Thursday, 27 November 2014

Coigach Adventure

This was the last full day of my summer break in the Highlands. The forecast was good but I woke early to see thick, low mist on Loch Maree. So I did what anyone else would have done, I pulled up the quilt and nodded back off for an hour. The next time I woke and looked out, there was just a bit of brightness in the clouds which was reflected in the Loch. Slowly but surely the cloud started to lift and break and by breakfast time it was almost clear, just leaving just a few wisps of cloud on the distant hills on the far side of the Loch. This promised to be one hell of a day.

A hearty breakfast was eaten and photos of the Loch were taken and then I was heading north again on the Wester Ross Coastal Trail. I had travelled north on this road three times and each time the weather had left a lot to be desired. In fact one year I turned round at Ullapool! Three times I had driven on this road and never even seen the foot of Scotlands most dramatic mountain, An Teallach. Today I saw it from top to bottom and what an impressive sight it was. Even Ullapool looked mildly attractive today.

My route took me to all the best things that the Highlands has to offer. The hills; Cul Mor and Cul Beag, Stac Polliadh, Suilven, Canisp and Quinag. The coast with the large sandy beach at Achnahaird and the old fishing villages of Achiltibuie, Dornie and then lastly to Altandhu with its stunning view over The Summer Isles. This part of the Highlands can be picture postcard pretty one moment and wilderness the next even in sunny weather.

I eventually arrived at my farthest point of the day; Lochinver and I was feeling absolutely shattered but elated at the same time. Thankfully there was a catering wagon which at the time I thought served the best cappuccinos I'd ever experienced but maybe this could have been put down to my tiredness. It never takes me long to recover though and I was soon on my way back down but this time, thankfully, it was on A roads all the way. The roads up there are a godsend, you can travel for mile after mile on good quality roads and not come across any traffic.

My way back took me past Loch Assynt and Ardvreck Castle. The castle dates back to about 1490 when the lands were owned by the Macleods of Assynt. It was attacked and captured by the Mackenzies in 1672 and in 1726 they replaced it with the more modern Calda House which burned down in 1737. Before the Mackenzies were able to rebuild the house, their estates had been seized by the Crown for their support of the losing side in the 1745 uprising. It has remained a ruin ever since.

I stopped off in Ullapool for a fish butty at it's "world famous" chippy but to be honest I wasn't very impressed with it. I had a short walk around the town before setting off for Gairloch. Every mile of this road is a joy. I broke my journey at Gruiniard Bay where I had been the previous day.

A walk to the harbour in Gairloch, a pint in the Old Inn and then it was down the road and back to The Loch Maree Hotel for a couple more pints.

A long day out but a day which I'll remember for a long time. I don't ever expect to get weather like that in the North West Highlands again. In fact I now wonder if I will have enough motivation to travel this far again knowing that I will never be able to better this day. If I do, I promise I will blog it!


Low cloud on Loch Maree

Cloud lifting, Loch Maree

Cloud lifting, Loch Maree

Cloud lifting, Loch Maree

An Teallach

The hills of Coigash

The hills of Coigash

Loch Osgaig

Achiltibuie

The Summer Isles

Achnahaird

Achnahaird

Hills of Coigash

Loch Assynt

Ardvreck Castle

Suilven

Dundonnell River

Wester Ross Coastal Trail

Loch Maree from Poolewe

Gairloch Harbour

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Coastline of Wester Ross

As with yesterday's blog, there isn't much point in me going in to much detail of where I visited as very few people will have heard of any of the places (I hadn't). It was mainly a local day and a coastal day. This was due to the long drive I'd had the day before, it tired me out a bit. I don't think I strayed more than twenty miles from Gairloch the whole day but still managed to visit some amazing beaches.

First call was Opinon Beach, a sweeping bay of white untouched sand. Not a footmark to be seen, how come no one has discovered these places! Then to Red Point a few miles down the road with it's broad beach of reddish sand backed by dunes. I presume that is how it has got it's name. I then back tracked to Gairloch and followed the coast road North West to a place called Melvaig which had spectacular views across to Skye. The drive was quite airy and hairy at times as most of the journey was along clifftop roads with sheer drops down to the sea below.

A bit more back tracking and then it was Northwards again to the best beach of the day. Mellon Udrigle with its wide white sandy bay. The view from it was just spectacular. Unbeknown to me until I got there, the hills I was going to visit the next day could be seen in the far distance across Gruinard Bay. Warm sunshine, blue skies, no people...I though I was in heaven! It was a time to chill and relax on the beech.

However these quiet moments never seem to last too long as people always arrive either in caravans or motor homes and this proved to be the case. It was time to make a hasty exit and head just a few miles further North to my last port of call for the day, Little Gruinard Bay. Another white sandy beach which is quite popular as it is at the side of the main road to Ullapool. Still it is quiet by Blackpool standards! A bit of interesting info on the area -

"Gruinard was the site of a biological warfare test by British military scientists from Porton Down in 1942, during the Second World War. At that time there was an investigation by the British government into the feasibility of an attack using anthrax: to test the vulnerability of Britain against a German attack and the viability of attacking Germany with a British bio-weapon. Given the nature of the weapon which was being developed, it was recognised that tests would cause widespread and long-lasting contamination of the immediate area by anthrax spores. In order to limit contamination a remote and uninhabited island was required. Gruinard was surveyed, deemed suitable and requisitioned from its owners by the British Government.
The anthrax strain chosen for the Gruinard bioweapons trials was a highly virulent type called "Vollum 14578", named after R. L. Vollum, Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Oxford, who supplied it. Eighty sheep were taken to the island and bombs filled with anthrax spores were exploded close to where selected groups were tethered. The sheep became infected with anthrax and began to die within days of exposure. 
Scientists concluded after the tests were completed that a large release of anthrax spores would thoroughly pollute German cities, rendering them uninhabitable for decades afterwards. These conclusions were supported by the discovery that initial efforts to decontaminate the island after the biological warfare trials had ended failed due to the high durability of anthrax spores.
In 1945 when the owner sought the return of Gruinard Island, the Ministry of Supply recognized that the island was contaminated as a result of the wartime experiments and consequently it could not be derequisitioned until it was deemed safe. In 1946, the Crown agreed to acquire the island and to take on the onus of responsibility. The owner or her heirs and beneficiaries would be able to repurchase the island for the sale price of £500 when it was declared "Fit for habitation by man and beast".  
Starting in 1986 a determined effort was made to decontaminate the island, with 280 tonnes of formaldehyde solution diluted in seawater being sprayed over all 196 hectares of the island and the worst-contaminated topsoil around the dispersal site being removed. A flock of sheep was then placed on the island and remained healthy. On 24 April 1990, after 48 years of quarantine and 4 years after the solution being applied, junior defence minister Michael Neubert visited the island and announced its safety by removing the warning signs. On 1 May 1990, the island was repurchased by the heirs of the original owner for the original sale price of £500."

It made a refreshing change to have the chance to photograph something different. Usually my photography consists of landscapes so the beaches were a bit of a challenge for me.

Then it was back to the Hotel for some food before setting off for a late evening drive back down Torridon. I raved about the place in my last blog so wont bore everyone again. The conditions were brilliant for photos but unfortunately brilliant for midges as well but I suppose you can't have everything. I watched the sun go down behind the hills before heading back up Loch Maree to the hotel for a few beers.




Badachro, Gairloch.

Opinan, Gairloch

Opinan, Gairloch

Opinan, Gairloch

Opinan, Gairloch

Red Point, Gairloch

The Minch

Melvaig, Gairloch

Melvaig, Gairloch

Melvaig, Gairloch

Mellon Uldrigle

Mellon Uldrigle

Mellon Uldrigle

Little Gruinard Bay

Little Gruinard Bay

Little Gruinard Bay

Little Gruinard Bay

Wester Ross Coastal Route

Upper Loch Torridon

Upper Loch Torridon

Laithach, Torridon

Scots Pines, Torridon

Monday, 24 November 2014

A road trip to beat all road trips.


This really was a road trip to beat all road trips visiting the Cuillins of Skye, then over the Skye Bridge and on to the mainland before taking part of the Wester Ross Coastal Trail to Loch Maree, my home for three nights.

There isn't much point in me describing it in too much detail as the names and places will mean absolutely nothing to most people, I'll just let the photos do the talking for the most part.

A few highlights on the way though were the stunning views over Loch Carron as I climbed out of the Kyle of Lochalsh.

Then it was up the Beallach na Ba (The Pass of the Cattle) at 2,054 ft which must be the closest thing in Britain to an Alpine pass. There were plenty of laybys where you could pull over and admire the view if you wanted to - and believe me, I wanted to! From the summit (which is rather a disappointmant) I made a  more leisurely descent to Applecross where the landscape opened out to give fantastic views westwards to the Isle of Skye. Applecross itself was a delight as well.

The narrow road then followed the coast before going overland to join the main A road coming up from Kyle at the coastal village of Sheildaig. A stop for a leg stretch and a pint and then it was on to Torridon. The first view you get of the Torridon Hills and Upper Loch Torridon really does take the breath away and it's a view that once seen, you will never forget. I've just realised I haven't included any photos of this view in this blog; they will be in the next one so you will just have to take my word for it for the time being. There were many stops for photos and midge attacks in Glen Torridon.

Torridon is the most wonderful, if at times overpowering place. 

So then it was on to Loch Maree, again another beautiful stretch of water with the munros of Beinn Eighe (pronounced Ben Ee) on one side of the Loch and Slioch (pronounced Shleeok) on the other side before finally arriving at my hotel which couldn't have been better placed, being slap bang on the shore of the Loch.

To cap off a tremendous day, I was rewarded with the most beautiful of sunsets. I felt truly blessed...

Loch Carron

Wester Ross Coastal Trail

Achintraid, Loch Kishorn

Beallach na Ba

Beallach na Ba

Beallach na Ba

Applecross

Skye from Applecross

Upper Loch Torridon

Upper Loch Torridon

Upper Loch Torridon

Loch Maree

Loch Maree

Slioch

Loch Maree

Victoria Falls

View from Loch Maree Hotel

Sunset, Loch Maree

Sunset, Loch Maree

Close up at the RHS garden in Harrogate.

A series of shots I took at Harlow Carr RHS garden just outside of Harrogate. They were mostly taken with the Nikon 60mm f2.8 Micro lens. I...