again not suitable for Cape Wrath and absolutely no difficulty in deciding to spend the day around Sandwood Bay. Swim followed by a walk up to Bay of Keisgaig and freshwater showers under the magnificent waterfall. Picknick lunch and walk back to the campsite. Afternoon walk to Am Buachaille where from the clifftop we watched a couple of climbers reach the summit, abseil down and swim back to the mainland. Nervous checking of tomorrows forecast showed it was still holding good.

Sat 10th Sandwood Bay to Balnakeil NE F2, Sunny 30 Km
O7:30 on the water and a good run up by the cliffs and caves to the Cape for slack water at 09:30. Easily made 6+ Km/hr with the lift from the remains of the S. going steam that provides a N. going eddy close in. Perfect conditions at the top enabled us to go inside the rock and narrow channel off the point, then the arches east of the point. Another hour took us down to Kervaig for a break and a walk up to the immaculate Kearvaig bothy. Bit of surf even in these benign conditions and like Sandwood easy to see how different it would be in stronger winds or just a large swell running.
Final 12 Km in gentle airs down to Balnakeil. Porpoises in the bay to greet us. Campsite picked above beach below golf course.
Walked into Durness for a couple of drinks and dinner, plus a reflection on how lucky we were with the weather and what a superb week we all had.

Sun 11th Balnakeil to Helensburgh (taxi and car)
The Durness Bus Co. as promised called for us at 09:30 and within two hours via luxury minibus and trailer delivered us back to Ullapool and our car, the marine version of which we had just spent seven very enjoyable days on.

Three Head North 4.6.23
Sea Eagle 4.6.23
Taneras Beg 4.6.23
Achmelvick 5.6.23
Exploring Between Achmelvich & Bay of Stoer 5.6.23
Caves South Of Scourie 6.6.23
Handa Island Camp View 6.6.23
Old Man of Stoer 6.6.23
Handa Island Looking North 7.6.23
Handa Island Looking South 7.6.23
Sand Wood Bay 8.6.23
Am Buachaille 9.6.23
Bay of Keisgaig Waterfall 9.6.23
Sandwood Bay from the North 9.6.23
Cape Wrath Arches 9.6.23
Cape Wrath 10.6.23
Balnakeil to Ullapool Transport 11.6.23
Ullapool to Isle Ristol 4.6.23
Isle Ristol to Bay Stoer 5.6.23

Bay of Stoer to Handa Island 6.6.23
Handa Island to Bagh Sheigra & Sandwood Bay 7.6.23 – 9.6.23
Sandwood Bay to Balnakeil 10.6.23