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Cape Wrath

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Cape Wrath is described as the most north westerly extreme of mainland Scotland, lying approximately 120 miles from Inverness.

The name wrath comes an Old Norse word meaning turning point.

Cape Wrath Training Area

,Garvie Island 1,000 bomb strike 1989
Garvie Island 1,000 bomb strike
© Des Colhoun

Cape Wrath is owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and large parts are used as a military bombing range. Access to the area is via the U70 road which leads to the Cape Wrath Lighthouse, and access is determined by the operational status of the range, and when active, red flags are flown and lights are displayed. Sentries are also positioned on the road. U70 was constructed in the 19th century, to provide access to the lighthouse.

It seems that the signs are renewed regularly, perhaps the exposed environment make life hard for them. One sign graveyard is pictured in the gallery below, noting that the discarded items were replaced with examples carrying "softer" wording, after the MoD began to make it clearer that visitors were welcome at times when the range was not in use.

The training area at Cape Wrath covers an area of some 25,000 acres of severe and isolated upland moorland, serving both field fire and dry training exercises.

Quiet day on Garvie, 2008
Quiet day on Garvie
© Richard Webb

The range is unique in that it it the only range in Europe where land, sea, and air training activities can be conducted simultaneously, and where the Royal Air Force (RAF) can train using live 1,000 lb bombs. The facility is shared with the America, and the other NATO nations. Ordnance is generally aimed at the small rocky islet of Garvie Island, which lies approximately 4 miles (7 km) to the east of Cape Wrath. The photograph shows the effect of one such bomb, described as having "been dropped by the crew of a 12 Squadron Buccaneer aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth".

As with most MoD training areas, Cape Wrath is home to a wide range of wildlife, with a number of places with within the training area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), European Union Special Area of Conservation (SAC), or Special Protection Area (SPA).

The site featured in the BBC 2 programme "Britain's Secret Seas", which also showed how the water around the island is the ideal training ground for underwater bomb disposal teams, since not all of the ordnance strikes Garvie.[1]


Cape Wrath sentry post, 2008
Cape Wrath sentry post
© Richard Webb

There are two main access routes to the area.

A passenger ferry operates across the Kyle of Durness from Keoldale, normally only from May to September it may sail at other time by prior arrangement. Sailings are dependant on the state of the tide and weather conditions, and two hours either side of low tide the service may stop altogether. On the Cape side, a privately operated minibus service operates between the ferry landing point and Cape Wrath lighthouse. The journey from the ferry to the lighthouse and back takes approximately 2.5 hours. The service runs along the public over the Cape for approximately 12 miles, ten of which lie with in the training area.road. Most people accessing the lighthouse via the ferry use of this service at least one way.[2][3]

During live firing periods, the public road is closed, and both the ferry and minibus service are restricted.

Cape Wrath warning, 2008
Cape Wrath warning
© Richard Webb

As an alternative, visitors to the Cape can walk from Blairmore in the south, to Cape Wrath Lighthouse via the Sandwood estate owned by John Muir Trust. Most of the route is unmarked and passes over rough and open moorland, so is not recommended for inexperienced walkers. Visitors are also advised to check firing times before setting off. When live firing takes place, red flags and lamps are displayed at the range boundary and access is not be permitted.

According to the MoD information, information on firing times at the Cape Wrath Training Area is available from Range Control at Faraid Head:

Tel: 01971 511242 or Out of Hours 0800 833300

This walking route forms the final section of the Cape Wrath Trail, a long distance route from Fort William to Cape Wrath of just under 200 miles.[4][5]

Cape Wrath Lighthouse

Cape Wrath Lighthouse, 2008
Cape Wrath Lighthouse
© Anne Burgess

The Cape Wrath Lighthouse was built in 1828, by Robert Stevenson, and constructed from hand dressed stone and large blocks of granite quarried from Clash Carnoch.[6]

The lighthouse was manned until 1998, when it was converted to automatic operation by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB).

Cape Wrath Coastguard Station

Cape Wrath Coastguard Station, 2007
Cape Wrath Coastguard Station
© Bob Jones

The Cape Wrath Coast Guard station was built during the 1940s, using locally quarried stone.

The station now lies derelict.

Cape Wrath Logging Station

Cape Wrath Logging Station, 2007
Cape Wrath Logging Station
© Jim Barton

The Cape Wrath Logging Station, was built by Lloyd's of London to track shipping as it passed around the Cape. All shipping was required to signal information about its cargo, port of departure, and estimated time of arrival at the next port as it passed the station. The small station would have manned by two operators.

Referring to the photograph, the logging station is the small building seen to the east of the larger coastguard building built, which dates from the 1940s.

The Lloyd's building was constructed after the lighthouse, probably during the 1950, along with several smaller buildings which would have provided an observation platform and housed other equipment serving the station.

The older building was reused when the coastguard station was added to the site, when an observation platform is reported to have been appended to the old structure.

The buildings now lies derelict.

Clais Chŕrnach jetty

Clais Chŕrnach jetty, 2007
Clais Chŕrnach jetty
© Bob Jones
Clais Chŕrnach jetty, 2007
Clais Chŕrnach jetty
© Bob Jones

The lighthouse was originally supplied via a jetty sited in a small inlet at Clais Chŕrnach.

No longer needed, or used for its original purpose, it is use by the military when the need arises.

Dunan Mor Radar Station

Canmore reports a possible World War II radar station, giving the coastguard station as the location, but does not offer any definitive on the facility, so this appears only to be speculative in the absence of any records or evidence similar to other confirmed radar stations.

Ozone Café

Ozone Café, 2012
Ozone Café
© Jim Barton

Opened by John Ure and his family, the Ozone Café is based in the lighthouse, and was opened in 2009 by the Princess Royal.

The Ures leased the main building, then converted it into a three-bedroomed home, and opened what is claimed to be Britain’s most remote mainland café.

The café can seat eight, and is open at all hours of the day and night, so operates 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. It also has a small selection of souvenirs on sale, to help visitors recall what must be a unique visit. A series of information boards are on show, providing historical details of the Cape and the lighthouse.

However, it is also noted (at the time of writing at least) that there are no public conveniences at The Ozone Café. A telephone is available for emergency use, as the area is not well served by mobile phone coverage.

Cape Wrath hermit

Strathchailleach bothy murals, 2009
Strathchailleach bothy murals
© David Greer
Strathchailleach Bothy, 2003
Strathchailleach Bothy
© Ian Bolton

James McRory Smith, known as Sandy, lived at Strathchailleach on Cape Wrath for more than 30 years, where he stayed until 1994 and the onset of ill health finally forced him to leave his chosen isolation. He had moved there in the early 1960s, after leaving the army and embarking upon an itinerant lifestyle, moving from one abandoned and isolated property to another, until setting there.

His home was described as having no access road, no running water, no electricity, and no telephone. He made his own furniture from fish boxes and driftwood washed onto the shore, and kept warm by burning peat he dug from the moor, and ate trout caught in nearby lochs. He also painted murals on the walls within his home.

Further details can be found on the Cape Wrath Hermit page.

Land buyout scare of 2012

Towards the end of 2012, the MoD announced its intention to buy the last parcel of public land on the Cape, which was followed by a claim that it would close the land to public access, demolish historic building on the land, and end tourism in the area. Given MoD policy on enabling land access by the public across its estates when not in use, it was not clear how this claim arose, or if it was deliberately malicious or mischievous and intended to create conflict.

An "Access Petition" was raised, stating:

A letter from within the Ministry Of Defence has been sent to Lord Thurso (MP) stating that if the final parcel of land at Cape Wrath is purchased by them Cape Wrath will become precluded from public access.

If this happens then the community, visitors and users may not have access and the land we now freely walk on may not be available to us in future.

- Cape Wrath Access Petition.[7]

An iPetition was also created, stating:

The MOD wants to buy over Cape Wrath, and for public safety, due to their use of the land, would prohibit public access to the Cape. This would have a serious knock-on-effect to many businesses operating in the area and to the annual Cape Wrath Challenge.

- Petition STOP the MOD from buying Cape Wrath and stopping public access.[8]

The first signature was dated January 4, 2013, and the last (noted at the time of this edit) was number 2505 on April 23. 2013.

The claim led to the formation of the Durness Development Group, set up with aim of purchasing the land by the locals and preventing is acquisition by the MoD.[9]

In response, the MoD issued a written statement in the form of a letter to the MP for the area, John Thurso, from Defence Minister Mark Francois, stating that access would only be prevented when live firing was under way, which is no different from the existing access restriction on the range. The original scare may have arisen when the Defence Minister's original letter about the land purchase was misread, and its reference to land access was misinterpreted.[10]

On May 12,2013, the media carried a report that the MoD had withdrawn its application to purchase the last 58 acres of land from the Northern Lighthouse Board. Notably, the Scotsman article on the the withdrawal of the bid is liberally peppered with emotive words such as "retreat", "beaten a retreat", "victory", "land grab", "dramatically withdrawn!, "fierce public campaign", [11]

The same article also quoted mountaineer and television presenter Cameron McNeish: "If Westminster and the MoD get their way then precious jobs will be lost and one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks will become ­private. Closures of the Cape Wrath peninsula would affect walkers completing the Cape Wrath Trail, the newly opened Scottish National Trail and the many hundreds who walk between Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath every year."

This seems a rather odd and illogical claim, since the Cape Wrath area will still be closed when the range is in use, as is every other live firing range. and the MoD is not "private", whatever he means by that. It is a public landowner and has a stated policy of encouraged members of the public to enjoy its land when safe to do so. Granted, in the postwar era this was not the case, and most MoD land was fenced off and closed, but in recent years, this attitude has become a relic of the past.

On May 13, 2013, both the BBC[12] and STV[13] reported the withdrawal of the MoD's plan to buy the land. Notably, their stories simply reported the event, with none of the emotive language which was so prominent in The Scotsman article. The BBC article added that the MoD had been offered the land around Cape Wrath Lighthouse, and had planned to create new artillery and mortar positions and troop accommodation. The STV article added that a spokesman for the Durness Development Group had said it was still waiting for a response from the Scottish Government as to whether or not a community buyout could still be pursued.


Ordnance fired 12 miles offshore, 2011
Ordnance fired 12 miles offshore
© Alan Murray Walsh
,NATO blue ordnance also from 12 miles offshore, 2011
NATO blue ordnance from 12 miles
© Alan Murray Walsh
Targets, 2012
© Des Colhoun
Land Rover (maybe ?), 2009
Land Rover (maybe ?)
© Tony Page
Cape Wrath sign dump, 2008
Sign dump
© Richard Webb
Cape Wrath fog horn, 2001
Cape Wrath fog horn
© colin price
Cape Wrath fog horn, 2012
Cape Wrath fog horn
© Jim Barton


1 Navy drops bombs off Scottish coast Retrieved April 21, 2013.

2 "visit the most northwesterly point on the island of Great Britain" Retrieved April 22, 2013.

3 Cape Wrath, Scottish Highlands: Crossing the Kyle Retrieved April 22, 2013.

4 Home | Cape Wrath Trail - a new guide to Britain’s toughest backpacking route Retrieved April 21, 2013.

5 Cape Wrath Trail the deinitive (sic) guide Retrieved April 21, 2013.

6 Cape Wrath, Scottish Highlands: The Lighthouse Retrieved April 22, 2013.

7 Cape Wrath, Scottish Highlands: Home Retrieved April 23, 2013.

8 Petition STOP the MOD from buying Cape Wrath and stopping public access. Retrieved April 23, 2013.

9 What motivates communities to buy land they live on? Retrieved April 23, 2013.

10 Residents 'relieved' Cape Wrath will not be closed off by MoD | Highlands & Islands | News | STV Retrieved April 23, 2013.

11 MoD retreats from Cape Wrath buyout - Top stories - Scotsman.com Retrieved May 12, 2013.

12 MoD drops Cape Wrath land purchase Retrieved May 13, 2013.

13 Ministry of Defence withdraws plans to buy land at Cape Wrath | Highlands & Islands | News | STV Retrieved May 13, 2013.

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Aerial views



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