The Dog and I were getting fed up pounding the same tarmac (if you did any cross country walks around here, you’ll be up to your knees in mud, it’s rained so much lately – one of the downsides of living in the North West) and decided to set off to the towpath of the Lancaster Canal at Hest Bank.
We parked in our usual spot, in a road of large prosperous detached houses with huge gardens and dropped down onto the path from a narrow horsepack bridge. It was an overcast day with a stiff wind and we sauntered mindlessly along this familiar route, my neck bent at right angles as I studied people’s gardens and houses who backed onto the canal.
I stopped at one particular spot, as many people had done before, considering the bare muddy patch in the verge, to peer over the hedge to a magnificent building gradually coming to fruition. I call it the “Grand Designs” house after the TV programme and half expected Kevin McCloud to come stomping over in his wellies and hard hat. It’s typical of its design – zinc roof, larch panelling and huge floor to ceiling windows and bi-folding doors. I stood admiring it and the separate indoor swimming pool for many minutes, wondering the size of it and how much it cost. Then it struck me – in my world, I would of built this beautiful house on top of a hill with far reaching views or on the coast itself (which was minutes away). Instead it was nestling in a dip in the field, surrounded by housing, some up on a nearby hill who would just stare down on it. But hey ho, at least here, I could stand and admire it every time I came for a walk.
The Dog charged off in delight after my musings and we carried on towards Carnforth. While The Dog was having a monster sniff by the water, my gaze caught sight of a wooden noticeboard on the other side and on impulse, we trotted over the bridge to check it out. It was a wooden board and a simple map of the woods carved into it, so not much to go on, but an interesting diversion to the walk. So we started to investigate. We set off to walk one way, but soon realised the woodland was petering out into a sliver of trees, so we turned around and took the opposite path that climbed up and turned left. Once up there, peering down towards the canal, I realised that wooden fencing has been put up, keeping visitors firmly on the path. So much for a woodland walk. Out of interest I carried on as the path took yet another left. I consulted my OS Map app on my phone and discovered that we got spat out onto a back road which took us to Bolton le Sands – it was taking us back to the car. Perfect.
We followed the back lane, sprinkled with little private stables and horses. It was a lovely lane with little fields and woodland on either side. We came to a T junction, went right and walked in the original hamlet of Bolton le Sands, with traditional terrace cottages, fine houses and a rather impressive church tower. I could imagine this being an isolated, self sufficient little village many years ago, before being overtaken by a mass post war building programme that surrounded this little place. From Hest Bank to Carnforth, there are many large estates of identical housing dating from the 1930’s onwards, in fact you could take a stroll through time here and chart the recent history of the buildings. We moan today of modern estates popping up, but this seemed to be on an epic scale – imagine being a local then, seeing your countryside being concreted over en masse. It’s not out of place now, but when you really look, you realise how recent this has happened.
But here was Bolton le Sands to remind us how it looked centuries ago and I was pleased to see it. There wasn’t much here, but I paused to admire the street and a splendid door lintel before plunging down a side street to rejoin the canal path again, much to The Dog’s pleasure as she was off lead and could ignore me again. We trotted back to our bridge, but decided to carry on towards Lancaster. There was housing on either side, some with gardens that ended at the water’s edge and had built little jetties. How lovely to sit there in the evening sun with a glass of wine, watching the sun set. Canal boats were moored up along this section, smoke pouring out of chimneys and wind turbines whizzing in the wind. It looked all very snug.
The Dog looked like she could walk the 4 miles to Lancaster town centre, but I had no inclination as it was coming up to lunchtime. We clambered up to another bridge and followed a muddy, puddle filled track back into the houses. This was Hest Bank/Slyne and the roads were lined with big imposing houses as well as handsome 1930’s semis set in big gardens. It just had an air of prosperity and orderliness – I liked it very much. Again, my head swivelled from side to side – about three 1970’s houses were being modernised, their brickwork covered in cream render and black framed windows added, which was a vast improvement and made them very smart indeed.
We finally reached the car and a quick check of the phone’s pedometer showed us that we had walked 5.8 miles – not bad for a 12 year old dog who looked like she could walk further. However, she leapt into the boot and I hadn’t even started the engine before she crashed onto her mat. I drove slowly home, going a completely different way home and was happy with the different route we had found. Like days like those!
My eldest daughter wanted to meet up, but as she lives in Lincolnshire, we decided to meet up halfway, at a suitable place where we could exercise the dogs too. Hackfall Woods ticked the box.
A couple of days before our trip, our area of the North West suffered heavy rainfall and so in consequence, several rivers broke their banks. Our planned route through Wensleydale seemed to be in jeopardy as the main valley road was flooded in several places and seemingly impassable – it would mean a longer journey to get there.
However, on the morning of the trip, we decided to risk that particular route and so youngest daughter and I shoved The Dog in the boot and set off over the tops to Hawes. It’s a great road, passing the infamous Ribbleshead Viaduct of the Settle Carlisle railway and over some quite remote countryside with the odd farmhouse dotted here and there. We dropped down into Hawes, a lovely little market town where Wensleydale cheese is made and which attracts hordes of visitors every year. We followed the road out and swallowed – between here and Hackfall Woods was the worst of the reported flooding. The road was still quite wet, but with the odd puddle huddling the verge – it seemed alright until we got further along and then the puddles stretched right across the road. I slowed right down and crawled through them – I didn’t know how deep they were and didn’t fancy aquaplaning into a solid dry stone wall. What was unsettling was the measuring posts along the verge indicating the depth of any flooding and nearby fields turned into temporary lakes. There was a lot of gasping in wonder in the car.
We safely made it to Masham and drove the final three miles to the little village of Grewelthorpe and parked at the back of The Crown Inn car park. A good marketing ploy here – let people park in your grounds and when they finish their walk, they’ll be wanting a quick pint or a meal and look where the car’s parked. Good for them! Thought it was a great idea, though sadly it was shut due to winter opening times and Covid 19 restrictions. Daughter and I were after a coffee and some cake of some description, so we wandered around this pretty little village, admiring the little cottages and houses and giving The Dog a stretch of her legs. We walked past the wonderful Community Hall, a rather grand building, stopping to read the parish notices and discovering with delight and then dismay that there was a cafe here – which was shut. We tried a door in hope, but to no avail. We slunked down towards the village pond where ducks swam and preened themselves by the side of the water and commented what a lovely sight it was. Signs warned motorists of crossing ducks which was equally lovely. Admittedly we were quite early (just in case of a watery diversion) and then Eldest Daughter had just texted to say she was running late. We were at very loose end, not too sure what to do. We wandered back towards the centre, hoping for a shop that sold chocolate or even wrapped sandwiches, but it wasn’t looking hopeful. We bumped into the local postwoman, swapping pleasantries and asking her about the chances of some form of refreshment in the village. She immediately advertised the Community Hall cafe; but it’s shut we wailed. With cheerful heartiness which is part of the job description of being a postie, she declared that it opened at 11 and with a synchronised check of our watches, we worked out we had a 25 minute wait. With Eldest not due for another 45 minutes, it would work.
There was a chill in the air, despite the sun popping out between the clouds, so we decided to sit back in the car and wait. A big black rain cloud came over and released its contents upon us which was quite dispiriting – this wasn’t in the forecast. We hoped it was a quick shower rather than in for the rest of the day! Dead on 11, we leapt out of the car just as the rain cloud decided to move on and waddled back to the cafe which was now definitely open. Two volunteers stood on duty as we asked if we could come in with the dog. The woman misconstrued my question and said that we couldn’t eat in because of Covid restrictions and we would have to sit outside. After a bit of prattling around, Daughter held The Dog while I ventured in (the woman didn’t invite us all in, so assumed dogs weren’t allowed after all). Behind the screen was a selection of wrapped cakes and a small menu of sandwiches and other refreshments – I tentatively ordered a decaf latte, half expecting a mug of Nescafe instant, but no, my request was granted and she set about making it as I drooled and dithered over cake. Daughter had had a lightbulb moment, had tied The Dog to the fence and wandered in too where we started making small talk. The two assistants were lovely, warming up to us and we commented how wonderful it was that this place was open. I asked for the loo, which ended up in a long “Covid dance” detour around and outside the building to the back door and being let in, to comply with the covid 19 rules. It was all a bit silly as we were the only ones there and a quick nip down the corridor would of sufficed, but it was that great British quality of following rules to the letter regardless.
We took our food outside, now supplemented by two free bags of out of date cheese and onion crisps, kindly offered and kindly accepted. The coffee was really nice and the homemade fruit cake delicious. You just can’t beat a bit of homemade village fruit cake. We ate slowly, looking out for Eldest, ready to flag her down, but now we looked suspicious as we lurked by the fence, looking left and right. Finally, I decided to get her food too and re-entered the cafe. In the middle of the transaction, I get a yell that Eldest has arrived and we greet her with a cup of tea, a slice of fruitcake and three more free bags of cheese and onion crisps. Should of just given us the box, it would of been easier.
We changed our shoes for walking boots and wellies, introduced the dogs – one boisterous 18 month old Labrador and our 12 year old grumpy girl is not a good combination really. We walked down the track by the side of the pub and followed the signs along a muddy footpath, before dropping into Hackfall Woods. Well that was relatively easy. The Dog is let off leash and with a little persuasion, the Labrador is launched too. Luckily he knows our hound’s folibles and keeps his distance, though one or two of his headlong charges bring him into our dog’s short tolerance orbit and gets a resounding wuff in his passing ear as a response. We all relax once the dog’s have found their equilibrium and are happily running through the undergrowth and up and down the banking. We are on a high narrow path with a steep slope slithering down to the river below and can just about see across the tops of the trees to distance views. The sun has come out and brought out those fabulous autumnal colours in the trees. It’s just gorgeous.
Hackfall appears today to be a natural wood, a ‘beautiful wilderness’. In fact, it is very much a landscape moulded by people. Famous landscaper John Aislabie bought Hackfall in 1731. His son William set about transforming Hackfall into an ornamental landscape that would appear completely natural to the visitor.The design was developed around views of both the built features and the natural features. Several scenes even featured on a dinner service, known as the Green Frog service, which was commissioned by Catherine the Great from Wedgwood and Bentley for one of her palaces.Hackfall then went through a long period of decline, and in 1932 was sold to a timber merchant who clear felled it. A period of general neglect followed, resulting in the gradual decay of the buildings; while flooding eroded the water features.
We came across one of the follies that dot Hackfall, built for no reason apart from the owners were so rich they could build pointless, but beautiful buildings. It wouldn’t happen today. This one allowed us to see across the countryside with its high point across the treetops. We trotted down the steps back onto the path and followed it as it dropped down to the river. The dogs were itching to get in, but it was fast flowing from the recent rains and we called them away – this was the River Ure that had flooded Wensleydale a few days before and they would of been swept to Ripon before you could say Hackfall Woods.
We kept to the lower path, past workmen clearing brash, shrubs and unwanted invasive plants. The path was muddy and slippery. At one point, us humans had to stop and pause – a side stream was in full spate and any stepping stones were under water. The three of us looked for a way over while the dogs looked on bemused on the other side. Youngest had wellies on, probably the most sensible footwear and got over, while Eldest and I dilly dallied. We finally found a spot narrow enough to hop over and with a helping hand from Youngest, leapt over and fought our way back to the path, much to the delight of the dogs. We must of walked for over two hours in the woods and with The Dog showing weariness and the sun dropping, we headed back to the cars. It was a lovely pretty woodland of deciduous trees, and we had walked only a little part of it and hadn’t found all of its hidden treasures. It was certainly a place to explore more.
We decided that tea and cake isn’t much sustenance for woodland walking and headed to Masham to a little cafe for a very late lunch. We parked the cars in the handsome square (parking charge – an honesty box with a suggested fee of £1 – I just love that, so we emptied our purses of spare coinage which probably was more than a £1, but every little helps). We wandered across to the Johnny Baghdad cafe in the corner, windows and doors painted yellow and read the Covid instructions. No dogs allowed, so we were consigned to outdoors where there were little tables across the pavement with umbrellas. So we sat down and ordered hot coffees and paninis and enjoyed each other’s company. The dogs looked knackered after their non stop running through the woods and we agreed that it was the perfect halfway point for the family – a perfect place for getting a picnic, walking for miles, exploring and investigating , and when everything is back to reasonably normal and the pubs are open properly, a pint in The Crown!
The light was now starting to fade and rain had started to fall again. The shops were shutting up and it was getting cold. Time to head home. With great reluctance, we said goodbye to each other, noting how time seems to whizz by and jumped into our cars, waving furiously at each other. Daughter, Dog and I retraced our steps up through Wensleydale again as night took over the hulking hills of the Dales and we headed home for tea.
It was a nice bright Saturday for once and with a DIY chore to deal with in Kendal, The Hubby and I decided to tag a dog walk onto it too.
So after stuffing the boot of the car with our DIY purchases, squashing The Dog into a tiny corner in the process (she was not impressed, believe me) , we drove the little way down the A65 to the village of Endmoor and parked up on a residential street. We put on our walking gear, clipped The Dog on the lead and walked across the road.
Facing us was a very steep hill in a sheep field, which isn’t good when you haven’t warmed up. So we plodded up, stopping to “admire the view” while we gasped for breath and rested burning legs and The Dog watched impatiently. But once at the top, we had splendid views across the south Lakelands before immediately plummeting back down towards the farm, as skittish sheep galloped off. We squeezed through wall stiles and contoured along before coming to a field full of cows. Cows can be a bit unpredictable and there had been recent news reports of people being killed by them. So we kept close to the wall with one eye on the beasts, but they were more interested in eating the grass and we were thankful to reach the other side. We wandered through fields and along footpaths and lanes before we came to the pretty little village of Stainton and a little humpbacked bridge across the little beck. We then picked up another field and wandered across towards the Lancaster canal. The sun was now out and picked up all the autumnal colours which were glorious. We found the canal and walked along a small footpath through trees, looking for a bridge that would take us to the main towpath opposite. We found one bridge where animals had congregated, their hooves had churned up the mud and turned it into a gloopy soup where we slipped and slid, and got a bit grubby. So we continued to the next bridge and to our delight, managed to cross and drop down onto the gravel path. The Dog came off lead, much to her delight and sauntered along back to the community of Crooklands, passing the Westmorland County Showground where we got a canal trip along the Lancaster Canal and discovered from the volunteer historians that this area was a main port of call with warehouses, jetties and coke ovens. There’s nothing here now to suggest that it was an industrial area at all – just information boards surrounded by fields.
We crossed over the A65 and wandered down a back lane, picking up the footpath which passed alongside the Peasey Beck. A level footpath with the odd muddy bit, but it was very pleasant. We walked along an old disused tram line from the warehouses – just a long hillock running through the field. We finally came up to a stile and peeked over to discover another field of cows who were a little distance away. The Dog squeezed through and I clambered over into the field, just as one of the cows bobbed his head up and decided to investigate the humans and their dog, teeling his friends as he did so. He started trotting at a pace, with his mates following too and they started to assemble into an uncomfortable group of skittish beef. The Dog got yanked back through the gate by Hubby and I was pretty nifty at jumping back over. The cows skidded to a halt by the gate, snuffling and sniffing noisily, snot drooling from their noses. They were a bit frisky, very nosey, but if you made a move towards them, they all took a few steps back. They weren’t that brave, but we still didn’t want to test the theory.
We were now in a dilemma as this was the last field before Endmoor and the car – some 300 yards of field separated us from the car. We could almost see it! The other options were to retrace our steps back to the A65 and walk along an extremely busy country road or find an alternative route. With the sun sinking, we looked for another way round and discovered, by walking further up the field we were in, another gate into an adjacent field. We clambered over and started walking, hoping not to meet the farmer as we were technically trespassing now. We saw another gate further along that actually went back into the cow field, so we headed for that as that would get us ahead of the cows. But as we negotiated the hill down, the cows spotted us again and quickly worked out our cunning plan. They all started to trot towards us, delighted in the thought of having us for company again. Oh for goodness sake! We abandoned the plan of entering the field, but walked parallel to it, along the hedge line, hoping that there was a gate at the other end. The cows still continued to follow us, but gradually their interest waned as they realised that we weren’t coming into their field to play and even the more determined ones gave up and resumed their grass consumption. However to our dismay, we found cows in this field too, but luckily they were high up on the hill and calmly continued eating the grass, unbothered by us traipsing through. With a big sigh of relief, there was a gate and we happily squeezed through onto a tarmac road. From here, we walked past fields and the waterworks before finding the car, and jumping in with relief.
As we drove back home along the A65, we discovered that there was a pavement along the side of it, so we could of walked it, but was happy that we were able to negotiate those last few hundred yards rather than add another couple of miles and how much time onto our walk. Anyway, it had added a bit of excitement to the day!
I owed The Dog a big walk and had a plan of going to Hest Bank on the Lancashire coast, do a big circular walk and then to treat myself to an afternoon tea at the Shore cafe. But then I had a 2am moment and realised the county of Lancashire has been put into Tier 3, the highest Covid lockdown measure in England at the moment and thought better of it.
So we tweaked the plan slightly and decided to head to Arnside in Cumbria instead, a place we visit fairly regularly. We would walk along the river and out towards the estuary of Morecambe Bay and around before walking up Arnside Knott. I packed a sandwich, a piece of cake, a flask of tea and a bag of dog treats, with the intention of eating them at the viewpoint at the Knott and off we set.
We arrived about 11:30 to find the place heaving with people and full of cars – it was an overcast October day with a bit of a chill and it was busier than summer. Was it that everybody had the same idea as me – with Lancashire out of the running, they had all come into Cumbria? I went down to my usual parking area, but it was full. I turned around at the bottom and as I crawled back up, someone motioned that they were leaving. So I bagged their spot despite an old boy trying to sneak in. Chuffed, The Dog and I gathered our gear and headed to the river.
The River Kent is quite wide here and tidal. I kept The Dog on the lead as there were fisherman on the quay, but soon let her off, puzzled by the amount of oozy mud everywhere. It covered the path and came right up to the embankments, inches thick and gloopy. I had never seen it like this before. We kept to the edge of the wall, away from the worst of it and carried on as the people thinned out and the path became rocky. It was here that two groups of people had stopped and were staring out into the estuary, watching four canoeists. First of all, I couldn’t figure out the fascination until a siren sounded across the water and finally it dawned on me – it was the Arnside Bore
The Bore is a tidal wave that rolls in very quickly on high and spring tides. I could just about see it in the distance, but within minutes it was covering the sandbanks and causing birds to scatter. No wonder there was a warning siren. It was amazing to watch this unstoppable roll of water charging up the river, the canoeists riding in its momentum. The power was unbelievable and anyone caught up in it would be in serious trouble. I stood there for about 10 minutes watching the tide gushing in behind it. It was an incredible sight, a reminder how powerful, how dangerous nature can be.
We eventually carried on, The Dog finding a large log to carry, attracting attention and laughter in equal measure. I just rolled my eyes. We walked round a little bay up to the entrance of a caravan site with the intention of following the river again. I wasn’t sure how high the tide would be and didn’t want to get caught out, but people were walking along there so I followed. I did note any escape routes and where the tidemark was, as I wasn’t sure these people were locals and knew what they were doing. We got quite a way – to the edge where the river opens up into Morecambe Bay itself, but here the sea was lapping against the edge of the cliff, the sandy beach submerged and we could go no further. So we all took a detour up into the woods, following a narrow muddy path until we dropped down onto the shingle beach beyond. The Dog and I then plunged into the quirky caravan park hidden in the woods, all the vans perched higgly piggly. We bobbed out back at the entrance of the caravan site and rewarded ourselves with a tea break, suddenly realising that our path we had taken only about 40 minutes previous was now underwater! Actually the whole little bay was underwater. I was agog – I just didn’t realise the tide came up this far. We walked along the concrete road, noticing that the puddles had got larger during our short stop and looking closer, saw the water insidiously creeping across the road, slowly filling up gaps and indentations. You could see how people get caught out and trapped on sandbanks and such like. This area and Morecambe Bay beyond, with its miles of flat beach, fast tides and quicksands, is notorious for trapping people and many people have lost their lives. You don’t mess around here.
We walked around to the beginning of the Knott, a wooded eminence owned by the National Trust. It’s a gentle ascent, through deciduous woodland, riddled with paths. The Dog and I sauntered up, long distance views opening up in between the trees. We stopped a few times to take in the view and lamented that it wasn’t a gorgeous sunny afternoon to bring out the best of the autumnal colours. We got to the viewpoint overlooking the River Kent and sat on a bench – me to finish off my sandwich and cake and to feed The Dog biscuits, though she successfully scrounged the last of my egg sandwich. A woman walked past, commenting on the enormous piles of poo left by cows that roam freely here and as a conversation starter, it was a good one as we ended up chatting for at least a hour, if not longer. She was in an ancient VW camper van touring around for a few days and we chatted about our various trips. She was great fun and I felt I could be good friends with her – was even tempted to exchange phone numbers, but in the end we parted with best wishes after I suggested that she should visit Swaledale for her last few days.
The Dog and I wandered further up towards the trig point, marking the summit of the Knott. I was beaten by a group of older walkers I had seen on and off all day. They sort of barged in and overtook the trig as their own. I had noticed that the more mature members of the public were out to test my patience today – on the way over, they were either glacial slow in their driving or just plainly drifted across onto my side of the road, totally oblivious that they were hogging the country lanes. They were reluctant to thank me when I let them through at pinch points and patently tried to nick my parking spots even when I was actively indicating my claim on that piece of prized tarmac, so this lot weren’t helping my opinion of their generation today. I was determined to touch it with The Dog as a sort of celebration of achieving today’s objective, so we did our own sort of socially distanced barging in to dab it with tips of fingers and a wet nose. Satisfied, we descended down back towards town, via a large broad field, onto a back road and nipping down a footpath leading back to the riverfront. Here The Dog found freshwater to gulp and we squelched back through the gloopy mud – which I now worked out had been deposited by the incoming tide. We tiptoed back onto the concrete path and back to the car. The tide had turned and was now rushing back out to sea. We had now exhausted Arnside – there was nowhere else to walk really – the rivers edge towards town was equally wet and muddy and the village centre was heaving with people and parked cars which was frankly off putting. So we jumped into the car and on the way home, stopped off by the Lancaster canal and did another hour’s walk before heading home for tea.
We had booked this trip originally with three couples going, but it has shrunk down to us two. The company (which turns out to be a one man band) is not very good at communicating and only acknowledged my frantic email about our group size til last night! And it’s steadily raining – we take a chance that the trip is still on, pack waterproofs, dry clothes and large towels and set for Shieldaig. On the way, we spot some of the elusive deer – yes, can cross them off our list of creatures seen!
We’re not too sure where to meet the kayaking guy as our friends have made most of the arrangements, so we drive along the main drag of the village looking for signs. There are two jetties at either end and we check both of them out, but there’s nothing obvious. We are quite early so park up and look out over the loch, to wait. Just before 9, we head to one of the jetties and strike lucky, a tall lad in wetgear is waiting. It’s Tom our kayaking guide, friendly and chatty. He works out of an ancient Land Rover ambulance, (hence no signs) which pleases us very much being Land Rover lovers ourselves and tosses us cagoules, lifejackets and kayak aprons after we’ve all agree that we’re happy to go out in this weather. We slip into lime kayaks and tentatively paddle out into the water to get use to the kayak before heading towards a large uninhabited wooded island. We skirt around it, taking in the scenery, when we spot a large bird sitting in the tree. He’s hunched against the rain (he reminded me of the Jungle Book’s vultures) and looking peeved. Tom tells us it’s a juvenile sea eagle who’s probably been pushed out of the nest, like an overgrown teenager. Oh wow, we are in awe. As we turn round the island, we spot one of the parents, keeping guard and making sure the youngster doesn’t return. It’s wonderful. We had left our phones in the car, fearing about dropping them in the water so couldn’t take photos of these beautiful birds. So we settled with being extremely happy to see them.
We paddled out towards other little islets, the water clear and deep, a lovely greeny grey. The mountains are shrouded in cloud and there’s a steady pitter patter on our waterproofs. Tom keeps up a steady commentary as we paddle into inlets, looking at cottages peeking through the trees, sailboats gently swaying in the water, eyes a-bobbing for any other creatures. We notice a solitary seal is stalking us – bobbing up and watching us at safe distance and when we turn around to look at him, nonchalantly looking away and then sinking without a ripple. Tom points to some porpoises in the far distance but by the time, we’ve acknowledge Tom, they have gone. It’s a moody, broody atmosphere on the loch and just so special. It couldn’t of been better. We end up having about 2 and half hours kayaking and have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, despite the rain which strangely hasn’t bothered us at all. We yank the kayaks up the beach, thank and say goodbye to Tom and walk back to the car. Our legs are wet and now we have stepped out of the kayaks, we start feeling the cold of the day, the light wind cutting through our leggings. We quickly jump in the car, towels on seats and drive up the other end of the village where there’s public conveniences, grab our clothes from the boot and begin a convoluted shuffle in the front seats, trying to peel damp clothing that stick viciously to you, while maintaining your dignity under large bath towels. Of course, all of a sudden, people turn up out of the blue and seem to linger, as underwear is flung and you’re at your most vulnerable. We have no option and successfully complete the operation, albeit looking rather dishevelled.
We now are quite hungry and head to Nanny’s, a lovely little cafe on the bend that we know, but they are only doing takeaways and there’s a herd of motor bikers lining up for warming coffee. We don’t fancy sitting in a damp and steamy car for lunch. Then we have a lightbulb moment – about 10 miles away, there’s a little place called Kishorn and a lovely seafood restaurant. The weather is now closing in and we think we’ve had the best of the day. So we set off and find the restaurant on the roadside, park up and walk in – it’s a large blue and white wooden building with a lovely veranda. We note the two picnic tables here are already occupied and stop at the entrance – there’s the usual long list of Covid instructions and we tentatively walk in. It looks like another takeaway after all this, but we are talking lobster and other expensive crustaceans. (Not exactly what we envisioned, but most places around here are doing takeaway and they’re few and far between anyway.) So we hatch a plan of getting a takeaway and driving to the nearby loch to eat it. So we order the food and told to go and wait in the car, which we do. After about 5 minutes, a young lady comes trotting over, bearing a tray through the rain which we accept through our open window. As we take it in, we realise that our proposed lochside meal has just been scuppered – the food and drink are in cardboard containers, but the milk and condiments are in china pots together with metal knife and forks. We can’t exactly drive off with their cutlery, crockery and tray. So we end up sitting in the car park, watching people trying to park Volvo’s and motorhomes in the soggy conditions, munching our lobster, langoustines, salad and bread, washed down with coffee. Such a weird situation. We reflected on that all the café food and drink that we had consumed so far, regardless where you sit, comes in cardboard packaging rather than on china crockery – all this extra waste because of Covid security! We finish our lunch – delicious, wipe our fingers and hand back the tray and wonder what to do next. The cloud and mist has dropped down to such a point that it’s obliterated all the mountains and remaining scenery, so it’s no point having a drive around. We drop down to a little hamlet of Arddorrach, hugging a lovely little bay because we’re nosey and it kills some time, then decide to head back to Shieldaig. We stop here again, as we need provisions – the little village shop is shut for lunch, so we sit in the car watching the rain steadily patter down and scan the loch through binoculars, looking for seals, sea eagles, porpoises and an otter. I spy a pod of three porpoises on the far side, but trying to tell hubby exactly where they are is not easy. He thinks I’m making it all up. The shop opens and we scamper over, determined to beat any other customers to the 2 customer rule. (How sad), and pick up bits and pieces – we have no real food plan. We drive slowly home, our mountains are missing – it’s only 3pm. Seems too early to go back, so on a whim, we carry on to Diabaig where we walked to on our first day. The rivers and waterfalls are full, swollen and spectacular. The road rises up and you briefly lose which way the road goes – a little bit hair-raising, and we’re so pleased we didn’t come along here in the dark trying to find the Northern Lights! We drop down into the village – the road is long, twisty and tortuous, relieved that we walked up the gorge instead, chopping this enormous extra bit off. We park outside the Gille Brigdhe and look out across the water.
The Gille Brigdhe is shut, so no chance of a quick pint. So we wander around – it’s still raining and look at the wall of rock we negotiated down – takes a little while to figure out where the path goes. We walk down the little stone jetty and peer over the edge into the beautiful clear water. It’s so serene and pretty. We’re still alert for creatures. We wonder how these people get provisions – they’re 8 miles from Torridon and there doesn’t seem to be a shop. It seems quite isolated. Nice for a holiday, but to live here permanently would be a complete change of life, but it can’t be that bad as there are quite a few houses scattered around the bay (unless they’re holiday lets). We noticed that the temperature is now dropping and it’s getting chilly – so we thinks it’s time to head back to the cottage. So we drive back, hoping not to meet anything larger than a car on this narrow road and empty the car of all our damp gear. The heating system seems to be working properly, so we drape our wet kayaking clothes across the radiators to dry. At around 5pm, the rain finally gives way, the clouds lift and the mountains reveal themselves once again. Rivers and waterfalls that you couldn’t see all week, are now gushing down the mountains opposite. The power there will be incredible. Our own little gurgling stream has turned in a raging torrent and the noise is incredible. Just proves how much rain has fallen today. All very impressive. We just snuggle down.
The Moon bobs out yet again and lights up the loch. With the gentle scudding clouds, it’s just beautiful. We could sit here and watch the changing colours and scenery all day and night. Who needs a television…….?
Today, we wake up to a nice looking morning, perfect for our planned bike ride today. We treat ourselves to a cooked breakfast and don our cycling gear. As we’re busying about, the plumber turns up with a spanner to sort our our errant heating. We fell into conversation with him, and he told us the best way of getting the most out of our proposed bike ride.
We leave him to get on with it and jump on our cycles – we head along the lower road that we followed on our first evening and bounce onto the grass at the beginning of the footpath. The track is quite narrow as we skirt around the shoreline and slightly up. It’s up this tricky bit, that my bike bag on the back tries to part company with the rack and forces me to stop. We wrestle with the damned thing to get it back – its a new rack and bag, bought separately and clearly not compatible (it was only my panniers, which I left at home, which have kept it in place up to this point). So we have the tricky problem of setting off on this narrow path in the wrong gear. With a lot of grunting and a few yelps of “whoa” we get back into our rhythm and bounce along the track. It’s not far before we join a wider tarmac lane, access for the scattered cottages and it’s becoming more tree lined. We pass a deep dark pond as we start to get enclosed by a woodland, before approaching a bridge with a gushing river underneath. We are now at the back of the Torridon Estate and we enter through the low workshop buildings surrounded by logs and felled trees. It then opens out into a wide lawned area with a rather elegant house, obviously the home of the Laird, or local landowner: it was a bit of an enigma to whether it was a family home or some outdoor activity centre. It was slightly unkempt with cars parked carelessly and bits of junk left around. We followed the road out, hugging the edge of the loch again and bounce back onto a smooth tarmac road. We pass a little white cottage overlooking the loch with a picnic bench outside and a wood fired hot tub too. It looked like a holiday cottage and I would check it out later. We picked up the main high road and cycled into the little village of Torridon, up to the T junction, where we turned right and headed towards Shieldaig. We had a good pace going and hurtled through the hamlet of Annat and finally worked out what had been puzzling me for the last couple of nights – a string of lights on the far side turned out to be the street lighting of Annat. How annoying (well, in my world) – here you were, in the middle of nowhere, with beautiful night skies where you could watch stars, planets, shooting stars, moon and the Northern Lights and you had light pollution! A bloody corporation light bulb shining in your bedroom every night. I suppose there was a reason for it, but personally I would of shot every flipping lamp!
We turned off at the Torridon restaurant after enduring a really rough 50 foot section of highway, riddled with holes, which had forced us into the middle of the road – if that was ever a good candidate for patching! We cycled across the car park and between two buildings, across a bridge and took the right sign post as suggested by our plumber. We followed a bike trail through a mix of woodland, which opened up fantastic vistas of the loch and pass beautiful little bays. We looked and stared, hoping to spot an otter. We spotted our cottage sitting on the opposite side of the loch. The sun was out, bathing everything in a fantastic light – the white houses glowed against the greens and browns of the surrounding landscape and the reflections of the dark water were beautiful. It was a great bike ride – we ended up doing a big loop and arriving back at the Torridon hotel. We stopped and peered into the restaurant – the Bo and Muc, our intended nice meal out and it looked rather nice. We cycled back to Torridon in the glorious sunshine and stopped at the General Store. Here, we snagged ourselves a bench and table in a great little sun trap and ordered cake and coffee, watching the world. We laughed as our food arrived, accompanied by those little Tiptree jam jars that seem to pop everywhere. You just can’t escape the little blighters. We stayed for ages, reluctant to move from our little warm spot. People stopped and chatted to us and we recognised the host of the Gille Brigdhe and had a good conversation with him. Finally, we got up and jumped back on the bikes and at the entrance of the Estate, we parted. We had just invested in an electric bike and I was keen to see it take on the double hairpin, so I took the high road and hubby went back on the low road. The bike skipped up the hairpin (albeit on full power) and was rewarded with far reaching views, which I stopped to take photos of or just to take in the view. A lovely little ride. I dropped down into our hamlet and stopped by the corner, where there was a postbox and a traditional red phone box. I had noticed that most communities had retained these phone boxes, though they had no use, the phone equipment long gone, but it pleased me immensely that BT hadn’t reached this corner of Scotland with it’s ugly chrome and glass design. Had the Highlands bought a job lot of them? Had the communities fought the monolithic company and won? Or couldn’t British Telecoms be bothered to come up here and change them? Whatever, here they stood, proud but slight dilapidated in the Highlands of Scotland and were just the icing on the cake of an area of outstanding natural beauty.
We meet up within minutes and free wheel to the cottage – the plumber is just leaving. We make a fuss of his Jack Russell dog, guarding his van and hubby falls into conversation with him. The plumber is a wealth of tourist information and informs us of other bike tracks and things to do. I don’t think he wants to go home. Finally he heads off and we enjoy a cuppa on the garden bench, sunning ourselves against the wall. We have the rest of the afternoon to kill – don’t really want to hang around the house – so we jump in the car and drive a mile or two towards Torridon and parking in a little car park by the bridge. We’re going to have a stroll up to Coire MhicNobaill, a valley between hulking mountains. A gentle haul through woodland following a river gushing towards the loch – it’s very pretty. We pass through a deer proof fence and the valley opens up before us, stretching as far as you can see. We’re on the look out for deer, but there has been shooting today and we fear that the deer have gone into hiding. We have our binoculars and stop to scan the landscape. Beinn Alligin looms over us and hubby describes a walk he took along the ridge, with a 400 foot sheer drop. He points it out to me, which I admire from a distance – there’s no way you’re going to get me up there mate! We walk up to the bridge crossing the fast flowing river and study the beauty of the area. It’s something else. We turn around and retrace our steps back to the car, failing to see any deer. It would of been fantastic for a rutting stag to appear on top of one of the hills, his magnificent antlers in perfect profile, but they were evidently in self preservation mode and stayed well out of sight.
We trundle back to the cottage and relax, watching as the colours changed with the setting sun. We’re quite tired – it’s been a busy day. The moon has another visit, the loch reflecting its glow. There are clouds too so they light up as they pass by the moon. It’s all very magical.
It’s raining again, but not pouring down. The river next to us is flowing fast again and flooding its banks. Wow. It looks a miserable day, but the weather apps are saying it’s going to brighten up. A couple of nights ago, we managed to book into the Bo and Muc at the Torridon Hotel for tonight – our “end of the holiday” meal so we do a little packing and getting things together (don’t fancy doing it tonight after our meal and we’re off early tomorrow), skip breakfast promising ourselves a brunch later and get ready. We’re off to Applecross.
The mountains are moody, with wisps of cloud weaving in and out of them. They look menacing. The streams are up again. We drive to Shieldaig and onto Kishorn, through a woodland with signs warning us of red squirrels (they are the new otter – very elusive) and do a right marked “Applecross 24 miles”. We follow the coastline, noticing where we had kayaked up to. The view is stunning – we spot Diabaig on the other side. We also notice that the weather is slowly improving as we hug the coast, past houses and communities dotted all over. We’re on the standard single track road with passing places. The islands of Rona and Skye appear as we bend round, their own rugged jagged mountains piercing the sky. We stop to take photos or just to admire. You can’t beat Scotland’s dramatic scenery. We stopped off a viewpoint when a huge delivery lorry sweeps past at speed – the road seems barely big enough for our little car, but hey, these little villages need deliveries – we take it that the driver does this route regularly as he’s fairly confident. We’re just pleased we didn’t meet him on the road – if you drop off you wouldn’t get back on the road!
We continue on, passing a MOD installation, all high wire and stern warning signs. Just seems a clutch of square non-descript buildings and nothing else – we put it down to “Communications” and carry on to Applecross, nestling in its own wide sweeping bay. Our first job is to find somewhere for brunch – we’re starving. We pull up outside The Junction, a cafe we ate at a couple of years ago, but it’s firmly shut. You just don’t know who’s open when nowadays with this virus situation. Luckily as we followed the bay round, we had spotted another cafe at the Walled Garden about 3/4 miles up the road.
We filled the car up at the single pump community petrol station (what a brilliant idea) and head up through the gates and along the Estate drive of the Walled Garden. A huge imposing house, all white and turrets sits in a wide manicured lawn – it’s fabulous sight. A place where the Laird would of lived, overseeing his tenant farmers and the villagers working on his estate. We drive past and pull up in a gravelly car park, reading the mass of signs. They open at 11, we glance at our watches: 10.49. We can wait. There’s steady drizzle as the weather closes in again as a couple push through the gate and we follow – there’s an eagerness to beat people so you don’t have to wait with all these rules. There’s a low corrugated and wood building sitting at the end of a pathway, with the garden surrounding it. It’s quite enchanting. Inside, it’s very quirky, but alas we are thwarted with the brunch – lunches aren’t served til noon. With a sigh, we order scones and coffee, the bonus being the scones are just out of the oven and there’s lashings of jam and proper cream! We chat about how this place has allowed you in to sit at a table and eat and there’s more than 2 customers in – at least four tables are taken – it’s the first place this week where it’s pretty much normal, even proper crockery, though you had to place your dirty crocks on the tray next door to your table when you’d finished. But apart from that, it was a normal eating experience. No wonder we’re all stumbling around confused by the different Covid rules and when we get back to England, it will be all different again. Afterwards, we wander around the garden, with fruit trees and shrubs, the chefs picking the vegetables and herbs straight out of the raised beds for lunch – can’t get fresher than that. There’s a hidden greenhouse selling plants. It’s laid out in a very lackadaisical way, a kind of organised chaos, vaguely overgrown, but it’s just great. We check out every corner despite the drizzly rain.
We decide to check out the peninsula beyond Applecross, so drive through the little village, past Milltown and towards Toscaig, diving down side roads to little hamlets and clusters of houses. Past the primary school with its fantastic garden opposite, the local shop – we follow the dustcart emptying bins, stop/starting as there’s nowhere to overtake. We’re in no rush. We finally make Toscaig and to a concerete jetty with Skye in front of us. The sun is finally peeking its way out of the clouds and it becomes quite warm. We think a ferry might operate from here, but there is no evidence. Exhausting Toscaig, we drive slowly back and spot the tall, but squat phone tower that allows us to get 4G on this remote peninsula. As we approach, we are aghast to see a house right opposite it, it’s views partially obscured by the iron work and the accompanying shed of the mast. What the ???. All this open space and somebody plonks a mast/house next door to each other? It’s bonkers. We spend some time discussing the abomination of such a decision and what was there first – house or mast?
Back at Applcross’s shorefront, we park up and get a box of chips each from a chip wagon and eat them in the car overlooking the bay. Then we head towards the Bealach na Ba, once the only road to Applecross which basically climbs up and over a mountain pass. It’s all single track with many passing places. Last time, we did it in a motorhome and came up the steep bit and over. This time, we drove up the gentler western approach, though squeezing past vans, cars, motorcyclists and totally potty pedal cyclists who’ve cycled up the steeper side. It’s quite busy up here.
We reach the summit with its far reaching views to Kishorn and beyond, the road twisting and turning, a sprinkling of hairpin bends thrown in for good measure. It looks quite scary. What were we thinking bringing a motorhome up here? We start to drop down, concentrating on the road and where it went – we think there’s new crash barriers been installed. Unable to get Matt Munro’s “On Days Like These” (the soundtrack off the original Italian Job where at the beginning, a red sports car is being driven in the Alps to meet a grisly end) on Spotify, we hum the tune. It is a truly fantastic road, albeit a touch daunting. We reach the bottom without meeting too many vehicles and definitely not the Mafia with bulldozers and drive back to Shieldaig. The weather is now glorious, the sun out and little puffy clouds – it’s just perfect. We call into Nanny’s for a coffee and sit on the benches outside, just watching the world. We watch a couple sit at a table where a sign said “Do Not Sit Here Until We’ve Cleaned It” and realised that we had been following them all afternoon. They were quite impatient as their driving had shown earlier and now they added illiteracy to their shortcomings. We just despaired of them. We had a wander along the shoreline and meet an elderly couple who were staying nearby. They told us that they came here every year for the past twenty years and this was probably their last as they were getting too old and they were here to say goodbye. It seemed quite sad, their last holiday. Along the grass, was another old boy resting in a deckchair, checking his phone (probably trying to get a signal), but happily sunning himself. Chickens wandered around, pecking the grass and it was just beautiful – the perfect last day of a holiday. The lovely colours of the houses, the shades of the scenery on an early autumn afternoon. Just stunningly gorgeous. We drove back slowly, stopping to take in the view and thinking what a great place Britain is – when the sun is shining.
We rest for about half an hour at the cottage and then get ready for our meal at the Bo and Mac. We drove over as the sun was setting in the west. Our meal was at 6.15pm which was a tad early, but we had no option. We were invited in and sat by the window in the large conservatory. It was all rather posh, a French waiter fussing over us, informing us in a heavy French accent of the specials and the best wines – it was like being in an episode of Masterchef with jus, coulis, julienne and other fancy vocabulary being casually thrown in. We were on our best behaviour, but we started to watch others arrive. An elderly couple arrived, she all airs and graces and he looking like he was off to a football match in a sports shell suit. (It looked like Hyacinth Bucket and Onslow from the tv sitcom Keeping Up Appearances on a date night). A young couple sat near us and the girl never took off her outdoor jacket once. This was an extremely nice meal with prices to match so I do take umbrage when people cannot be bothered to dress up. It wasn’t dinner jackets and tiaras, just smart casual, but some people here just couldn’t make that level. Then it went the other extreme with hotel guests rocking up in a covered golf buggy – they couldn’t be bothered to walk a few hundred yards in between. It was quite funny to watch really. Anyway we had a lovely meal and sat in comfy chairs afterwards drinking coffee and whisky, before retiring home. All very convivial. It was now dark and I had volunteered to drive home. We hadn’t gone 100 yards along the main road, when a deer lurched out of the undergrowth, straight in front of the car! Hells Bells! Luckily I wasn’t driving fast, busy trying to avoid the potholes and rougher parts of the road and so watched wide eyed as the deer veered across the road in a panic, undecided which bush he wanted to dive into. He eventually chose the right side and started to head that way, before briefly changing his mind again, lurching back into my path. Upon realising there was a car bearing down on him, he thought better of it, sticking to his original plan and was gone. Let me just say that I basically crawled back to the cottage, eyes on stalks looking for startled deer.
Well , it had been a fantastic week, thoroughly enjoyed with many highlights. We tumbled into bed for the last time and fell asleep under the gaze of the moonlight pouring into our room.
The next day, we were up early, packing our last bits and was gone by 9. We had a choice of going the way we came at 7 hours and 15 minutes via Perth or going down the West Coast and adding another hour onto our journey – but strangely there’s only a few total miles difference. So we went West. It is a glorious, beautiful route, but tortuous as it follows the coastline, in and out of all the bays. We stopped at Spean Bridge for lunch in the old railway station, a lovely narrow brick building with real fires (one had smoked out one of the rooms). Some 5 hours after leaving Torridon, we had only reached Glasgow – probably only half way! It had been raining all day, but as we hit the motorways for the rest of the journey, the heavens opened and cars ahead of us disappeared into the spray. Signs warned us of standing water. This could be fun – we took it easy and finally our familiar home landscape came into view. Some 9 hours after we had left Torridon, we fell through our own front door, exhausted, hair slightly on end, but very happy!
It’s still raining, the low cloud sitting on top of the mountains. We had planned another bike ride as recommended by our friendly plumber, but it doesn’t look good for such an activity. We watch the weather conditions for signs of improvement while we get ready and have breakfast, but by 9.30, the apps on the phone are predicting another 2 hours of precipitation at least. We settle on Plan B – a walk on the footpath to Torridon for lunch at the little cafe/general store. We put on our full wet weather gear and set off rustling along the tarmac road. We drop down onto the grassy footpath and stop dead – there’s something swimming in the water. There’s a frantic search for the binoculars and then a squeal of delight! Its an otter! We can’t believe our luck – we’ve had so many false alarms this week, usually a seabird floating mindlessly and serenely across the loch and now, finally, an otter. He swims to the pebbly beach with a fish in his mouth and we watch him devour it, have a clean, a shake before heading back into the water to catch another fish. This time, he comes ashore even closer to us to eat his snack. He swims out again, diving under the water and then bobbing up, empty handed. He turns on his back, twisting on the surface before sliding under the waves to fish again. He’s not having much luck now as he’s heading further and further out. Suddenly we spot another otter, doing the same thing! They’re like buses – none for ages and then two turn up! We are mesmerised watching these beautiful, elegant, athletic animals, chuffed to bits to finally see them in the wild. We lose the track of time completely.
We eventually pull ourselves away from them, realising that we are sat on the first tee of a small golf course that the owner of a nearby house has created. How fantastic – it’s more like a putting green, but how quirky. It even has the flags! We follow the path that we took on the bikes, taking much more in at our slower pace. Little holiday cottages dotted in the woodland and one lovely property, converted from a chapel, overlooking the loch on a prominent position. It was something from Grand Designs.
We’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of motorhomes and campervans “wildcamping” in various laybys and patches of gravel. They seem to stake their spot and then head off for the day, returning later back into the exactly same place. How lovely to pull up where you like and enjoys views like this. That’s the life.
The streams and rivers were still gushing with water, but with less velocity than yesterday. We walk into Torridon and up to the little shop. We shelter under the little veranda and order sandwiches and coffee, watching people come and go. I share my sarnies with a robin, who keeps hopping out from underneath a parked car. The day is not sure whether to stay wet and damp or to let the sun out. The rain has eased to a spit, but the clouds are still draped over the nearby peaks. We start to walk back, finding a memorial for workers who carried the body of their boss to his resting place. Just erected by the roadside, easily missed. Love coming across things like that. As we drop into our bay, we find a bench where we rest briefly, to admire our little house and piece of loch. We spot a man kayaking and laugh as he gets stalked by a seal. They are quite comical animals. Walking back on the road, we meet a group of men dealing with the thousands of evasive rhododendron plants that are everywhere, taking over the landscape. They describe what they have to do – it seems a rather soul destroying job as rhododendrons are pretty hard to eradicate, leave just one little piece and it will come back again. Wishing them luck, we leave them to it and drop onto the beach, but it’s too pebbly and we resort to walk on the grassy bank back to our cottage. We’ve taken most of the day to do the relatively easy 10 mile round walk, but there are so many distractions – like otters, seals and the general area really.
After a cuppa and a shower, we notice the rain has finally given way to a weak sun, lighting up the landscape and bringing out the wonderful colours. Our raging river next door has calmed down too and back to its normal self. We spend an hour hanging out of our bedroom window, just watching. Seals are now hanging out in front of our cottage – sticking their heads up, having a look around and then silently, with hardly a ripple, sliding underneath the water. It’s just amazing. We are very very happy.
We wake up to an overcast sky, threatening clouds and rain. Doesn’t look nice at all – let’s say we didn’t rush to get up. Finally we emerge and have porridge whilst we decide what to do. We latch on the idea of going up to Ullapool and start to get organised until we check on the satnav and realise that it’s over 2 hours and 75 miles away. Mmm, major rethink as we’ve been to Ullapool and though it’s lovely, not sure it’s worth a four hour round trip. So we aim for Gairloch, only 1 hour away and 34 miles. There’s only one road to it – the 10 mile single track back to Kinlochewe and then a main road from Kinlochewe to Gairloch. We haven’t gone far out of Kinlochewe, when we spot the Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre and impulsively pull in – we’re on the search for some good biking trails – and find a single story building painted white, full of displays and information, but seemingly unmanned. We have a wander, reading the information and have a brief recce outside. It’s a possible idea for a good walk later on in the week.
We continue our journey in a steady drizzle on a two way carriageway following the edge of Loch Maree, admiring the huge Munro’s towering over us. Truly magnificent. As we peel off to head towards Gairloch, the road suddenly shrinks to a single track with passing places and then after less than a mile, springs back into two way! It’s just so weird how it changes from one type of road to another – it certainly keeps you on your toes! It’s starting to brighten up as we spot a side road on our left and decide on a whim to check it out. We come across a fabulous hotel overlooking the little bay of Loch Shieldaig and make a note of a possible lunch venue. We carry onto Badachro, a single street of houses and a small jetty. The Badachro Inn is here, which has been advertising itself for the last 3 miles, so we park up and have a wander – we find a little shop selling all things touristy and have a nose, getting some postcards and little bag with anchor motifs. We find the Inn which isn’t quite open, but there’s something about it that’s not floating our boat. we wander down to the jetty to kill time, chatting to a local and admiring this beautiful little bay. Apparently Irish boats came over, filled with Irish soil as ballast, dropping it at Badachro before filling their boats with Scottish herring and heading home. That’s why this part of Scotland is so vibrant green and things grow so well.
We head back to the car and follow the single track road to the coast and to Redpoint, through scattered hamlets of bungalows and chalets. It is quite populous when you really look, but it also looks quite isolated and remote. Sheep munch on the road side and casually wander out in front of you, giving you baleful stares. They’re not for moving and you have to squeeze past them, as they nonchantly chew grass without a care in the world. At Redpoint, there’s a beautiful semi circle of sand, a deep inviting beach – ideal for The Dog if she was with us, but she’s back at home. We find a viewpoint high above the beach with far reaching views of Skye and Harris, the sky big with fluffy clouds and the sun picking out the rugged beauty. We stand for many minutes, drinking it all in. Scotland at it’s best.
We retrace our steps back to the main road of Gairloch, feeling decidedly peckish now. We drop into Gairloch and pull off at the Pier. At the far end, there’s a huddle of shacks offering boats trips which are all closed and peering over the edge, a variety of boats are tied to the harbour, bobbing in the gentle water. It has the distinct feel of a working harbour. We walk back towards the road and find a promising looking cafe, but inside it’s a bit austere and offering only tea and cake. So we jump back into the car and head into the main part of Gairloch, passing the links golf course and more lovely broad beaches. On our right, there’s a couple of places that may offer good food, but we want to check out the rest of the area. “Crumbs” is advertising lunches, so we follow their signs towards the Village Square as the sky starts to grow darker and ominous. We don’t come across Crumbs, but hubby has been in the Mountain Café before and so we head in there. There seems to be only bagels on the menu, but they’re ticking our box so we order them with a hot coffee, only to be informed they haven’t got any – why don’t you scrub it off your menu then??? Grrr. Now our only option is a selection of cakes. We want a proper lunch, but we are giving up the will. So we end up ordering scones with jam and cream which are actually very scrummy, but we’re hankering paninis. The heavens open as we devour the scones and rain beats against the glass of the conservatory. Seems to be the last of the good weather. We wipe off the crumbs and run across the road to McColls for some bit and pieces for tea tonight – we’re not allowed in as they have a “2 People Only in the Shop” policy and as they already have 2 customers sedately browsing, we wait outside as the rain eases off. What a palaver. Once inside, we note that there’s at least six members of staff – how does that work?
Feeling slightly peeved, we drive back out as the rain is now persistent and we don’t want to get wet for no reason. We stop at the two shops we passed on the way in and quietly curse – the first one has a better range of food than McColls and the second one has a far better café and gift shop. It’s just one of those days when it doesn’t quite work out – hey ho.
We drive back the way we came, the sun pushing its way through the rain clouds again, revealing spectacular views, bringing out the most gorgeous colours on the surrounding Munro’s. The exposed rocks glisten and the verdant greens glow.
As we turn onto the single track road back to Torridon, the weather closes in again. It’s certainly not meteorologically boring around here! There have been men working along this section of road this morning, a mass of vehicles gathered on the roadside, patching the worst of the potholes – it really needs to be done properly – this will be all out by December. They are now on their way home, bullying their way through as we admire their handiwork. It’s definitely the “Screw You School of Tarmacking” by the looks of it. There also seems a lot of road signs, mainly advertising that the road projects have been funded by the EU; by the state of the roads, the road signs looked like they took the bulk of the money. Some signs seemed a total waste of time – one, some 5 miles along this narrow road, informed us it was a single track road with passing places – no shit Sherlock! It looked like it was a spare one and just plonked there. During the week we spotted many 30mph limit signs on these type of roads which made us chuckle as we rarely reached 25mph or got into 4th gear!
Once back at Torridon, we decide to drive a little further to check out the Torridon hotel, a rather swanky place on the shoreline, for a possible meal treat at the end of the holiday and to suss out biking trails. Both the restaurant and the bike shack are closed – limited opening times, but a kind lady who was passing tell us of a great sounding trail following the Loch to (another) Shieldaig (there’s two in the vicinity). We thank her profusely and decide to do a bike ride tomorrow, the forecast is looking good. We drive back to our house, as the sun appears yet again – how changeable the weather can be here – and Scotland shows off once again.
We’ve discovered our heating in the house isn’t working properly – it’s coming on at all different times apart from it’s supposed to come on. We’ve tried all sorts to get it to work, but resorted to calling the owners so a plumber might rock up tomorrow morning. We make tea, curl up under blankets to keep warm and chill as the sun goes down (around 7.30pm – god, the nights are drawing in). Postcards get written, diaries filled and we have regular forays outside looking for the elusive Northern Lights. Again, no luck, but tomorrow night is suppose to be better.
A lovely night’s sleep. It’s pre-dawn and through the Velux windows, you can see the outline of a mountain peak opposite. Eventually I wander downstairs to watch the sunrise in the sun room. After being cooped up in the car for the last couple of days, we fancy a walk and decide to walk to Diabaig, some 4 miles northwest of our house.
We cross the bridge over our little river, pass some houses and find the footpath, climbing high above the loch. We contour along, with beautiful far reaching views. The sun is out and bathing the whole area in glorious colours. We come across a deer proof fence with a gate and next to it, a sanitising station – a dispenser tacked to a post – and polite notice to use it. We stopped and stared, looking around us in bewilderment- what a bizarre thing to come across in the middle of nowhere – it wasn’t exactly heaving with hikers. During the week, we kept coming across these sanitiser stations on isolated spots and just shook our heads – the world had just got madder. So we carried on for a couple of miles until we came across where the path started to narrow as it went through heather, but on a rather steep slope. I’m not a huge fan of such paths since slipping on a narrow scree path about 30 years ago and now my fears rear up again. The path is only about 18 inches wide, slopes at an angle and is breaking away in parts. The heather on my right is coming over the path, pushing me nearer the edge – I’m just not liking the steepness and start to lose confidence big time and freeze. There are no other options: either carrying on or aborting the walk. But hubby has an idea and scrabbles up into the heather above, looking for another route – he calls me up. There’s not a path, but it strangely feels a lot safer – I hunker down into the vegetation and crawl along. Being physically lower, being able to grab onto something and surrounded by thick heather makes me happier for the moment. We scud along until this route starts getting steep itself and we decide to slide down back to the original path which has improved immensely and my fear recedes, though my legs are like jelly. I feel rather daft for making such a fuss, but it’s a such overwhelming fear that I can’t explain nor get over. But now we’re on better footing and we make good speed.
We head around the peninsula, the loch widening and Shieldaig on the other side hoves in view. The Isle of Skye peeks over too. The landscape is grassy interspersed with outcrops of rock, very boggy in places – you have to watch your footing all the time. Sometimes it’s rock, other times gravel or soft mud. We clamber up and down , stopping to look at the ever changing vista. Our pace has slowed and its hard going. We pass a couple of small tarns and finally, through a gap, we can see Diabaig, nestling far below. We seem so high, but the village so close. We start dropping down gently through the ferns and grass. We meet a couple and their very energetic Spaniel coming up, the dog darting here and there. We briefly chat and pass pleasantries – the chap warns us of a steep drop and I hear the back of the conversation – “it’s not too bad, about 6 metres…..” That didn’t sound encouraging.
On the way over, we have managed to book at the Gille Brigdhe, a small pub cum restaurant for 1.30. (You have to book in advance for everything at the moment). We reckon we can make it. But suddenly the path starts going up again, then dropping and up again over these rocky buttresses. Will we ever get to that road way down there? Suddenly the path turns and plummets down a steep stairway of rock. A slow case of dropping down carefully (in my case, mainly on my bum). It twists and turns, finally ending at a gate of a deer proof fence. We start to walk into a woodland, which is better news and come across the final obstacle. A drop of about 4 feet, across a large boulder with a thick rope tied to it to help walkers either pull themselves up the rock or to slide down. This was the six metres that our man had mentioned – we had had images of having to abseil down it, but in the end we kind of slid down it in an anticlimactic way after spending 20 minutes on our approach to it, scaring ourselves.
Finally we drop onto level ground and pop out of the woods, across the bridge and tarmac! Now to find the pub – we walk pass some houses and voila, there it is and it’s 1.29pm precisely. We ring the bell to summon our host, put on our masks until we’ve sat down and order pints of beer to celebrate our safe arrival. Sat in the garden, we look out to sea and with our binoculars, look for wildlife. A sea eagle had swooped over the trees whilst we were in the woods, so we were on the look out for him. We spotted our first seal too.
The food was wonderful at the Gille Brigdhe – roast dinner and a vegetarian lasagne, followed by apple pie and custard and coffee. We had to restore our energy for the walk back! We had decided to walk back along the road, but looking at the map, the road took us out wide in the opposite direction and snaked its way high up the hillside. However, we discovered a nifty shortcut that chopped a huge chunk off. It was steady pull up through woodland following a little bubbling stream, before bobbing out on the high moor and the tarmac road. It was nice to be able to stroll along and admire the scenery without fear of tripping up, but we could see the ribbon of road disappearing into vanishing points. It had now clouded over, but was still pleasant. We spot a large bird sitting on the electricity poles and try to identify it. It keeps flying off, landing further along so we spend a lot of time stalking this poor bird which takes our mind off the road. It’s cruelly deceiving as the road keeps veering off and plunging into a dip, and snaking needlessly, adding on extra metres. It’s a bit dispiriting really. We finally come to the conclusion that the bird is a Buzzard as it flies off into the distance. We hike up this steep incline and drop back into Loch Torridon and towards our cottage which boosts our spirits, but there’s still a way to go. We start to drop down, and stop by a car where someone is sketching on a nearby bench. There’s one of those monuments made of stone with a metal plinth marking all the local landmarks and we are studying this, when the artist calls over to us. It’s our Spaniel lady and her husband again. Would we like a lift? We hesitate slightly – is it cheating? It’s not that far? We take up her offer, but sit with our masks on and all the windows open on the short journey. The little brown spaniel in on the back seat and happily snuggles us to us – eventually curling up on hubby’s lap. We want to take her home! The couple, god bless them, drop us near our cottage and we wave goodbye to them – they’ve have sheared a good hour off our walk back. Road walking is quite tedious and hard on the feet. We were very grateful.
We get in and have showers and a welcoming hot cup of tea. We’ve done just over 11 miles of walking, not on the easiest of terrain and so feeling quite pleased with ourselves. Happily knackered, we curl up on the sofa, but one of our friends says it’s a good night for a possible sighting of the Northern Lights. So, in the darkness, we pad out and stand in the garden looking for the green glow. The moon is out again, lighting everything up. We spend a good 20 minutes out there until the chill forces us in. Anyway, a ruddy great Munro is obscuring our view of the northern horizon, so we call it a night. We head to bed suitably tired after a very enjoyable first day.