A wild visit to Stoer Head

Looking out over the Cromarty Firth.

Looking out over the Cromarty Firth.

The plan had seemed so simple, back in Inverness, curled up in front of a roaring fire. Park at Lochinver and ride along the coastal paths to Archmelvic before returning back via the roads, back to a warm van, food and whisky. However, by the time we arrived, walking along the pier was a challenge in itself, as a westerly wind raged in off the Atlantic. Gale warnings were quietly announced on the local weather report.

Katie looks out over the bay of Lochinver.

Katie looks out over the bay of Lochinver.

Hum… what to do? Now I love a good storm, I love the physical battle against the elements as they try to beat you back, yet you fight onwards. The feeling of really having pushed yourself when you come out the other side, tired but happy. The feeling of warmth as you collapse, exhausted and frozen in the bar afterwards. Growing up in North Yorkshire, I loved nothing better than leaning into the wind as it howled up and over the cliff edge. But, over the years I’ve also come to realise how exhausting cycling in a constantly changing wind can be. I know, that riding along the cliff today, will be no fun at all! There will be no warm bar waiting for us at the end, just a half frozen van full of damp kit.
Katie spends some time discussing food options with the locals.

Katie spends some time discussing food options with the locals.

Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel is a traditional and remote rustic hostel situated just 300 metres from the legendary white sandy beach.

Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel – What a great place to stay!

There are times when bailing on any opportunity to ride my bike leaves me feeling empty or disappointed in myself. At a loss as to how to fill that time or grumpy that play has been stopped. But since moving back to Scotland, I feel much more at peace with these decisions. After all, today we are on the West coast of Scotland, with perhaps some of the most amazing scenery in the World. Also, after the last few months, what we really need is some quite time to allow us to rearrange our thoughts and feelings.

Sea loch on the way to Stoer Head.

One of the many sea lochs on the way to Stoer Head.

As the wind brings the inevitable rain, we huddle around a coffee and map in the back of the van and hatch an altogether different plan. What is here, that we can experience in this, finest of Scottish weathers?

With literally, miles of unspoilt coastline to explore and dozens of quiet secluded beaches to make our own, we decide to head North up the coast. To find somewhere both quite and wild, Remote, removed from everyday life, somewhere to relax as the wind rages on outside. Loaded with food, books and music we can point the van away from the busy roads and find somewhere to reflect and dream, dreams for another day.

Rain behind Stoer Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built by the Stevenson family in 1870 and was automated in 1978.

Rain behind Stoer Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built by the Stevenson family in 1870 and was automated in 1978.

Stoer Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built by the Stevenson family in 1870 and was automated in 1978.

Stoer Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built by the Stevenson family in 1870 and was automated in 1978.

We followed tiny, seldom used single track roads, out over the Stoer Peninsula, arriving as the light started to fade at Stoer Head and the rather spectacular Lighthouse. The Stoer Head Lighthouse stands on a rocky promontory surrounded on two sides by cliffs at the westernmost point of the Stoer Peninsula. This is a remote spot today and must have been still more so when the lighthouse was built back in 1870. I’ve always had a fascination with lighthouses, as a child, I used to dream about being a lighthouse keeper, I was devastated when I found out that they are now mostly automated.

A wild, windy parking spot... maybe a little exposed.

A wild, windy parking spot… maybe a little exposed.

Looking North from Stoer Lighthouse.

Looking North from Stoer Lighthouse.

We are separated by the Minch, which separates the Western Isles from the mainland. 28 miles due west of here is another lighthouse, at the tip of the Eye Peninsula on the Isle of Lewis. The Minch has a reputation for being one of the most formidable stretches of water anywhere in the world in bad weather, and over the centuries this area became the graveyard of many ships. With my face to the blowing wind, I look out over the Minch now and wonder how many lives have been saved by this great building?

The light glows from Stoer Lighthouse warning shipping to stay away.

The light glows from Stoer Lighthouse warning shipping to stay away.

We watch as day turns to night, imagining a perfect sunset, out over the Minch, tomorrow will bring better weather. The wind never ceasing, batters my tripod as I try to take a final shot of the night. There won’t be any stars to see tonight.

Stoer Lighthouse, sitting proudly on it's rocky outcrop.

Stoer Lighthouse, sitting proudly on its rocky outcrop.

The following morning brings at least some nice light, but the wind has howled all night, buffeting the van, never relenting. If anything, this morning it is even stronger! We cook bacon, drink coffee and watch the waves crashing on the rocks below, it’s a perfect way to spend the morning, accepting that today won’t involve a climb on near by Stac Pollaidh, instead we set out along the cliff tops, careful not to get blown over the edge. Between the rain showers, the light is amazing, but we struggle to hold a conversation as the wind snaps away our voices.

Finding some shelter from the wind.

Finding some shelter from the wind.

Rain clouds gather over Stoer Head Lighthouse.

Rain clouds gather over Stoer Head Lighthouse.

But, then as we reach the crest of a hill, we spot the Old Man of Stoer, a sea stack rising some 200ft out of the ocean. It’s a dramatic sight, especially today as the waves crash on the rocks far below. Again my thoughts drift back to the sailors, who journeyed these waters, in days before the lighthouse was built.

The Old Man of Stoer, a spectacular sea-stack, stands proud, looking out over the Minch.

The Old Man of Stoer, a spectacular sea-stack, stands proud, looking out over the Minch.

We turn inland and climb the summit of Sidhean Mor, it’s only 141 meters high, but the highest ground around and provides impressive views both up and down the coast. We wind our way across the moor top, hunting at the end of rainbows, before returning to the van and the drive back to Inverness. It wasn’t the weekend we planned, but in many ways that is what will make it so special, some places are just meant to be visted when the weather is wild!

Katie enjoying the views from the summit of the 141m high Sidhean Mor.

Katie enjoying the views from the summit of the 141m high Sidhean Mor.

Looking North from the summit of Sidhean Mor.

Looking North from the summit of Sidhean Mor.

Between the rain storms, we find the end of the Rainbow.

Between the rain storms, we find the end of the Rainbow.

Looking out over the Minch between the rain storms.

Looking out over the Minch between the rain storms.