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Scotland: North West Highlands: July 2012

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Aug 1st, 2012, 05:10 AM
  #1
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Scotland: North West Highlands: July 2012

As requested on FF here’s a trip report for the north-west Scottish highlands, where I just spent a week. I will probably break it down by day and link pictures for the relevant stages of the trip while it’s still fairly fresh in my mind.

Day 1: Friday.

I drove up from the south of England in poor conditions (torrential rain and standstill traffic on the A14), and broke the journey overnight at Days Inn Abington just south of Glasgow, which at less than £50 for a huge double room was very good value. Bathroom was immaculate, and a continental breakfast of cereal, fruit, yoghurt, croissant and marmalade, fruit juice and tea just £4.95. The hotel had 24-hour check in and free parking (some robotic camera thing found my car in the car park when I punched the reg into a computer terminal, which tickled me a bit). There was no wifi other than in public areas though.

Day 2: Saturday

I left the hotel late morning and headed north-west for our destination of Ardaneaskan – a tiny hamlet at the mouth of Loch Carron, opposite Skye. Motorway petered out shortly after Glasgow, and the driving became slower once I reached the twisty roads round Loch Lomond, which was plied by pleasure boats. Btw, the views from about 20-30 miles out of Glasgow were more or less permanently stunning all the way to Ardaneaskan, and I probably stopped 5-6 times en-route to take pics or just admire the view. One of my favourite places was Glencoe, with satisfyingly pointy mountains, high tarns, rocky outcrops and waterfalls. Descending from Glencoe I passed a number of lochs – Linnhe in particularly was very pretty. North of Fort William the traffic petered out and I had the twisty but nonetheless quite fast roads more or less to myself. The final stage of the drive was all the way round Loch Carron. En-route I passed the Loch Carron highland games with obligatory kilted men, and some impressively shaggy red highland cows (more of them later!). The final stage of the journey was a 5 mile single track road from Loch Carron village to Ardeneaskan. This had looked fairly innocuous on ‘Streetview’ but turned out to be mildly hair-raising, with limited passing places and roller-coaster-like terrain. (Happily, it was rare to meet much traffic on that road).

Finally got to the cottage in Ardaneaskan just before 6:00pm – about 5 minutes ahead of my travelling companion who had left Glasgow around an hour behind me. The cottage was well equipped with a decent kitchen (dishwasher, double oven), flat screen tv (freeview only), and a long pebbly garden that lead right down to the loch.

Link to pics for Day 1 and 2 (nb these include some 'library' pics of the cottage) br />
http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7630852279830/
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Aug 1st, 2012, 05:11 AM
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Day 3: Sunday

Rain. A lie in. A roast.

No pics.
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Aug 1st, 2012, 05:43 AM
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Keep it coming, this is great!
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Aug 1st, 2012, 05:58 AM
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Day 4: Monday: Plockton

We drove round Loch Carron to the opposite mouth of the loch, probably only a mile or two as the crow flies from Ardaneaskan, but 15-20 by road. We passed the highland cows again, near Attadale Gardens, their heads right over the wire fence. I wanted to stop to take pics (I had a portable printer that makes postcards with me and thought the hairy coos might be a good subject for that) but Mr M assured me we'd pass that way again a number of times, so we carried straight on to the village of Plockton.

Plockton has apparently featured in Hamish Macbeth (never seen it), and also in The Wicker Man (the opening bit where Edward Woodward has problems getting the harbour master to row him ashore). It's a picture postcard village, with a long row of houses faceing the lock, and is famous for the palms which grow well in the realtively sheltered conditions.

We had a wander round the village, including looking at an art exhibition in the village hall, had a quick pint in the Plockton Inn, finishing with fish and chips from the Harbour Fish Bar. This was a tiny shack with wooden seating where you sat waiting for your food to be cooked to order (haddock and chips in our case). I thought it was very nice, but Mr M pronounced the batter a bit too thick. We ate them in the car as it was a bit overcast and watched seagulls and a cat pestering other tourists for food!

On the way back the hairy coos were nowhere to be seen.....

Link to picsbr />
http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7630852790782/
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Aug 1st, 2012, 11:20 AM
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Day 5: Tuesday: Applecross Peninsula.

The Applecross pass is one of the highest roads in the UK (and one of TopGears greatest drives allegedly). It was the only day of the trip I drove (apart from occasional chaffeur-duty back from the pub) and I was glad I did, because the exeprience and the views were amazing. As you will see from the linked pics, the top of the mountains were shrouded in cloud/mist, though for the most part it didn't obstruct the view down to the sea below. The pass consists of a mixture of long stretches where you can get up a decent speed if you want to (I didn't!) and the odd hairpin bend, where it's preferable not to meet the Loch Carron butcher, mobile RBS, or Royal Mail vans.

At the bottom of the pass, Applecross was like so many of these lochside /seaside hamlets - a single row of houses facing the water with a sheltering hill behind. We picked up a few leaflets in the (very good) visitor centre, which has free wifi (though they appreciate donations), then stopped for a pint at the Applecross Inn (which was full), so sat outside.

We continued the circular drive round the peninsular, stopping at Sands beach - a sheltered bay of redish sand backed by steep sandy escarpments and ferny dunes. This was where I discovered I'd forgotton my walking boots, so had to do the beach in heels, sinking into wet bits like quicksand. The views across to Skye were spectactular, and on a slightly less blustery and more sunny day, the beach would have made for a very decent sandcastling and picnicing spot.

Having desanded my shoes, we continued the drive round the coast, past more small bays, areas of quarrying and a submarine test centre. Although we were headed toward Torridan, I will save pics from that area for later as we headed back that way on Thursday.

When we were almost back at our starting point we stopped at the Kishorn Seafood Bar, a fairly basic pale blue wooden shack with wooden tables inside and out, where we had a seafood platter. This was a great meal, consisting of oysters, squat lobster tails, mussels, dressed crab, langoustines and scallops in garlic butter, with brown bread and butter. It took a while to work out how to get into the squat lobsters with the hooky things supplied (fingers turned out to be easier), and I wore quite a lot of fishy juices in the process. Afterwards, being too stuffed for pudding, we had coffee with tablet - tablet is like fudge but about 100 times better cos it's less cloying and more melty. We didn't think to take a picture of the seafood platter, but I have linked a library pic from the website to show what we had.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7630856507486/
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Aug 1st, 2012, 10:34 PM
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Following with interest. We have friends of friends that have a place up that way and have added that to our list for the future.
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Aug 2nd, 2012, 01:29 AM
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Tablet is quite easy to make.
There are several recipes online. As with treacle toffee, it involves boiling sugar. All pets, children, husbands and other distractions should be banished from the kitchen
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Aug 2nd, 2012, 01:34 AM
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super report.
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Aug 3rd, 2012, 04:41 AM
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Day 6 : Wednesday : Skye.

We drove round Loch Carron past Attadale gardens (no hairy coos yet again!) and on to the Kyle of Localsh, where a bridge joins the mainland with the Ise of Skye. The bridge was built in 1995, and is now toll-free (providing the opportunity for endless jokes about English subsidies which Mr M tolerated good naturedly. Or through gritted teeth. I'm not quite sure which). This was supposed to be the best day of the week weatherwise, but although dry was still a little overcast.

We were headed for Portree, around 30-40 miles from the crossing, passing the Cuillins - domed granite mountains - en-route. Portree, though tiny, seemed quite cosmopolitan in comparision with many of the villages we'd passed through earlier in the week, having several banks and a Coop, and on the outskirts of town somewhere (we didn't actually see it) a Tesco.

First port of call was The Isles Inn with its unusual thatched bar, old leather chesterfields and fireplaces. It would be very cosy in winter, I think. After a quick pint, we headed down to the harbour and booked tickets for a boat trip later that afternoon, before grabbing lunch at Cafe Arabica. Cafe Arabica turned out to be a bit of a hidden gem - you climbed stairs from street level to a colourful attic-like room above the shops, which had great views out over the bay and cheap eats. I opted for plain macaroni cheese, supplemented with bits of bacon pinched from Mr Ms porky version of the same dish. But we could have had steak with pesto, chili or falafels.

After lunch and souvenir hunting, we headed down to the boat, which actually turned out to be two boats travelling in tandem out into the sound between Skye and Raasay. Boarding ahead of us was a family with an ill-tempered dog that tried to attack any other canine it passed in the street (rolling of eyes from Mr M), though happily it behaved itself once on board. As we left the harbour we passed a large ship moored in deeper water and were told it did posh Hebridean cruises. The trip we were on was mainly aimed at viewing avian sea-life, and the hilight was seeing a sea eagle, which swopped down when fish was thrown from the boat. (My pic of this is crap, so hopefully Mr M will upload his pulitzer prize winning version at some point). The sea was like a millpond despite the overcast weather, so ideal even for poor seagoers like me (threw up on mackeral fishing trip in Devon!).

We drove back to Ardeneaskan, stopping at the Coop for provisions en-route. Again, the hairy coos of Attadale were absent.....

Link to pics belowbr />
http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7630881848706/
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Aug 3rd, 2012, 06:23 AM
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RM67 - wonderful report - excellent pics of Skye. Merci...
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Aug 3rd, 2012, 11:33 AM
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Thanks for the pictures and trip report. We are going to Skye May 2013 and your trip report really makes me wish it were sooner!
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Aug 3rd, 2012, 11:37 AM
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A bit more to come (Torridon, Inverewe gardens and glass bottom boat trip but I am all Flickred out for the mo, I'm afraid ;-) )
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Aug 3rd, 2012, 11:41 AM
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Going out now, but will try and do a bit more tomorrow.....
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Aug 4th, 2012, 06:56 AM
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Day 7: Inverewe.

On Thursday we headed to Inverewe gardens – a National Trust property about 40 miles south west of Ullapool. This necessitated skirting the eastern edge of the Applecross peninsula again, heading first in the direction of Torridon, then following the southern shore of Loch Maree until it petered out and the sea loch Loch Ewe began.

This was one of the most beautiful drives we did all week, partly because of the scenery (high flat plains with erratics, spectacular views across the water to Torridon, and circumnavigation of the vast Ben Eigh massif), but also because the sun finally come out – there is even blue sky in my pics!

The journey passed relatively quickly, helped by frequent photo stops, some shaky pics taken on the move (‘just press the button woman!’) and copious amounts of travel sweets, though there was a bit of a Groundhog Day thing going on with the Glacier Fruits as they were nearly all yellow ones. Also, the map got sucked out of the window at one point, though we ploughed on undeterred in true British ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ fashion.

Inverewe is positioned on a south facing headland, and sheltered enough that a wide variety of plant species can thrive. I particularly liked the Bamboozelem and the flowering plants in the walled garden, which were all still in bloom despite it being late summer. Through a gate in the wall there was access to the shores of Loch Ewe, and further round the headland, views onto what looked to be a private beach for the estate. Mr M was befriended by a tame robin which kindly posed for xmas card pics. We had coffee in the café which was styled a bit like a forest lodge with a high vaulted wooden ceilings.

On the way back we stopped at the Lochcarron hotel for dinner, located directly overlooking the loch with great views of the water, rocky islands and ever changing weather. Some nice touches - all the tables by the windows had binoculars, and there was a huge toy cupboard for kids, plus sofas covered with old throws giving a very homely look. There was also wifi (Mr M cleverly remembered the password from his last visit ;-) ), and the staff were very friendly. We had venison casserole (him), Aberdeen angus burger (me) and cranachan (both). Food was excellent.

I drove home so Mr M could indulge in a few of the regional brews (for research purposes only you understand), and we were back in time to catch the sunset (and a few midge bites!) in Ardaneaskan.

Link to pics attachedbr />
http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7630896949388/
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Aug 4th, 2012, 04:47 PM
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Oh my, thank you so much for the great trip report and the BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS!
I don't think we want to drive, but you sure made it appealing.
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Aug 4th, 2012, 04:51 PM
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I have one more day to add, with some pics of castles and another boat trip, which will probably go up tomorrow Challiman.

I would say that the driving is very easy, cos the roads are generally quite quiet in this part of the country, so don't be put off....
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Aug 4th, 2012, 10:01 PM
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Wonderful report!!

"and one of TopGears greatest drives allegedly"

OK - were you Jeremy or Captain Slow

(Mr M must definitely be Jeremy if he did the Skye bridge to Portree in 30 mins)
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Aug 5th, 2012, 04:30 AM
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Adding a few pics from our trip as promised

http://www.flickr.com/photos/6340810...7630911585664/
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Aug 5th, 2012, 04:37 AM
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Hi Janis. Thank you. I think I'm more James May than Jeremy Clarkson, tbh. At least, I hope I am! I was quite sedate through the Applecross Pass, but that was partly cos I was driving Mr M's car rather than my own. Mr M did what blokes do and helpfully pointed out passing places, oncoming vehicles etc that I obviously never would have spotted on my own, so I like to think we functioned as a team navigating some of Britains wildest terrain ;-)

Skye bridge to Portree is 35-40 miles, so we did take a bit longer than 30 mins to cover it. But not that much more - the roads are actually very good along that coast. Mr M drives faster than me, but is no Jeremy (thank god). He is also better looking than Jeremy. Although quite a bit swearier.
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Aug 5th, 2012, 05:16 AM
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Day 8 : Eilean Donan castle.

We drove round Loch Carron, past Attadale gardens (no hairy coos again), and through the mountains to the A87 main road that leads right to the Kyle of Localsh, and left to (ultimately) Fort William. Turning left and continuing about 3 miles took us to the castle of Eilean Donan, built on a tiny peninsula jutting out into Loch Long. The castle is said to be the most photographed in Scotland, and it's not surprising as it's very beautiful, even with backdrop of stormy skies that we encountered. You can go into the castle and see the banqueting rooms etc, but we opted just to view the exterior and take pictures. Though one of my best pictures was spoiled by two french people who had the audacity to be clambering over the rocks in front of the castle as I was composing my shot.

We continued along the A87 to the Kyle of Localsh, where we booked a boat trip around the waters between the mainland and Skye. With about an hour to kill before departure, we grabbed lunch from a small stand near the harbour. Mr M had a prawn salad and I had cullen skink. The soup - smoked haddock, potatoe, herbs and cream - was fabulous.

We borded the boat, which was a glass bottomed one, and set sail. Using the binoculars provided we scanned the shore for otters, though saw none. About half an hour into the trip we were ushered downstairs to look at the sea bed through the glass portholes. Lights illuminated small shoals of fish, weed and eels, and best of all, a large jellyfish, glowing like moonstone. Back on deck we set sail for some rocky islands said to be the home to seal colonies. Having had no luck with the otters, I wasn't really expecting anything much, but to my suprise there were dozens of seals resting on the rocks (I was going to say 'sunbathing', but there really wasn't any sun!) or playing in the water.

Back on shore we bought jaffa cake ice creams and reviewed our pics in the car. We drove back to Loch Carron (again no hairy coos at Attadale!) and stopped at the Lochcarron hotel for drinks and a perusal of the dinner menu. On the spur of the moment we decided to go back to the Strathcarron hotel (a mile or two down the road) for dinner, though when we got there the slightly unwelcoming American Werewolf in London atmosphere meant we just had a quick drink before returning to the Lochcarron hotel for grub. The fact that the Strathcarron hotel didn't start serving foood till after 6:00pm also helped with the decision ;-)

Back at the cottage, we spent the evening watching the Olympic opening ceremony (lots of oohs and aahs) and making acidic comments about the various team kits. Mr M thinks Stella Macartney should be shot.

Link to pics below - nb mostly taken by Mr M, who was in charge of my camera for the day after forgetting to take hisbr />
http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7630903321624/
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