Stage 142, 6th August: Applecross (Toscaig) to Ardheslaig
Though I had finished in Applecross village the night before, I was dropped off five miles further South to complete a short leg of coast I would otherwise have missed if I had carried on. It was also an excuse to look at a house I’d had the details of a few years ago and I wanted to see just what the location was like. It was rather nice. A private rocky bay and just yards from a deserted pier in a much larger but very sheltered South facing bay. But if I’m being picky, and I am, I wasn’t overly enamoured by the Applecross area and felt it a little overrated and given a grandiose introduction to visitors who travel over the Pass of the Cattle to get there. With its large commercial camp site it felt like it was trying a little too hard to attract tourists rather than retain its true identity. So I walked back along the coast road, around the red sandy Applecross Bay and up onto the gently sloping cliff for a long road walk North. The rain started and gradually increased in intensity but only as far as a heavy drizzle on my back. The rain didn’t really worry me but it did annoy me that the scenery was featureless, flat and grey. I don’t know if it was the weather but I found this part of Wester Ross just a little bit bland. Eventually I turned the corner and made my way East up Loch Torridon and everything changed. Though the weather had cleared a little, it was by no means the driving factor. The scenery just seemed to blossom with hamlets such as Kenmore and Ardheslaig providing a pretty foreground to the serenity of the loch and the ruggedness of the mountains to the Northeast. We spent the evening parked up at the waterfront in Shieldaig. Kate had seemed to developed a skill at blagging me washing facilities. Tonight was a special treat and after the tremendous shower at the hotel in Plockton a bath at the Tigh an Eilean Hotel in Shieldaig was tops. It was the first bath since Cumbria and I fully indulged myself with a very deep wallow. I only hope I didn’t leave a bad ring mark.
Stage 143, 7th August: Ardheslaig to Lower Diabaig
With Kate alongside me, getting my reliable daily weather forecast from home wasn’t an option. Instead I checked my phone app which informatively predicted “intermittent clouds”. With a forecast about as useful as a chocolate fire guard, I put my waterproofs in my bag with the expectation of wet stuff falling from the sky. My experience of the last twelve days had brought me crashing back to the reality of a Scottish summer after I had been so spectacularly spoilt in Ayrshire and again near Mallaig. I took to the road with the enthusiasm of a slug, but with the scenery continuing to surpass my expectations who was I to complain. I managed to escape the road for a loch side walk with the angular branches of Scot’s pine woodland giving a new dimension. Near Annat I passed through an area where work was well underway to clear the woods of Rhododendron. They were making great progress with chain saws, wood chipping machines and fires. I couldn’t help but notice the new young sprigs of Rhododendron cropping up with a smirky grin. Given another ten years I’m sure the area will be swamped again with what is considered an invasive weed in this part of the world. It was a brief excursion back onto the road through Torridon before a more challenging trek off and initially through the Torridon House estate. I had another minor skirmish with head high bracken and an invisible waist-high wall – I initially lost and ended up on my knees trying rather pathetically to stand up again in the tangle of bracken. Having extricated myself from the undergrowth I eventually took to a proper and very rugged coast path from Inveralligin. The path was little more than a goat-track and a mountain goat one at that. It became rougher by the mile, with uneven rocky ground, hollows, bog and a very steep section of high heather clad cliff to traverse. By the time I reached the path above Lower Diabaig I was exhausted but also exhilarated. It was a very steep drop into the tiny harbour village and I could see Snickers parked up and waiting. I had to resist the urge to hurry down as it was a serious rocky descent with more knee wrenching and twisting steps to add a little discomfort to the goat-track ones of the previous couple of hours. At one point there was even a rope anchored into the hillside to help me, but a zip wire might have been more appropriate. By the time I reached the bottom I had unfortunately missed my Kate arranged shower slot at the local restaurant but instead we fell lucky with a cracking meal at Gille Brighde and some truly generous support from the owner Aart Lastdrager and his customers. It has been noted more than once that the more remote I am the more friendly, supportive and generous people seem to be. I truly hope that genuine people like Aart can make his business work in such an idyllic and quiet location. For what it’s worth – he has my recommendation.
Stage 144, 8th August: Lower Diabaig to Gairloch
With Kate and Alec left to do battle with the rather precipitous road back towards humanity, I headed out North along the barren coastline with its carpet of heather and the craggy slopes scattered with glacial moraine. It was tough going but the goat track was thankfully a little easier on the joints. At Craig I passed a very lonesome house. It was totally inaccessible by road and not much easier by sea. I was tempted to nose around but the windows looked a little too clean and I suspected it might actually be lived in, so I kept going and crossed the river to follow the path along the coast. With my first sight of the sea a White Tailed Sea Eagle lifted off from a nearby rock and flew low across the water in front of me to perch a safe distance away on a cliff edge. Though my camera did record the moment, it wasn’t my big camera with a juicy long lens on it so unfortunately I recorded little more than a few pixels of the bird as it made its exit left. The sea eagle has been very successfully reintroduced from Norway with the first pair independently breeding on Mull back in 1985. Since then the project team has spread their work to Wester Ross and clearly its beginning to reap rewards for this truly stunning and instantly recognisable bird. After the eagle excitement, I looked over my shoulder to see the mountains vanishing into a thick mist of heavy cloud and calculated that I had about twenty minutes before the rain hit me. I wasn’t wrong but made it to the golden sand beach at Redpoint without getting soaked. By the time I had reached the road again it had settled into a persistent drizzle and the midges had calculated that it actually wasn’t falling too hard to be out and about, but felt safer under the shelter of the brim of my hat. I was aware that dark clothing isn’t wise when it comes to midges, but with them now using me as shelter was taking the michael. I decided there and then that if I had a preference for heavy rain or midges, I would take the rain every time. The road gradually became busier and busier as I passed the many settlements dotted along the loch edge. Holiday cottages seemed to abound in Port Henderson and Badachro and the main road into Gairloch was a few miles of hell to end a decent day. And just to add injury to insult, my left knee cracked into a very familiar sharp stabbing pain, probably as a result of the wrenching goat tracks followed by twelve miles of unforgiving tarmac. I limped into the campsite with exhaustion having hit me hard in the last mile. I was glad for a day off and even more glad to have a really hot shower.
Rest Day, 9th August: Gairloch With Kate sadly making her long journey back to Leicestershire, I tried to cheer us both with the promise of her return in only a few weeks. I don’t think I succeeded and as neither of us are good at goodbyes, Kate crept away early insisting I didn’t walk her to the bus stop. Her communique from the bus journey to Inverness airport suggested that the bus driver had had rally training and that she much preferred Alec’s driving on the road to Lower Diabaig. Life is a scale of woes sometimes and the next woe isn’t always easier to cope with. Alec’s wife Jeannie arrived early afternoon and left soon after to head for her week in a holiday cottage a little further up the coast. We would hopefully rendezvous there later in the week, that is if the tail-end of the approaching hurricane Bertha permits.
DISTANCE TO DATE: 2,895.6 miles ASCENT TO DATE: 386,136 ft