This morning I saw a deer outside my bedroom window; not a small one as I once saw in the garden at Aberfeldy but a big deer with impressive antlers moving with a quiet grace into the thicket at the side of the house. For a moment I was spellbound, surprised at seeing the unexpected within a few feet of where I stood watching, and amazed that a wild animal would approach so close to town. Intrigued, I went outside and followed the path it had taken but the deer had vanished, seemingly into thin air. I could see its tracks in the soft ground but then they faded away leaving me a puzzle as to where it might have ultimately gone. I had a vision of this stately animal stepping lightly across Culag Bridge and melding into the woodland on the other side. My only hope is that the creature manages to avoid an untimely end at the hands of the deer stalkers from Canisp Lodge, just a short way along the road.
With blue skies overhead and the promise of a fine day it was the perfect opportunity to visit Stoer Head lighthouse and from there a hike along the cliff edge to see The Old Man of Stoer - a 7.4 km hike from car park to the Point of Stoer.
The road to Stoer Head is a narrow single track road with hair-raising blind corners and quite a bit of traffic. More than once we were obliged to back up having overshot a passing place before the next car came into view. Winding through farmland and negotiating our way past sheep wandering on the road we passed impressive coastal landscapes and more than one charming sandy beach before arriving at the small carpark at Stoer Head.
The lighthouse was built in 1870 by David and Thomas Stevenson and all materials for its construction were shipped in and landed a mile or so down the coast at a jetty. The lighthouse was automated in 1978.
After walking up the hill to the lighthouse and appreciating the amazing ocean vista we took some photos and then descended to start our hike north along the coast. A number of hikers were already on the path but, as often is the case, we started up the wrong one! Instead of bearing left along a grassy track we followed the gravel path which leads to the telegraph mast. Realising our mistake we crossed the heather having to pick our way carefully across the sometimes boggy ground and joined the grass track close to the edge of the cliff.
The path was mainly short grass but often became indistinct in places and finding a suitable way across boggy patches and negotiating rocky sections added to the variety. The views, of course, more than made up for the challenges underfoot but it was harder going than we anticipated. After about a kilometre we came upon a gully which is navigated by steep rocky steps on either side. We had expected this as the guide book had mentioned this feature however what the book had described as merely "awkward" was more than a tad hair-raising!
Having successfully crossed the gully we resumed our hike along the cliff top with the path moving very close to the edge in places and becoming quite steep and boggy in others. At one point we considered turning back as we seemed to have been trudging for a long time and began to doubt out ability to cover the remaining distance. After consulting the GPS and taking a rest as we decided what to do next we found that it was only another 780 metres to Cirean Geardail, the rocky promontory from which the Old Man of Stoer can be viewed. So, infused with a sense of purpose, we started out again.
The sea was calm and we could see right to the Western Isles in the distance but once again we failed to spot any whales, dolphins or seals in the huge expanse of blue ocean. Below us on the rocks at the base of the cliffs seabirds were wheeling and diving for fish and Alex was sure she saw a solitary seal but it was gone in a flash if it was ever really there.
At last we reached Cirean Geardail where two couples were already admiring the view and taking photos. Two of them were even perched on the rocky pinnacle but that was a particular adventure that nothing would have induced me to take!
Looking north from the promontory The Old Man of Stoer (from the Norse "staurr" meaning pole) stood majestically in isolation, 70 metres of sea stack jutting up from the oceean on its rocky plinth. It's an impressive sight to be sure and we took many photos but this was as far as we planned to go although it was possible to hike all the way to the Point of Stoer another 1km along and the most westerly point of the peninsula.
After a short rest, enjoying the sunshine, we made our back along the coastal path this time taking as direct a route as possible even though this sometimes seemed to be the more difficult it proved to be much quicker. Of course, as always, Alex unerringly managed to find the wettest and deepest part of one of the boggy patches that we were obliged to cross and sank ankle deep into the liquid mud. Even my boots were muddy to the laces and I'm famous for being able to jump, step and generally dance my way across a bog without getting my feet wet! Still, it made us giggle.
Once we tackled the steep sided gully again - and for some reason it seemed easier on the way back - we were on the home stretch and heading for the lighthouse and the promise of a drink and something to eat at the Living the Dream tea van.
The van can be found in the car park every day except Saturday and is open from 11am to 5pm during the summer season from Easter to September. We opted for a fried egg roll but had to change to a cheese and chutney roll when the northerly wind kept blowing out the gas! An occupational hazard it seems with the van's location. Undaunted we happily switched to cheese and chutney and augmented that with some homemade lemon cake.
We sat at the picnic table provided in the shelter of a parked campervan and ate our lunch looking out over the ocean and happy to be under blue skies in spite of the stiff breeze blowing. The food was delicious and my mug of hot chocolate finished it off nicely.
Fortified and ready to be on the move again we decided that, rather than retrace our steps, we would continue on around the coast to Drumbeg, through Kylescu and on to Scourie.
This was a tense journey to say the least. If the first part of the trip had been hair-raising this section was nerve-wracking. Cars ripped along at speed and the road was narrower than a domestic driveway at home with no room to manoeuvre on either side, in fact the road was often bordered by stone walls. It was a looooooong drive!
Finally we emerged onto the bliss of a road wide enough for 2 cars at a time (and even boasting a white line down the middle) andf turned for Scourie. By now the clouds were gathering and the blue sky was reduced to isolated patches as we drove through dramatic and intimidating scenery dominated by looming mountains and rocky crags. There is no softness here, it a hard and unforgiving landscape interrupted only by expanses of water yet, at the same time, it is some of the most beautiful.
We made a brief stop at the beach but the wind was now chilly and the tide was out so we stayed only long enough to stretch out legs and blow away some of the cobwebs of a tiring drive.
Driving back to Lochinver we avoided the nightmare coastal road and stuck to the main route making for a much quicker journey and we arrived back in the village in the late afternoon under grey skies.
With rain forecast for the remainder of the week we felt privileged to have managed a full day of blue skies and sunshine; perfect weather for our clifftop hike at Stoerhead. Having hiked it in clear weather I can confidently say that there is no way that I would trudge along a cliff top in wet or windy weather even to catch a glimpse of The Old Man of Stoer. Call me a coward but I value my life!