Cuspair 3: Tràighean Àlainn agus Cladaichean Fiadhaich
Although the distance ‘as the eagle flies’ from Ardvar in the North of Assynt to Culnacraig in the South of Coigach is just over 20 miles, the coastline is more than three times that distance. This is a wild, tattered shore where we find peace and solitude, or invigoration and adventure.
Coigach and Assynt are fringed with beautiful beaches. Some are tiny and tucked away in hidden coves, only found at low tide. To reach them might involve an arduous boggy walk, but – arriving with soggy socks and scratched shins – you will be rewarded with a secret treat. Of course, we’re not going to share directions – that would spoil the fun! But you can easily find Clachtoll, Clashnessie, Achmelvich, Achnahaird and Acheninver for accessible adventure.
The colour and texture of our beaches change with the rocks, shells and waves: Acheninver is the red of iron-rich Torridonian Sandstone; the coarse shell at Achnahaird makes it yellower. Clachtoll beach is more exposed so its shell has been pummelled to a smaller, softer texture. Many of the beaches are stony: the White Shore at Culag is so-called for its gneiss and quartzite pebbles.
Just back from the shore amongst the dunes is the precious ‘machair’. Grazing animals are removed from these sandy grasslands at the crucial time to allow flowers to bloom – which they do with astonishing generosity. In some places up to eight species of orchid can be found, with poetic names including ‘lovely fragrant orchid’, ‘twayblade’ and ‘frog orchid’. A gentle, breezy, summer day in the machair is simply paradise.
But a wild stormy day is a different sort of pleasure. Let yourself be battered by the elements. Struggle to a sheltered spot amongst the rocks and listen for melancholic wails of curlews or hysterical oystercatchers, or watch gannets in free-fall. You may hear the “ooOOoo” of black-and-white eider ducks; watch a seal watching you; and if you’re very quiet and lucky, spot an otter slinking in the seaweed, or hear the gentle puff of a porpoise passing.
Long before the crazy single-track roads were blasted around between the mountains, the sea was the highway, and the best way to explore the nooks and crannies of the coastline is still from the water: perhaps a kayak, a paddleboard, a swim, or follow one of the snorkel trails…?
Along the shore we find signs that this shore has long-been home for people: ancient brochs; skeletal fishing boats; bothies from the salmon-netting industry and croft houses. Unfortunately, we also find many artefacts of The Age of Plastic: exposed shores are often victims of seaborne plastic waste. Communities tackle this perpetual tide, and some shores have collection bins for ongoing efforts. Perhaps you’d like to do a quick beach clean if it’s safe to: a simple act of care and kindness for these wild places that give us so much.