Sandwood

Sandwood Bay is situated between the headlands of Rubh’ an t Socaich Ghlais and Rubh’a Bhuachaille, the bay lies 6m (10km) southwest of Cape Wrath one of the wildest, loneliest, loveliest and least inaccessible bays on the British coast. It is best accessed from Kinlochbervie on the shore of Loch Inchard, the last three miles being over a typical Highland bog which takes a good deal longer to cross than the distance would seem to warrant. The bay itself is bounded on its southern arm by immense cliffs of dark red Torridon sandstone; and standing aloof from the headland is a tall columnar sea-stack, a portion of the cliff detached under the ceaseless attack of the sea. At the south end the stack Am Buachaille, The Herdsman and off shore the rocky islet of Am Baig.
 

The bay is floored with that same exquisitely coloured sand, the ground-down fragments of the coast, and is backed by dunes of the same material. Northward, headland after headland stands out defiantly, culminating in the majestic ramparts of Cape Wrath. The sea pours into the bay tumultuously and climbs to breathless heights up the walls of the cliffs on either hand, while the wreckage lying about bears eloquent testimony to the destruction wrought by these tremendous waters. In the manifold richness and beauty of the grandest mountain district in Britain, this is one of the gems.

The approach route is well back from the coastline and a low ridge hides any views of the sea for most of the way. Two thirds of the walk is along tracks but the final sections are over some very wet and eroded peat bogs. The path crosses rough, and at times boggy moorland, past Lochs Meadhonach and Clais nan Coinneal, then down on the right Sandwood Cottage is visible. Follow the obvious route round the shoulder of Druim na Buainn towards the sea.

Sight of the bay and long white sand curved around a deep blue sea is obscured until you are virtually on top of it, a steep crag protects a direct entrance onto the southern end of the beach and you descend to find yourself in the middle of a long sandy bay. Behind the high beach dunes lies Sandwood Loch, nearly 2 km and obviously isolated from the sea by the deposits of sand laid down by the sea. This is a popular walk.

The bay is one of the largest on the west coast; it is comparatively remote; there are high cliffs on both the north and south headlands (both over 400ft) which add drama to the view; Am Buachaille stands 200 ft high in splendid profile off the southern headland; the sand dunes are enormous, topped with coarse grass, and showing no signs of human intervention. In this northerly location the Atlantic comes crashing in unhindered by any land mass, on a stormy day it is an impressive sight. Swimming in the bay is not advised.

The river Shinary, drains Sandwood Loch and breaks the beach in the centre. It rises in the Parph and flows down Strath Shinary, a spate river with merely a trickle in dry weather.

Off shore are remains of several ship wrecks carried by currents prior to the Cape Wrath Lighthouse. A spitfire crashed here on a training exercise during the Second World War and still some parts are uncovered.

It is possible to walk the coastline from Sandwood Bay to the Cape, to the north, at the extremity of a cliff-bound stretch of coast, is the lonely lighthouse at Cape Wrath however the terrain is very rough, trackless, passes over high cliffs and drops into the coves, and there are two sizeable river crossings. You also need to coordinate your arrival with a pre-arranged meeting for the summer mini-bus service that will take out back to the ferry at Durness – or add a further 16 miles of walking along the road; the bulk of the road walking is through MOD land and there is no alternative. The Ministry of Defence uses the Cape Wrath area and there are access restrictions to the coastline and the interior.

There are numerous tales of mermaids and phantoms from this remote place and a popular tale is about the ghost of the Bearded Sailor. Several tales have been told of walkers who have sought shelter in the cottage, being terrified by a bearded sailor appearing at the windows, resplendent in tunic and brass buttons. One report tells of a violent shaking of the whole house during the night, with two terrified walkers who were sheltering there leaving at first light and running for their lives to civilisation. The most intriguing tale concerns an Edinburgh lady who had never been to Sandwood Bay. A friend who had been there gave her a piece of the cottage’s broken staircase as a souvenir. Since then, several uncanny experiences befell her. Crockery tumbled inexplicably from the table. Knocks and footsteps were heard throughout the night. On one occasion she smelled tobacco, and turned to see the Bearded Sailor in her doorway. He watched her for a moment, and then vanished.