The low-level route I took has lived in my memory as long as the higher country I walked through. Though I have returned to the area a number of times since, it was only a few weeks ago that the chance came to repeat my walk. There was some apprehension that reality would not live up to my memories but as soon as I set off, on a sunny morning, disappointment was certainly not on the agenda.
Leaving the beach at Balnakeil Bay behind – its white sands must be among the best in Scotland – wonderful, varied terrain beckons. From the flowers of the machair to rugged cliffs and little beaches with an at times almost lunar, barren landscape inland, the appearance of the Kyle of Durness is beguiling as the tide pushes its shallow waters to create fantastic, large ripples on the sand.
Returning via quiet roads and an old farm track, the circular route was definitely as I remembered: exhilarating, peaceful and stunning all at once.
2½ to 3½ hours.
There are parking bays by the roadside at Balnakeil. If coming from the south, turn left off the A838 at Durness and follow a minor road for about a mile to Balnakeil Bay.
To start the walk, head down the minor road to the golf course, running along the south side of Balnakeil Bay. On reaching the golf course car park, take a right to walk below the clubhouse.
The rest of the way is pretty obvious – follow the coast round the edge of the golf course, taking heed of players as you go. Once through a gate in a fence, you are on open, rough ground and should be aware of drops down small cliffs to the right.
Follow the coast all the way round – you can drop down to little beaches along the way but beware of fast incoming tides. Eventually you reach the end of a single-track road at Keoldale, with an incongruous bus stop. The small pier next to it is where a boat takes passengers across the kyle to the end of a track that leads to Cape Wrath.
Follow the road along the edge of the Kyle of Durness and, on reaching the A838, go left. About a mile further on, take a track on the left, signed ‘Balnakeil’. It starts just after the road becomes single track. The grassy track leads by a wall and goes past a large house, ending at the road between Durness and Balnakeil, where you go left to return to the start.
Loch Croispol bookshop, at the Balnakeil Craft Village, has a good café. Or you can head to Durness, where the Sango Sands Oasis has a bar and restaurant. (It sounds like something from Hi-De-Hi but is actually a centre of village life.)
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA
Try a round of golf on the course you just walked past (www.durnessgolfclub.org). Or you could simply enjoy the beaches at Balnakeil or along the coast in Durness.
One of the most unusual tourist attractions in the area is in front of Durness Village Hall. The John Lennon Memorial Garden was built in tribute to the childhood holidays the Beatle spent in the area. The centrepiece is formed by three stones with lyrics from In My Life on them.