Last Friday we set off from Edinburgh, bound for Gairloch in the West Highlands. We were about to embark on another Scottish travel adventure with the Wee White Dug.
Mr G was grumpy from a bout of man flu, combined with a week of working night shift. My nerves were shot to pieces from listening to his loud and incessant coughing.
We began our 4 1/2 hour journey with a bicker about 9 – 5 workers having no idea of the hardship of working shifts. Apparently, I didn’t appreciate just how deadly this current bout of man flu was either. It was going to be a long drive.
Finally, an hour or so into our drive Mr G’s mood lifted and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Our plan for the weekend was to do a bit of hiking and spend some time on the NC500, Scotland’s answer to route 66.
I’m a notorious over packer. Even for a 2 day trip I pack a large suitcase full of things I might need, but never do. You’ll imagine my horror some three hours into our drive when I realised that I’d forgotten my hiking boots and trail shoes. All I’d taken were a pair of dainty ballet pumps and the new Aigle wellies I was wearing – epic fail!
We arrived in a windy and drizzly Gairloch around 5pm. Mr G was euphoric having shaved 25 minutes off the AA’s estimated journey time, despite heavy traffic on the A9.
Heatherdale B&B our home for the weekend was perfect. We had a nice king room with a sea view. It was spacious and comfortable. We also had access to a cosy residents lounge with a wood burning stove. Our hostess was excellent, very friendly and attentive. It was a real home from home.
Hungry and keen to kick off the weekend proper we headed to the dog friendly Old Inn nearby. We found a free table in the busy bar and pounced on it. I had chicken stuffed with haggis in a whisky sauce plus neeps, tatties and veg. It was lovely. The Wee Dug sampled some chicken, haggis and also wolfed down a large cauliflower floret. He politely declined some of his Dad’s fish.
For pudding I had a trip down memory lane. Clootie dumpling – an old Scottish recipe and staple of my early childhood. I remember watching my Nana making it – the mixing bowl full of fruit and flour, then the pudding being wrapped tightly in a piece of muslin cloth or cloot. Next it was boiled in a pot before it was finally placed somewhere warm to dry. It was a laborious and lengthy process but it was always worth the wait. My Nana made a mean clootie dumpling.
Next morning, it was wet and wild outside. We had breakfast and set off. We decided to go for a drive to enjoy the scenery from the warmth and comfort of the car.
Some of my favourite Scottish scenery is found in this area – stunning lochs, glens, remote single track roads and pretty villages framed by mountains. Deer, sheep and Highland Cattle wandering freely by the roadside, while birds of prey soar overhead.
It’s a remote, dramatic and unspoiled landscape.
Initially, we hadn’t intended to drive too far, hoping we’d be able to take advantage of some dry spells to get some walking done. Instead, in true compulsive road tripper fashion, we ended up winding our way towards the village of Applecross a two hour drive away.
We took the longer coastal route to Applecross which forms part of the NC500. En-route we encountered a road block in the form of some hairy heilan’ coos and a big black bull with a ring in his nose. We inched forward a wee bit at a time admiring the beautiful beasties.
We arrived in Applecross and headed to what it’s perhaps best known for. The Bealach na Bà or Pass of the Cattle. The Bealach was originally a drovers track which later became a single track road with passing places. It zig zags up and over mountains Alpine style.
The road rises to 2,053 feet and contains a series of steep, hairpin bends. It’s not for the fainthearted. Naively for someone with experience of the Scottish mountains I hadn’t expected the summit to be immersed in cloud.
It was like pea soup up there and when Mr G got out to take a quick snap the wind almost ripped the car door off.
I could feel my panic rising as the road became less visible. I find being immersed in cloud on a hill quite claustrophobic. It felt even more so in the car. It also felt weird being in the car, on a mountain top in thick cloud. Like some bizarre sort of hill bagging gone wrong.
As we started to slowly and carefully descend from the summit we came to a series of steep, hairpin bends, with sheer rock face on one side and a far from comforting knee-high barrier on the other to prevent us from tumbling off the mountain. It was here that we found ourselves sandwiched between two other vehicles in a Mexican stand-off. Neither driver seemed keen to reverse into the nearest, invisible passing place. By this stage I was freaking out, and decided to get out of the car with the wee dug so we could escape the road to hell on foot!
Thankfully at that moment the driver in front of us started to inch backwards into a passing place, allowing us to pass safely. We slowly twisted and turned our way downhill.
I’ve never felt so relieved to get out of the car and plant my feet firmly on the ground.
Like an oasis in the desert we spotted The Bealach Cafe & Gallery waiting for us on the other side. As luck would have it, it was dog friendly so we decided to pop in for lunch.
I celebrated surviving the Bealach na Barghhhhhhhhhhhh with some comforting soup. Potato & leek – it was delicious. The wee dug hinted that he’d love to try a piece of the tasty looking bread that came with my soup so I obliged. His dad selected him a nice piece of fresh smoked salmon from his lunch plate and for the second day running the boy snubbed his dad’s fishy offering.
After lunch we browsed the gallery and I bought a colourful print of the Bealach na Bà on a bright, blue sky day. It couldn’t have been further removed from our own experience.
We headed back towards Gairloch via a much less terrifying route. As the weather had calmed we managed a couple of stops for a wander in and around the lovely village of Torridon.
I was undeterred by the absence of my hiking boots out there in the wilds of Torridon. My new wellies coped admirably and were comfy and dry too. My trail shoes are comfy but not waterproof, while my hiking boots are waterproof but hideously uncomfortable. I curse them both in equal measure on my travels, so perhaps the Katie Morag look is the way forward for me in the future.
Back in Gairloch we drove through the village to the nearby beach at Big Sands. The weather was deteriorating again and it was bleak and blustery so we retreated after a few minutes. The wee dug said hello to a rather soggy looking, hairy caterpillar going about its business on his way back to the car.
That evening neither of us fancied heading out into the rain and wind for dinner so we had a Chinese takeaway back at our B&B instead. Perfect comfort food after a long day. Later, we chatted over a couple of drinks in front of the toasty, wood burning stove.
We enjoyed a spectacular sunset that evening, and later still witnessed the faint green glow of the aurora borealis.
Next morning, we woke to a bright blue sky. We ate breakfast, bade our farewells and headed to Gairloch Beach.
It was beautiful, sitting in a sheltered bay of turquoise water and golden sand. The wee dug was in his element and enjoyed a good run around. Wearing wellies meant I could wade through pools of water much to Mr G’s frustration, as he was wearing impractical, leaky hiking shoes.
I found myself not wanting to go home. Normally I’ll head home after a trip happy and content, looking forward to my next adventure which is never too far away. This trip was different. It was hard to leave the peace, spectacular scenery and slower pace of life behind.
Mr G clearly felt the same as he willingly agreed to spend some time at the nearby Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve on our way home. Normally our drives home are like beat the clock. No stopping, big sighs if a loo stop is requested and slow-moving vehicles cursed.
Founded in 1951 Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is Britain’s oldest. It covers 48 square kilometres of outstanding natural beauty.
We stopped by a woodland trail on the shore of Loch Maree for our walk. It’s argued that Loch Maree is Scotland’s most beautiful loch. With large leafy islands and dramatically framed by the mountain Slioch it’s certainly way up there with the best. It’s named after a 7th century Irish monk Maol Rubha who brought christianity to the area. He lived on one of the islands on the loch which later became a shrine to him.
There was even time for one last stop before heading home. The spectacular viewpoint on the A832 which looks down on Loch Maree. As we stood there the heavens opened and a beautiful rainbow appeared – perfect timing.
Our long drive home flew by as we waxed lyric about another wonderful trip, spent enjoying our beautiful country.
Until next time ………..