Day 7 Sango Sands to Loch Naver 55 miles Total 341 miles
It was a terrifying night of rain and gales. The van rocked on the cliff top and we dreaded damage…….and the weather forecast was more of the same.
Our original plan had been to stay two nights at Sango Sands at Durness, but we did not think it wise to sit there, exposed on the cliff top, to be battered by the wind. Mary consulted the map and in the end we decided we would run before the storm and head inland. There was a campsite at Altnaharra, so that is where we would head. A bit off the route of the NC500, perhaps, but we might get away from the worst of the weather.
But first we thought we would pay a quick visit to the Craft Village which Mary had seen a sign to, on the road to Balnakeil. What a wonderful find it was! This collection of flat roofed concrete buildings was built in the mid 1950s as an MOD early warning station in the event of nuclear attack. However, it was never commissioned, and in 1964, the camp born of Cold War fear in the 50s, began its rebirth as a 1960s cradle of creativity. We were able to drink the best hot chocolate ever at the Cocoa Mountain, admire the crafts in various places, and to buy glass artwork from Balnakeil Glass.
We planned then to go on for a quick visit to Balnakeil beach, but the wind was still blowing, the rain came on again, so we thought better of it and headed west along the north coast, round Loch Eriboll, on to Tongue with stunning views of Ben Loyal appearing through the mist as we crossed the causeway, and then up into the hills towards Altnaharra.
We found Alnaharra, but the caravan site was a little more tricky to locate. In the end we were directed up the road through Strath Naver, and there it was, huddled on the shores of Loch Naver, a gem of a site, operated by the Caravan Club: no showers or toilets, the nearest shop some 20 miles away, but what a gorgeous place. We parked beside the loch, with our back to the ruins of an old broch. This is where we would sit out the storm.
The broch is called Grummore. Dating back to the first century AD, Its walls are 10 feet thick, and the whole construction about 30 feet wide. This was our second broch of the trip, and there are plenty more of these round tower houses about, if you know where to look for them.
We also found out that we were camped beside the ruins of one of the clearance villages. The 16 houses of the Grummore township were burned in 1819 in what has become known as the Highland Clearances to “improve” the land and create grazing for sheep. The infamous Patrick Sellar, the factor to the Duke of Sutherland was involved in this case. Strath Naver was the focus of much of his clearance work, including the case for which he was tried for arson and culpable homicide: Margaret Mackay was burned to death in her house when she refused to leave. Sellar was acquitted because of lack of evidence. A beautiful place but with echoes of past horrors.
But it was stormy here too; the wind was howling up the strath, the loch was whipped up into white waves, but we felt secure and despite the rocking of the van over night and the battering of the rain. We rested well.
In the morning, the wind and dropped and the the sun was out, so we decided to head back to the coast.
There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.