This year the weather has been off track for some strange reason, climate change perhaps or is it just the usual Scottish Climate? I read somewhere that Scotland had two summers this year, one week in April and one week in September. I was sort of lucky to witness both tail ends of these warm and sunny episodes but I was also unfortunate enough to witness the down side, howling gales, pissing rain and generally dreich weather. Dreich weather refers to wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary, miserable or any combination of these. While we were on Islay in May for three weeks, this second Scotland trip brought us to the far north-west of Scotland, although the far north doesn’t imply the north-western tip of Scotland, which is Cape Wrath. We stayed about a hundred mile south, in Cove, at the end of a minor road from Poolewe along the shores of Loch Ewe in Wester Ross.
Border Crossing on the A86 at Carter Bar
We usually enter Scotland over the M6 motorway at Gretna Green or via the A1 at Berwick Upon Tweed. Since we were heading north from Newcastle, and the weather was fabulous, we decided to enter Scotland at the most beautiful border crossing Scotland has, the one on the A68 at Carter Bar. The views on a clear day towards the Scottish Borders are fabulous and you immediately feel like coming home when you descend from the pass and enter the beautiful landscape of the Scottish Borders. Read More….
Our first stop was Jedburgh. This beautiful border town is very pleasant to visit, there is an Abbey, the Mary Stuart House, there are good restaurants and the town centre is very attractive. Because of the heat we decided to have a picnic on the banks of the river ‘Jed Water’ with views of the Abbey. This river is a tributary of the River Tweed which originates not far from Moffat and flows into the North Sea at Berwick-Upon-Tweed. In the afternoon we headed for Melrose and toured other parts of the Scottish Borders before we arrived at our excellent Bed and Breakfast at Redshill Farm near Gifford, this B&B is highly recommended!
Scottish Borders Town of Jedburgh
After a good night’s sleep and more than excellent breakfast we headed for Castle Campbell near Dollar in the Ochill Hills. The fine and warm weather however was gone and out came the drizzle and grey skies. At Castle Campbell we met up with Bruce and Linda from Scotland from the Roadside. Together we visited the castle and enjoyed the surroundings before we headed on to Wester Ross. The drizzle had turned into genuine rain and when we drove on the A9 it came pouring down. We haven’t seen much of the landscape which is usually stunning on a sunny autumn day and we even skipped our favourite stop at Loch Maree, it was just too wet! Late in the afternoon we arrived in Cove and got settled. Time to relax and enjoy this beautiful part of Scotland.
Rubha Reidh Lighthouse
The next morning, Sunday, the weather turned out to be beautiful, very much unlike the miserable weather we had the day before and we decided the make the most of it. We left early and headed for a fabulous drive from Gairloch to the lighthouse at Rubha Reidh. Some parts of this wee single track road are so steep that you can’t see where you’re heading when you are at the top of a hill but it’s a magnificent drive, perhaps not for the faint hearted. The scenery however is stunning and the views towards the Isle of Skye and the Outer Isles, Lewis and Harris, are breathtaking. Rubha Reidh lighthouse itself was built by David A. Stevenson, a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson and opened in 1912. Until the road was completed in 1962, access to the lighthouse was by sea. Nowadays the owners of the lighthouse offer accommodation and guided (wildlife) walks.
The weather completely changed overnight and Monday saw gale force winds and rain. A horrible day which was spent mostly indoors although the later part of the day gave some sunny spells and the inevitable rainbow in between the showers, much to our pleasure. Tuesday was another wet day although the wind had dropped. We decided to go for a walk at the Tollie Path which runs from Loch Maree to Poolewe, a distance of ten miles. We only did a wee part of the track because our two year old daughter can’t handle the long distances (yet).
Caledonian Canal – The Entrance at Inverness
On Wednesday we decided to leave the wet west coast and head inland towards the Inverness area where the sun greeted us when arrived in Beauly, the place where we got married. After visiting the chapel and estate we headed towards Inverness where we visited the entrance to The Caledonian Canal. This canal starts at Inverness and ends near Fort William in Loch Linnhe, connecting the Scottish east and west coast. The canal is only suitable for small vessels as you can see from the size of the lock here at Inverness.
As if we hadn’t had enough rain already Thursday morning also started very wet and windy with heavy showers. An excellent day to visit the Gairloch Heritage Museum. This museum has some interesting collections and displays and it was a surprise for me to see an illicit whisky still here. Apparently illicit whisky distilling happened here on a very regular basis in the (good) old days. Nowadays not a single distillery survived and the nearest legal one can be found near Beauly, the Glen Ord Distillery. When we headed home we witnessed beautiful displays of two fighter jets, they were part of a large NATO exercise which was held on the Scottish west coast. The exercise included troops landing on the beach and training with surface to air missiles.
Nato Exercise at Loch Ewe
Friday morning started off with mixed weather and we decided to head for Glen Torridon and, weather permitting, the Applecross Peninsula. We enjoyed an early coffee at the Torridon Inn and with the free Wi-Fi connection we found out that the weather forecast looked fine for the afternoon. We decided to head on and to finally make a tour over the Applecross Peninsula. The first leg took us to Shieldaig and from there we drove over the single track road to Loch Kishorn (Loch Carron). Here we started the ascend of Bealach na Bà, the Pass of the Cattle. The views are simply superb, the road is fantastic and the mountain scenery is breathtaking. We had sunshine and clouds and it gave the top of the pass, at 626 mtrs above sea level, a somewhat spooky appearance. While descending from the pass the clouds made way for the sun and we arrived in Applecross in beautiful sunny weather, such a treat after all the rain we had in the days before. So far this was one of my most enjoyed drives in Scotland but there was more to come….
Bealach na Bà – Pass of the Cattle – Applecross Looking towards Loch Carron
We didn’t return over the pass but we took the coastal route, the Wester Ross Coastal Trail, back to Shieldaig and were ever so glad we had chosen this one. This stretch of single track road is as beautiful as the pass itself and the views towards the islands of Raasay, Rona and Skye are so beautiful. Just before we returned to Shieldaig we saw a Golden Eagle flying right above us and landing on a ridge nearby, an awesome sight! Saturday was a rainy day, time to relax so not much to report about. Sunday was a mixed day with some showers and dry spells and we headed for Gruinard Bay and had a long and beautiful walk on the beach.
The good thing about visiting this part of Scotland is that there are many places within easy reach so we decided to go to the nearest city, Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. A visit to Inverness can be somewhat overwhelming after you’ve spent a week in the remote Highlands but it’s a nice city with a beautiful centre and if you like it, lots of shopping opportunities, especially in the recently built Eastgate Shopping Centre which is huge and entirely indoor. Since the sun was out we didn’t spend much time in there but it can be nice on a rainy day!
For me however the Old Victorian Market was much more interesting. The first covered market in Inverness was built in 1876-70 but it was destroyed by fire although the original sandstone entrance in Academy Street remains. Following the fire the Victorian Market was rebuilt by Inverness Town Council in 1890-91. The Victorian Market is owned by the Inverness Common Good Fund and managed as part of the Inverness area of the Highland Council. It includes the Market Arcade which runs from Academy Street to Union Street and, through the privately owned Queensgate Arcade, to Queensgate (opposite the post office).
A visit to this part of Scotland, Wester Ross, is not complete without seeing Ullapool, the pearl of the north-west Highlands. Ullapool is the gateway to the Outer Isles and the Calmac ferry sails frequently to Stornoway on Lewis. The harbour can also be busy with fishing boats landing their catch, often crabs and lobsters. Shore Street is where you will find the most shops, restaurants and tea rooms. West Shore street offers a nice walk and beautiful views, especially when you turn right at the end and walk the West Terrace. Another good reason for a visit is the Ullapool Museum and of course you shouldn’t miss the famous Fish and Chips from the Chippie at the Seaforth near the harbour, they are rewarded the best takeaway in the UK by BBC radio 4.
Rainbow over Shore Street Ullapool seen from the Harbour
Scots Pines on the Woodland Trail Beinn Eighe – Loch Maree
Wednesday already and our fortnight in Wester Ross is almost over. This morning the weather looked very promising and I went for an early session of taking dawn pictures from the nearby hill at Loch Ewe. After breakfast we headed for Loch Maree to walk the “Beinn Eighe Woodland Trail“. A few years back we did the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail which was very impressive and we fell in love back then with the Scots Pines, the beautiful trees with the red bark, bright green needles and the impressive and compact shapes. These pines, especially those on Isle Maree, an island in Loch Maree, date back to the original Caledonian Pine forest which covered most of the Scottish Highlands. The Woodland Trail impressed us as much as the Mountain Trail and we were very fortunate to walk here in such glorious weather.
Upper Loch Torridon seen from Bealach na Gaoithe Viewpoint on the Diabaig Road
In the afternoon we decided to get the most out of the day as possible and we headed through Glen Torridon towards the village of Torridon where we started the most beautiful scenic drive we ever did in Scotland. This drive over a narrow and twisting road is only around ten miles long and ends at Lower Diabaig, which is a wee bit of heaven after a fabulous drive through the most beautiful scenery Scotland has to offer. The views over Upper Loch Torridon are unique and the Bealach na Gaoithe Viewpoint is one of the finest in Scotland. The road behind Torridon House is packed with some of the most beautiful pine forest I have ever seen and the track in front of Torridon House offers even more beautiful scenery. I can highly recommend a coffee and home baking back in Torridon in the village store annex tea room upon return. The day ended with a beautiful beach walk and a stunning sunset which we witness from the Shieling restaurant at Gairloch, a fine restaurant with nice views over Loch Gairloch, and the sunsets over the Isle of Skye in this time of year.
Sunset over the Isle of Skye from Gairloch
Thursday morning was spent at Inverewe Garden, still beautiful despite late autumn. Many flowers were still in bloom and the advantage is was that there were no midges. The afternoon was reserved for our wee daughter, she had to test some of the playgrounds in the area, from which most of them were rewarded “satisfying to good” 🙂
Friday and the last full day in Cove at the beautiful shores of Loch Ewe. We decided to take things easy and drive slowly around Loch Ewe to absorb the stunning views. In Aultbea we did some necessary shopping in the excellent village store and we went for a coffee at the Aroma Cafe in Mellon Charles, good coffee and pleasant smells combined with free Wi-Fi and great views make this a very worthy detour. In the afternoon we parked at the Big Sands Campsite where we combined a nice afternoon at the playground for our daughter with excellent photo opportunities for myself. This stretch of beach is one of the finest in this part of Scotland on a nice day, it is however rather exposed to the elements.
Big Sands at Gairloch Wester Ross
Saturday and time to head back home, which we did in two stages. The first leg of our journey went via North Kessock, always a lovely village for a stop. The views towards the Kessock Bridge, Inverness and the Beauly Firth are great and the playground, yes another one, was much appreciated by our wee one. The drive over the A9 was much more pleasant than the two weeks before and we had stunning views towards the Cairngorm Mountains. We made another stop at the House of Bruar which soon turned out to be a mistake, it was incredibly busy. We headed for Blair Atholl instead, a lovely village, and we visited Blair Castle and included a visit to the local herd of Red Deer. Before we arrived in our B&B we visited Haddington, a beautiful market town in East Lothian. Unfortunately St. Marys Church was closed but we had a fine walk along the river and in the town centre.
North Berwick Law
As we woke up in our B&B, again the one at Redshill Farm, we noticed that we had a great days weather waiting for us. So we took off early and spent most of the morning in North Berwick, one of our favourite seaside towns in Scotland and home to the excellent Seabird Centre. The clear views towards the islands Craigleith, Bass Rock and Fidra, and the villages of Pittenweem and Anstruther on the coast of Fife were particularly beautiful. After a last stop to take pictures of Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock we headed back to Hull to get the evening ferry to Europoort.
North Berwick – Tantallon Castle and Bass Rock
After 2,400 miles travelled and 2,400 pictures taken our fortnight in Scotland is over but we had a marvellous holiday, again, and with the risk of repeating myself, one of the best ever. I lost track of the number of holidays we already had in Scotland but I do know when the next one is coming up. In spring 2012 we will be touring Scotland in a luxury motor home for four weeks. On the menu are the Orkney’s, the far north and the Western Isles, something we are very keen to see and the prospect of that trip makes the waiting a wee bit easier although still very hard!
Thanks to all the friendly folk in Scotland and yes, we will haste us back 🙂