Meandering my way to Cape Wrath

I’ve paid two or three visits to the far northwest in the last couple of years. Wonderfully remote and isolated country in which to escape for a day or three, it makes for perfect chillout territory, especially if you pick your weather. My latest trip to the extremes of Cape Wrath was more hiking than fishing but I did take a light spinning rod along for the journey…

Cape Wrath is just about the most isolated spot on mainland Scotland, with no real road access. It’s also the only actual Cape in Scotland that I’m aware of. Good enough reasons to pack a rucksack and set the alarm for very early. Sneaking quietly out the house without winding up the dog too much I set off before Edinburgh woke up. The sun was rising nicely as I crossed the Forth Bridge and even the A9 was empty enough to be bearable as I ploughed on.

Trail into Sandwood from Blairmore
Trail into Sandwood from Blairmore
Finally, by mid-morning, a 5 hour drive from Edinburgh saw me setting off on the track to Sandwood. I was deliberately trying to pack light, so it was only a 30l backpack with a tent, sleeping bag and cooking kit. Probably rather too much camera gear and not enough fishing kit, but much less effort required than hauling a 65l pack around. The first part of the trip, along to Sandwood Bay, is an easy hike along a well maintained little trail so I made rapid progress and was descending into the bay after 90 minutes or so.
Approaching Sandwood Bay, with Cape Wrath in the far north
Approaching Sandwood Bay
Sandwood is an iconic beach flanked by high cliffs and backed with grassy dunes and a fine peaty loch, and you get a great view as you drop down towards the sea. Way to the north, the lighthouse at Cape Wrath is just visible above the hills. Sandwood wasn’t my destination this time, but I felt obliged to give it a little shot to see if anything was hungry so stopped off towards the end of the beach and dug out some gear.
A stray Warrior boat arrives at Sandwood, presumably from Kinlochbervie
A stray Warrior boat arrives at Sandwood
My little 6’6” spinning rod was mightily outgunned by the surroundings but we gave it a couple of casts with a 1oz lead and a mackerel sliver. Nothing seemed terribly interested, but it was an ebb tide and a hot, sunny day, so I wasn’t hugely surprised.
Big beach, little rod - fishing Sandwood Bay with a spinning rod
Big beach, little rod – fishing Sandwood Bay

The sun was hot by now so I filled my water bottle from the nearby river and then sweated my way northwards over the low hills that guard the route to the Cape. There isn’t really much of a trail here and you make your own way across the mixture of peat bog, heather and machair style grasslands. Nothing much grows higher than six inches or so, and the areas of bare grit and rock bear witness to the ferocity of the wind along this very exposed coastline. None of that today though, and the light breeze was definitely welcome in the strong sunshine as I marched on towards my campground.

Camping at Keisgaig Bay, just above the Keisgaig River
Camping at Keisgaig Bay
Keisgaig Bay isn’t pretty in the way Sandwood is, but it is a fine, lonely spot to spend a night. I pitched the tent on a small promontory overlooking the most northerly salmon stream in mainland Britain – a mere shadow of its normal self in these dry conditions – and made a well deserved coffee as I took a short break. My plan was to leave most of the gear in the tent and then head up to Cape Wrath and back before nightfall, so I couldn’t hang around for too long.
To get out of Keisgaig involves a 600 feet climb up the hills to the north, which took a little while on a hot day, but was then followed by a fairly easy trek across dried out peat bog. Further on I encountered progressively wetter conditions and it didn’t take much imagination to appreciate how much more difficult this territory would be after a decent spell of rain. By comparison the final stage to Cape Wrath is almost an anti-climax along a rather beaten up army track.
Looking east from Cape Wrath towards Durness
Looking east from Cape Wrath

There was no-one else around as I took a few photos and nibbled on a snack before heading back south. This time I hugged the coastline a bit more closely which was quite a bit harder going but also let me identify any opportunities for a man with a rod in the future – and there are definitely some spots where the shoreline is accessible without abseiling gear. All in all I was feeling more than a little tired as I stumbled back down the hill into Keisgaig and unzipped the tent door.

I awoke the next morning to find the sun had returned after some overnight showers, so it was time for some breakfast and to watch the seals lounging around the bay whilst I had a coffee and sorted out my plans for the day. The idea was to give my rod a little bit of both fresh and saltwater action as I made my way back to Sandwood and then to the car, so I tied on a little Mepps 00 lure to some light braid and set off in search of a trout or ten.
Striking into a small trout in a burn near Cape Wrath
Striking into a small trout

I spent the rest of the morning exploring, trying a couple of lochs and several burns for any stray trout. These proved very obliging and easy to catch, although quite small (hardly a surprise in such a harsh environment) and I only drew a blank on one loch.

Small but beautiful - a brown trout from a hill loch near Cape Wrath
Small but beautiful – a brown trout from a hill loch

After amassing 13 or 14 very prettily marked fish (all returned) I rather reluctantly decided to return down towards Sandwood and try a beach a little to the north.

Surf rolls into a lovely little beach to the north of Sandwood
Surf rolls into a lovely little beach to the north of Sandwood

Washed by a light surf and crystal clear Atlantic water it was almost a privilege to mark a line of footprints in the sand of this fine little beach as I headed towards a large rock outcrop in the middle. Even the rock felt hot to my fingers as I climbed up under the sun and made myself comfortable. Armed with only a little spinning rod, and able to see the sea bed quite clearly through the surf for a long way out, I can’t say I was terribly confident about actually catching anything. However I went through the motions and slung another mackerel strip out into the breakers before settling down into my usual coffee making ritual.

A flounder caught to the north of Sandwood Bay
A flounder caught to the north of Sandwood Bay

Twenty minutes later I noticed the line was slack and felt a decent weight on the rod. Even with light gear I can’t say there was much of fight, but you certainly knew that there was a fish on as the little rod hooped right over. A flounder isn’t exactly in exotic territory but it was certainly welcome and I was pleased to add to my species count for the year.

Light surf fishing near Sandwood Bay - just a spinning rod and mackerel strip
Light surf fishing near Sandwood Bay

Confidence boosted I rebaited and cast out again, before settling down to be roasted again. A combination of snoozing and some complacency meant that I was very late to wake up to another slack line bite, and my line was hopelessly snarled up in the kelp at the base of my rocky perch before I realised I’d a fish on. I could even see it clearly 30 yards out in the surf as it swam effortlessly in the waves – a small sea trout. It took another thirty minutes before the tide cleared the bottom of the rocks sufficiently to let me clear my line and land the fish. Not large but it was still welcome proof that there was something worth fishing for!

A small sea trout caught on mackerel strip from a beach just north of Sandwood Bay
A small sea trout
By now it was getting closer to my “I’m still alive” check-in with home, and I still had a fair way to go and no mobile reception. Rather grudgingly I packed up and gasped my way up the hill and then back down to Sandwood. The beach was busier now, with 2 or 3 tents and at least a dozen people strung out along its length, so I was quite glad not to stay this time and content to head back towards the car at Blairmore.
Share this:
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterest

A Pilgrimage to Sandwood Bay

Very remote, often stormy, and always stunning, Sandwood is a broad sandy bay guarded on either end by sandstone cliffs hundreds of feet high which sits in the extreme and rather inaccessible NW corner of the Scottish mainland.

Camping at Sandwood Bay
Camping at Sandwood Bay

Over the years it has acquired an almost mystical reputation as a place to visit, complete with the ghosts of drowned sailors and the odd mermaid. Remoteness and grandeur certainly attract legends, but unfortunately what Sandwood doesn’t possess is a reputation for top class fishing, with the few reports available suggesting the odd flatfish, seatrout and possibly a bass.

I’ve trekked the 4 mile access track from Oldshoremore to Sandwood a couple of times before, but never with a fishing rod and not for over 25 years. However I’ve fancied a trip north for several years now and this time I took a rod along with me, along with a tent for an overnight stay.

Something like five and a half hours and 280 miles after leaving home I arrived in the car park at Blairmore, to find I wasn’t the only person interested in the Bay, as there was a good fistful of cars and camper vans there already.

The first part of the walk along was dominated by sheep and a load of lambs.

Lamb
Lamb

The view down the coast was wonderful – it’s amazing how a little bit of sunshine transforms the Scottish countryside.

Looking back to Blairmore
Looking back to Blairmore

Another of the local wildlife, although there were relatively few beasts of any sort after the first mile or so.

Highland Cow
Highland Cow

The path is in good condition (there was a volunteer party from John Muir Trust working on it) and easy to walk or bike along.

Footpath to Sandwood Bay
Footpath to Sandwood Bay

First view of Sandwood is both sudden and dramatic.

First view of Sandwood Bay
First view of Sandwood Bay

I worked my way along the beach towards the northern end, not far from where the river hits the sea. Exposed by the winter storms there are the remains of a WWII Spitfire which crashlanded here in 1941.

Sandwood Beach with Spitfire engine in foreground
Sandwood Beach with Spitfire engine

The other famous occupant of Sandwood Bay is the sea stack Am Buachaille.

Am Buachaille sea stack
Am Buachaille sea stack

I set up my gear and fished with a combination of mackerel strip and lugworm, hoping for a flattie and possibly a turbot. Nothing for the first couple of hours, until the tide had covered the very shallow part of the sand, and then this little seatrout took the mackerel strip.

A small seatrout from Sandwood Bay
A small seatrout from Sandwood Bay

The rest of the afternoon was spent fishing near the old Spitfire (the pilot escaped unharmed, incidentally), and it yielded several more sea trout in the run up to HW.

Remains of a Spitfire engine lie in the sand
Remains of a Spitfire engine lie in the sand
Seatrout swims off
Seatrout swims off
Nice sea trout
Nice sea trout approaching the 2lb mark

I set up camp on the beach itself, largely so I could fish on into the evening. Normally I’d prefer to get some more solid ground but it wasn’t forecast to be too windy, and I can handle a little bit of dry sand getting blown into the tent.

Camping on the beach at Sandwood Bay
Beachfront camping
Returning another bar of silver
Returning another bar of silver

As the tide ebbed the fishing died off, so I’d a little look around the beach and dunes. A little surprisingly there was very little in the way of flotsam or driftwood (any hopes of an evening bonfire were soon dashed), but I did find this old iron fishing float.

An old iron fishing float cast ashore
An old iron fishing float cast ashore
Looking inland towards Sandwood Loch
Looking inland towards Sandwood Loch

The sun set around half-nine and I took a few pictures of it disappearing, although it never really got fully dark – a mixture of the clear sky and the distance north that Sandwood Bay is compared to most of the UK.

Last of the sunshine
Last of the sunshine
The sun nears the horizon
Going, going…
The sun goes...
Gone!
Nightfall at Sandwood, with Cape Wrath to the left of the image
Nightfall at Sandwood

By now the last of the other visitors had left and the beach was mine for the night. Undisturbed by the local ghosts I fell asleep to the sound of the surf on the beach and had some much-needed kip for a few hours. Next morning saw me awake fairly early to get a bit of breakfast and have a short try for more fish before the tide ebbed too far.

Early morning on Sandwood Bay
Early morning on Sandwood Bay
Breakfast in the early morning sunshine
Breakfast in the early sunshine
Looking inland towards Foinaven
Looking inland towards Foinaven

Unfortunately things were a little quiet and nothing else appeared before I packed in and headed back along the path.

Last chance for a fish
Last chance for a fish
Rod watching at Sandwood
Rod watching at Sandwood
Seatrout heads back
Seatrout heads back

 

Simple short range fishing
Simple short range fishing

And finally… It’s easy to say that catching isn’t the central experience of a trip, especially if you haven’t actually caught so much as a baby flounder, but it’s very much true for me in such splendid surroundings. Immersed in magnificent isolation a fishing rod gives some sense of purpose, a little figleaf to fend off those who ask why you journey there, but it’s very much an accessory rather an essential requirement.

Share this:
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterest