Bertha’s bite

Stage 145, 10th August: Gairloch to Cove

With the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha threatening for later in the day, I set out under a blue sky and North along the road towards the lighthouse at Rubh Reidh. The Isle of Skye was now disappearing over my left shoulder and had been replaced by the isles of Lewis and Harris across The Minch.

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The single track road was littered with camp sites and holiday cottages but with every mile the road gradually quietened and eventually became a silent and deserted strip of tarmac which terminated at the lighthouse. I now had to venture across country to reach the road on the East side of this latest peninsula and for much of my planned route there was no OS marked path or track. On the ground however, I did find a path of sorts and it went in the direction I wanted it to go. I doubt it was a man made path, but it suited my needs perfectly. It took me around the isolated beach at Camas Mor with its stacks and natural arches at one end. The waters were rich azure, crystal clear and very inviting, but the air temperature was taking a nose dive and I kept my pace in expectation of the weather to come.

From Camas Mor the route took me across bleak heather clad peat bogs via, what looked like, two very isolated but inhabited makeshift homes or shelters. One was a substantial former croft with a polythene roof and homemade windows, the other was little more than a shack on a rocky beach. Neither made it to my ‘must buy’ list.

The rain began to fall mid afternoon, gently at first but gradually harder as I met up with Alec near Cove on the shore of Loch Ewe, the departure point for the Arctic Convoys in World War Two. Concrete foundations and former gun emplacements were dotted around the headland as was a memorial to the thousands of men who lost their lives trying to get critical supplies through to the Russians.

Stage 146, 11th August: Cove to Laide

Overnight and well into the morning, Bertha did her worst. Our pitch in Poolewe seemed quite sheltered compared to many others on our site and many campers and caravaners were hurriedly packing away before Bertha could take their belongings and throw them into the loch.

Kate had forecast from home that things would ease around 1pm, so I hung around till midday before moving out. The drive back down to the headland to drop me off at Cove was a hairy one with heavy gusts of wind and the road awash. The small burns of yesterday were now raging peat tainted torrents and bridges were seriously close to overtopping.

As I walked back down the lane I couldn’t help but notice a huge plume of red sediment spreading out across the loch where one particularly large torrent of water entered the sea. I wondered if it would be even vaguely possible to try the cross country route I had ventured down yesterday. The bogs would by now be full blown waist deep lochans and the streams I crossed would no doubt be impassable. But for me the heavy Northwesterly wind was on my back and sped me down the lane into Poolewe.

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The rain eased as I met the main road and crossed the head of Loch Ewe towards Aultbea. The evidence of the Arctic Convoys still haunted the water with the jetty of an old but clearly operational and well painted fuel depot sitting stoically at the waters edge. From here it was a brief inland walk over the hills, a drop into Gruinard Bay and a meeting at the next waterside camp site with Alec. Our neighbour on the site was the cousin of the vicar in my village at home – small world eh?

Stage 147, 12th August: Laide to Dundonnell House

The glorious 12th didn’t feel quite so glorious to me. I stepped out into – guess what – rain! It was very definitely pizzle again and lots of it. It was cold too. Yesterday’s high winds made me don my woolly hat under my waterproof hood and slip into my new waterproof gloves to replace my less than successful previous pair. Today I wore them again but only because it felt very autumnal. I had dumped my waterproof trousers as I had found them pretty useless due to the condensation and sweat which build up when you are wearing them. My normal walking trousers suffice in that at least they air-dry in ten minutes flat if the rain gives them a break.

So it was off and along the road around Gruinard Bay and it’s small island. The island was once contaminated with Anthrax as part of an MOD experiment and was abandoned afterwards. It was left forgotten by the London based civil servants and was never likely to be cleaned until Greenpeace dumped a bit of the island soil in Westminster and threatened to dump more in the parliament canteen. Needless to say – it was cleaned up. I never thought I would agree with a Greenpeace action, but in this instance it certainly sharpened a few minds.

It was all ‘A’ road walking today, but fortunately the A832 was only sporadically populated. It was apparent that the blue lights and sirens heading this way yesterday were to deal with landslips and flooding and that many drivers still held the belief that the road was closed. Yes the waterfalls were still very full, but they didn’t have the roar of yesterday and had clearly fallen back from their peak of 24 hours ago. Nonetheless the flow was still impressive and the damage was only just being dealt with.

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I passed through a few villages with peculiar names such as First Coast, Second Coast, Badcaul and Badbea. I couldn’t help but laugh at the Gaelic spelling for Badcaul at “Bad Call” and thought the signage was just a little patronising. By the time I had passed the workmen clearing the landslip and mudslide near Dundonnell I had learned from Alec that the rain had been the worst in this area for 32 years and that in 1982 it was supposedly the 200 year storm. The maths just doesn’t seem to work. Either way, it was very much a storm of biblical proportions around here and what is more the rain was still sodding well falling!

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