Part 1 - Part 2
We retired to the cottage where I set about procuring some salt. I took a saucepan down to the waters edge, filled it up, simmered it down to an 1/8 th of an inch then put it on the circular hotplate on top of our cast iron stove. The heat soon evaporated the salty viscous water leaving a huge amount of salt. Enough to last us a week. I am amazed at how much I got from just a saucepan of seawater. I think it is generally something like 9% solution, I am beginning to understand how to make salt now. Having seen the salt pits in Senegal I am appreciating the time it takes to lose all the moisture and dry it to form the large crystals. Very nice tasting salt as well!
Sunday morning dawned grey and damp. Then the wind got up so we headed out toward a restaurant/café called the Potting Shed which was in a 250 year old walled garden that had provided the vegetables for Applecross House which was once the local lairds home. The visitors book at the cottage said this was one of the best places to eat apart from the pub. Now the walled garden provides the vegetables for the restaurant/ café. We had coffee and yummy scones which were still warm.
They also had a gift shop which sold books, including the one by marine biologist Monty Halls which was about his summer in Applecross trying to live like a crofter, be self sufficient and the BBC TV series that was made out of it. Flipping through it I saw where his bothy had been. It was right by the sandy bay we had visited yesterday. Ahh! another reason to go back there again apart from photographing the shells trapped between the stones. It had started to rain quite heavily so we just wandered round the garden and headed back to the cottage, stopping to check if we had any phone messages at phone box hill.
We decided to explore a bit further on from Camusterrach and headed round the edge of the inlet, seeing things we had become familiar with from a different angle. There were many new sights like an old sailing boat/freighter sitting on stilts on the foreshore and sheep among the rocks eating seaweed. We turned off the road to a little collection of cottages called Ard - Dhubh at the edge of the promontory which protected Camusterrach harbour from the prevailing westerly wind and weather. Looking at the map it was also a place where you could take a path to somewhere called Coral Cove, a pretty sandy beach. We looked forward to having a walk there when the rain stops. Then it was back to the Inn to pass the time observing the passing crowds and drink some more Skye beer. It is very nice beer, the water it is made from is very soft though it does have a granite edge to it, which you can taste. Even Kim likes it.
My skin and hair feel very soft bathing in the shower water here. At the moment one thing we are not short of is water. But we were told that in July/August there had been no rain, so the streams that come off the fells into the loch. That provides all the water for the villages round here dried up. Had it got any worse, they would have had to bring in water browsers. It was raining this morning but the conditions continually change. Mist, rain and sun continually evolve. You really do get all four seasons in one day. I found some peat blocks in the shed behind the cottage along side the logs for the cast iron stove. We decided to slow cook a stew tonight on the hotplate on the stove - it is hot enough!
Monday we set out to explore the "proper" local shop, which is based in Camustill, the hamlet between us and Applecross. The directions say "right at branch in the road opposite the Fire Station". The shop is run by Alastair and Seonag from a van in the front of their house, though they are turning their garage into a permanent shop. They also take the van around to visit. Tuesday it is "Coast to Kenmore". Thursday; "Farm to Toscaig". They seem to be providing a service not supplied by the somewhat faded shop in Applecross. They have also taken over the Post Office franchise which used to be based at the Applecross store. The old Post Office based in the store had closed. And the delivery van only comes twice a week. We had asked Seonag where we could get a bottle of wine. "The hotel" she said "You'll pay a bit more though" Indeed, they did take outs cans of beer and had a special take out bottle of wine at £6 or £2 off their wine list price.
Outside there was a three car park. You passed over a cattle grid to enter and find a transit van - a full cornucopia of basic delights - and a cabin that holds further goods. We met another pair of tourists who were very happy to find Sheonag' stockpile. Fortified with, among other things a packet of chocolate biscuits, and filled up the car with petrol, (£1.18 a litre) at the community petrol station back in Applecross.
We asked if there were any papers today, but the man said he had not had time to unpack them yet. Did we want to call back later? I almost bought a fishing spinner just for the thrill of buying something.
We headed to the Heritage Centre which was situated by the church which is on the site of a Monastery founded by Irish monks in the 8th century. We had a very interesting time investigating the Applecross History. We returned past the shop. Kim went in to collect a paper and talked to the person behind the counter who was obviously the owner's son about the papers and how they get there.
He explained that on Monday/ Thursday/Friday & Saturday he collected them from Lochcarron - over the pass an hour and 18 miles away. On Tuesday the milkman brought them, on Wednesday the Butcher brought them in his mobile van. It seemed at the moment it was the Postman who had taken time off to do the Milkman's Job.
Back at the pub for lunch I spotted that the stuffed otter sitting in a window by the door now sported a pirate's hat. I mentioned this to the landlady who said that the previous hat (a red plaid one) had been claimed after a few months sitting on the Otter. Two months? had the owner not missed it or forgotten where they had lost it? "All the staff tried it on and didn't like it" she added.
The streams tumbling off the hills are very full and gushing after a day's rain. Hopefully it will clear up and we can go for a walk tomorrow. Ah well we didn't come to Scotland in September for a tan. That evening at high tide a heron stalks about in the edge of the water a 100 yards away. The tide is high so all the rocks in the inlet are covered and there are no seals. We've been scouring the water for the otter that sometimes visits, but no luck so far. The comments written by other visitors in the guest book are always a mine of useful information. One comment by a Dutch couple caught our attention about the vicious biting habits of the "little midgets" So only bitten below the knees then?
Tuesday morning dawned damp with a millpond sea. The only movement on the water is the tide coming in. I think there are twenty or so words in Gaelic describing drizzle and rain. This morning it was drizzling an almost invisible drizzle, that forms as a layer of damp on everything. Basically 100% water saturation, rather than the micro-droplets you sometimes get. Looking out over the Sound, the hills of Rassay gradually appeared as did the mountains of Skye behind them. How much you could see of the mountains was always the weather litmus test.
It stopped drizzling and looked brighter. We went south to walk over the hills to the coral beach. Just around the headland it started to drizzle again. But undaunted, we set off up the path to Ard Ban and the beach. It wound up through the hills, with great horizontal slabs of rock punctuating the route. The path was pretty soggy, boggy and needed care. But the vistas always amazing, well as far as you see.
We rounded a cliff and dropped into a lush green valley with a rushing stream. This led to a scramble up and then down through a very permanently damp zone where the rocks, trees and all possible spaces were drenched in a thick, deep emerald green lichen. Even the rocks seemed to ooze water. Climbing up again through bracken and copses of rowan trees and oaks, we got to look down on the beach but the ground was just too soggy for us to reach it, you would have needed Wellington boots to have got through. So we turned back and saw the huge big waterfall that was dramatically pouring off the hills swollen by all the recent rains - 57 days without stop - which had saturated the sponge that is the moors/fells/glens. This water supplied the villages. Quite wet and hungry we head back to Applecross for warmth and replenishment. But as soon as we get round the headland the weather improves and the drizzle dries. It gets to be sunnier as we hit the village. We intended to go the third and last eating opportunity in Applecross, The Flower Tunnel, which is next to the campsite behind the pub and is a poly tunnel. The plastic tables and chairs were eerily empty, the children's play area at the end deserted. Devoid of all character and activity. Kim bought a postcard. We spotted a cash machine. Read the menu which was bog standard campsite grub, and went straight to the pub.
As always it was great fun, another constantly changing spectacle of humanity. A woman came in and was talking about the beach at Sand and complaining about being mobbed by midges.
Oh dear, we had planned to go to Sand this afternoon after lunch. The last four days it has been too windy and wet for midges. So we had not needed the help of Avon Skin So Soft (endorsed by the SAS as the anti-bite solution). When we arrived at Sand we were shocked, the car park was full. The last time we had been the only people on the beach. As soon as we got out of the car the midges became our best friends. So we retreated pronto. Maybe very early in the morning is the time to visit this beautiful wind blasted cove. No humans and if the midges show their faces we will be prepared for them. When we returned to Applecross bay a couple of stags were sitting on the beach, soaking up the rays, probably digesting their nutritious seaweed lunch. Stocking up before the hard days of winter up on the glens.
This morning at Pier Cottage I had noticed the next door fisherman's red dinghy was gone as was his fishing boat. About 5.30pm he returned with a catch of large prawns (nether pods). He probably had about 8/9 crates of these 8 inch wriggling but very unhappy crustaceans. At the pub local prawns have been off the menu for a few days because of the weather.
We talked to him he said had "left shore" at 7.15 am this morning. These prawns were not going local at all, but being air freighted straight out to Spain. He got £29 a kilo for them. They were sold to a local packer who immerses them in almost freezing water which puts them to sleep but does not kill them. Landed Tuesday evening they would be eaten in Madrid on Thursday night.
Today we twice saw the local butcher's van "R&C McClena of Lochcarron": outside the Inn then he stopped up by our Cottage. A few minutes later he stopped over the Inlet and then moved on to the end of the road to Toscaig via Cuidule. His meat is very good and as local as possible.
Wed morning, there are more animal droppings on the grass behind the cottage. I wonder who comes to munch at night? It looks like sheep. 8.00am sees us hit the road to Sand. We stop as usual at the top of the hill to check for phone messages. We often see people parked up on the passing place here doing exactly the same thing. We hardly see another person on the drive. At Sand there is only a campervan parked. I recognise it as one that we had seen arrive last night.
We had the beach to ourselves again, we went to the Monty Hall's bothy. You can walk in and there is even a guestbook. You can see the bread oven he made and his pig sty. But what the cameras never showed was the wooden electricity poles and substantial fencing around the MOD facility just behind it. We even heard mutterings that he did not stay all the time in the bothy, but was in a holiday let nearby. Monty does not seem popular with some Applecross residents some of them complained that the people coming looking for where he was, do not spend any money in the village. And the local community newsletter - 'An Carrannach' - with its minutes of council meetings, vicars sermons, bird watching columns and local news, had a sniffy poem about the Monty fans coming and letting their dogs run wild! At the moment Monty is filming in nearby North Uist.
Early morning at Sand was amazing. It was still and sunny. The mountains on Skye were clear and bathed in sunlight. It was a perfect moment. We took some pictures, collected some sand, I looked at the Neolithic 9,500 year old rock shelter that was at the top of the beach. Then headed back home for breakfast. It was getting hotter and we had a chat with the 67 year old fisherman next door who tells us he was born in the house he lives in. He mentioned the deer were roaring in the morning as they rutt. He also said he went on Cruises in the winter, last few times it had been to Australia. So a man of the sea prefers to holiday on the sea. He was also mine of information about the area and knew where every family had lived. It got hotter and sunny at Pier Cottage as we set out to go for a walk by the river and the land around Applecross house. On the way there Kim nipped into the shop to get a newspaper she mentioned to the owner that she had been to Sand. "You see any Stags there ?" he asked "No, but I saw some on the beach here" she replied. "They are everywhere" he retorted "Coming over the pass this morning it was like the bloody Serengeti : in fact some of them gave me funny looks when I got between them and their missus " "Same the world over" said Kim.
We set off along side the pretty Applecross river (whose Gaelic name was corrupted to make Applecross) and soon started to climb up. The hills were bathed in bright sunlight and you could see the detail of the dry stone walls and screeds very clearly. Half way round the walk was a viewing platform which gave you a spectacular vista back to the hills and fells and over the sea to Skye.
We wound our way back down and felt a visit to the Potting Shed for refuelling was in order. While we were tucking into our food it started to rain again. Back at the cottage the fisherman had his boat moored at the jetty outside. It is a very high tide tonight and all of the islands have totally disappeared. A seal swims right in front of the cottage.
Tonight I win at Scrabble, Kim is annoyed at the margin in the scores. So far with all the games she has won the results have been quite close together. But tonight I win 246 to 187.
Thursday and our last full day starts bright and sunny with the sea calm and pond like. We drive all the way around the peninsula. It is an amazing drive, you skirt the coast, round headlands and then dip steeply, twisting into little inlets and coves. We stop at a weaving centre where Kim buys some socks. And a quick talk about looms. The couple who run it have lived on the peninsula for 35 years but came originally from the Ditchling craft community in Sussex.
It is very clear and bright so you can see a long distance, spotting things that had been hidden to us before like a lighthouse on the end of Raasay. You can see fish farms anchored in the Lochs with the fish jumping in the cages.
We continue round the side of Loch Torreidon, then just before Sheildaig, which is the biggest village in this part of the coast, I spot a sign that says "Angora Ecosse" "Wool and bric a brac". We turn in and there is a little shop run by a lady with that old Highland accent that sounds almost Scandinavian. The bric a brac is quite amazing and includes 1950's transfer printed plates with scenes from films like Gone With The Wind. But the wool products are fantastic. I spot a jumper which she says is made from Merino wool from her Hebrideian sheep. It looks a very traditional pattern but she proudly describes it as a modern style. I buy it.
We stop off in Sheildaig and chat to two women birders at the waters edge who have set up a telescope and a "cine camera" (video camera) and spotted an eagle and an otter. We were planning to have lunch here but the café next to the Hotel looks a bit underwhelming. So we continue on and drive off the coast to go overland through the rolling hills at the rear of the peninsula. Drenched with their brown and purple flanks, it is totally desolate and very beautiful. There is very little traffic at all, then we get back to Tornapress and the beginning of the pass to Applecross. Second time around the pass loses none of its thrills. A bonus point is that the peak is free of cloud so the views are tremendous. On very clear days you can see as far as Harris which must be 40 miles away.
The downhill run is enlivened by road works but we speedily return to Applecross and our last lunch at the Inn. The rest of the afternoon is sunny and warm though later the rain starts and the hills on Skye disappear and you can see the rain squalls moving over the sound. In the morning we sadly leave our little cottage but not before finding who was coming around and leaving droppings on our grass. Sheep. Kim got up and went into the kitchen at about 7.00 and saw a family of four who having got caught out left the area pronto. Driving through the early morning the loch gave a mirror image of its surroundings. Spotted a bloke fly fishing there one day. I'm getting a old hand at the pass now and can keep up a reasonable pace. Not as fast as the locals, but not bad.
This holiday was amazing, I don't know why we hadn't explored Scotland before. Applecross was a real find. It was a revelation, especially at this time of the year. I'm sure we will be back again there soon. I certainly would go on my motorbike at the drop of a hat.
Part 1 - Part 2