Scotland’s Wild West

Blairmore

Blairmore

It was worth getting up for the beautiful sunrise in Durness and we were keen to continue exploring Scotland after a great weekend snowboarding and an epic drive along the north coast. As we drove off into a glorious morning listening to Avicii’s ‘Hey Brother’ you could just tell it was going to be a special day…

We pulled up at Blairmore and began the hike to Sandwood Bay, which we’d heard was worth the walk. We passed Loch Aisir, Loch na Gainimh, Loch a’ Mhuilinn, Loch Meadhonach and Loch Clais nan Coinneal and clambered around Druim na Buainn hill before finally reaching Sandwood Loch. The landscape opened up and we were greeted by a magnificent view of Sandwood Bay, with its unspoilt sand dunes and offshore island dazzling in the sunshine.

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

After a raspberry baked cereal bar and a pack of Pom Bears, we clambered up the steep hillside towards Carn An Righ hilltop. We lost the path and ended up climbing far higher than we needed to. The wind battered us relentlessly and it was pretty boggy underfoot in the marshland.

After struggling for what seemed like forever we found what vaguely resembled a path and eventually worked our way back round to the original trail. All in all, the hike took five hours, but we did see some spectacular cliff top views while trying not to get blown away!

We had a wellwearned lunch and then drove a stunning, windy road full of overwhelmingly dramatic scenery. It was around Loch Assynt that we were particularly blown away by the majesty of the mountains framing the loch, with stone ruins moodily dotting the roadside. There were countless stunning views, though, topping even yesterday’s scenic views.

It was worth the hike to Sandwood Bay!

It was worth the hike to Sandwood Bay!

Ullapool was our destination that night. It was a pretty postcard of a town, consisting of really one main street and a harbour full of colourful quaint fishing boats. In the distance, snowy mountains completed this incredible scene which seemed too perfect to be true. The ferry to Stornoway left as we arrived at our B&B, Point Cottage. Cathy, who runs Point Cottage, told us all the works at the harbour were to construct a new ferry for the summer. Perhaps they are expecting a tourism boost after the Isles of Lewis and Harris won a prestigious travel award this year. We had awesome fish and chips by the harbour before relaxing in the wonderfully cute Point Cottage for the evening.

We had a lovely free breakfast the next morning and hit the road. Sadly the stunning weather of the past two days and turned to drizzle but the mountains and lochs still looked spectacular and possibly even more dramatic shrouded in the murky gloom.

Clambering over Carn An Righ hilltop

Clambering over Carn An Righ hilltop

Our first stop of the day was Measach Falls at Corrieshalloch Gorge. What appeared to be a small gorge was revealed at closer approach to be a staggering, vertigo-inducing sheer drop into an epic abyss. The viewing bridge across the gorge actually made me feel nervous standing on it. As I peered over the second viewing platform further down admiring the breathtaking view of the falls, I was reminded of Shotover Canyon in New Zealand, where I unforgettably through myself off the edge.

After a brief stop in pretty Gairloch (we didn’t stay long on account of the persistent drizzle) we drove along surely the most impressive road in the UK, and one of the best in the world: Glen Torridon. carved by ice from massive layers of ancient sandstone, the glen is flanked by mighty mountains on either side. We had seen some breathtaking vistas during our Great Scottish Road Trip, but this topped the lot. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see armies of orcs marching along the glen; the Lord of the Rings soundtrack played in my head unannounced just by my looking across the vast valley. A glorious stag was strutting past the roadside as if to add to the grandeur of our setting, and the weather had improved by now.

We took the road to Applecorss, the A896 or ‘Bealach Na Ba’, which translates to ‘Pass of the Cattle’. Nothing could have prepared us for this ascent. It is the third highest motor road in Britain and the longest continuous climb, reaching 25% gradient in places. It looked like a Monte Carlo rally stage and to add to the drama, we were running out of fuel.

The sheep were more accustomed to the blustery conditions than us

The sheep were more accustomed to the blustery conditions than us

Fortunately, after half an hour crossing the mountain pass we reached the rather isolated town of Applecross, which might as well be a peninsula, and used its old school quirky pump station. We and lunch by the water’s edge, which provided lush views of the Isle of Skye across the water.

After winding our way back over the Pass of the Cattle we detoured a couple of miles to check out Eilean Donan castle. The view of the castle standing proudly out in the loch is as evocative and legendary as all the photos suggest. It’s just magnificent, oozing history and perfectly positioned in the loch.

We drove onto the Isle of Skye and stopped at the Talisker whisky distillery. we were too late for a tour but got a free tasting. Next we drove across the stunning Minginish peninsula to Talisker itself. We walked to beautiful Talisker Bay before driving to our destination for the night, another wigwam at Portnallong. Like in Bower the owner, Theresa, was lovely and the wooden tent was just as cute.

Loch Assynt

Loch Assynt

The weather was atrocious when we awoke in our Portnallong wooden wigwam. We drove to Portree but decided not to explore any more of Skye as the conditions had deteriorated further and was ruining the views. It was still a dramatic drive off of Skye to Fort William, though. We stopped at Ben Nevis whisky distillery before heading to Kinlochlevin. We had a hot chocolate in the pub under the gaze of vast mountains shrouded in rainclouds, and then moved into our micro lodge in Kinlochlevin for the night, another cute hobbit house kind of lodge, which even had a TV!

On our last day we headed to Oban. The weather was still murky and gross, and the dramatic hills were still dramatic. We did a tour of the Oban distillery, which we got for free having joined the ‘Friends of the Classic Malts’ in Talisker earlier in the week. Itw as a brilliant tour and we learnt loads about the water and spirit stills and got to try a 10-year sample that as 50% or something silly. We each got a free glass and, of course, a dram of Oban at the end with some ginger to enhance the pallet. Oban is a unique distillery in that it is tiny and cannot physically expand as it’s built by a cliff. Our guide Mel, despite having only been there three weeks, was brilliantly knowledgable.

The rugged scenery is phenomenal

The rugged scenery is phenomenal

Later we drove south to Arrochar and Lochside B&B, where we and spent the first night of 2014. It was as lovely as it had been 11 weeks earlier but sadly the weather was no less winter-y! It was a great way to end a wonderful and fascinating road trip around Scotland, a country that shocked me with its relentless raw beauty, whatever the weather.

Eilean Donan castle

Eilean Donan castle

JP

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6 thoughts on “Scotland’s Wild West

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