I’d had high hopes for this trip. An eagerly anticipated July visit to Mallaig. I’d imagined a weekend of sunshine, long days and short nights. There would be 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 heat wave. If it arrived I must have blinked and missed it as our Mallaig weekend consisted of non-stop, monsoon like rain. “How long could it possibly last?” I pondered. All weekend it turns out, with the exception of a few hours of glorious drizzle on the Saturday morning. To top it off Mr G was recovering from a bout of deadly man flu, aka the common cold. He reminded me frequently that the cold and rain would probably kill him – he was a very sick man.
Despite the awful weather, and Mr G battling man flu like a super hero the trip wasn’t a complete washout.
Our drive from Edinburgh to Mallaig was beautiful, passing through some of Scotland’s finest scenery. Glencoe’s magnificent mountains, then up towards Fort William where Scotland’s highest and shyest mountain, Ben Nevis is almost always hiding in cloud. 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 begin to peter out as the road winds by Loch Eilt with its backdrop of mountains. Mountains make way for pretty coastal villages and white sandy beaches, and finally you arrive in Mallaig – a harbour town which sits scattered on a hillside around a bay.
Morar and the Silver Sands
One of our trip highlights was a visit to Morar which is 3 miles from Mallaig. The small village is famous for the Silver Sands of Morar – a stunning white sandy beach. Even in persistent drizzle and heavy cloud the beach is unbelievably pretty.
The wee dug took a cautious dip or two into the water to fetch a stick, but Mr G and I kept our hiking shoes and winter socks firmly on.
Not quite how I’d pictured it. In my mind’s eye I’d enjoyed a swim in the bay as the boy paddled beside me – the sun beating down on us.
By the time we left we were soaked to the bone but happy.
As we made our way back towards the village I heard a distinctive whistle. “STEAM TRAIN” I shouted, taking off up the road at a pace that would have left Usain Bolt eating 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. And me? Well, I’d say the eel story sounds a bit too far-fetched. It’s way more likely that the loch monsters are real (wink).
Intrigued by the stories of Morag we headed to Loch Morar to look for her.
The Wee White Dug claimed he could catch her single-handedly. When we arrived and found a rowing boat by the loch-side he muttered something about a local telling him Morag had gone to visit her sister Nessie in Loch Ness.
We suspect this was another of his tall tales.
Please, no wildlife cruise!
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 with a heaving stomach just to observe seagulls, 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 return on a calm day so I could spot seagulls with a non-queasy stomach!
Beautiful beaches – Local Hero
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 advantage of the monsoon letting up and explored more local beaches.
Our first stop was Tràigh (pronounced try). It’s a lovely spot with a 9 hole golf course. The clubhouse is tiny whitewashed cottage. Royal Troon it’s not, but it has sea, sand and rugged mountain views that they’d kill for. It’s probably only 9 holes as 18 would take too long to complete, with golfer stopping frequently to admire the view.
Tràigh means beach in Gaelic, so this beach name translates as beach beach!
Next, we visited a pretty cove at Back of Keppoch, and enjoyed it all to ourselves. We had fun clambering over rocks and exploring rock pools with the boy. Being a sure-footed little mountain goat, he was in his element was in his element.
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. It’s funny watching Local Hero knowing that the village with the 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 170 miles away.
We enjoyed a nice long walk there and clambered on more rocks. The boy did some fast running and larked around like a goofball. He even mastered the art of levitation as you’ll see from the photo below.
As we neared the end our walk the monsoon returned and any 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 nice to eat and drink, and stay there.
Food, food, glorious food in Mallaig
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. We’d read it was dog friendly, but 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 three flavours of doggy ice-cream on the menu. The boy had banana & honey and polished-off the tub in record time.
We had our favourite lunch combo of soup and sandwiches, and seeing as the rain was bouncing off the pavement outside a wine and beer too.
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 amazing, the best I’ve ever eaten. Wow – I went into wax lyrical mode, then realised my mistake. Reluctantly, I offered Mr G a taste. “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 the best rocky road ever made.
That weekend we ate our evening meals at Chlachain Inn, which is also where we stayed. As if to mock us, our room had patio doors and a ground level balcony. Funnily enough, the prospect of sitting outside dressed in waterproofs didn’t appeal.
The inn had a varied dinner menu ranging from burgers and pasta, to an extensive choice of seafood. The portions were humongous – 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 proceeded to wolf down a mountain of macaroni cheese. He spent the rest of the evening telling me how full he felt.
So, the wonderful sunny trip to Mallaig I’d imagined with cloudless skies, azure blue waters and long, light days didn’t pan out quite as expected, but we made the most of it and it’s a trip we’ll look back on fondly. Even in foul weather the beauty shone through.
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 our drive to Mallaig.
It was worth another soaking, as even in pea soup cloud and mist it was gorgeous.
Mr G grumbled, reminding me (yet again) that he was recovering from man flu, and that another soaking would probably kill him. I took the hint and off we set, homeward bound with no more stops!
Until next time ……..