CONTINUED.........

Glencoe to Mallaig / Glenelg to Diabaig


Glenelg


Kylerhea summer ferryThe Glenelg-Kylerhea summer ferry is a five-minute crossing to Skye. The ferry was on the other side and when it came across it almost went sideways because of the tidal flow. We drove on second and it was quite a manoeuvre to get the next four cars on board.

Glenelg lighthouseAt Glenelg, they had to revolve the deck to let the vehicles off. It was fun. A couple of dogs were playing on the jetty and got on board for the trip; they seemed quite at home.

Glenelg BayWe passed a sandy beach where several people had tents and were cooking on camp fires. There were a few caravans too but quite how they got there I’m not sure!

Just outside Glenelg are the crumbling ruins of Bernera Barracks, built by the English after the 1719 Jacobite uprising, and garrisoned until 1790. Unfortunately they are fenced off to prevent access as they look rather unsafe.

Dun TroddanwaterfallTo the south, we drove along a small glen to two of Scotland's finest Iron Age brochs, Dun Troddan and Dun Telve. Although they were built 2000 years ago, they still stand 30ft in height and their hollow dry-stone walls, which house stairs and galleries, are still pretty much intact.

Tumbling down the hillside we could see a lovely waterfall.



Sandaig


ArnisdaleThe coast road continues past Sandaig Bay and runs along the north shore of Loch Hourn, ending at the sweet little hamlet of Arnisdale, from where a boat goes to Barrisdale on the Knoydart Peninsula.

Bright Water visitor centreWild otters live along this shore but we never saw any. The author Gavin Maxwell, wrote a novel about his pet otters, called Ring of Bright Water.

He lived in a house by the shore near Sandaig, which he called Camusfearna in his books. It was destroyed in a fire but visitors still leave pebbles on memorials to him. The Bright Water visitor centre at Kyleakin on Skye is dedicated to him.



Mam Ratagan Pass


Mam Ratagan PassThe only road to Shiel Bridge runs across the Mam Ratagan Pass. It is a single-track road which climbs steeply and dramatically through a series of sharp switchbacks to over 1100 feet.

Five Sisters of Kintail

road signWe stopped at a viewpoint for a picnic lunch and the view across Loch Duich to the Five Sisters of Kintail was stunning.

The road was built for the military in the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite uprising, with the Bernera Barracks at it’s end.



ROSS & CROMARTY


We crossed Loch Duich at Shiel Bridge and crossed into Wester Ross, nowadays part of the area called Highland.

Shiel BridgeRoss-shire runs from the Black Isle on the east, to the Inner Sound facing the Isle of Skye on the west and is bounded by Sutherland in the north.

The western coastline is glorious, with many deep lochs and mountains divided by glens and ravines, therefore there is comparatively little agriculture and a lot of sheep..



Eilean Donan Castle


BBC BalloonOne of the ‘BBC Balloon’ sites, this must be Scotland's most photographed castle, stunningly located just off-shore at the confluence of Loch Duich and Loch Alsh.
I joined in by taking far more pictures than was necessary.

Eilean Donan CastleIt sits on a rocky islet joined to the shore by a narrow stone bridge and is surrounded by mountains.

The original castle dates from 1230 when Alexander III had it built to protect the area from the Vikings. It was later held by the MacKenzies and their loyal followers, the Macraes but was destroyed by King George in 1719 because it was occupied by Spanish Jacobite forces who were sent to help the 'Old Pretender', James Stuart.

Eilean Donan CastleIt then lay in ruins until the early 20th century when one of the Macraes had it rebuilt. It is now a very popular tourist attraction with a visitor centre and all the trappings.

Eilean Donan CastleThe castle was buzzing with several coaches and a full car park but it was worth the visit. We started in a museum and then entered the billeting hall where Andy tried to wield a sword.

Upstairs the banqueting hall and bedrooms were nice and cosybut the corridors were pretty narrow. The impressive banqueting hall has a pipers' gallery and the kitchens have been re-created as though in use.

Eilean Donan CastleThere was a good viewpoint from the road bridge just to the west.



Kyle of Lochalsh


Lochalsh Woodland GardenWe arrived at Lochalsh Woodland Garden at Balmacara, which is run by the Scottish National Trust. It was a long woodland walk to get to the actual garden and the sunken garden was quite pretty but it wasn’t too exciting otherwise.

Kyle stationWe walked to the pier carrying the railway station and meandered beside the blue painted platform buildings to the end of the line.

Kyle has been the location of a ferry link to Skye since 1600, athough cattle still had to swim across as late as 1800.

Kyle Hotel and slipwayIn 1819 the road from Inverness arrived, via a ferry across Loch Carron to Strome Ferry. Kyle then rapidly became the main ferry terminus for Skye. When the Highland Railway from Inverness arrived in 1897, the town took on the role of mainland terminus for the ferries to Stornoway for a time.

Skye BridgeUntil 1995 the Skye ferries left from the slipway by the Lochalsh Hotel to the slipway opposite at Kyleakin.

The Skye Bridge was built in 1995 and has brought many changes to Kyle.

We walked down to the jetty where we used to drive on the Cal Mac boats. The ferry office was boarded up and we could see where the road markings used to be. I thought it was sad not to see the ferry, and Skye no longer as an island.

Toll Booth 2004Toll Booth 2005There was a lot of unrest about the tolls for the bridge and these been dropped now. The toll booths that we used last year were in the process of being removed.

 

Glass bottomed boatKyle also has a busy harbour that carries a variety of cargo plus fishing and occasional passenger vessels.

A glass bottomed boat was offering excusions from a new mooring where the ferry used to leave.



Plockton


Highland cowsWe followed the coast road towards Plockton, passing a group of highland cows grazing the grass in the middle of a Duirinish village.

PlocktonSituated at the end of Loch Carron, a National Trust conservation village, Plockton is a favoured haunt of artists because it is so pretty. A row of painted cottages line the curve of the harbour with palm trees along it’s waterfront.

PlocktonThe water was quite low and the visitors were quite high but there are numerous B&Bs and a couple of hotels. We managed to get into the car park although a coach party had to walk down the hill from the station as the road is too narrow. During the busiest months pleasure trips depart several times a day from the two jetties as well as seal spotting trips.

Seal tripsThe settlement was originally called Am Ploc until the end of the 1700s and became an embarkation centre for those displaced during the Clearances. It was renamed by the Laird, who also transformed it’s fishing business.

In the 1990s, three BBC series called Hamish Macbeth were filmed here and the village was given the grand name of ‘Lochdubh’.

Plockton stationWe had a look at an exhibition of paintings and went into a glass making craft shop.

'Off the Rails'The station is in use with about 4 trains between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh every day – and which has also been converted into a restaurant. The menu looked interesting so we went in for lunch.

It was lovely inside, all wooden panelling and original features.



Loch Carron


ViewpointLoch CarronWe rejoined the ‘A’ road and at the top of a steep hill, a parking spot in the trees is always busy with people enjoying the panoramic view over Loch Carron and overlooking the station at Stromeferry.

Road & rail tunnelThe road drops again, to run beside the loch and the railway line, passing through a very short double tunnel where the rocks surrounding the loch are very steep.

StrathcarronAt the head of the loch is Strathcarron with a level crossing, a railway station, a handsome hotel and one of the few main road junctions in Western Scotland.

Lochcarron village is sheltered with grass in front of the cottages along the shore. Near the centre lies the Lochcarron Hotel and one of the last petrol stations for a very long way.

LochcarronLochcarron harbourThe village has a golf course and a sailing club, as well as craft shops and a heritage centre, relying on tourism for it’s income. At the top of the village is a small natural harbour with colourful pleasure craft.



Strome


Road signWe turned onto a narrow road displaying a large notice – ‘No ferry at Strome’.

Strome CastleThere are however, the ruins of Strome Castle, a MacDonald stronghold that was destroyed by the MacKenzies in 1602.

It was built in the 1400s to guard the mouth of Loch Carron and the ancient ferry crossing. It sits on a rocky bluff, surrounded by steep drops to the shore with sea on three sides.

Strome slipwayUntil 1973 a ferry ran across Loch Carron to Stromeferry on the far shore, connecting the road from Achnasheen to Kyle of Lochalsh. Now there are very few visitors to the castle but the slipway is still there.



Loch Kishourn


Loch KishornLeaving Lochcarron, the A896 descends to Loch Kishorn where oil rig platforms were constructed for the North Sea until closure in 1987. It is hard to believe now that 3,000 people were working here, housed in accommodation in two retired liners moored in the loch, building a massive dry dock and a rig that had to be towed round to the North Sea.

Seafood BarWe passed a few cottages and a shop and stopped at the Seafood Bar which has a rather splendid menu. There are several small hamlets around here that offer B&B and sea excursions.



Bealach na Ba


The views across Loch Kishourn are stunning and a small road turns west at the head of the loch. Beside the road is a large warning notice:

WarningBealach na Ba hairpin bendsTHIS ROAD RISES TO A HEIGHT OF 2053 FT
WITH GRADIENTS OF 1 IN 5 AND STEEP HAIRPIN BENDS
NOT ADVISED FOR LEARNER DRIVERS
VERY LARGE VEHICLES OR CARAVANS

ROAD NORMALLY
IMPASSABLE IN
WINTRY CONDITIONS

- and these can occur even in summer!

Bealach na BaBealach na Ba, or Pass of the Cattle is the most spectacular pass in Scotland and was originally a drove road for locally bred cattle to get to market. Apparently there can be blizzards in midsummer but we were fortunate to arrive on a cracking day.

The road zig zags round some frighteningly tight blind summits which would be OK if you knew no one was coming the other way.

Bealach na Ba roadIn places the road is only just wide enough for the car wheels and the passing places are small and few, especially on the slightly more gentle western side where there are hardly any crash barriers. At the end I felt like I’d been on a white knuckle ride and wanted to do it again.

Bealach na Ba summitAt the summit there is a surprisingly large parking place and benches placed so you can enjoy the spectacular view over to the mountains of Skye. The landscape is definitely lunar and devoid of vegetation although much of the area is called the Applecross Forest.

The views from the road itself are not unlike being in a helicopter and the trip is definitely to be recommended if you are a brave enough driver!

The amazing thing is that this was the only way to get to Applecross before a new road was built in 1976 that goes around the west coast from the north.



Applecross


ApplecrossView from Applecross This remote village lies on a sheltered sandy bay, surrounded by wooded hills and is quite wonderful, consisting of a neat string of cottages and a pub around the estuary of the River Applecross.

In 673AD an Irish monk named Maelrhuba founded a monastery here – as they do in the remotest places. There is a caravan site here now but you have to be a bit mad to drag a caravan round the road to get here and pretty good at reversing!

PlaqueBeside the "new" road is a plaque commemorating it’s opening by Princess Margaret in 1976. It is all winding single track road but a good deal easier than the alternative route across the mountains. The route follows the west shore of the peninsula, parallel to the Isles of Raasay and Rona, where the views are over the sea to the mountains of Skye. At several places, waterfalls cascaded down from the hills.

Skye viewWaterfall

Upper Loch TorridonAt Fearnmore, the road turns south east beside Loch Torridon and becomes more twisting, with spectacular views to Beinn Alligin and Liathach. The Mountains of Torridon are over 600 million years old, among the oldest in the world.

We passed several small hamlets beside Loch Torridon and saw evidence of the new drive to plant trees and reforest the area.



Shieldaig


ShieldaigNowadays, the road bypasses the village making it a peaceful haven beside Loch Shieldaig with a small wooded island just offshore. There is a string of whitewashed cottages and a nice hotel with grassy areas and sensible parking spots beside the water.

Shieldaig was established in the early 19th century to attract families to take up fishing for a living and to help build up a stock of potential recruits for the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The Government offered them grants for housing and boat-building but after the war this evaporated.

Shieldaig IslandHerring used to be prolific in this loch and in Loch Torridon and the village's fishing fleet prospered for many years. We were told that they just suddenly left the waters. Shieldaig Island sits in the middle of the loch, it is heavily planted with pine trees and belongs to the National Trust. It is possible to land on the island if you have a boat.



Torridon


TorridonA viewpoint on the road from Shieldaig gives the best view of the villages nestling beneath the great craggy peaks of the Torridon Mountains. The entire area is being protected by the National Trust for scotland and is a haven for hikers and climbers. The area is a wilderness of rugged mountains and glens dominated by the sandstone peaks of Liathach, Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg.

Countryside CentreBefore you reach the village of Torridon there is a large hotel and a rather nice pub which has the only petrol pump for miles. At the Countryside Centre at Torridon there is information on the region's walks and natural history, and we went to look at the tame red deer in an enclosure beside a Deer Museum.

bird hideBeside the shore of the loch, there is a bird hide and I went inside and read the log book. Some people had seen golden eagles and otters but I guess you need to be lucky or patient

Ploc an DoireWe walked round the beach to Ploc an Doire, a small promontory which was one thought to be an open air church as three rows of stone seats can still be seen. The village is a string of houses with a shop, camp site and a youth hostel. This used to be a great illicit distilling area and plenty of smuggling went on.

Path to Beinn AlliginAbout 2 miles to the west, there is a series of waterfalls and beside them is the start of a series of paths that go up into the mountains. It is a lovely walk but we were not fit enough to reach the top of Beinn Alligin!



Inveralligin


Inveralligin CottageInveralliginOur home for a week, and the sort of place I have always dreamed of living in. Peaceful, remote, beautiful and in the Highlands.

The winding road climbed high above the village and a steep lane led us down to Upper Loch Torridon where whitewashed houses nestle along the side of the water.

In fact the mountains of Applecross were on the other side of the loch and the views and sunsets were absolutely gorgeous. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Upper Loch TorridonUpper Loch TorridonUpper Loch Torridon

InveralliginInveralliginInveralligin is also a former fishing village with a harbour and a little jetty and there used to be forty boats and a fish curer for the good quality herring. The shoals have long gone now and only prawns and mussels are left.

 

Post bus at Alligin ShuasThe majority of houses have been rebuilt but there are still remains of ruined crofts dotted around. One of our favourite walks was across to Alligin Shuas where we saw a lot of these buildings.

The only downside – the midges!!



Diabaig


Bealach na GaoitheThe narrow road from Torridon continues for several miles as it climbs the exposed Pass of the Winds or ‘Bealach na Gaoithe’ into a desolate area of moorland and scoured rock. Some of the hairpin bends are the steepest in Britain and the road is definitely not suitable for large vehicles.

Bealach na Gaoithe viewpointThere is a viewpoint near the top and then the road runs around a lake to finally emerge past the rugged neck of land that juts out and almost cuts off Upper Loch Torridon from the sea. Here the view is towards the Trotternish Hills of northern Skye and the Island of Rona.

Lower DiabaigThe village has a pretty harbour on a bay enclosed within a natural amphitheatre of enormous hills but there are only a few houses, a fish farm and a phone box. We walked to the end of the jetty which still serves a few small boats and had the feeling of complete isolation

There is a 9 mile track for hikers around the cliffs to Redpoint or the alternative long drive back through Torridon and Kinlochewe and along Loch Maree where we started our North Scotland excursion.


<< PREVIOUS

CONTINUE TO HEBRIDES >>