Durness welcomes visitors and in return expects visitors to respect Durness. More and more tourists are traveling the Highlands in motor homes and can be frustrating to local people. On single tract roads not everyone is on holiday and vehicles travelling admiring the scenery should allow those following to pass.
The only petrol station in Durness is sited opposite the Spar shop. This is a self service outside payment terminal with only chip and pin cards accepted. There are two public toilets. One outside the Spar shop and the other at the Smoo cave carpark.
Although to most people the village is remote and wild with many empty spaces campers in caravans, motor homes and tents should respect the environment within and around the village. Please use the campsite. Although there is many public places good manners should prevail and use of the camp site is appreciated. Local people have reason to complain regarding campers using areas not suitable, leaving human detritus behind dykes, blocking gates and parking camping vehicles outside residences.
To avoid upsetting local people, avoiding confrontations and making your holiday more memorable by respecting the locality please remember every empty spot and car park in the village not potential camping area.
The only petrol station in Durness is sited opposite the Spar shop. This is a self service outside payment terminal with only chip and pin cards accepted.
The area is remote, with few roads, that it is easy to find a little piece of solitude all of your own. It is a land of mountains and sea, cliffs and waterfalls, beaches and rainbows, a land of wind and water, full of the sounds of nature. On a clear night the starry skies are phenomenal! Durness is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a place of nature where your body can recuperate and your mind become peaceful. The natural environment attracts people in its own right and the unspoiled beauty with little commercial development is one of the reasons the North West Highland corner of mainland Britain has a high percentage of return visitors. Hill walking and mountain climbing are popular pursuits and while the mountains around Durness are lonely and remote, they are quite easily accessible and enjoyed by novice hill walkers, when the correct routes are used. There are no great heights to be conquered but challenging, rewarding and impressive views can be obtained. .
Walking in isolated locations is hazardous and it is always advisable to inform someone of the route and expected time of return. Important reminders are issued about responsibilities and the speed weather conditions can change. Lives can easily be put in danger not only of the walkers but also of others when rescues are launched
Durness makes a good point for touring the rest of North West Sutherland as it is the “corner” of the road system; from here you can only go south or east. From April to October visitors from all over the world venture north to the spectacular and rugged scenery.. The scenery around here is magnificent and for those accustomed to city dwelling the sheer scale of the landscape is awe inspiring. This is surely one of the most beautiful areas of Europe with sparkling rivers, scattered lochs, shimmering beaches, rugged mountains and vast expanses of open moorland, here visitors will find peace and quietness ; an absolute abundance of wildlife, clean, uncrowded beaches; some of the world’s best fishing; and space in which to enjoy the clear invigorating air. Being on the tourist route from Ullapool to John o Groats Durness has many passing through tourists.
Noted locally when the weather is good visitor numbers increase and many more remain in Durness. bed and breakfasts, those that are not booked in advance or with available beds, and the camp site quickly fill up.Durness is a suitable location for those that are able and willing to make their own “entertainment” and occupy their own pleasures that the environment offers. There is limited attempts to interpret the cultural environment for visitors and apart from the Smoo Cave excursion there are no guided tours or organised adventure activities in Durness. The coastline is fringed with spectacular beaches of silver sand, soaring cliffs and deep caves. It is an ideal place to explore the solitude of the highlands, to watch the varied wildlife and birds, or enjoy a spot of fishing or golf. The spectacular mountain scenery is formed from some of the oldest rocks in the world, Lewisian Gneiss.
The splendour of Durness is expressed in its extended horizons; in certain parts a view of over thirty kilometres is not uncommon. There is an abundance of magnificent scenery and wildlife and while an ideal holiday destination in itself. Sutherland the southern land of the Vikings is the most remote county in Britain yet easily accessible to the rest of the country. It is the only county in Scotland without a town and has the lowest population density in Western Europe. Also, it has three coastlines – north, east and west which provide a stunning coastal landscape of towering cliffs and golden beaches, backed by rugged mountains and barren moorlands. The empty glens of today bear witness to the great clearances of the 19th century when people were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for sheep farming.
The Durness Visitors Centre is set overlooking Sango Bay about 3oo meters from the village square. The building houses the local service point for the Highland Council, tourist Information and the Countryside Ranger, staffed by local people and is open for different and various lengths of times of day all year. The displays are informative; including a geological standing stone exhibit outside the centre. Inside are explanation panels on all aspects of the environment, local crafts and wall hangings of different periods in the history of the parish produced at the local school.
The Tourist Information Centre was built in Durness in 1985. A caravan was sited in the village square prior to that for tourist information. In 1994, a geological display featuring the rocks of north west Sutherland was erected. The interpretative panels for the exhibition were renewed and updated and the appliqué wall hangings by the children of Durness primary school were hung in a purposely-manufactured display case. The opening has gradually increased from a few hours for a couple of months in the year to opening from mid march to mid October six days a week and seven days a week in June July and August. Around twenty eight thousand visitors are counted at the Information Centre in 1994 rising from twenty one thousand six hundred in 1989. In 1996, thirty four thousand people were counted.
Durness has very few old reports of being used as a holiday destination but old writings from about 1700 mention good hospitality at the inn in Durness on travels around Sutherland. This probably refers to the building that stood in the village square until 1908 when the structure was destroyed by fire.(May have been the Cape Wrath Hotel but this is usually referred to specifically.)
From the Northern Times December 21, 1956 50 Years Ago
“The walls of the old hotel at Durine were demolished recently. They have been an eyesore as well as a public danger, since the building went on fire in November, 1908. The stones are being used at the school extension..” Stones form the hotel were used in the foundations of the Village Hall built in 1935 and later ( 1992) taken to the new hall for the wall in the garden."
Many of these travels are accounts of bird and wildlife. Fishing and shooting has always been popular. As early as 1808, a special guidebook was advertised in the Inverness newspaper regarding visiting and holidaying in the Highlands in general, but the familiar role was of providing peace and recreation. Before 1965 the tourist industry had been left pretty much to its own devices. In the twenties and thirties, there was practically no tourist industry. In Durness, there was the Cape Wrath Hotel that dealt primarily with the fishing and shooting fraternity. These were mainly the landed gentry from the south. This hotel was the only licensed premises in the area. The Parkhill hotel took in guests during the summer and there were three or four houses that were known as boarding houses and catered for a few summer visitors. The majority of tourists travelled from the south by train to Lairg and the daily mail bus to Durness.
During the war years 1939-1945, the only persons visiting were connected with the war.
After the war and into the fifties tourism started to get under way. People were becoming slightly more prosperous and some families owned their own motor car. Overseas visitors started to appear, unknown in this area in pre war years. After the war, most of the children in Durness went barefoot for almost all of the year. There seemed to be a milder climate. The only footwear the majority of the locals were used to were heavy boots, built to last. When visitors arrived from the city, they were immediately noticeable by the sandals and more casual footwear. These items were much longed for especially among the young girls of Durness. They were a source of bitter feelings of jealousy and rivalry.
Sango from Lerinbeg around 1970 and 2005
As the fifties passed away the swinging sixties brought an influx of visitors. In 1969 the Highlands and Islands Development Board sighted that “Tourism will develop successfully only if local tourist associations are organised on a strong professional basis.” Frequently a grievance about the Highlands being marketed as one destination is aired. Durness is quite different from its neighbouring communities and is an integral part but a unique place as are the other small villages. A report written in 1987 indicates that tourism in the late 1960’s was mainly made up of wealthy English visitors who came for the fishing and shooting out of peak season to take advantage of the quiet period. During the early 1970’s, tourism was very big. The Craft Village was flourishing and predictions were being offered about expansion.
Crofting and the tourist trade became inextricably woven together and forty years ago there was the fear in Durness that crofting would be neglected for tourism and for employment people had to travel to distant parts of Sutherland .The past in Durness is very much of a more populated place than at present and hence recent development of industry and commerce has been practically non-existent.
The organisation of camping came about in 1979 when the campsite at Sango was privately opened and operated, encouraging people camping around the area to use the designated site and provided facilities. The site has steadily improved with toilet facilities, showers, electric hook ups, permanent reception building and ground maintenance. In 1995, the site was expanded. Wild camping is discouraged locally although Balnakeil Dunes are popular for campers for a night or two. There are numerous Bed and Breakfasts and only a few registered with the Tourist Board mainly because of the high costs of commission and lack of local consideration in the national policy making. Self-catering accommodation is plentiful from small single caravans on crofts to chalets and houses for rent. The Youth Hostel usually opens from May to September. A private Bunkhouse serves visitors and the Sango Sands Oasis pub/restaurant operates at Sangomore abject to the camp site.
The attraction to potential visitors is expressed in a variety of adverts giving descriptions of what is often called ‘Europe’s last Wilderness’. Arts and crafts, photography and natural history in all its guises, scientific, amateur and professional have been pursuits in the unrivalled expanse of Durness where the solitude can inspire the individual to a creative end. Poetry and prose have been written both here and about here. This space tends to lend itself to the visiting creative individual and interpretation in countless contrasting ways. Recreation in its most natural state appears to be a function of this area.
Few influences have altered the life and living to the extent of society at large.
Development has moved at a slow rate. Established businesses have been deterred from the locality by the uneconomic distance from suppliers and markets and the infrastructure of road and rail being unsuitable. The economics for development from outside have not been practical. Small-scale business development in answer to local demand with craft enterprises in all forms being represented on some occasions since the 19060’s has been the result. Durness remains a great attraction for people who want to escape from the urbanised areas, finding relaxation, recreation and restfulness. While it was a difficult destination to reach, the attraction of simple natural uncommercialised facilities and services have been very welcome. The area has become easier to arrive at and the increased numbers of persons move around at greater speeds. The capacities of destination activites have not expanded and been provided for at the same rate.
The high majority of the tourists are only passing through Durness. The camp/caravan site has an average stay of two to three nights. There is no accommodation large enough to allow an overnight coach party and therefore a coach stops only for about an hour on route to the evening’s destination, insufficient to have more than one stopping site. Most touring motorists come through Durness between 11am and 3pm and make at the most two stops, depending on the weather. The Bed and Breakfasts quickly fill in the middle of summer and the self-catering establishments are usually booked in advance. (From a survey carried out in 2008)
Organised activities are scarce but are on the increase slowly. Access to the most north westerly point on mainland Britain by passenger ferry and a minibus ride is a popular journey. A small dinghy expedition to the second chamber of Smoo Cave, guided walks with the Countryside Ranger to distinct and diverse wild life colonies are available throughout the summer. Sea trips around Cape Wrath and Faraid Head have been available with a local fisherman to view the scenery, seabirds, seals and other attractions dependent on weather and are not scheduled on a reliable or regular basis since 1994. Fishing by arrangement in the lochs and sea fishing by boat has all become available. Balnakeil Craft Village attracts tourists. The area is spectacular for endless hill and coastal walking with wonderful cliffs. There are no organised water sports but the sheltered bays are becoming popular for windsurfing and body boarding.