High Roads and Low Moments

Wester Ross Bound

Leaving late, around mid day, I set off from Glasgow with the intention of visiting Applecross via the infamous Bealach na Bà mountain pass. It was fine weather earlier in the day, and as a result the highlands were rammed with visitors. There were even tailbacks at the roundabout in Fort William. I’d stopped briefly to stock up on supplies as I’d be spending the night in the car and was unsure whether I’d find somewhere to eat later.

I had spotted a large cruise liner in Loch Linnhe, just offshore, so decided to explore the almost abandoned pier at the head of the loch. I photographed the pier and the liner beyond. I assumed the large ship would be swelling visitor numbers in the town. Business must be booming despite the patchy summer we had been having.

As time drew on I made my way north, the weather deteriorated.

Loch Cluanie

First time over the Bealach na Bà

Cloud thickened and the light dimmed as I got closer the start of the road to Applecross. I’d heard many stories about the Bealach na Bà. This old drove road named after the cattle that were driven from one side to the other.

It was now around 6:30 on a July evening. The Foreboding Meall Gorm, a buttress of rock protruding sentinel through the ever descending mist looked pretty intimidating. Especially in this low light. There were not many other cars around. This would help on a single track road, but also lead to a sense of isolation as I stopped briefly to take it all in. The wind was buffeting the stationary car and the rain started teaming down.

Turning on the headlight, I started up the main climb before reaching the set of switchback corners near the crest of the hill. Still no other traffic in sight, I pulled in to the large desolate car parking area at the summit. I was well and truly in the clouds, so no view to be had. I got out anyway just to experience the elements that were rattling in off the Atlantic and over the Islands of Skye and Raasay to the West.

Returning to the road, I soon found myself with a train of vehicles behind me. I was picking my way down through the mist, unsure whether my followers were in a hurry or happy to sit behind and follow me. I took the first opportunity to pull over into a passing place and let them overtake.

Soon I was out of the cloud and moorland stretched before me, then some farmland and the relative calm of the shoreline and the village of Applecross itself.

Evening in Applecross

It was indeed a grey evening. Applecross isn’t a big place so I parked up with the public WCs close to hand (only the best spots for me), then wandered out along the shore and on to the pub. On my way I watched and filmed a young stag grazing in the woodland by the road while swallows flitted between and around the tree trunks, gorging on the clouds of midges.

I entered the Applecross Inn, it was busy. Bikers and holiday makers made merry with drinks and lots of fresh seafood. I decided to have a refreshing lager shandy while making the most of the wifi. There is no phone signal in these parts. I downloaded some podcasts too to make the night pass easier.

After a drink I faced the intensifying rain to get some food from the fresh fish n’ chip van across from the pub. A bit pricey, but it was delicious!

As I finished my dinner, I looked out into the low light and saw a small herd of red deer browsing not far from the car. After carefully lowering the car window to get a better view, I reached down in to the footwell to get my long lens, slowly bringing the camera up to the open window, I was disappointed to see no deer, but in their place a couple who had escaped the local restaurant for a cigarette break. The deer had hi-tailed it. Oh well, maybe more opportunities tomorrow.

Crepuscular couple

After such a long drive, I didn’t need too much in the way of entertainment to get some sleep. No sooner had I started playing a movie on my iPad, I was out like a light in the passenger seat of the car.

Breakfast at the Coral Beach

While in the pub the night before, I’d read about the local attractions, one of which was the Coral Beach, a short drive around the peninsula. I woke with the first light, but as is so often the case in these situations, I found myself in a cosy sleeping bag not wanting to move yet. So it was maybe around 7 before I decided to make a move for the beach.

A short drive lead me to the start of a trail over some rough terrain through coastal birch forests and little inlets where the sea crept inland.

I passed s chap who had been in the pub the night before, he said ‘Hello’ and asked if I’d seen anything interesting yet. I replied, ‘not yet’ and moved on down the path. There was a little farmstead at the tip of the peninsula and down to the left was the Coral Beach itself. I picked up a handful of the sand which on closer inspection is made up of broken pieces of bleached coral, shaped like little Jacks, the type you would play with as a kid. I let the pieces run through my fingers with the beautiful opal water lapping in the background. The setting was so serene. I set myself up on a rocky outcrop and boiled up some water to have a coffee and take in the views of Skye on this Sunday morning. With binoculars, I could look beyond the Island of Raasay and make out the area around the Old Man of Storr, the pinnacles and rock formations just visible through the haze of the sea.

On my hike back to the car I passed the same chap once again, this time we spoke a bit more. He told me he’d slept in his tent near the shore, hoping to spot some otters. Despite the location looking like prime otter territory, all he’d manage to spot were seals. Not that there is anything wrong with seals.

Second time over the Bealach na Bà

The weather was becoming brighter as I left Applecross. The Bealach na Bà was looking like an altogether different proposal from the previous day. I set of up the incline and it wasn’t long before I was picking my way past panting cyclists and pulling into passing places for the oncoming cars. As I reached the summit I found myself in the company of bikers, sports car enthusiasts (doing North Coast 500 no doubt), holiday makers and camper vans. The summit carpark was hosting all-comers and they were taking advantage of the clear views and dramatic scenery.

Summit of the Bealach na Bà Summit of the Bealach na Bà Meall Gorm

After a short wander around the summit I descended the other side. Stopping briefly at the first switchback to shoot more video and fire off a few pics. It’s a torturous drive for a photographer driving alone. I did stop in the odd passing place just to get those photos of the steep slopes either side. Luckily it wasn’t just me. Whenever there was space I’d find myself accompanied by other enthusiastic photographers.

Eventually the more stunning scenery was left behind and I could get on with the business of making my way home.

Revisiting Beautiful Plockton

Since the weather was so pleasant, I decided to turn off the road and visit the beautiful village of Plockton. It had probably been over 15 years since I’d last visited and it didn’t disappoint. It had developed somewhat, from a sleepy little highland village and was now making the most of the abundance of visitors. This was a Sunday afternoon and it was buzzing with tourists. Above this throng, the sound of sparrows and other birds twittering was the dominant soundtrack as I explored the shore and watched the boats go about their business. The place was idyllic, with pine cloaked bluffs and sparkling blue water as the foreground to quaint rows of whitewashed houses.

Plockton Plockton

Castles and Coffee

On the road back south, I took in the sights of Kyle of Lochalsh and made a coffee stop at Eilean Donan Castle for a much deserved rest. It was now getting late in the day and I still had a long way to go. At least four hours were still on the cards at the rate I’d been going. The car had been holding up since refurbishing its alternator and the going was easy in the fine weather.

Eilean Donan Castle

I stopped once again in Fort William to get something to eat for dinner before stopping again in Glencoe. The sun was getting low, there was mist on the mountain tops. What else would you expect me to do? Once I dragged myself away and made it through Glencoe itself, I had to stop at Buachaille Etive More to grab a repeat panorama of the same scene I’d captured back in winter when it was covered in snow. This time it was lit by the low summer sun and had a deep grey backdrop provided by the showers to the south.

Glencoe tree

Buachaille Etive MorThese oncoming rain showers provided a final spectacle as I neared Kingshouse a beguiling rainbow revealed itself and of course, I just had to stop the car one more time. A real finale for a photo making weekend. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Kingshouse rainbow

The Low moment on the Low Road

After taking on one of Scotland’s most intimidating roads for the first and second time at the Bealach na Bà. Things came unstuck much closer to home on a road I’d travelled a hundred times. As I’d been driving in convoy down the side of Loch Lomond the light rain showers had started. Looking back with hindsight, I thought the car was understeering slightly, and as I came around a corner just before Inveruglas, the car decided to continue straight and the left side struck the low wall (that has been struck a million times), I ricochetted and struck the right side of the car off the cliff on the wrong side of the road. It all slowed and even then I knew I was lucky there was no-one coming towards me. The driver in front of me saw what happened and indicated to pull in, I followed. As we got out to inspect the damage, there were already police, dealing with a previous incident. They advised us to move on as it was dangerous to stop. The surface was slick and the other driver mentioned he’d been sliding too.

Inspecting the car, there was a lot less damage than I expected. It seems like the wheels themselves took the brunt of it as there was next to no damage on the body work. I did lose both left side hub caps and the rims had been damaged.

I took my time continuing up the road, stopping briefly in Cardross to check things over. The steering looks like it had been effected. I was nervous obviously, and the steering wheel was sitting at a bit of an angle now. 40mph all the way back up to Glasgow and I was home by around 11:00.

It had been a great weekend of exploring with an ending I’d rather forget.

It has been a bit of a delay getting this post up, but that’s just the way things go. Until next time, when hopefully I’ll have this little car sorted again.