Scotland – 3 – The Highlands
Stage 3 – saw us driving even further north into the Highlands “proper”. We had a great drive from Benderloch through Fort William (Ben Nevis still had a bit of snow in patches on the summit). We stopped to take a photo of the truck and van near Glengarry. Again, more “wow”. Photos cannot do the landscape justice. Since arriving in Benderloch we have done lots of “wow”, “it’s incredible” and “photos just can’t do this justice”. I know the Lake District was pretty wowing but here it is just the sheer scale of the landscape.
Morvich – our campsite was in a plateau between two steep hills and at the southern tip of Loch Alsh. The sunsets, which were an hour later than the Midlands, were dramatic against the mountain backdrop. I can’t tell you about the sunrises, not that I wasn’t up but because it didn’t get dark. I’ve always wanted to see the night sky where the stars look like glitter has been sprinkled over the inky black. I never got to see this on our boat travels but hoped that in a remote part of Scotland on a clear night then this is what I would see. However, we had 3 clear nights and the sky was just as light/not full dark at 11pm, midnight, 1:30am and 3:05am when the birds had started to sing. How can I see the stars if it doesn’t get dark!
Isle of Skye – Skye Bridge Our site was only 20 miles from the Isle of Skye bridge linking the Isle to the mainland. The day we headed out was lovely and sunny and the drive to the bridge was alongside Loch Alsh. We headed around the island to look for the Fairy Pools and again lots of “wows” as we weaved our way around the coastline and into the Cuillin mountains. Turns out the rest of the island were also visiting the Fairy Pools so we passed the full carpark and carried on down to the beach cafe at Glenbrittle and had a walk on the beach instead. Maybe it was just an off-day for us but neither of us “took” to Skye the way we had with Mull. Stunning scenery but not the same “feel”. We didn’t drive up as far as Portree which is the main town on the Isle but headed back to the bridge via Broadford where we stopped at a tiny shopping area and the supermarket.
Bealach na Ba – The Bealach na Ba is a historic pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula. Bealach na Ba, means ‘pass of the cattle’. We didn’t know we we had driven this iconic road until we got back and I was looking at more information about Applecross. The day we drove over was in beautiful sunshine and hot temperatures. In fact that day was the hottest day of the year with 30degrees recorded just a few miles from where we were in the Highlands. Not often I guess that the Highlands gets the UK’s hottest temperature. That said in May 2019 the highest UK daytime temperature was recorded in Kinlochewe which is 50 miles north of Morvich.
We didn’t see the iconic sign above so not sure if it has gone as I can’t imagine we both missed it. The single track road has some Alpine-like hairpin bends and we passed two determined cyclists heading up (madness). Passing cars coming down wasn’t too scary as long as everyone moved over correctly in the many passing places. However, it’s hard not to look at the view if you are the driver and also negotiate the narrow road and bends. Luckily I got to see the view in all its splender while Neil drove. The pass rises to 2053ft (626m) in about 5 miles, starting from Loch Kishorn. There are absolutely stunning views over Loch Kishorn. The views down, especially from the last section with the hairpin bends are breathtaking. The gradients on this stretch approach 20%, hence no caravans. The total distance is 11.5 miles up the pass.
We dropped down into Applecross Bay and village and parked up – free village carpark & free community maintained toilets – Cornwall take note. We walked along the waters edge to Milltown and down the slipway where we saw a solitary common jellyfish swimming in crystal clear water close to the slip. It’s colour was phenomenal; neon pink. We had fish & chips from Applecross Inn sat next to the water. Fabulous. I was slightly disappointed though as I thought Applecross Bay had a white sandy beach not a rocky cove. This following the 2008 Monty Halls BBC documentary but apparently Beachcomber Cottage, where Monty stayed, was around the coast somewhat next to a “secret” Naval station. The cottage was on the Applecross Peninsula but not in Applecross village itself. That said, the drive, the scenery, the weather was not at all disappointing. We headed back along the low road. Although low is just relative to the pass. We even stopped at Croft Wools & Weavers, a random building in the middle of nowhere with Thomas hand weaving at the counter. I bought some of the natural grey yarn from their Gotland sheep. I never expected to come across a yarn store there. We passed a sign near Shieldaig for another store which was down a track but we didn’t stop there – huge sigh of relief from Neil.
During this couple of days it has been warm enough to eat outside. In fact this was the first time we have eaten outside since we left the boat back in October last year. So different from our lifestyle on the boat in Cartagena where by April most meals were eaten on deck. We saw 30degrees ourselves driving back. Just like Cartagena – well for a day.
Eilean Donan Castle – “the most photographed castle in England”. This may be true as it is a fab looking place and there are some viewing points from which to take photos of the castle where it sits on the convergence of 3 lochs. It has also been used in a few films, Highlander with Sean Connery and The World is Not Enough with Daniel Craig to name two. We did go in to the castle itself but it was so busy which, in a castle with many narrow passages and stairways along with people not following direction signs, did not really make for a pleasant visit in some of the rooms. It was even busier when we left with another coach having just arrived. The remodelled kitchen, to replicate the preparations for a feast held in 1932 was really interesting. I do like a good kitchen it has to be said. Dissapointingly you could not take photos inside any of the rooms. I would have liked to take some photos of the dishes and processes in the kitchens which were really well presented. A bowl with flour and eggs in looked so real and the haunch of venison on a silver platter looked good enough to eat. There was even a tin of fine looking roasted potatoes.
After the castle we went to the Lochside town of Plockton. Again a free village carpark & free community maintained toilets. It was very reminiscent of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull but without the brightly painted houses. A small town with the main street running alongside the harbour. Some of the houses had garden plots on the opposite side of the road, along the tideline. One garden was half allotment with a notice explaining what veg was in each row and half flowers and seating area for the owner – really pretty. Plockton faces east, away from the prevailing winds, which gives it a mild climate allowing palm trees to prosper and flowers that wouldn’t normally be grown next to the sea. It had a Cornish feel to it with the palm trees, similar to St Mawes and Falmouth. There was a craft show in the village hall and they were serving lunches. We had a very nice lunch sat enjoying the sunshine and the laidback feel to the village. Plockton has been used for some film and TV locations too. It was used in the 1973 version of The Wicker Man, Hamish MacBeth and Inspector Alleyn Mysteries.
The next day was the weather that we had expected to see during our Scottish tour but up until then we had been lucky. It rained and the wind blew and we couldn’t see the top of the mountains around the campsite for most of the day. Not to worry. We had been spoilt with the hottest day in June and as it was our last day before we headed north east, it gave us chance to do some jobs – such as writing blogposts and sorting photos!