As you leave the last of the three lochs that accompany the approach from the east, the road drops over a crest and the golden sands of Achnahaird come into view on your right hand side. This is an unusually large expanse of sand in a north facing bay that is well protected from the south westerly seas by the extensive headland of Rubha Mor. The sand is clean and stone free and the bed of the bay shallow - ideal for sandcastles and swimming. Public access is via a narrow road to a small parking place above the rocks at the west side of the bay. A short stroll of three hundred metres takes you to the sands where, if the tide is out, you can establish a picnic for the day sheltered between low rocks, or alternatively move farther along to the sand dunes. A bay made for the children. But you can also make Achnahaird - sea, sand, dunes and all - your base for a few days or longer as the adjacent machair is operated as a camping site.
This camp site has become a firm favourite in our family and it is one that we have returned to more than any other along the entire west coast. There are not many sites in this section of Scotland - Ardmair Bay to the south, Lochinver to the north are the nearest - and this is situated away from the main through roads which results in a lower proportion of the 'one night' tourers. The camping area is large so that visitors can spread out and choose whether to pitch on the higher ground for the view, or nestle down nearer the dunes. Generally you pitch facing east which gives you a panorama of all the Coigach hills when you wake up each morning - if the hills are clear! From the raised ground behind the tents the view extends from Quinag and the Point of Stoer lighthouse in the north, over Suilven and Canisp, the Coigach hills and, to the south and across the peninsula, to An Teallach and the distant Torridan ranges. It is a full panorama that I have tried to get on slides - unfortunately the lens shutter jammed and the pictures did not turn out, and it has been too hazy or wet in our visits since then. However on our first visit we did take the eastern panorama of the Assynt and Coigach Mountains on standard negatives.
This area of Scotland is a haven for many types of sport. Canoeists, scuba divers, yachters, fishermen and kite fliers have ample opportunity to indulge their sport here - plus of course walkers. On several occasions we have been offered fresh mackerel for tea, or even breakfast, by a fisherman who has come across a shoal and caught a bucket full. The children have benefitted from taking their cycles as they can tour the site, the beach and the surrounding roads freely.
The site is closely run by the Mackenzies and attracts a large following of regulars. There is no electricity or hot water on site, toilets are provided by a firmly secured portakabin. Fees are collected in the evening or morning rounds. And that is about it. The facilities are entirely in keeping with the surroundings and in kinder climates the place would be packed. But there is very little shelter on the site and any strong southerly winds will roar in over the low and flat land behind the bay. When the children were young we used a large frame tent as our base and we were fortunate to have excellent weather here during visits in the first two years. It was not to last and the following year the side legs of the frame caved in under the pressure of an afternoon gale. A tent repair service is advertised on a noticeboard in the toilet cabin and you soon find out why.
Undeterred the broken frame sections was replaced and we returned the following year - only to have an entire side buckle under even harsher weather. We urgently seconded help to hang on to the canvas - none of whom could speak English which added to the entertainment - whilst we salvaged the contents and broke camp before terminal damage was done to the tent. It was after this enforced early trip home that we decided to abandon the large tent and opt for two Vango Force Ten tents for future holidays - we were not going to be blown off the site again (we hope!).
Unfortunately a warm calm summer's evening is not perfect either as the still air brings out the midges - and the breed here have a particularly sharp bite. Still you can always counter this with a good smoking bar-b-que or if it is warm you can opt to go for a swim - yes even if it is raining. So what. This is an area where you relax and unwind and forget the rest of the world. We can wind the clock back and live here happily for a week or more without the need to visit the 'hectic conurbation' of Ullapool. We will return again.
We returned to
Achnahaird most years - even if only calling in for a night or two. In 2002 we
arrived to find the remains of an old wreck visible in the sands of the bay.
Although we had not seen it before - the remains of the keel and a few ribs of
the hull - the wreck is visible from time to time as the sands shift. A note on
the camp site told us that the wreck was the remains of the Mathilde -
built in 1850. The ship was sailing from Norway to Liverpool with a cargo of
pit props when on 24 March 1881 it was caught in a Force 10 Gale, NW by W, and
driven aground in the bay. The crew escaped and no-one was lost. I paddled out
across the sand on a rather dismal day to take a closer look.
|North by the narrow road to Kirkaig and Assynt District.|
|East under Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mor to the main road.|
|To Achiltibuie, Polbain and Altandhu.|