Andy Torbet reports from Cape Wrath on the tip of northwest Scotland – a spectacular spot for some adventurous snorkelling.
Torbet on the Tube: The Wrath of Torbet
As most of you will be aware, I prefer the more remote, hard to reach snorkelling sites. One of the least populated places on the British mainland is a small corner of land in the far North West of Scotland with a name fi tting mysterious places from ancient treasure maps – Cape Wrath.
It’s a long drive north – no matter where you’re coming from – but this just adds to the feeling of escaping along a road less travelled and the rarity of the experience to come. The Assynt Mountains, which surround you on your fi nal leg, create the feeling you’ve stumbled into Game of Thrones territory. About two miles before reaching the village on Durness on the north coast, you pull off for the Keoldale Jetty to catch the ferry. But this is where you’ll have to leave your car behind, as the ferry is a small vessel only capable of carrying a dozen or so souls.
On the other side you’ll be met by the ‘Cape Wrath Bus’, an old minibus which I doubt is road legal. It is there to take visitors to the lighthouse at the most north-westerly point of mainland Britain. However, if you chat to the driver he’ll drop you off, after a seven-mile journey along the most pitted and potted road in Britain where speed rarely gets up to 15mph, near Kervaig Beach and it’s a short stroll from there to the sea.
Here you’ll fi nd a small bothy looking across one of the most spectacular beaches in the UK. I arrived on a bright, clear summer’s day so was somewhat spoiled by the sight of the glowing sandy bay bookended by the dark Clo Mor cliffs, the highest in mainland Britain towering upwards over 700 feet. It’s worth taking time before or after your snorkel to walk up the path to the top and gaze out over the sea. But be careful. This is not some over-constructed tourist site. There is no safety barrier or guard rail and it’s a very long way down.
As the location’s name suggests, sea conditions are often unfavourable for swimming of any kind. Such challenges serve to make the rare calm days all the more special and I arrived on one such day (although it took a lot of weather watching and a readiness to react to some exceptionally favourable conditions).
I only faced a low swell and small waves ambling up the sand. But I headed to the right-hand side of the beach and scrambled across the rocks and through a small tunnel beneath the huge, black rock face. Beneath the cliffs, the underwater scenery was dominated by bedrock, boulders and blocks rather than the uniform sands of the bay, so visibility was better and more sea life could be found among the nooks and crannies. The area looks very healthy and untouched which is no surprise. I can’t be certain I was the fi rst person to snorkel beneath these cliffs, but this area cannot see many sub-surface visitors.
The bus is intermittent and returns a couple of hours after it drops you off. In high season they’ll do more than one run a day so you may have as much as six hours to snorkel. Chat to the driver and work something out – it’s an oldfashioned system that relies on two human beings talking!
I sat by the side of the road for about an hour before the bus turned up, but that beats the alternative – a seven mile walk back to the jetty and a 600 metre swim across the tidal estuary back to where you left the car. Of course you could always make use of the free bunk in one of the most impressively placed bothies in Britain… and perhaps bag a night snorkel too!
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