West Coast and The Far North
On this occasion we met my parents at Grants at Craigellachie on the shores of Loch Duich. We arrived first, after a brief stop by Loch Cluanie where we were treated to a spectacular rainbow as another shower of rain passed down the glen.
The weather cleared up for the traditional pre-dinner amble down the quiet single track road that runs alongside Loch Duich.
We returned to the accommodation and that evening enjoyed a delicious meal in the little restaurant run by Tony. The food, lovingly prepared from fresh locally sourced ingredients, was exquisite.
The next morning, from Ratagan on the shores of Loch Duich, we headed generally north, passing briefly through Kinlochewe, Poolewe, Gairloch, Gruinard Bay and Ullapool. Each was as grey and rainy as the last and there was little impetus to get out of the car and explore. We enjoyed a nice pub lunch at the Aultbea Hotel by Loch Ewe.
The drive to Ullapool was exciting with the picturesque Little Loch Broom offering tantalising views of a veiled An Teallach above Dundonnell, as well as the lower slopes of the Fannaichs and Beinn Dearg a little further on. At Ullapool we were beaten indoors by a resurgent rain shower but found warmth and shelter in the delightful Ceilidh Place just behind the harbour. This cafe and bar has an adjoining bookshop and served delicious coffee with the food looking just as tempting.
We drove out of Ullapool, following the road northward. Through the gloom of a rain spattered windscreen the headlights briefly caught the sign I had been waiting to see.
“Welcome to Sutherland”
The scenery, though veiled by the cloud and rain, was dramatic, much wilder than anything I’d yet seen in Scotland. Amber and bronze moorland stretched as far as the eye could see, broken only by steel grey pools and lochans and the dark lower slopes of the hills and mountains. It’s a desolate place. Tiny hamlets dwarfed by the landscape around them. Single hills rear out of the moor, their summits crowned with crags.
By Loch Assynt we stopped for a walk along the shoreline to the ruins of Ardvreck Castle,
Unfortunately we had no views of Suilven or Stac Polaidh but by the time we dropped down to the Kylesku Bridge the cloud had lifted sufficiently to give a good view of the buttresses of Quinag.
With darkness approaching we finally arrived at our stopping point for the night, the delightfully eccentric Rhiconich Hotel. This was a great place to spend the night – a friendly host, tasty food, Orkney Island Brewery ales (albeit bottled) and a warm peat fire to lounge around after dinner. Bliss.
The Far North
The following morning, with the air a little clearer, we drove north from Rhiconich along the single track road which winds its way up to Durness and the fringed far north coastline of the island of Britain. Showers were blowing down the glen from behind Beinn Spionnaidh which produced interesting and ever changing patterns of light across the wide strath.
At Durness, a quiet and slightly ramshackle village spread out along the cliff tops just ten miles short of the north-west tip of the mainland, we parked and dropped down to the white sands of Sango Bay.
Although the sun wasn’t shining at this point the splendour and isolation of this place was more than apparent. We wandered about the beach and clambered over the rocks before spying the great black clouds that were billowing up from the south. We didn’t run fast enough back to the cars to avoid a drenching from the intensely heavy rain that suddenly fell on Durness.
This was fortuitous though as after a brief stop at the John Lennon memorial (which although nice is framed by the modern and uninspiring village hall) we stopped off to the visit the famous Smoo Cave. This vast cavern has been formed by a combination of sea and river erosion which results in a stunning set of chambers set back into the rock below Durness. In the second chamber a burn overflows and tumbles down through a sinkhole to create a waterfall. Apparently this is only evident at times of heavy rain and so the poor weather the previous day was shown to have had at least one upside!
Further along the coast we stopped for a wander along the beautiful white sands of the beach at Traigh Allt Chailgeag. Here the clearest of waters met the whitest of sands. The view brought to mind tropical islands, not the far north of Scotland. There was scrambling on the rocks and running on the beach and looks of admiration as we saw some body surfers take to the crashing waves clad head to toe in neoprene.
The coast road now has to turn away from the sea, forced inland by the great bite that Loch Eribol takes out of the northern coastline.
Eribol is a spectacular expanse of wild, deep blue-grey water. There are small cottages strung out along its shores but beyond this, untamed hills march up to dark and lonely mountain summits. Brooding clouds were still hunched over the peaks but we stopped every now and then to get out and admire this great, humbling landscape. On the east shore of the loch the road eventually climbs up to a vantage point where you can really appreciate this wild country.
After Eribol we dropped down along a twisting road, climbed over a high moorland with views to the intimidating north-west ridge of Ben Hope and eventually dropped down to the Kyle of Tongue. A short drive took us into Tongue itself where the Ben Loyal Hotel provided ample refreshment amid the pleasant hustle and bustle of a Saturday afternoon.
We now turned away from the north coast and headed on the single track road which heads to Lairg, passing by the picturesque Loch Loyal before travelling down through Altnaharra, Lairg and Bonar Bridge.
We climbed up above the Dornoch Firth before dropping down to join the busy A9 near Evanton on the shores of the Cromarty Firth.
After so much time spent driving the quiet roads of the Highlands it was a bit of shock to be on a well-used road which turned into dual carriageway after the crossing of the Black Isle to Inverness. In the late afternoon sunshine we continued east until we reached Nairn where we had a wander along the beach before a final drive to our destination for the night, a comfy B&B in Forres.
After failing to find a table at any of the local restaurants we ate a pub dinner in Forres and then retired for the night. The next morning we briefly visited Sueno's Stone and then went our separate ways, Mum and Dad heading for Yorkshire whilst we went east back to Aberdeen.