I’d had high hopes for this trip – our eagerly awaited, mid July visit to Mallaig. It was to be a weekend of sunshine. Long light days and short nights. Walks on the beach and swimming in azure blue waters with the Wee White Dug. It was to be boat trips with leaping dolphins and al fresco dining with crisp, chilled wine.
There had been talk, by the Met Office no less of a July heatwave. If it arrived I must have blinked and missed it as the weekend consisted of non-stop, monsoon like rain. “How long can it possibly last?” I asked. All weekend it turns out, bar a few hours of glorious spitting rain on the Saturday morning. To top it off Mr G was recovering from a bout of that deadly disease, man flu aka the common cold. He reminded me frequently over the weekend that the cold and rain would likely see him off as he was an ill man.
Despite the awful weather and Mr G valiantly battling man flu, the trip wasn’t a complete washout.
The drive up from Edinburgh to Mallaig is beautiful, passing through some of Scotland’s finest scenery. Loch Lubnaig in the Trossach then the spectacular mountains of Glencoe. Up towards Fort William where Scotland’s highest and shyest mountain Ben Nevis is usually hiding its head in the clouds. Next comes Glenfinnan with its Bonnie Prince Charlie monument and viaduct – now a pilgrim site for Harry Potter fans eager to catch a glimpse of the Hogwarts Express. Signs of human habitation start to peter out as the road snakes by Loch Eilt, framed by mountains. Mountains make way for pretty coastal villages and white sandy beaches and then you arrive in Mallaig. A harbour town which sits scattered haphazardly on a hillside around a bay.
One of our trip highlights was a visit to Morar which is 3 miles from Mallaig. Morar is a small village famous for its white sandy beach, the Silver Sands of Morar. Even in persistent drizzle and heavy cloud the beach is unbelievably pretty.
The wee dug enjoyed a tentative dip or two into the water to fetch a stick but Mr G and I kept our hiking shoes and thick winter socks firmly on.
Not quite how I’d pictured it. In my mind’s eye I’d enjoyed a lovely refreshing swim in the bay as the wee dug paddled next to me, sun beating down on us from above.
By the time we left we were soaked through but our spirits remained high.
As we headed back towards the village I heard a distinctive whistle and then it registered “STEAM TRAIN” I shouted as I took off up the road at a pace that would have left Usaine Bolt eating my dust. I made it to Morar’s tiny train station just as The Jacobite aka The Hogwarts Express was pulling up to the platform.
There’s something really romantic about steam trains. They hark back to a bygone age before the advent of the budget airline and mass tourism.
Did you know that Loch Ness isn’t the only Scottish loch with a monster? Loch Morar has Morag. Sightings of Morag date back to 1887 with the best know sighting of her taking place in the late 1960s when two local men in a boat are said to have hit her by accident. They say she retaliated and was only warded off when they struck her with an oar and fired shots at her. They described Morag as being brown in colour, 30 feet long and with three dorsal humps rising up out of the water.
Others believe loch monsters are giant brown eels which have thrived in the fresh Scottish waters. Safe from predators they’ve grown to an exceptionally large size. Me? If you asked me, I’d say that the eel story sounds a bit too far fetched. It’s much more likely that the loch monsters are real (wink).
Intrigued by the stories of Morag we headed to Loch Morar in search of her.
The Wee White Dug claimed he’d be able to catch her single handedly. When we arrived and found a rowing boat waiting conveniently by the lochside he muttered something about a local telling him that Morag had gone to visit her sister Nessie in Loch Ness.
We both suspected this was another of his tall tales.
We’d booked a one hour sea safari with Western Isles Cruises for lunchtime on the Saturday. We woke in Mallaig that morning to more rain, grey skies, wind and choppy seas. As a jinx who scares off all wildlife within a 5 mile radius I dreaded setting sail, stomach heaving just to observe a seagull while dolphins and whales leapt from the sea at my back.
I have this perception that sea faring folk will take to the water in all conditions but thankfully I was wrong. Our trip was cancelled. Although disappointed I’d rather we went back on a nice calm day so I could watch the boring old seagulls with a non queasy stomach as all the good stuff eluded me as per usual.
Boat trip cancelled we headed out of Mallaig and as we did the rain dropped to a light drizzle. We even managed to make out the outlines of the Isles of Skye, Rum and Eigg sitting just off the coast.
We took full advantage of the monsoon letting up and explored some more local beaches.
Our first stop was at Tràigh (pronounced try) a lovely little spot with a 9 hole golf course which may just lay claim to having Scotland’s smallest clubhouse. A tiny whitewashed cottage. Royal Troon it’s not but it has views that they’d kill for. Sea, sand and rugged mountains. It’s probably only 9 holes as 18 would take too long to get round with golfer stopping every two minutes to admire the spectacular views.
The place was a riot of wildflowers -a lovely sight.
Next we found a pretty little rocky cove at Back of Keppoch and enjoyed it all to ourselves. We had fun clambering over rocks and exploring rock pools. The wee dug loved it. He’s a real little mountain goat at times.
The rain held off to a light drizzle and the sky lightened a little. Maybe the sun would come out after all?
Buoyed by the continued cessation of torrential rain we headed to our third beach of the morning, Camusdarach.
Camusdarach steals the show in the 1983 movie Local Hero. It’s stunning, even on an overcast day. I find it funny watching Local Hero knowing that the village with the now famous red phone box is Pennan in Aberdeenshire, yet they step outside the inn and suddenly they’re walking on a beach in the West Highlands some 170 odd miles away.
We enjoyed a nice long walk at Camusdarach and more clambering on rocks. The boy did some fast running and larking around. He even appears to have mastered the art of levitation during his visit as you’ll see from the photo below.
As we neared the end our walk the monsoon returned and any faint hope of the sun breaking through vanished, so back to Mallaig we went.
When the weather conspires against you there’s only one thing for it – find somewhere decent to eat and drink and stay there.
The Tea Garden was the perfect choice for lunch and an escape from the rain. It was busy but we were lucky and managed to get a table without waiting. We’d read that it was dog friendly. It far exceeded our expectations.
The boy was greeted like royalty and promptly given water and a biscuit. He was delighted. Better still they had doggy ice-cream on the menu and three flavours no less. He opted for banana & honey and hoovered the tub down in record time, guarding the pot jealously like Gollum with his precious ring.
Our food was excellent and of a really high standard. I decided to make a beast of myself and have some rocky road and a second glass of wine. Mr G said he was too sick with man flu for cake. The rocky road was out of this world. The best I’ve ever eaten. I went into wax lyrical mode then realised my mistake. I mumbed the offer of a taste to Mr G through gritted teeth. “I won’t be able to taste it thanks to my cold” he said “but go on” grrrrrr. Apparently it was so good that even with man flu he could tell that it was indeed the best rocky road ever made.
I would thoroughly recommend The Tea Garden to anyone visiting Mallaig. All three of us loved it.
The Chlachain Inn was where we ate our evening meal on both nights of our trip. It’s also where we stayed. The inn has four well furnished and comfortable guest rooms with a double costing £78 a night for B&B – excellent value in the height of “summer”. As if to mock us our room had patio doors and a nice little decked ground level balcony. Needless to say the prospect of sitting out wearing our waterproofs didn’t appeal.
The service during our stay was really good and all of the staff we met were friendly.
The menu was varied with everything from burgers and pasta, to an extensive choice of seafood. The portions were humungous – I ate what I could. Mr G on the other hand sees a heaped plate as a challenge. On our first night he mentioned that he didn’t have much appetite due to man flu then preceded to wolf down a mountain of macaroni cheese. He spent the rest of the evening telling me how full he felt.
The Arisaig Hotel was another really nice place that we ate at during our trip. We lunched at their Crofters Bar on our first day. Another dog friendly gem. The place had a nice feel to it and was added to our long list of hotels we need to stay at when we finally find some space to shoehorn more trips into our packed travel calendar.
Arisaig is a lovely coastal village. We visited it a couple of times over the weekend but only briefly due to the weather. I know we’ve not seen the best of it yet.
So the wonderful sunny trip to Mallaig I’d imagined, with cloud free skies, azure blue waters and long, light days didn’t quite pan out that way but we made the most of it and it’s a trip we’ll still look back on fondly. Even in foul weather the beauty of the places we visited shone through.
We’ll definitely return and hopefully in better weather next time.
Not far into our rainy journey home I had one final place I wanted to see. A little island on a lochan (Lochan Dubh) by Loch Eilt. It had caught my eye on the way to Mallaig a couple of days previously.
It was a beautiful peaceful spot and worth another soaking. Even in pea soup thick cloud and mist it was gorgeous.
Mr G grumbled, reminding me yet again that he was struggling to recover from man flu and that another soaking would probably kill him – it didn’t but I decided I’d probably be pushing my luck by suggesting a stop off at Glenfinnan too!
Until next time ……..