Walk the Wild with the John Muir Trust: Sandwood
A very special coastal corner of north-west Scotland, deserving of expert care and protection.
This is a sponsored article from our friends at the John Muir Trust.
Wild land charity the John Muir Trust purchased Sandwood in 1993 with the aim of protecting and preserving this special place while working closely with the community, including its crofters. The area managed by the Trust covers 4,703 hectares of wild and crofted land just a few miles from Cape Wrath on the north-west tip of Scotland. The machair and coastal cliffs are designated a Special Area of Conservation.
Machair (Gaelic for a low-lying fertile plain) is one of Europe’s rarest habitats. Unique to the north-western fringes of Scotland and Ireland, it can be seen behind most of the dune systems on Sandwood. The machair between Sheigra and Oldshoremore is one of the best examples of this habitat on the mainland and contains more than 200 different species of plant, including eight orchids.
The peatlands of Sandwood are among the most important wildlife habitats in north-west Scotland. Deep layers of peat take thousands of years to form and provide a home for a range of plants and animals that have adapted to the acidic, waterlogged conditions. Peatlands also help to maintain good water quality and are an important carbon store.
Bordered by rugged cliffs and breathtaking beaches with perfect white sands and turquoise sea, Sandwood boasts some of the finest coastal scenery in Europe, with magnificent sands and dune systems. A landmark sea stack, Am Buachaille (the herdsman), is one of the defining features off shore.
While walking the coastal cliffs, always keep an eye out for sprays and jumping cetaceans. Porpoises are commonly seen in the summer as well as different kinds of whales. Grey and harbour seals breed in the area, and otters can be seen here too. Nesting seabirds include fulmar, kittiwake, guillemot and razorbill. This is just a sample of the variety of species to be seen in and around Sandwood Bay. Be sure to share any sightings or photos of anything interesting, using #johnmuirtrust.
How you can help
Becoming a member of the John Muir Trust is a great way to help take care of the wild places you love now and in the future. TGO readers can get a 25% discount when joining online by using the promotional code: TGOWILD. Find out more and sign up to help the UK’s leading conservation charity dedicated to the experience, protection & repair of wild places at www.johnmuirtrust.org/join.
A four-mile path, maintained by the John Muir Trust to prevent erosion, leads to Sandwood Bay from the car park at Blairmore, where there are toilet facilities.
About the walk
- Starting / finishing point: Blairmore, near Kinlochbervie
- Distance: 4.4 miles / 7.1km
- Ascent: 84m / 275ft
- Route notes: The route crosses exposed moorland and parts are uneven and often wet, enabling a huge variety of wildflowers to grow here. July is the best month to observe these plants and their unique ecosystem including colourful insects. However, note that from April to July ground nesting birds use the machair, so please stay on the paths. Keep dogs under control at all times.
- From the car park at Blairmore, head through the gate and along an obvious, level track signposted towards Sandwood Bay.
- Turn left at Loch na Gainimh. Continue up a gentle slope before descending slightly to Loch a’ Mhuilinn and climbing again past two smaller lochans.
- Descend a steeper path to the dunes at Sandwood Bay, where you can walk at will across the extensive sandy beach.
- Retrace your route back to Blairmore.
All images courtesy of the JMT