Bealach na Ba
The Bealach na Ba is a historic and quite famous pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula. Bealach na Ba, meaning pass of the cattle, was used in earlier days to drive cattle from Applecross and surrounding settlements to other parts of the Highlands, it was not part of the historic Drove Routes. Crossing the Bealach na Ba is an adventure for several reasons. This single track road has some Alpine-like hairpin bends, especially coming from the east side, but these are not the greatest difficulty to overcome. The biggest problem on this road, and this is something that occurs on many other roads in Scotland, is to keep your eyes focussed on the road and not on the breathtaking scenery, they don’t warn you for that. There is however a warning sign that says that this road is not suitable for learner drivers, caravans and very large vehicles. Another warning sign mentions that this road is impassable in wintry conditions, you find out why when you drive it.
Details of the Pass and route going up
Some technical details about this magnificent stretch of tarmac…. The pass rises to 2053ft, which is 626 metres, in about five miles, starting from Loch Kishorn. The first stage starts at sea level and goes gradually uphill while you drive south-west and cross the Russel burn (120 mtr). After another beautiful stretch southbound with absolutely stunning views over Loch Kishorn towards Plockton you turn west and enter the last leg. This is where you can almost see the top of the pass and the road ahead. The views down, especially from the last section with the hairpin bends are breathtaking. The gradients on this stretch approach 20%, which is why this road is not suitable for caravans. The total distance is 11,4 miles.
On top of the Bealach na Ba
On the top of the pass are parking spaces and a stop here to admire the stunning views is highly recommended. On cloudy days you might not see much so driving this route on a clear day is recommended, but then again, you don’t always have a choice. The way down is quite different from the way up and you gradually descent until you reach woodland, this belongs to Applecross House, where you can find a Walled Garden and a woodland track, both open for visitors. At then end of the road you reach a t-junction, in the village of Applecross. There is a local Inn and a shop and there are a few other smaller settlements if you head south such as Toscaig, Camusterrach and Camusteel. The road north is part of the Wester Ross Coastal Trail and is described below.
Completing the Applecross Tour
Since I’d started my tour over the Applecross Peninsula from Torridon I decided not to take the same return route but instead to head back over the coastal road towards Shieldaig, which is a 25 mile drive from Applecross. When I made the descend from the pass the clouds disappeared just before we arrived in Applecross and when we drove on the coastal route along the Inner Sound the sun was out and the views towards the Isles of Skye, Raasay and Rona were breathtaking. For anyone coming from Torridon/Shieldaig I would highly recommend taking this road on your journey back. This is a very remote part of Scotland with only a few settlements and there is wildlife to enjoy such as Red Deer and Golden Eagles. Halfway, when you reach Upper Loch Torridon, the views become even more dramatic. If you wonder what the buildings next to a beach are, around five miles out of Applecross, they belong to the Royal Navy and have something to do with the detection of submarines, but this is all highly classified 😉
As you arrive at the end of the road you can visit Shieldaig, which is one of the prettiest villages in this part of Scotland. There is a very welcoming bar, a hotel and a few shops, but most of all there are excellent views towards Shieldaig island with its native Scots Pines and the surrounding mountains. There is also a free telescope opposite the Shieldaig Hotel which is built recently. If you’re lucky you can spot seals and birds or just enjoy the nice views. If you’re travelling with kids you will be pleased to know that there is a small playground next to the church.
Some personal recommendations
As with every driving tour in Scotland, taking your time and choosing the right weather is vital. The views from several sections of the pass and from the top can be vanished when you are faced with low clouds. Don’t forget to take binoculars, there is a lot to see! Enjoy!