Ok, technically Cape Wrath isn’t part of Scotland’s North Coast 500 route. No matter which way you do it. That being said, it’s a famous and truly iconic place to visit. If you’ve come this far, you’re as close as you’ll ever be to Mainland Britain’s most north-westerly point. That being said, it’s still not simple to actually get there. We’re going to tell you how to get there and explain why you should visit this unique no-man’s-land.
- Why Visit Cape Wrath?
- What’s Actually There?
- How to Get to Cape Wrath
- Our Recommendation
- Cape Wrath Budget Breakdown
Why Visit Cape Wrath?
Cape Wrath is desolate, sparse and in poor weather, phenomenally bleak. It’s incredible, and there can’t be anywhere else like it. This remote corner of Great Britain is still almost completely cut-off from the rest of society. The world, even. There’s a single, shoddy old road which leads you to Cape Wrath. That aside, you’ll have to walk or cycle a minimum of 8 miles to get there.
Many people will come to Cape Wrath just to say they’ve been there. For others, their epic 230-mile hike can literally go no further. Other people who are there year-round are likely to be part of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), continuing their work on the largest bombing range in Western Europe. All 50,000 acres of it.
For us, it was about standing above Mainland Britain’s highest cliffs, 281m up. It was about the seabirds and the sensational views all around us. We could see Kearvaig Bothy and our beach from last night. We were told that on a good day you can see Orkney, the Outer Hebrides and even some of the North Atlantic islands. It was knowing that the only thing between where we stood on Scottish soil and the Arctic ahead was the scattering of the Faroe Islands.
More than that, it was about experiencing some of the surreal atmosphere in such a remote place. Where the weather changes in a moment and wind speeds of 175mph have been recorded. This corner of Britain is a landmark which Vikings, Norse and countless other sailors have used throughout history. Seeing somewhere as wild and raw as this was something we couldn’t miss. Also, not a bad spot for a cup of tea, eh?
What’s Actually There?
Nothing. Well, not nothing nothing, but yeah. There’s not a whole lot here. There’s the unmistakable Cape Wrath Lighthouse, which is actually a marvel of engineering. Constructed by Robert Stevenson in 1828, it was actually one of many designed and built by a family with a long history of lighthouse-building. They were known for constructing strong and sound lighthouses designed to stand the test of time. And the test of the elements. All these years later, Cape Wrath Lighthouse is still standing proud.
Downstairs, remarkably, there’s a café. Ozone Café. It’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Yes, it’s a slightly expensive cup of tea and biscuit, but come on. It doesn’t get much cooler than this.
There are also souvenirs available and plenty of postcards, pens and tat you can buy. You’ll probably end up inside. After you’ve soaked up the atmosphere and taken your pictures, well, there’s not really an awful lot to do here.
WEE TIP: there’s no toilet at Cape Wrath. None worth using anyway. If you need, you’ll have to politely ask to use the lighthouse owner’s home bathroom. There are signs asking you to ‘avoid flushing when you don’t have to’ so yeah…try and do your business before you arrive at the lighthouse.
How to Get to Cape Wrath
This is the easiest way to get to Cape Wrath, and it involves a boat. If you find yourself in Durness then first of all, check out our Alternative NC500 Guide to the area. It’s packed full of things to do and places to see.
First of all, you’ll need to get the ferry across the water. The first boat runs at roughly 09:00. After that, ehm…it’s basically on demand. We think that the rough (very rough) timetable is something like this, leaving East Keodale:
There could also be some later services. We have no idea. If you arrive with time to spare, just speak to Malcy. It’s an incredibly casual operation. Usually he’ll time his journeys so that he collects returning Cape Wrath passengers from the other side.
The ferry will take you across the water in all of two minutes. Once there, either Stuart or Andy will be waiting for you with a van and 16 empty spaces. The boat is £7.50 return, and you may even find that Malcy asks you to pay on your return journey, whenever that is. Cash only.
Andy and Stuart were both entertaining drivers. A little before we were there, Stu said he’d had some researchers from Glasgow University in his company. They declared the road which leads you to Cape Wrath as the ‘bumpiest road in Britain’. We don’t know how they measured or compared that stat, but anyway, you’re in for a bumpy ride.
The van is £13 return. Cash only. This time you’ll probably need to pay on your outward journey, and you’ll get a ticket too. Andy or Stu will also try to sell Cape Wrath pens and guides, tongue-in-cheek. After you get to Cape Wrath Lighthouse, you’ll have just under an hour to explore before your return van journey.
Whoever’s driving won’t go more than 15mph. That’s because there are more potholes on this road than any other road you’ve been on – it’s a necessity. The first 15-20 minutes of the drive will take you around the peninsula and past some spectacular sea views. Depending on the tide, you could see some seals on the sandbanks in Kyle of Durness. Seals or not, the views are outrageous.
After that, you have a fairly uninteresting 30 minutes or so to go. The drive will take 45-50 bumpy minutes altogether. Remarkably, both Emma and Ruth managed to snooze on the way.
Another option for any cyclists out there is to pedal up to Cape Wrath. Take the ferry across the harbour as mentioned above, then skip the bus journey. We met a couple hardy cyclists who were trying this one out. There’s a lot of uphill and as we’ve mentioned, not a particularly kind surface to be cycling on. Thick tyres are required. And spare tubes. And a few screws loose.
Hike from Sandwood Bay
This is another great option and probably the best way to fully appreciate the atmosphere of this part of Scotland without walking hundreds of miles. We actually met a group of walkers on their holiday doing it in the reverse direction. Needless to say, as soon as we arrived at Cape Wrath Lighthouse, the wind changed and the rain came bombing down. We didn’t envy their 12-mile-day as they disappeared in to the cloud.
So yes, you can also walk to Cape Wrath. Your starting point is Sandwood Bay. Check out our Guide to Sandwood Bay (link coming soon) to find out how to get there first. Nothing’s straightforward up this way.
From Sandwood Bay, you have what is sure to be a memorable 8-mile walk ahead of you. There’s no path and no escape route, but plenty of sea cliff, sea and space to think. Just check there are no MoD fire drills taking place before you start walking. You could accidentally become a moving target (if only that was a joke).
The Cape Wrath Trail
Another option is to walk the epic Cape Wrath Trail. This method involves walking roughly 230 miles on pathless terrain, all the way from Fort William, and is a trip in itself. It’s for fit, experienced and able walkers. Chances are, you’ve no option to do this on your current trip anyway.
We met somebody (in Peru, strangely) that walked this in 13 days or so. She met 4 other people on her walk and raved about the scenery, the atmosphere and the experience. It’s something we want to do one day but for now, we’ll start with some slightly less insane walks.
There are plenty of options and all sorts of different ways of doing this one. Find out more about the walk and everything you need to know on the official website.
We still believe we visited Cape Wrath the best way possible. Not much is going to change our opinion on that. We decided that we were going to spend a night at Kearvaig Bothy, no matter how we got there. You can read more about this idyllic little cottage to find out how to get there, what to expect and what’s there.
We got the ferry around 3pm and spoke to Andy on the other side. He kindly agreed to drive us as far as Kearvaig (known as Kirkwell, locally) and drop us there. We had a 15-minute walk down to our home for the evening, and a promise that we would be collected the next morning.
Sure enough, Stu turned up at 08:40 – bang on time – and took us to Cape Wrath with the rest of the passengers in the van. We spent an hour or so at Cape Wrath and headed back for our return ferry.
What could have been a quick half-day trip was made infinitely better by Kearvaig. We got some wild swimming, an unbelievable home for the night, a beautiful beach, sea stacks, deer and puffins as an extra. If your timetable allows it, we would highly recommend a night in Kearvaig to complement your Cape Wrath visit.
So there you go! Now you know how to get to Cape Wrath and what you’ll find there. Did we miss anything? Have you found another way to get to this special spot? Leave a Comment below to let us know, or get in touch with our Contact page. And if you’re returning to the North Coast 500 afterwards, check out our North Coast 500 Alternative Route Our Guide to Durness or Things to see Around Scourie to find out which other amazing sights you can see along the way.
Cape Wrath Budget Breakdown:
- (petrol/car included in Overview costs)
- return Cape Wrath ferry £15
- Cape Wrath van return £26
- Kearvaig Bothy x1N
- x2 muffets of tea in Ozone Cafe £6
Total for 1D/1N: £47
The above budget is for x2 people. Food and alcohol prices are likely to vary.
This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.
*all currencies accurate at the time of writing (August ’19)
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