Sunday, 7 May 2017

To Lochinver via Coigach

Again, I don't really think many words are needed for this blog. The photos tell the whole story of one of the best drives in the UK.

The route chops and changes from mountain to coastal and back again and is possibly the best section of the Wester Ross Coastal Road. I was fortunate enough to be at Gruinard Bay when the tide was out so I more to less had the whole beach to myself, th the mighty An Teallach (widely regarded as the best hill in Scotland) towered above me as I drove down through Dundonnell.  Then it was through the Dundonnell River gorge and across the Dundonnell Forest to Loch Broom and Ullapool. Even Ullapool looked good with the morning sun and blue skies. I hardly met any traffic at all from the moment I left my hotel on the shores on Loch Maree which meant driving was a sheer pleasure.

The last section of the route through Coigach to Lochinver is the reason I keep visiting these parts. It may only be about twenty miles in length but it goes through what is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful scenery I have seen. There are no mountain ridges, all the hills stand alone which I suppose makes it is quite a surreal landscape and it is totally out of keeping with the vast majority of the highland regions.

I will always remember my first sighting of The Summer Isles from the hamlet of Altandhu. The view took my breath away then as it still does today and I know it does that for many. I always say that this is the finest view in the world which I know is probably a bit of an exaggeration on my part but none the less, it is to me.

The road then heads inland and is akin to the Applecross to Shieldaig road i.e. very narrow with passing places. Now and again you surprisingly return to the coast so, due to its many directional changes, you can end up feeling very disorientated. I usually give out a short sigh of relief when I see the Lochinver "1 mile" sign as I know it is time to relax a bit. Being on guard for oncoming traffic for 12 miles can take it out of you mentally, especially as there is so much to see on the way. I'm afraid Lochinver doesn't have much going for it except possibly the best pie shop in Scotland! The Lochinver Pie Shop is a must on any visit. Just click on the link for details.

The return journey is a lot quicker than the one up even though it is basically a reversal. It just cuts out the coastal and narrow roads sections.  It starts by following the main road alongside Loch Assynt before joining the A835 and then its good roads all the way back to Loch Maree. You can take as long as you want to drive back, I stopped in Ullapool for a chippy tea as time was getting on and it had been a long day. The reverse route also has the advantage of having the hills of The Fisherfield Forest and Torridon in view for the latter part which perks you up just as you are starting to flag. I did find the time to stop a few times to take photographs though.

Considering I was going to let the photos do the talking, I do seem to have waffled on a fair bit but I was reliving the ride as I wrote. Hope you enjoy the photos.

Loch Maree sunrise

Loch Maree

Loch Sheildaig near Gairloch

Loch Ewe

Gruinard Bay

Gruinard Bay

Gruinard Bay

An Teallach

Stac Polliadh from Loch Cul Dromanon

Loch Bad a Ghail, Coigac

The Summer Isles

Achnahaird Bay and the Coigach Hills

Cul Mor and Stac Pollaidh

Cul Mor and Stac Pollaidh

Loch Assynt pines

Road through Dundonnell

Gruinard Bay

First Coast

The Fisherfield and Torridon Hills

The Fisherfield and Torridon Hills

Last light, Loch Maree

Sunset, Loch Maree

Saturday, 6 May 2017

From Applecross to Torridon

The 24 mile coastal road from Applecross to Shielding was constructed in the late 1970s to connect all the small crofting villages of the area and also to provide an all weather route to Applecross as the Bealach na ba was often impassable in winter conditions. Every inch of it is a delight albeit a bit scary in a few places. Numerous passing places make progress quite easy but there is just one short section which has a wall on one side and crags on the other which gives no place to pass. Just pray you don't meet oncoming traffic!

The photos show the route and land much better than I could describe it so I will let the photos do the talking. The new road joins the main Kishorn to Kinlochewe road at the delightful village of Shieldaig. Then its on to Torridon with it's majestic mountain scenery. Three of the most impressive hills in The Highlands; Beinn Aligin, Laithach and Beinn Eighe are situated in this area.

I parked up at the far end of Torridon and took a distinct track to Loch Clair to get some photos of the hills and loch. It was good to get out and stretch my legs as I had been cooked up in the car for most of the day. An added bonus was that due to the relatively dry spring, the midges still hadn't hatched.
I think this was the only time that I have ever been in Torridon and not been bitten to death by the blighters. Apparently a few weeks later they were out up to there usual tricks.

The final section of my route was following the road alongside Loch Maree which is the perfect way to end the day.

Loch Torridon

Loch Torridon and the Torridon hills

The road to Sheildaig

Torridon Hills

Isle of Skye and Raasay from Applecross

Loch Torridon and the Torridon hills

Loch Torridon and the Torridon hills

Loch Torridon and the Torridon hills

Loch Torridon and the Torridon hills from Kenmore

the Red House, Torridon

Upper Loch Torridon

Upper Loch Torridon and Beinn Damph

The Torridon hills

Beinn Alligin

Loch Torridon

Torridon Viewpoint

Beinn Eighe

Laithach and Beinn Eighe

Beinn Eighe from The Coulin Estate

Friday, 5 May 2017

Up and over the Bealach

The Bealach na Ba is a historic pass through the mountains to the Applecross peninsula in Wester Ross and is the name of the famous twisting, single-track mountain road through the pass and mountains. The name is Scottish Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle and it was historically used as a drovers' road. It rises to a height of 2,054 ft.

I had passed the foot of the road on my way up to Loch Maree and decided then that I would come back and go over the pass and then return to Loch Maree by the old coastal road and Torridon. It is quite a scary road mainly due to the height. The only tricky bits are the three hairpin bends right and the top and, as sod's law would have it, I met a transit van on one of these! I can assure you that it is quite frightening having to reverse back down a one in five incline and pull in to a passing place at nearly 2000ft up. Still it all added to my memorable day and I can laugh at it now.

Going down to Applecross is nothing like as hairy as the ascent because the road is much longer and never as steep. The view from the top is something else though, especially to the West where you get a birds eye view of Rasaay, the Isle of Sky and the Outer Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris. To the East the massive bulk of Beinn Bhan cuts out most of the view.

The entire Applecross peninsula is a sheer delight. I followed the road as far south as it went, which stopped at a hamlet called Toscaig and had lunch. I was joined by a couple of cuckoos, one each side of the bay. At one time it must have been a busy little port as the harbour was quite sizeable and at one time there was a motor boat ferry service across to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Plus research has informed me that the road over the Bealach na Ba and its continuation to Toscaig was known as the Parliamentary Road but unfortunately I cant ascertain why.

I will continue the next part of my journey along the coast and down Torridon in my next blog.

Green Man, Strathcarron

Caledonian Pines, Strathcarron

Bealach na Bà

View from Bealach na Bà

Bealach na Bà

Skye from Bealach na Bà

Skye from Bealach na Bà

Bealach na Bà summit

Applecross Inn

Applecross Peninsula

Applecross Peninsula

Applecross Peninsula

Applecross Peninsula


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