These are Not Just Beaches; these are Sutherland Beaches

Those of you who follow Let’s Talk Scotland on Facebook will know that I’ve not long returned from a week long holiday staying in Midtown, Melness, Sutherland (hehehe – I love the fact the place is called Midtown – makes it sound like “New Yoik” – whereas, in actual fact, it’s a tiny – and beautiful – collection of just a handful of wee houses / crofts between the villages of Tongue and Talmine).

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There’s so much to say about this wonderful part of Scotland, so I’ll split up my thoughts into two or three blog posts.
So, today: The Beaches.
The decision to visit this part of Scotland was made one bloody freezing night back in March. After a few weeks of stonkingly cold weather, the Grown Up Boyfriend and I thought that a bit of heat and sunshine was in order for our late spring holiday, and we decided to – duh duh duuuuuuh – go ABROAD! We’d settled on the south of France and I had duly spend hours searching for the perfect location, looking at flights and car hire etc. We sat one night all set to book but something just said to me: nope. Or “non”. Still not quite sure pourquoi: oui, partly it was the cost (if we got the “15th century Oak Beamed Cottage with stunning views of the River Aude & Pyrenees” that I had my heart set on, plus flights which didn’t involve travelling before we actually went to feckin bed, it would’ve been Slightly Pricey), but mainly it was because for the last few years, May has *always* involved a trip up north and it felt weird not to be doing that. So we did.
But, of course, it was mid-March by this point and finding a place that wasn’t booked up for this popular time in May was challenging. As was actually deciding on exactly where we fancied going. In the end, it pretty much came down to What Was Left. Which brought us to Melness.
I’ll be honest: I really wasn’t sure about going to Melness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with a bit of Highland seclusion. But thought this place might actually be a bit too remote and even a bit “bleak”. However, the cottage looked very nice (it was, BTW) and, by this time, GUB was getting very fucking annoyed ever-so slightly exasperated with my inability to make a decision and stick to it (France etc…) so I went ahead.
I now feel pretty damn guilty, actually, for my uncertainty about this area. It really was one of the most beautiful places I’ve stayed in throughout Scotland. I am quite familiar with Sutherland – having stayed there for the odd night whilst touring around – but this was the first time I’d spent a full week in the same place.
So, onto those beaches then…
Let’s be clear: there are *superb* beaches across the whole of Scotland, but in Sutherland there just seems to be one after another. They just seem to get more and more awesome. And there are even more when you cross the boundary into Caithness* too. I’ll only mention a very few here but – trust me – these are hunners more.

*(I’ll probably leave Caithness for a whole other blog post as we spent a fabby day exploring a bit of it too).
Let’s start with this one, which we were extremely lucky to have just a short walk from the cottage:

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This is Skinnet Beach, near Talmine, and we visited it on just a *perfect* day. The sun was shining, there wasn’t another soul on this beach and the sand seemed to stretch for miles. It looks out to the Kyle of Tongue to the south and towards Talmine Bay to the north. And you also have a great view of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope to the south. We spent ages exploring this place and even found a very cool cave!

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Just a wee bit further north is the wee village of Talmine and Talmine Bay:

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Look at how beautiful it is! Look!! I even love the old boats left to rot. There must be a philosophical poem in there somewhere… In fact, So Many Summers by Norman MacCaig might do the trick.
A walk north from Talmine Bay over the hill towards Portvasgo and you get to this:

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We didn’t actually clamber down to this wee beach from the top of the cliffs as we are neither A) nimble nor B) insane (GUB doesn’t like heights so it was almost brown trouser time for him by that point anyway). The views looking down were stunning, though – helped, of course, by the sunshine and blue sky.
About 20 mins’ drive east of where we were staying is the village of Bettyhill. After negotiating with a lot of chickens that seemed to be all over the road (no, really) we headed to Farr Beach. This is just a few minutes’ walk from the road and a proper treat! I couldn’t actually believe that in all the years I’ve been coming up this way I’d never stopped here. It was a cracking day – very hot and sunny (I have the sunburn to prove it – note to self: *always* pack feckin sun cream – even for Scotland!) – and the beach was (in North Highlands terms) heaving (ie, I counted a good 14 people – and two dogs).

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We walked along the vast expanse of sand and spent ages watching the huge waves (it was hot, sunny AND breezy!) then I clambered up the ridge at one end for a view back across the whole bay, while GUB climbed all over the rocks taking arty pictures. It was just a wonderful spot.

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And finally for this post, a quick word about my all-time favourite beach: Ceannabeinne, just a few minutes’ drive east of the village of Durness.

Prepare the rant-mobile…
Ceannabeinne has been my favourite Scottish beach since I first clapped eyes on it back in (I think) 2003. That day, I was coming from the west and you come round a bend at the top of a hill and there it is…

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The beauty and seclusion of it blew me away that day and every other time I’ve visited it since. On previous visits, it’s often just us and the birds, and the nearby sheep, with maybe just a couple of other folk soaking up the tranquillity. Bliss.
The pic above was taken en route home on Saturday, but we were there the Sunday before too when it was a bit duller weather-wise. I’d somehow got it into my head that “My Beach” was only about 20 mins’ drive from the cottage so we could just have a quick jaunt there. 45 mins later…. oops (geography has never been my strong point and I sometimes forget you can’t always hoor it down single track roads at 60 mph). Anyway, on that Sunday, we arrived at the car park (which is handily just opposite this amazing spot) to find:

  • One huge coach of very noisy tourists
  • About a thousand motorbikes (ok, maybe 6 or 7)
  • A hundred Other Cars (ok maybe 3 or 4)
  • And – shocker of shockers – a ZIP WIRE!

A FUCKING ZIP WIRE!! Yes. A company has set up a zip wire going from the cliffs on one side of the beach to the other. For just £12 you can whizz heroically across this (previously) peaceful spot. Humph.

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Look, I get it: it’s progress and it’s probably a good business idea – but I couldn’t help feeling just a wee bit sad. The marketing of the North Coast 500 route has really made this part of the country a draw for loads of people – and absolutely rightly so! But can’t folk just leave this naturally beautiful and serene place alone? Bloody zip wire. Grumble grumble.
And – also – don’t think that I’m anti-tourists (I mean, I’m a tourist there too of course!). But these folk from the coach: they stood around the coach smoking and talking loudly and actually didn’t venture over to the beach – but only went as far as the road to take a quick photo. I just couldn’t help feeling that they were wasting an opportunity. Sigh.
And the motorbikes? Again, I have nothing against motorbikes! But these guys spent about 10 minutes in the car park, still with their engines roaring loud enough to wake the dead – and certainly to annoy the sheep – shouting at each other so that they could be heard above the racket that THEY were making! Jeezo. So much for seclusion and peace.
Aaaaaanyway – all that said, Ceannabeinne was still stunning. And always will be for me. No matter what.
You’ll still not get me thinking a sodding zip wire is a good idea though…

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