Durness & Sutherland
A thriving crofting community surrounded by spectacular mountains, a rugged coastline and stunning unpolluted beaches makes Sutherland the perfect holiday destination.
Durness & Laid are now one of the few remaining places of any size in mainland Scotland that you can only access by single track road. The splendour of the area is expressed in its extended horizons, in certain parts a view of over thirty kilometres is not uncommon.
The north west coast line around Durness & Laid is formed of precipitous cliffs and sandy beaches. A crofting village spread out along the coast, Durness is basically a string of hamlets. The crofts with houses and strips of land lying out behind towards the coast on limestone rocks giving rise to good pasture land.
The name Durness could be from the Norse Drya-ness meaning Deer Cape or Deer point and is often referred to as an oasis in a barren land, the last resort or the last outpost. It stands slightly proud from the sea with sandy beaches and rocky coves.
Durness lies on the north coast in the wild, remote and beautiful expanse of Cape Wrath. It is the most north westerly inhabited locality of mainland Britain. Magnificent mountains, stunning seascapes, beautiful beaches and friendly people make a slower and more traditional pace of life, subject since early time to a great many influences and strong contrasts. For its size the parish is an active community with a high degree of participation in social and political activities.
Isolated, blissfully peaceful there is an abundance to do & see!
The scenery around Durness is magnificent and for those accustomed to city dwelling the sheer scale of the landscape is awe inspiring, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas of Europe with sparkling rivers, scattered lochs, shimmering beaches, rugged mountains and vast expanses of open moorland.
Visitors to Durness & Sutherland will find peace and quietness, an absolute abundance of wildlife, clean, uncrowded beaches, some of the world’s best fishing and space in which to enjoy the clear invigorating air.
Walking is the main activity – low and high level walks are abundant. At Mackay’s we are fully equipped with local maps and walking networks; our local knowledge often proves very useful and we are always delighted to help, so please do ask.
Walking & Climbing
There are few places which offer walking amongst such dramatic scenery as can be found in the far north-west highlands. The local coastline features everything from hidden sandy beaches to the highest cliffs on Britain’s Mainland. There are several walks for all to enjoy, a few of which are noted below.
- Faraid Head – an enchanting walk across Balnakiel Beach and onto the headland with amazing sand dunes and sea cliffs. A great place to spot Puffins, Whales and other sea life.
- Cape Wrath to Sandwood Bay – a breath-taking experience incorporating a visit to perhaps the most isolated beach on mainland Britain, Haunted by the ghost of the bearded sailor.
- Sandwood Bay and Eas Coul Aulin – This is a gentle walk along peat-cutters’ paths and over open moorland to the most remote beach in Britain.
For more information visit walkhighlands.co.uk or simply ask us for suggestions and recommendations.
For the more adventurous some of the most enjoyable hill walking in Britain can be found in the Sutherland area. Unlike some of the more popular hills these are remote, quiet hills where you are unlikely to meet another living soul.
The ridge of hills and mountains stretching south begins ½ km from The Lazy Crofter Bunkhouse and includes the magnificent Foinaven (2,980 ft/ 908 m) and Arkle (2,583 ft/ 787 m), while to the east lie the spectacular Ben Loyal (2,504 ft/ 763 m) and of course Ben Hope (3,040 ft/ 927 m), the most northerly Munro.
Heights of Local Mountains
- Ben Hope: 3,040 feet / 927 metres
- Ben Loyal: 2,504 feet / 763 metres
- Arkle: 2,583 feet / 787 metres
- Foinaven: 2,980 feet / 908 metres
- Ben Stack: 2,366 feet / 721 metres
We have some of the best beaches in the world, secluded, pristine endless golden sands, clear turquoise water and better still they are usually empty. There is an abundance of choice each with their own individual charm.
You will never tire from the appreciation of our untouched sands. The choice is yours there is a beach for everyday of the week.
The sand dunes are a most obvious feature of the coast, they represent a large range of habitats and form a machair, grassland of the calcareous type initially stabilised by Marram Grass. The sandy bay is crescent shaped and facing west where bathing is safe from pollution, unspoilt and quiet. The area offers unparalleled sunsets.
In the heart of Durness village, Sango is a three minute walk from the cottage and always a delight.
Translated form Gaelic Ceannabeinne means head or end of the mountains lies two miles from the cottage. Perfection!
The Secret Beach
We could tell you but then what’s the point in that!
The most remote beach in Europe and possibly the most written about now!
This beach is worth the 20 minute drive down through Kinlochbervie. A different feel from any other beach.
Oldshore Mor’s neighbour great for a skinny dip
Cape Wrath is the most northwest point of mainland Britain, accessible via a ferry across the Kyle of Durness which connects with a minibus on the other side. The Cape is renowned for its lighthouse built by Robert Stephenson in 1827.
See the astounding Clo Mor cliffs (the highest on mainland UK) which support immense sea bird colonies including thousands of puffins, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and guillemots.
Visit Britain’s largest limestone cave, explore the inner caverns and beautiful waterfall. Smoo Cave is a famous natural landmark, Britain’s largest limestone cave. A burn running through the limestone to the sea itself has through time created a huge cave, which is easily accessible to all.
The massive outer chamber is breathtaking. To explore the inner caverns. a wooden bridge leads into the inner chamber where you are met by the roar of a magnificent waterfall.
As well as healthy seabird population the Durness & Sutherland area enjoys a healthy wildlife population for everyone to experience and enjoy, often for the first time.
Watch for the eagle overhead the deer on the hill and listen for the haunting of the Greenshank. A famous seabird population on Handa Island deserves a day trip, as it is one of the most important seabird breeding colonies in the UK.
Corncrakes are effectively breeding in the area, once common and recently almost extinct it can often be heard- identified by its repeated rasping calls.
Prepare for the memorable sight of leaping dolphins or graceful whales, which frequent local bays daily during the summer months. Share the sad weary gaze of resting seals as you explore the magnificent landscape.
Rare wild flowers are found in abundance and many locations are protected by SSSI status.
Handa Island is internationally famous for its sea-bird colonies, including the largest breeding colony of guillemots in Britain and there are estimated to be around 120,000 pairs of breeding on Handa! There are also puffin, fulmar, shag, razorbill, artic and great skuas, kittiwake, gulls and terns. You will also find attractive plant-life and archaeological remains of an old village which was inhabited until 1847.
Handa is renowned for its magnificent Torridonian Sandstone cliffs, which rise to a height of 400 feet along the dramatic northern edge of the island. Thousands of years of weathering of the sandstone has formed horizontal layers which provide ideal disturbance free places for seabirds to breed. Each summer they come alive, when nearly 100,000 seabirds gather here to breed. Guillemots, razorbills, and great skuas reach internationally important numbers.
Many of Handa’s seabirds, which can live for 20 years or more, return to exactly the same spot on the cliff year after year. In these sea-bird ‘cities’ each pair holds a territory of a few square feet, which is essential for breeding. From mid-July onwards the seabirds begin to leave the cliffs to spend the winter out at sea.
Tarbet is the departure point for Handa Island. A small ferry boat operates from the pier. The turnoff for Tarbet is 11 miles north of Kylesku (2 miles North of Scourie) from the A894 . It is a left hand turn (going north) and the signpost is on the right adjacent to a small loch. Parking and public toilets are available in Tarbet ( no toilets on Handa).
The island is owned by Dr. Jean Balfour and managed for its wildlife by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT). On arrival the island visitors will be met by staff/volunteers. After a short introductory talk, the staff will point you in the direction of the footpath which encircles the island. The complete trail is 6 km and takes at least 2 hours (it is best to allow 3 to 4 hours or more to fully appreciate the sights and sounds of Handa). The terrain is rough, the cliffs are steep and the weather can change quickly, so take care.
- Monday – Saturday (Monday 2nd April to Saturday 8th September 2012): The first ferry departs Tarbet at about 9.00am and thereafter crossings are on demand and weather dependent (Tel: 0775 625890 or 0778 0967800)
- The last outbound journey is approx. 2:00pm. Return ferries are approximately every 30 minutes until 5.00pm.
Archaeology & Geology
This unique region was discovered geologically by the famous Peach & Horne and is a classic area for structural geology and tectonics. The oldest rocks in Durness are some of the oldest in the world.
Three major divisions of the pre-Cambrian system can be found:
- Lewisian – the oldest, comprising of such rock between one thousand four hundred million years and two thousand six hundred million years old
- Moin Servies – eight to nine hundred million years old distinguishable by appearance
- Tomdonian – eight to nine hundred million years old distinguishable by appearance
Two or three annual trips are made by geological students from national and international universities to study the local rock.
While the area is rich in archaeological heritage and genuine archaeological interest, rich in culture and steeped in history, much of what exists remains unrecorded and excavations are ongoing.
Visit the ruins of Balnakeil Church founded in 722, its history and folklore is mystically inspiring.
Brochs, a wheelhouse and souterraine are within easy access – the wheelhouse or roundhouse (NC 405 611428 613) is a round dwelling house, which dates from approximately 200AD and is remarkably well preserved. Its remote location is puzzling when knowledge and distribution of similar structures increasingly popular, the magnificently clean and easily accessible beaches of the area and the amazing surf are proving hard to resist and have drawn more surfers over the last decade.
The smooth, quiet roads in the Durness and Sutherland area are ideally suited to road and mountain biking with many short and long routes and trails to choose from.
Popular Durness cycle routes on Strava
- Along the Kyle of Durness (5.7km)
- Climb Out Of Durness (8.6km)
- Boat to Highest Point (Cape Wrath) (9km)
- Lairg to Durness (90km)
There are certain courses in Scotland, which may only have nine holes, but Durness Golf Course is on the “must to be played” list. You don’t get much more remote than this but you don’t get much more beautiful. It’s a simple affair, carefully placed along the stunning Faraid Head peninsula set behind the ancient Balnakiel Church – the most northern course on the Scottish mainland.
Amongst many wonderful assets is the light: it can be light here well into the night, and evening rounds of golf are most enjoyable. In the height of summer why not try a round of midnight golf, with porpoises in Balnakiel Bay for company – who could ask for more?
The ultimate hole here is the 9th or 18th which is straight over the North Atlantic Ocean.
Officially recognised as a nine-hole course, but with a second set of very different tees Durness plays like a traditional 18 holes. Being situated in North West Sutherland golfers are ensured spectacular scenery and closeness to nature. They can enjoy their game in tranquil surroundings at a very affordable price. It is no easy course; the record still stands at 69, and is a test for any level of golfer.
The first is an uphill dogleg to the left with the second, third and fourth played out in the direction of the famous and spectacular Foinaven Mountain. We turn round on the fifth; a challenging par 4 and the sixth is the American style par 5 with lots of water hazards. This was the favourite of Ronan Rafferty on his visit and a good score here can be the makings of a satisfactory round. The seventh is a delightful par 3 while the par 4 eighth is dominated by the view of Balnakeil Bay and Faraid Head.
North West Sutherland’s extensive uncrowded coast is a bonanza to those who know that cool water is no deterrent to surf travel. There are many local beaches and sandy bays to choose from, all are free from the pollution, which taints so many other shores.
We are fully equipped to cater for surfers, and provide drying room with dehumidifier, outside line drying, etc. – we can also arrange for board & equipment hire.
Body boarding is very popular locally especially during our winter months. Local people from 6 years to 60+ years get involved.
Durness and surrounding area are a well-kept secret that few divers have fully appreciated – there are numerous dive sites which offer comprehensive diving, the water visibility is excellent and there is plenty to see and catch!! Once you have experience diving in the untouched water around the northwest coast you will definitely want to return.
Shops, Restaurants & Cafes
Durness offers two local shops for essentials:
R Mackay & Sons
The Village Store (Spar), contact tel: 01971511209. As well as general groceries services include a Post Office and petrol station which is open 8am – 5.30pm (later in summer), Monday – Saturday (closed Sunday).
Mathers General Store
Close to Durness is Balnakiel Craft Village, a small collection of diverse businesses, these include three studio galleries selling paintings and prints, a ceramic and textile artist, a boat builder, woodwind instrument repair, enamel artist, aroma therapist, stained glass artist, wood turner, book artist and leatherworker. Some operate premises open to the public; others work by commission and to order. There is a bookshop/gallery and restaurant, a bistro with gift shop and the award-winning Cocoa Mountain chocolatier which also has an excellent coffee shop.
Other local pubs & restaurants include:
Loch Eriboll is derived from the Norse meaning “home on a gravely beach“.
Loch Eriboll, Hoan Fjord, is a lengthy and deep sea loch about sixteen kilometers long with a south – west direction and varying from one point five to six point five kilometers in breadth. On the east, it is bounded at the entrance by the clear and elevated rocks of Whiten Head. The waters are of a depth varying from fifteen to sixty fathoms. It is set in panoramic mountain hinterland dominated by Ben Hope. The east side is green with native lime rich fields, the west a rocky barren coast.
Loch Eriboll and Military
This loch has been used as a naval anchorage for much of the 20th century. Loch Eriboll was the site of the surrender of the German U-boat fleet in May 1945. Between the 10th and 20th May, over thirty U-boats came into Loch Eriboll.
When ships anchored in Loch Eriboll in the 1920s and 1930s some crew members would climb the hill to the west of the loch and leave their ship’s name written in stone letters about two meters high in a patch one by two metres. The best viewing point to see the names is at the first large lay-by beyond Port-na-con road end, at the disused quarry, travelling east and looking directly up the hill with a pair of binoculars, once identified can be distinguished.
The stones are becoming embedded in the heather and slowly sinking. Lately discussions have been in progress between Laid Common Grazing Committee and Durness Community Council about siting a car park and interpretative plaque. At this point, a walk to the ship’s names that include the Valiant, Swift, Whirlwind, Union , Unga, Lucretia, Johanna, (a Dutch minesweeper) and H43, the only submarine on the hillside, are within reach. A remarkable memorial that has lain largely unnoticed. Repeated attempts have failed to preserve the names. They include appeals to the Ministry of Defence; the War Grave’s Commission and the Queen.
The most prominent is the HOOD and it is the Hood’s tragic history that makes the hillside such a poignant spot. In 1994 the children of the primary school walked up the hillside and painted the stones of the HMS Hood and H43 to be visible from the roadside. The Hood was destroyed on May 23rd 1941 with the loss of 1418 lives, all the crew exc The Mighty Hood as she was known was the single biggest British naval loss in World War 11. When the war started, she was the largest warship in commission in the world. For the whole intra war period from her completion in 1920, HMS Hood had stood as a symbol of Britain ‘s supremacy as a sea power.
In 1937, HMS Hood, the worlds biggest battleship anchored in Loch Eriboll. During its nine day stay sailors wrote the name “Hood” in stones on the hillside to the west of the Loch. This continued a tradition started some 10 years earlier by other ships and continued until the 1960’s. The Hood was sunk in 1941 with the loss of 1400 lives. The two meter high stones bare mute testimony to the tragic event. The stones were restored by local school children in 1993 and 1999. A close relationship exists between Durness and the HMS Hood Association.
Lotte Glob is a fantastic ceramic artist who’s studio is located along the shore of Loch Eriboll. A visit to her sculpture croft is highly recommended. Prior notice may be needed and we can help you with this.
If you would like to view her work please see www.lotteglob.co.uk