Bay of Stoer and on to Loch a’Chnoic
Some days out in the Assynt landscape, when fine weather coincides with interesting finds, are truly memorable. A walk we took on 6th May 2020, along the cliffs north of the Bay of Stoer (NC0328/0228), under a cloudless sky, was just such a day, despite a slightly chilly north wind.
We parked at Stoer Green, made our way to its north-west corner and then followed the rocky shore line to the west (photo 1). A beautifully-sculpted stripy gneiss boulder stood out on a sandstone shingle beach (photo 2), and scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis was in full flower under a boulder nearby (photo 3). This coastal plant, with juicy heart-shaped leaves, also occurs occasionally high on the Assynt hills, as do some other maritime species, such as thrift Armeria maritima and sea campion Silene uniflora.
West of the curious dark rocks of Stac Fada (ejectamenta from a meteoric impact crater) and the waterfall and caves beyond it, the cliffs steepen (photo 4). A shady crevice on the cliff face sheltered a raven’s nest with young crouching flat and absolutely motionless in it (five well-grown chicks, we learned later). From there on, we walked along the grassy slopes above the cliffs as they turn the corner of Rubha a’Mhill Dheirg.
The sward here is close-grazed but surprisingly herb-rich, and broken by eroded outcrops of Torridonian sandstone (photo 5). Casting around for a vantage point, out of the wind, to have our lunch, we noticed the tight creamy flower buds of mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica (photo 6), often a sign of base-richness in the underlying soil.
Shortly afterwards, we came across the first of three groups of unusually compact heads of pyramidal bugle Ajuga pyramidalis in full flower, counting over thirty spikes in all. They were nearly all the usual violet-blue colour (photo 7), but Gwen spotted one spike with distinctly pinkish leaves and flowers (photos 8 and 9). The latest edition of Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles (2019) states ‘rarely pink or white abroad’, although this variant has been seen in East Sutherland, at Marian’s Rock, Rogart (NC7401, pers. comm. Morven Murray), although this observation may never have been published. So, a local first and a great find.
What a view!
From our vantage point, we enjoyed stunning views over the Bay of Stoer, with Suilven, Cul Mor and other local hills on the skyline (photo 10). After lunch we continued up the rounded hill to the north, Meall Dearg, crossing the boundary wall of a former sheiling and over to the southern end of Loch a’Chnoic (photo 11), where we heard the calls of passing golden plover. On the way the vegetation became much more typical of maritime heathland on peaty soils and the loch, in a very exposed site, has a flora characteristic of nutrient-poor waters, such as bogbean Menyanthes trifoliate and water lobelia Lobelia dortmanna, amongst other aquatics. However, it can yield quite respectable brown trout according to Ian Mackenzie of Balchladich, and this was borne out by the otter spraints beside on a boggy runnel to its south-east.
At the northern end of Loch a’Chnoic there is a very substantial old sheep fank and the base of a WW2 lookout (photos 13 and 14), reminding us that this area, now perhaps infrequently visited, has been for centuries part of a working landscape. Here, savouring the view north, from the cave just below us right up to Stoerhead Lighthouse (photo 14), we sat for a while, before making our way back cross-country to Stoer, completing a most enjoyable day.
Ian Evans and Gwen Richards