Part 1 - Part 2
Late September 2009
Early morning Gatwick was it's normal, chaotic, squeezed together, run down, gaffer taped, third world airport. Suffered by the many different tribes just passing through. Turn left Banjul, turn right Malaga, straight ahead Inverness. And where we are eventually going - the Applecross peninsula opposite the Isle Of Skye . This is the farthest north I've ever gone in our Islands.
Midday Inverness. We soon are heading out westwards through the Highlands scenery. You really do marvel at its beauty. And its remoteness and foreignness as well. It feels as if I am in Africa, in the middle of nowhere. In fact it could be a dead ringer for bits of South Africa, Swaziland or Malawi even parts of Zambia. Stopping at a shop, business is conducted in an polite African style, "Hello how are you?" "I fine how are you?" There is an elastic time concept.
On the road there are eight foot poles to show the sides of the road for the snowploughs in winter. A reminder of just how tough it is up here. One time we are running parallel to a single track railway that snakes along the lochs. We are on a fairly new road. To my right I spot fragments of the old pack horse road crabbing along the hillside I can see why the new one was built.
I am quite happy with the single track roads and pull in places. The system works well. Passing through the little hamlets and what should be called lesslets is such an enjoyable drive. Bigger fun when you hit the larger settlements like at Lochcarron. You drive through the middle of the golf course.
We stop at a petrol station and shop in Lochcarron to stock up on kindling and wood for our stove in the cottage. Not being sure of the supply in Applecross. With the loch and its fish farming it is quite a pretty and relatively bustling place.
Then we head off up to the Pass of the Cattle or Bealach na Ba. This is the main road to Applecross and is the highest road pass in Scotland. It starts to wind up at Tornapress. It is certainly one of the best mountain passes I have ever driven. Up there in the top five. As it rises steeply you could look back at the fantastic view of the loch and the fish farms and the hills beyond. But the driver has to concentrate on this tight technical road with its sharp hairpins, blind bends and crests and severe drop offs just a foot away. I was not looking at the oncoming drivers as I squeezed the car into the passing places with inches to spare either side. Kim said quite a few were grey haired old ladies going fast. So obviously for the locals it is nothing.
For a gringo like me the extreme beauty of the landscape and the amazing scenery was a major hindrance "Oh look at that waterfall!" Eyes on the road please. The water was coming from the clouds which shrouded the peak. Driving through cloud is a fun run! Especially when you have large lorries coming towards you. We hit the peak but it is in cloud, so no views, and we head on down. To me it is pleasure to drive a road like this. It stimulates your grey cells. You really do have to think and the surroundings are jaw-achingly wonderful. Twisting down we descend to Applecross. The land changes from the jumbled mixed colour of the wild moor to the greener forestry and farmland on the margins.
Then into Applecross itself. Turning left we see the shop; opposite is the community petrol station. A bit further on is the Hotel - the Applecross Inn - the centre of this bustling strip. But we head on to Camusterrach a couple of miles past Applecross. We turn left past the Fire Station and the Community Hall where the National Theatre of Scotland will soon be doing a play about a famous Shetland musician called Thomas Fraser who based himself on C&W star Jimmy Rodgers. We go up a hill where a microwave tower is. We learn this is the only place where you can get a mobile phone signal. Last time we had to drive up a hill to get a mobile signal was at Rocktail Bay in South Africa. We pass the Primary School - 15 pupils!. A few hundred yards later at circa 3.30 pm we spot the jetty and Pier Cottage. We unload and explore this small fisherman's cottage which nestles behind a outcrop of horizontal layered sandstone weathered into stripes, protecting the cottage from the worst of the winds. Getting to grips with the house and its local environment, we found ourselves on a stone foreshore at one branch of the inlet. To the right we look out over the entrance to the Sound and the hills of the Isle of Raasay and beyond to the mountains of Skye.
It had been very windy all the way from the east to the west coast . When we arrived in Applecross the clouds were scuttling across the horizon, hiding and revealing the peaks on Skye. But as the clouds changed then so did the light as it moved onto those same mountains. It is a constantly changing cinemascope vista that never stays still for a moment. That evening there were apocalyptic beams of sunlight breaking through cracks in the different and layered clouds. Idly looking round the bay with the binoculars and I spotted a dozen or so grey seals sitting on a large rock spit. Shocked at seeing seals so close, I looked around further. There were hundreds of seals spread out on the various Islands and spits. Well, maybe not hundreds but certainly 75. That night the snug warmness of the cast iron wood stove in Pier Cottage kept away the whistling of the wind.
Saturday dawned calm and bright. We decided to explore Applecross itself and visit the shop to pick up a few things. We had done a big shop at Inverness for most of the obvious stuff we would need for our week's stay. Applecross itself is explored in the time it takes to pass along its one street by whatever is your chosen form of transport. It is simply a compact row of cottages along the shorefront topped off at a dogleg by the Applecross Inn. We pull into the shop opposite the petrol pumps owned by the Applecross community. "Self Service - Pay At Shop". Well you could pay anywhere really, as the pub part owned the petrol station." 20 litres of unleaded and a pint of 80 shilling please."
We ambled into the shop to see it largely bereft of goods to buy. I have seen shops in the middle of nowhere in Africa that have more stock than this. Kim said it reminded her of the Soviet era shops in Russia with one can of corned beef on display. If you wanted some fishing hooks or polygrip denture adhesive you could be happy. The man behind the counter said it had been a bad two years. We wanted some salt. None on sale, so we bought a newspaper. The owner turned out to be a bit of a character and kept us amused during out short stay in Applecross.
We headed up the north coast road to a nice looking place called Sand - a beautiful sandy cove that has a huge big sand dune pushed up against the headland cliffs. The peculiarities of the tide and current have pushed in the ground down sandstone and shells that make up this beach. The power of the tide has also wrapped and weaved the broken shells vertically in strips and curves round the rocks. We were the only people on the beach, the wind is pretty invigorating and the sun breaks through. We head off north again. The single track road around the peninsula was only built in the 1970's. Which shows just how remote this area used to be. It twists through coastline, mounts headlands and nibbles into the fells.
Every corner brings new incredible sights. Waterfalls cascading down to sharp little coves tucked away. The scenery is always changing especially when you go up onto the fells and down again to the ragged coves. Sometimes you saw a sandstone and granite dotted headland bathed in bright sunshine that shone like gold.
We bumbled up this road getting gob smacked at the views and letting our jaws drop so much they were dragging along on the tarmac. A couple of times we had cars come towards us very fast and I had to dip into the passing place quite pronto. There was a Ferrari, a 80's Golf Gti and some other sports cars and they were shifting.
Getting one third round the peninsula we decided to turn round and to head back Applecross way for lunch. At the entrance to a small croft hunkered down in a valley I spotted a honesty box stall by the side of the road which had a handmade sign that said "Eggs, Hats, Gloves, Scarves" There was a plastic box containing the knitted stuff, probably knitted during winter (what else is there to do?) There were also a couple of jars of Marmalade and Rowanberry and Raspberry Jam. I found a yellow, red and black hat that I liked and left the money in a glass jar with a screw top lid. It was a very useful purchase. The Applecross Inn and Hotel is the centre of Applecross world as well as an award winning hostelry. It serves really great food, is friendly and welcoming and sells beer from the Isle of Skye brewery. I drank the Skye brewery Red Cuillin, (their Bitter) and Kim had the Young Pretender a lighter beer.
It is the only pub for miles around and on the very picturesque bay. The food is all very local, seafood orientated and very fresh. The haddock we had was amazing, the chips proper chip like, the peas frozen (well it was the end of September) But the homemade Tartar sauce was served in an old oyster shell.
When we arrived at the Hotel parked outside we saw the Ferrari and the 80's Golf Gti that had passed us on the road. They had a sign cabled tied to their front ends that said "HCC Croftistas Pandemonia" This was the Highland Car Club -a bunch of classic car enthusiasts - on one of their weekend runs, this time to Skye. It seems we got there just in time as the car park soon filled up with all kind of beautiful old cars. There were 50 altogether! Mk2 Rally Escorts, Rally Hillman Imps and Minis one with the driver and co driver wearing headphones. Lancias, Mercs ; an immaculate Morris Minor and a genuine stripped out Ford Anglia rally car. They refuelled the calories at the Hotel and set off across the pass and down to Skye. Being traditionalists they were taking the old ferry to Skye rather than the new bridge.
Part 1 - Part 2