Round Britain: Inverewe to Kinlochewe

On another still morning we left Inverewe for our next destination: Kinlochewe.

The A832 crosses the River Ewe and continues south past Loch Tollaidh. At Strath we turned onto the B8021 which continues around the west side of the peninsula all the way to Melvaig. Our stop was Big Sand which is part way along the road. We parked up and had a good walk along the length of the large beach and back.

This is one of two dead jellyfish I found

and one dead starfish.

Longa Island sits offshore here.

After meeting a dog walker on the very quiet beach we had a long and very interesting conversation. Eventually we headed back to Gairloch where we had a coffee at the Gale Café and gift shop which is a community-run initiative. Next door is the farm shop which has a wide variety of products. There are views over the bay.

Strath was once the heart of the crofting community. There was a meal mill which fed them for 300 years, a blacksmith and a boat builder who served the cod fishing industry. In the 1840 potato famine the community was devastated. On 15 July 1842 215 people left Gairloch for Cape Breton Island in Canada. A town called New Gairloch had been previously been founded in 1805 in Nova Scotia. A little further along from the café is the War Memorial where there is a viewpoint over the bay

and the surrounding area.

The road continues on past a pier and Charlestown before running through Glen Kerry. We turned off to Badachro so that I could photograph the small distillery for James. They make single malt whisky, gin and vodka and there is an onsite shop.

Badachro also has a hotel and a kayak and canoe hire business. Back on the A832 we passed another hydroelectric scheme and near the dam some major road improvement works. The road then descends to Loch Maree through the Slatterdale Forest and then down to the shore. Much of the shore is hidden by trees but at one car park I managed to peek through them.

Loch Maree used to be called Loch Ewe which explains how Kinlochewe got its name. In the 17th century it was renamed in memory of Saint Maolrubbha who brought Christianity to the area and had a cell on Isle Maree. The northeast of the area was once a centre for the iron-smelting industry. It relied on charcoal which used up vast quantities of wood which destroyed much of the local Caledonian Pine Forest. Similar things happened elsewhere and now there are only 35 small remnants in the Highlands. A lot of the surrounding area near Kinlochewe is now part of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. After we had settled into the campsite, we had a wander around the village. It sits astride the Kinlochewe River

and although we had had some sunshine the mountains were still covered in cloud.

Round Britain: Ullapool to Gruinard Bay

After several very windy days it was great to wake up to a quiet, still morning and not to be forecast with the thunderstorms some of the rest of the UK will experience. We left Ullapool on the A835 which passes down the side of Loch Broom.

The original road was built in 1846 following the potato famine by 47 starving Highlanders who worked eight hours a day, six days a week to build what was known as one of the destitution roads: from Gairloch to Ullapool. It was funded by Dowager Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch. They received only 680g of oatmeal a day.  Today the A832 follows the destitution road and occasionally small parts of the old road are visible parallel to the current road and we saw one old bridge alongside the more modern one. It has been said that the evicted crofters were forced to use stone for the homes they had been evicted from to build the road. 

After Braemore and the end of the loch, the road follows the River Broom in Strathmore. At the junction we turned onto the A832 where some major building work was underway which looked like it might be a visitor centre for Corrieshalloch Gorge. We stopped at the gorge and looked at the view towards Loch Broom.

The Falls of Measach and the gorge had much less water in them than on a previous visit many years ago.

Continuing through the moorland we passed a hydroelectric scheme, crossed Fain Bridge and then descended into Dundonnell where a path takes you to the summit of An Teallach. The road then runs alongside Little Loch Broom

several small hamlets and a sea farm.  At Mungasdale Bay we stopped for a beach walk. Before entering Gruinard, the road crosses the Little Gruinard River which runs down to the bay. Gruinard Island belongs to the Gruinard Estate and lies two miles offshore.

In the early years of the 2nd World War, it was used as a testing ground for anthrax. Eventually in 1987 it was sprayed with formaldehyde and in 1990 was given the all-clear. In 2002 two sea eagles were seen perching on the island. The island remains uninhabited and in March 2022, there was a fire on it. We stopped at the large beach at the eastern side of the bay

Before continuing on to Laide where our campsite was situated. We were too early to check in so took the minor road up the side of Rubha Mor to Mellon Udrigle which has a fantastic beach.

There were quite a few dead jellyfish on the sand

and one interesting corroded item.

Eventually we checked in to the site at Sand in Laide which has wonderful views.

There is a ruined chapel at Sand with a surrounding graveyard. The tradition states that it was built in the 7th century by Columba or one of his followers. It was in use until the 18th century.

The burn that runs alongside it into the sea has huge amounts of garden-escape crocosmia on the banks.

Showers appeared in the early afternoon but I did manage a short beach walk in between them.

Round Britain: Clachtoll to Ullapool

After leaving Clachtoll on a grey, rainy morning we diverted off the B869 to Alchmelvich which is just a few miles down the coast. It has a very white beach. 

We picked up the newspapers in Lochinver and headed east along the A837 with Ben More and Beinn Uidhe ahead, covered in clouds. Little Assynt sits at the west end of Loch Assynt and has a nursery which sells native trees. After passing Loch Assynt Lodge the ruins of Ardvreck castle appear, sitting on a promontory in the loch.

The castle dates from around 1490 when it was owned by the MacLeod’s of Assynt. It was attacked and captured by the Mackenzies of Assynt in 1672. In 1726 they replaced it with the more modern Calda House which now lies in ruin nearby. It became known as the White House around 1730 because it had been painted white and had 14 bedrooms.  It was burned down in 1737. We would have walked out to the castle but it was raining. The road runs down the side of Loch Assynt and through Inchnadamph. At the Ledmore junction we took the A835 towards Ullapool. After passing through Elphin, a viewpoint at Knockan had a view towards Suilven with its summit in the clouds. 

At Drumrunie we took a diversion to Achiltibuie. I had hoped to visit the Hydroponic Garden there but it was closed, presumably because it was Sunday. There are views over to the Summer Isles.

Despite the summit being covered in cloud there were plenty of cars parked in the Stac Pollaidh car park whose owners were presumably climbing it or walking around the circular path which was constructed by The John Muir Trust. Back on the A835 we entered Wester Ross, got to Ullapool and found the campsite which lies on the point overlooking Loch Broom. The Rhue Lighthouse is in the distance and only visible in some lights. The last time I was in Ullapool was many years ago when we took the ferry from here to visit some friends who lived in Stornoway on Lewis.  The town was established in 1788 by the British Fisheries Association and built on a grid system. The afternoon was quite warm so we sat outside the Arch Inn with a cold beer and a view up Loch Broom.

The following morning, I saw the first ferry of the week come down the loch.

A little later on it was loading up for the return trip.

We walked past the harbour

and then back through town, visiting the local bookshops and picking up supplies. The village clock stands in Quay Street and is said to be the most-photographed clock in the Highlands but I did not bother. After lunch the morning rain had disappeared and I had a sunny walk on the beach.

In the evening I watched the sun go down.

Round Britain: Scourie to Clachtoll

We left Edinburgh on a very misty morning to recommence our tour of the coast at Scourie where we finished in late April. After we stopped at Pitlochry for coffee, the sun and blue sky appeared. We had lunch at a viewpoint near Easter Fearn which had good views over the Dornoch Firth.

Eventually we arrived in Scourie and settled into the campsite. I had a walk around the bay and the harbour.

Later in the evening I watched the sun go down.

The next morning, we continued down the A894 past several small lochs and Lower Badcall where there was a fish farm. There was a viewpoint looking towards Assynt.

The road continued downhill to Kylesku Bridge.

A side road runs past the houses, the fishing pier and ends at the slipway.

There are views of the Assynt Mountains.

The name Assynt is derived from a Norse word meaning ‘rocky ridge’. The Vikings ruled here over 1,000 years ago. Most of the place names however, are derived from Gaelic. Near Unapool was a good view of the rock strata across the water. The area is part of a Geo Park.

Shortly afterwards we diverted onto the B869 which is a windy single-track road into Northern Assynt. The first village we came to was Drumbeg which had views over Eddrachills Bay

and a sight often seen in Scotland, an abandoned croft.

Most of this part of Assynt is owned by the Assynt Crofters Trust who bought 21,000 acres of the North Assynt Estate in 1993. They own the fishing rights (and sell permits) and have undertaken conservation projects near Achmelvich. They also run a Hydroelectricity project. Past Drumbeg we took the minor road to Stoer Head lighthouse.

Cattle we grazing around it

and there were views from the headland.

Back on the B869 we passed through Clashnessie and then arrived at our base for two nights: Clachtoll Beach Campsite.  Clachtoll is a crofting township and many years ago sheep outnumbered people by 25:1. The campsite is family-run and they have free range chickens next to the site with sheep grazing nearby. The beach is a short walk down a track with a couple of paths down to the sand. I went down on our first morning when it was quiet and enjoyed a wander. The rock at the end of the headland below is known as ‘The Spilt Rock’.

I did some beach combing around the boating pier where I found some small shells and pieces of sea glass to add to my collections.

A fish and chip trailer arrives on many evenings so we treated ourselves to that on our last night. Afterwards I had another beach walk during the half hour before sunset.

The next morning we left to continue our journey.

Elgin, Findhorn and Inverness

On our way to spend a couple of nights in our van in Findhorn, we stopped in Elgin to stay in a B&B recommended by some friends. South of the A9 before we diverted up Speyside, we passed Glen Feshie which sits on the side of the Cairngorm Massif. I had recently read an article about 200 people from there who emigrated to Canada in the early 1830s and established a town called Badenoch on the shores of Lake Ontario. They cleared the heavily forested land and threatened the livelihood of the local indigenous people, the Mississaugas, a nomadic people whose traditional migratory routes were cut off. The immigrant community grew with additional English and German settlers. It is hard to believe that people who had grown up with the consequences of the clearances in Scotland could do this to the local people.

After settling into our accommodation in Elgin, we had a meal in a restaurant in a close off the High Street. Our host told us that Elgin was initially a network of narrow streets until the Victorians created the High Street and built St Giles’s church. The map shows the remains of a castle and several old wells. The following morning, we awoke to blue skies and sunshine and set out to explore the Cathedral ruins and the nearby Biblical Garden. The first cathedral was constructed in 1224.

The Biblical Garden is part laid out in the shape of a Celtic Cross

and also has statues of biblical characters with a note relating to their section of the bible.

There is also a space where you can sit and eat a picnic.

Leaving Elgin on the A941 we saw that like many towns in East Lothian, lots of new houses are being built on the outskirts. By the time we stopped for a coffee in Lossiemouth it had started to cloud over.

Heading west along the coast we passed RAF Lossiemouth, Hopeman, Roseisle Maltings and Kinross Airfield where we turned into the road to Findhorn. The Aire is situated on the Findhorn Bay Local Nature Reserve. 

The Findhorn River is 60 miles long. Its source is in the Am Monadh Liath mountains and it runs down to the Moray coast where it reaches the sea at the village of Findhorn.  Thomas Henderson wrote a book The Findhorn’ published in 1932. He describes the village of Findhorn as ‘now but a holiday resort of a charmingly primitive kind’. The Culbin Estate is near Findhorn. In the 17th century it was a prosperous farm protected from wind by the dunes. It lay on a low peninsula in the bay. In November 1694 a huge storm flooded Findhorn.  The people had to escape and the sea completely covered the Culbin Estate. 16 farms, land, the lairds house and all the workers houses were completely destroyed. A new river course to the sea had opened.  The Culbin forest is across the water from Findhorn.

The village was once a trading port. The local lairds were co-partners. They sold and shipped out their timber, salmon, herring and cod and imported luxuries. Thomas Henderson lists a selection of cargo ordered from Holland in 1649: soap, dyeing materials e.g., Indigo, raisins, currants, figs, prunes, ginger, sugar, aniseed, black pepper, wine, tobacco and more.

We were close to the beach and there are steps up the dunes for access.

There are some stones on the beach but not as many as at Spey Bay.

I did several beach walks on the first day.

On our second morning we had a coffee at the Bakehouse Market and then walked via the marina and the beach to the Aire.

In the afternoon we visited the Ice House which covers the local history of salmon fishing which was the main industry until 1987.

The main Heritage Centre was closed.

That evening I watched the sun go down on the beach.

On our way back home, we diverted to Inverness to visit some friends and had a walk alongside the River Ness.

The Forth Ferry and a Walk

The Forth Ferry is run by Sula Boats between North Berwick and Anstruther. It does not run every day but only 2-3 times per month in the summer because of the tides. We were down at the harbour in North Berwick a while before it sailed so I had a wander around and saw some Eider ducks.

Our boat was soon ready and we set off.

There were only six of us, including three women going to do some wild swimming at Pittenweem accompanied by their dog.

There was also a guy with a bike who was going to cycle to St Andrews. The captain said that in high season there could be 50 people on board. We passed by Craigleith Island which we can see from our house.

In summer, puffins and gulls nest there.

We also saw several flying gannets with seaweed in their beaks. It was being taken back to their mates on the Bass Rock as a gift. After almost 45 minutes we were approaching Anstruther.

Entering the harbour, we passed the Chalmers Lighthouse which was built in the late 19th century in memory of Thomas Chalmers a native of Anstruther who died in 1847. We disembarked nearby.

After coffee we walked a section of the Fife Coastal Path eastwards towards Crail. The trail is 117 miles in length and runs from Kincardine to Newburgh in the Firth of Tay. We walked through eastern Anstruther and then through Cellardyke where there is a harbour now used for drying washing.

On the other side of the village is a tidal pool.

The path passes a campsite and then runs along the coast with views towards the Isle of May.

There were beaches with lots of shells

rockier ones

and one with some sand where we ate our picnic lunch.

There were several examples of fly tipping.

We passed by Caiplie Caves which were a site of early Christian worship by St Ethernan, monks and pilgrims. St Ethernan moved to the Isle of May to establish a monastery there. It was ransacked and they were killed by the Danes in 875AD.

Street artists have decorated the cave. We then retraced our steps back to Anstruther to give ourselves time to sample the fare at the well-known award winning Anstruther Fish Bar and Restaurant. Afterwards I had time to walk along the western beach. Here and on the path, I had found quite a lot of sea glass including some very small, coloured pieces.

Our boat was then approaching so it was time to return to North Berwick on a slightly rougher sea.

Soon we were almost home

and walked back to the house in the rain.

Round Britain: Scourie

There was a brief lull in the rain yesterday morning and a cuckoo was persistently calling as we left Kinlochbervie. The cloud was hanging over the mountain behind the harbour.

Back at Rhiconich we picked up the A838 again and headed south through pouring rain in a moorland landscape with many lochans on either side of the road.

We saw one guy with an incredibly long fishing rod near one. At Laxford Bridge during the continuing rain, we took the A894 past a working quarry and downhill into Scourie. We were a little early to check in to the campsite so had a walk on the beach.

I found some relatively small pieces of sea glass including a tiny rare blue piece. The community bird hide was closed but oystercatchers were feeding further down the beach. The beach had less waste on it than Kinlochbervie.

Scourie comes from a Norse word Skógarærgi which means shieling of the woods. There are quite a few trees round the end of the bay with some non-native species obviously planted within the last hundred years. It was the birthplace of General Hugh Mackay who was Commander in Chief of William and Mary’s Scottish Army in 1689-1690 during the conflict with James II. In the 2011 census, the population was 132. Most of the crofts around the village we established in the early 19th century. The island of Handa is just visible beyond the headland.

It was evacuated and the population emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada after the famine of 1847. It is now owned by the Scourie Estate and is a nature reserve. Sitting in the van we have a great view through the back window; and have seen the fin of a porpoise or dolphin in the bay and the occasional seal head popping up. There are pied wagtails, house sparrows and a wheatear on the grass. The first half of the morning was dry, so we had a wander around the bay.

Scourie Lodge, built by the Duke of Sutherland in 1835 is now a hotel. We plan to eat there this evening.

The harbour end of the bay had only one boat moored there

and a net lying on the beach.

There is a small lochan on the other side of the road.

A signpost points the footpath to Tarbert: it continues the other way around the back of the beach. Where I had a wander among the rocks.

Oystercatchers and eider ducks were on one of the rocks.

Tomorrow morning, we will be up very early to drive back home. With various work to get done on the house over the next few months I am not sure when we will return to our coastal journey.

Round Britain: Sango Sands and Balnakiel

Our campsite in Durness sits above Sango Sands beach with great views from the back of the van.

There is a viewpoint giving wider views over the bay.

Much of the rock around Durness is limestone but down on the beach is some Lewisian gneiss.

Durness parish was cleared by Lord Reay over a 30 year period preceding his sale to the Sutherland estate in 1829. More clearances to enable sheep farming continued afterwards, some involving disputes and resistance from the locals. You can still see the remains of croft buildings among the 19th century and more recent buildings. This morning we walked the mile down to Balnakiel.

Most of the land is sheep and some cattle farming. The road passes Loch Croispol

and then the Craft Village. The buildings here were constructed in the mid 1950s as a Ministry of Defence Early Warning Station during the Cold War. It was never commissioned and in 1964 the County Council acquired it and the Craft Village was born. It is now owned by the residents and there is also the Cocoa Mountain Coffee Shop. A little further on are the ruins of an old church.

Balnakiel has been a centre of Christianity since the 8th century when St Maelrubha founded a monastery. The current church dates from 1617 and was rebuilt in 1690. In 1843 it was abandoned. Balnakiel House across the road was built in 1744 and has been the home of the chiefs of the Clan Mackay and may incorporate part of a bishop’s summer residence. We then wandered down to the beach.

The dunes are an SSI and in summer rangers offer guided walks to see the wildlife. In 1991, shifting sands revealed the grave and skeleton of a 12-year-old Viking Warrior, with a helmet and shield. You can walk four miles along the old military road to and around Faraid Head but the tip is an inaccessible MOD area. Had it not been raining we might have done the walk but instead had to return to Durness.

Round Britain: Kyle of Tongue to Durness

When the rain stopped early evening yesterday, I watched the sun go down behind the hills across the Kyle of Tongue.

We woke to a still quiet morning and after chatting for a while to the couple in the rented van next to us who were from Vancouver, we headed off across the Kyle.

The original bridge and causeway here were built by Sir Alexander Gibb and partners in 1971 to carry the A838 across the loch. Until 1956 there had been a passenger ferry but the route around the head of the loch involved a narrow road some 10 miles long. The causeway is 32.4 miles long and it crosses a natural island, Tongue Island (Eilean Thunga). The 600 ft bridge is at the western end of the causeway, and it has eighteen spans supported by twin piers. The bridge was refurbished in 2011. There are two parking places along it where you can stop and admire the view.

Just over the bridge is the road to Talmine. There are plans to build Space Hub, Sutherland at Melness, which is north of Talmine. Twelve rocket launches are planned for each year and the promotors say it will provide local jobs. We then entered the Flow country.

It is a huge expanse of blanket bog, moorland and mountains covering much of Caithness and Sutherland. The peat layer is big enough to cover a two-storey house and holds more carbon than all the UK’s woodlands put together. Moine House sits on the old road which was the only road across the bog until the A838 was built in 1993. It was occupied by a forester and his family in the late 19th century.

There is now some street art inside.

The old road is now a walking trail in parts. Today some was closed so that ground nesting birds were not disturbed.

The A838 descends and crosses the River Hope before reaching Loch Eriboll. It is Britain’s deepest sea loch and Ard Neackie is a headland which has the remains of old limestone kilns.

Further on we passed a sculpture croft and Choraidh Croft tearoom which were both closed. We stopped at Tràigh Allt Chàilrgeag where zip wires run across the beach between the two hills and several people were enjoying them . I had a coffee in the van and then wandered down to the beach where a lone surfer was struggling to find some decent waves.

One mile east of Durness village is Smoo Cave a natural sea cave with a 50m entrance, the largest to any sea cave in the British Isles. There are steps down to the entrance.

The cave name is thought to originate from the Norse ‘smjugg’ or ‘smuga’, meaning a hole or hiding place. The cave is unique within the in that the first chamber has been formed by the action of the sea, whereas the inner chambers are freshwater passages, formed from rainwater dissolving the carbonate dolomites. Partway through the cave the waters of Allt Smoo also drop in as a 20 metres high waterfall.

After a short distance on the road you enter Durness. The recently built village hall is on the left, school children having contributed some of the art works.

In front is the John Lennon Memorial Garden. He used to visit regularly as a child with his cousins in their croft at Sangomore.

We found our campsite and settled in, over looking Sango Sands.

Round Britain: Dunnet Bay to Melvich

We had some overnight rain in Dunnet Bay but the sun was breaking out as we left and entered Thurso. A sign on the road said that it was the birthplace of William Smith, founder of the Boys Brigade. Thurso was a town before the Vikings arrived. It is the northernmost town on the Scottish mainland. Sitting astride the mouth of the River Thurso it grew up as an important trading and fishing port. Most sea traffic now goes to nearby Scrabster which is where we took the ferry to Stromness when we visited Orkney a few years ago. My 1927-28 Ward lock guide describes Thurso as having considerable tourist traffic in season, including people heading to the Orkney Islands. There was also some quarrying of Caithness sandstone. We stopped to replenish supplies and then continued through the town. We passed Old St Peter’s Church and on the edge of town stopped by Wolfburn Distillery. It is the most northerly distillery in mainland Scotland and was established in 1821 but more recently resurrected.

Further along the A836 is a road down to the ruins of St Mary’s Chapel, Crosskirk which sits on the cliffs. It was probably built in the 12th century and became a dependant chapel of the church in nearby Reay which was built in 1739. From the car park there is a path down to a bridge across the water, near another ruined building

and then uphill to the chapel. Only part of it is left, a more recent graveyard with graves up to the 19th century surround it.

There are views from the cliff edge towards Dunnet Head.

We then passed by Dounreay Nuclear Power Station housed the world’s first Fast Breeder Nuclear Reactor. I remember the waste from it coming down the A9 and through Dunblane in the middle of the night. It is currently being decommissioned and this seems to provide a fair amount of work judging by the number of cars parked outside. A little further on just past Reay, a road runs down to Fresgoe and Sandside Bay.

It looks across to Dounreay.

Signs on the beach stopped me even looking for sea glass.

Sandside Bay has been settled since prehistoric times including Viking settlements but like many parts of the coast, these have been covered by the sand dunes. I wandered around the harbour which had a recently arrived boat.

I then walked up towards the headland for views with spring flowers

and admired the flagstone construction of the harbour wall which was built in 1830. This might turn into an abstract drawing or painting.