Ceannabeinne Beach

Durness is approached on the A838 from the east about 2 miles from the village the spectacular bay of Ceannabeinne is encountered.

Translated from Gaelic Ceannabeinne means head or end of the mountains.

Traditionally the beach was known as Traigh Allt Chailgeag – the beach of the burn of bereavement and death. This referred to a story of how an elderly woman fell into the burn, which flows onto the beach, and drowned. The burn Allt Chailgeag, was in spate at the time and her body was washed down to the shore.

The ruined stone dykes seem by the burn and shore were part of the small farm of Clais Charnach, the foundations of which can be found on the hillside above the car park. Along with other townships in this area, the tenants were forcibly evicted to make way for sheep farming in 1842. See Ceannabeinne Townshi

Traigh Allt Chailgeag is an attractive cliff-foot beach easily visible from the main north coast road about three miles east of Durness. The beach is about 400 yards long and is gently shelving, the inter-tidal zone being nearly 300 yards wide. From the cliff top backing the beach an attractive view is obtained across the mouth of Loch Eriboll towards Whiten Head. The rock underlying the bay and headlands is Lewisian gneiss, which has been fractured by a northeast trending fault line along which the inlet has been excavated. The cliff wall backing the beach is broken by three steep-sided valleys separated by minor headlands.

The most easterly of the valleys is graded down to sea level, but the other two are perched high above modern sea level. For the most part the gneiss is ice scoured and lacking in a layer of weathered material or drift, but in the valley depressions deep weathered rock has survived in places and there are also patches of thin, discontinuous till. Offshore there appear to be fairly extensive stretches of sand which probably represent reworked glacial deposits.

The beach area is very sheltered from the west and south by the high cliff backing the beach, but exposure to the northeast quarter is strong. Not only is the beach fully open to winds from this direction, but the fetch is very much wider than for most of the other beaches of the Durness group. Eilean Hoan gives some protection from the north but the wide sector between it and Whiten Head is fully exposed, and deep water comes closer in than further west. Despite this strong exposure, however, comparatively little marine erosion is taking place. To the west of the beach the gneiss is finely foliated, but the dip is almost vertical, while on the east headland the rock is much more massive and dips landwards. Hence in neither case are conditions particularly conducive to cliffing. The cliff line at present is eroding only very slowly, presenting the typical convex appearance of a Lewisian gneiss cliff line, although in the past, possibly during a period of higher sea level, much more active cliffing must have occurred. The age of the cliff-line is evidenced by the plug of glacial till in the geos to the west of the beach, indicating that the cliff-line must have been cut in pre-glacial times.

The present slow progress of marine erosion on the neighbouring cliffs must mean that the beach material has not been derived from this source. Some of the material, which is mainly a fine sand, may be derived from the removal of till plugs in the cliff forms but this would only be a minor source. Another possible source of limited quantities of material is from the three streams which debouch onto the beach. In their lower courses where they flow through narrow, steeply graded valleys containing pockets of glacial till and deeply weathered rock, they will be able to acquire considerable loads of material which they can supply to the beach, and at the extreme west of the beach the stream has built up a sizeable fan of material. There is evidence that the regime of the streams may be liable to quite large fluctuations, and when they are in spate the rates of supply of material will be correspondingly augmented. However, material coarser than sand, derived from either marine or fluvial erosion, is almost entirely lacking on the beach, although in the past, during a period of higher sea level, a raised shingle bar was thrown across the mouth of the Allt Chailgeag at the east end of the beach. This raised shingle bar is roughly at the same height as the one at Sangobeg and would have been formed during the same period.

The convex shape of the beach plan, a reflection of the protective influence of Eilean Hoan, means that the c/p ratio cannot be calculated but the beach appears to be fairly stable with no marked tendency to change its orientation. The beach functions together with the Traigh na h-Uamhag beach as a single unit, with a certain amount of seasonal movement of sand around the headland of Rubha na Griosaich which separates the two beaches.

The high cliff-line behind the beaches prevents the blowing of sand far inland. In the minor re-entrants, such as that of the stream following the Clais Charnach, accumulation has occurred in the form of broad dunelike ridges which probably rest on raised shingle bars. Most of these ridges are slightly undercut by waves on their seaward edges, and wind on their other sides, but marram is actively colonising the undercut faces.

Behind these small marram clad dune ridges, a reverse gradient slopes against the cliff-line and the vegetation is a typical machair sward. On the cliffs a thin layer of blown sand has accumulated, the thickness and inland extent of which are inversely proportional to the cliff height. Where the cliff is vertical or near vertical practically no sand accumulation has occurred at all, and nowhere does the sand thickness seem sufficient for erosion scars to form although soil creep is in operation.

 

That several periods of sand blow, separated by long periods of stability, have occurred in the past is shown in a section above the raised shingle bar near the outlet of Allt Chailgeag. Here a vertical section through the blown sand overlying the shingle shows alternations of peat and organic material with fresh sand lacking in humus content. At present, although fresh sand occupies the topmost layer, there appears to be a period of relative stability with little sand accumulation occurring.

Most of the cliff slope behind the beach is strongly influenced by blown sand and salt spray, although the influence begins to die out above the road. On the near vertical sections of the cliff, where frost shattering occasionally rives off large blocks, birches and other forms of shrubby growth have obtained a foothold, while on sheltered sections bracken has established dominance.

The area is intensively grazed by sheep, and rabbits are numerous, but there are no signs of biotic damage.

The pattern of use is that of the short visit. The beach, being an attractive one close to but some way below the road draws many tourists on the course of their journey along the north coast. Most of the visits are, however, very brief; the tourists just walk down to the beach from their cars, go a short distance along it and then return.