A happy Saturday spent in Kinlochbervie

Loch Inchard from Rhiconich which is at its head on the main roadI had made a bit of a last minute decision to go to what I always call a “Cli Day” – Cli Ghàidhlig being the name of an organisation based in Inverness set up to support Gaelic learning. In the course of my 9 year Gaelic journey, I have been to quite a few of these days and have never been disappointed. This particular day was held last Saturday just up the road in Kinlochbervie, and was advertised as “Beginners’ Conversation”, which I knew would not be a great challenge for me – but as I am trying to work at achieving a proper Gaelic accent and this course was to be taken by the same Alasdair MacLeod who was one of the tutors at the weekend of Gaelic we had all enjoyed in Glencanisp Lodge, I knew I would gain from It – and so it turned out.

It would also make a good excuse to visit Kinlochbervie – Ceann Loch Biorbhidh in Gaelic, which means Head of Loch Bervie. Bervie is thought to be a Norse name meaning “Boiling Waters” and I have it on good authority that at certain state of the tide, the waters in the loch do indeed look as though they are boiling! However, and looking at the Ordnance Survey map, there doesn’t actually seem to be a “Loch Bervie”!! The loch there is Loch Inchard, which is a big sea loch, and to get into the harbour at Kinlochbervie, you have to take a sharp turn to port near the bottom of the loch, which makes for an exceptionally sheltered harbour! It isn’t suitable for various reasons for the big trawlers that we get in Lochinver, which means that the fish landed there go to the east coast or Scandinavia, instead of being loaded on to big lorries to serve markets in France and Spain, which is where fish landed here ends up. They also of course have creel boats and yachts tied up to the jetties, and have a fair few visiting yachts during the summer. Unfortunately, though, when the Fisherman’s Mission was closed (at much the same time as ours was) the community missed out on the chance to acquire it, and it was bought by a local person and now stands empty. There is a chandler down at the harbour, harbour office of course and also massive great fish sheds – probably bigger than ours!

KLB – as it is known locally – boasts a lovely new fire station, a doctor’s surgery, a church, a post office and three shops – a Spa shop, one called The London Stores which I gather is a superb emporium, and a garage, ironmongery and petrol station combined which also provides coal and gas. It has a Day Care centre, a nursery for the under 5s, a primary school and a beautiful new secondary school, which has 60 pupils just now and which serves the north west coast up to Durness. KLB needs all these facilities because it is very isolated at the end of a 4 mile road which twists and turns along to the coast from the main north road. Strangely enough, though, quite a lot of people live up there – you pass through a number of small townships on the road into KLB, and there are more behind it, including Oldshoremore where friends of mine live. I gather that the population of KLB isn’t much smaller than that of Lochinver – here we entertain thoughts that “iffy” dealings go on behind the fish sheds in KLB and that “watch the wall my darling, as the Gentleman go by” are watchwords that people in KLB still live by – but then they probably feel the same about us.

Beyond KLB at Oldshoremore and Poll, there are some superb beaches. I remember one great Field Club trip a couple of years ago when we went “botanising” along the cliff top and down on to the beach at Oldshoremore. A path from there takes you to the famous beach at Sandwood Bay – I hope one day to do that walk as I would love to see the beach for myself. The other wonderful geographical feature which makes KLB special is the fact that it lies almost under the back end of Foinavon, with Arkle just to the right of it when you are standing at the harbour looking inland. Both these mountain ranges are incredibly impressive – Kinlochbervie’s setting is superb in anybody’s book! And here a quick language note: any place name beginning with Kin- in English denotes Ceann in Gaelic and means head or end of something…

We were lucky from my point of view in the decision to hold this Gaelic day on Saturday rather than Sunday last weekend as Saturday was a pretty reasonable day weather-wise and Sunday certainly was not, with a howling gale and horizontal rain all day! Fortunately, I had remembered to take my camera with me, and as I arrived in KLB a wee bit early, I was able to scoot around the place to take a few scenic shots. It is 41 miles between Lochinver and KLB, and the AA software suggests that it should take 1 ¼ hours as the road is more than a little twisty! I was somewhat aggressively overtaken by a motorcycle just as I came off Skiag Pass, but it slowed down as we went through the “chicane” that is the road through from there to Kylescue, and then it turned off into the parking space just on the other side of Kylescue Bridge – I was reminded of the Hair and the Tortoise as I trundled past, and I couldn’t help wondering if the cyclist was maybe feeling a bit seasick! I enjoy driving the road north, although I wouldn’t really like to do it all the time. The scenery is beautiful as I think you might have gathered from what I have written so far – real “Land of the Mountain and the Flood” stuff. There are some really interesting bits on the road, like the sudden mile or so of single track road at Laxford Bridge. The council would love to widen it, but all efforts to find out who owns the land have been to no avail – at least that is how the story goes. They have resurfaced it recently though, which is a great help to the motorist!

As I have already intimated, the Day went very well. There was an excellent dynamic in the class which included a chap from the Deep South of America who is now a British citizen living in Wick – he certainly added a special dimension to proceedings! The session finished at about 2.30 and afterwards I went next door with my friend, Susan, to have a cup of tea and get all the gen I needed to write up about KLB – without mistakes this time! An hour or so later, we went down to the harbour to visit her boat – a superb “Gentleman’s Leisure Launch”. Being a motor/sailor, she is a really roomy gaff-rigged ketch with a purpose designed wood-burning stove in the cabin! Lovely…

But it was time to push off home. On the way south, I met a fleet of a dozen or more old sports cars – Peugeots I think – heading north. We not infrequently get rallies of this type as the roads here make for both challenging and enjoyable motoring, one of the reasons for their popularity being that they have so little traffic on them – especially when compared to the rest of the UK. When going through Scourie, I was tempted to stop and take a pic of a small gaggle of domestic geese waddling along beside the road – but my stomach was telling me that it was time to get home to the curry which awaited me…

Arkle looming in the background


[Photos by Clarinda]

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One Response to A happy Saturday spent in Kinlochbervie

  1. Simon Jeffreys says:

    I had many happy summer holidays in Oldshoremore as a kid in the 1960s. We stayed at 141 I think, by the fork in the road where the left fork goes down to the beach. The old man whose letting house we stayed in was a veteran of the Great War and told long tales to my brother and me and it is in my memory that he had a war injury to one of his legs. His wife we only saw at first to get our milk and eggs, and she had practically no English. My younger brother was scared and thought she was a witch. The old couple were very kind to us and tolerated my brother and me in later holidays being frankly something of a nuisance as young boys are. Not long ago I detoured to visit and find their graves in the cemetery by the beach to think again of their kindness and the fun we had all those years ago.

    I remember well Mackays store in those days – the bread was never fresh, and canned goods were got down from the high shelf with a walking stick.

    The hotel in KLB was then the Garbet Hotel and the port was much smaller though bustling.

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