Round Britain: Kinlochewe to Shieldaig

The A896 which runs southwest of Kinlochewe to Torridon is single track with passing places. It runs past the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve which has a woodland restoration scheme nearby. The road passes Loch Coulin and Loch Clair by which time it was very cloudy with drizzle. The Torridon Estate is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. There are lots of hillwalking paths and mountains to climb in better weather. The A896 enters Glen Torridon with the river running on the left and near the loch, a minor road runs into Torridon.

We stopped at the Community Centre which runs the Wee Whistlestop Café: a great place for a drink and snack. Upstairs is a gallery with art works for sale of many kinds by local artists. There is also a gym and some work spaces.

The minor road continues all the way up to Diabaig and from there is a path to Red Point. The first community it reached is Fasaig, a short distance away. Just behind the community centre are the remains of Doire na Fuaran which means ‘field of the springs’. 45 families used to live here. It was cleared in 1845 so that the landlord could use the area for more profitable sheep farming. Some of the residents moved to the seashore in what is now Fasaig, others emigrated. A path runs to the ruined former crofts on the hillside.

However, we carried on towards Shieldaig on the A road which was now two lanes. It passes through Annat and then there were two viewpoints overlooking Loch Torridon and the surrounding countryside.

A minor loop road runs through Shieldaig and we soon found our campsite with good views

and with neighbouring sheep.

After settling in we had a walk down to the seafront where most of the town lies. White-tailed eagles disappeared over 100 years ago but two returned to Shieldaig, nesting on the island in 2009.

Work is underway in conjunction with the RSPB to increase the population and has so far been successful. On the seafront was a Vintage Tractor Run which was raising money for the Highland Hospice.

We popped into the smoked salmon business to buy some. They are the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament people in town. The slogan translates as ‘I hope for a free Scotland without a bomb, without Boris’. We have got rid of Boris but no guarantee of getting rid of the bombs.

From the seafront there are views over to Loch Shieldaig which is an offshoot of Loch Torridon.

I found a huge amount of sea glass on the beach.

Later we took a walk up a short hill path past an abandoned church which gave views over towards Loch Torridon.

When we came back down, we had a good conversation with one of the locals. Tonight’s meal will be in the local hotel restaurant and we will head off early in the morning because there will be a cycle race on one of the roads we need to travel back home on and we need to get past that one before it starts.

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: Gruinard Bay to Inverewe

Yesterday evening I had a short walk on the beach at Laide

Where a seal was sitting on one of the rocks.

The next morning was another quiet day.

After picking up supplies in Aultbea we walked to the pier

where there are views over to the Isle of Ewe.

Back on the A832 we passed Drumchork. Loch Ewe distillery was the smallest legally operated distillery in Scotland founded in November 2005 by John Clotworthy, the hotelier of the Drumchork Lodge Hotel in Aultbea and started its business in 2006. It lasted until 2015 when it was put up for sale, closing in 2017.  On a hillside further on was a viewpoint looking over Loch Ewe and an MOD pier and associated property.  After the Soviet Union was invaded by the Nazis in 1941, Loch Ewe was one of the Arctic Convoy shipping points to send supplies to the Soviet Union for the next four years.

The next viewpoint overlooked Loch Thurnaig.

We then entered Inverewe and visited the Gardens. Despite lying on the same latitude as Moscow and Hudson’s Bay, the Gulf Stream enables an amazing variety of plants from all over the world to grow.

Inverewe Garden was created by Osgood Mackenzie. His forbears were the lairds of Gairloch. It is said that he saw the barren peninsula and decided to build a garden there after acquiring the property in 1862. His first job was to plant a shelter belt of trees against the west and south-westerly winds. 15-20 years later other trees, including non-natives were planted. He had to import soil from Ireland. The first rhododendrons were acquired around 1890.  Osgood died in 1922 and is buried in Strath churchyard. His daughter took over the estate. His and her plant inspiration came from their many worldwide travels. Eventually the garden was given to the National Trust for Scotland. We began by exploring the walled garden.

Although in September many of the flowers, shrubs and trees have gone to seed, some were still in bloom.

There was a sculpture entitled Sheltered Existence by James Parker in 2014.

The house was built in 1937.

Some of the rooms are left as they would have been in Osgood’s daughter’s time.

Also on the ground floor is The Sawyer Gallery. The exhibition when we visited was by Pamela Tait and Erland Tait who are visual artists from The Black Isle and the Highlands respectively. Pamela’s work is in watercolour and monoprints.

We then walked around the forest and saw many different trees including eucalyptus

tree ferns from Tasmania

and Californian Redwoods.

On 30 January 2022, Storm Corrie with 90mph winds, felled 60 trees and destroyed 90 large shrubs. Work is still going on to deal with this. There is a jetty from which boat trips are run.

It had begun to rain so we walked back to the café to top up the caffeine levels and then it was time to check into our campsite which was just down the road. Before we had some quite torrential rain, I looked at the view across Loch Ewe.

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.

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: Kinlochbervie

Leaving Durness on a very wet grey day, we took the A838 southwards. Ordnance Survey maps show a lot of hut circles, cairns and old field systems on the land on each side of the road. There are also abandoned quarries and some patches of last years burnt moor for grouse shooting. The road passes Loch Caladail and then runs down to the shores of the Kyle. At the end of the Kyle, it follows the River Dionard for a while before passing Gualin House and Loch Tarbhajh. The A838 goes by the end of Loch Inchard at Riconcich where the junction of the B80 to Kinlochbervie, the most northwesterly port in Scotland is. The road winds along the lochside and through several small communities: Achriesgill, Inshegra and Badcall before heading down a 15% descent into Kinlochbervie. The roadside is littered with dead and decaying cars, lorries and tractors. Just as we passed the end of Loch Sheigra, the rain ceased for a while so I could take a photo.

Prior to the early 1960s Kinlochbervie was a crofting village. Some abandoned houses are still in the middle of the town

close to the Free Presbyterian Church, the only church in the community. There is a community fire station, coastguard, a medical practice, a filling station, a couple of stores, café, a hotel and several B&Bs. The old harbour at Loch Clash is now a motorhome stop-over which is where we are spending one night. If you arrive early, you can use one of the five electric hook-ups and there are ten off-grid places. Payment is made to the Spar shop just up the road.

The pebble beach at the head of Loch Clash is littered with plastic waste from the fishing industry.

In 1964, work began to convert the village into a major European fishing harbour. This took around twenty years and although the local fishing fleet is small; other ships bring in their catch and it is processed here. The new harbour is certainly busy with large buildings for processing the fish, housing the harbour master and others behind where many nets were laid out to dry. HGVs were getting ready to load up late afternoon.

While I was wandering around, the sun finally came out very briefly.

There are interesting rocks just past the end of the pier;

and a lot of native plants: gorse, speedwells, rowan and elder trees coming into leaf and buds on the heather. However, along one road someone must have planted bamboo and an arum-like large lily which I could not identify. They have now become very invasive over a large area. Elsewhere I saw Spanish bluebells escaping out of a garden.

If you have more time and good weather, you can go to Oldshoremore along the minor road from Kinlochbervie and from there; do an eight-mile return walk to Sandwood Bay which is part of the Sandwood Estate run by the John Muir Trust. Unfortunately, heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow so that and the possibility of a boat trip from Tarbert to Handa Island are probably not going to happen.

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: Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath has been described as the last true wilderness in the British Isles. The tip is the most north-westerly point of the UK mainland and is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London. It is further north than Moscow and Vladivostock. A large part of the Cape is a Ministry of Defence Bombardment Range which is still active and used at times, often at short notice. One way of visiting when the forces are not operating is via the ferry and minibus which does a three-hour tour. We woke early and set off to walk the 2.5 miles down the road to the Keoldale ferry to cross and pick up the Cape Wrath minibus on the other side. The A838 south of Durness was not built until 1832.

Down at the Kyle of Durness is a standing stone erected in 2000 as a memorial to ancient and Celtic peoples.

A little further along we reached the pier where what has been described as the smallest passenger ferry service in Great Britain operates from. While waiting for it, we saw someone take a small tank of diesel over to the other side to top up a minibus.

The ferry arrived just before 9.30am and we embarked for the short journey across the Kyle to the pier on Cape Wrath.

Our minibus was waiting and took us slowly along the single-track unmade road. The only road to cross the peninsula was built to service the lighthouse in 1833 and is 11 miles long.

There are abandoned houses which used to belong to the shepherds who lived and worked here and the peat banks that supplied their fuel. There were views over to Kearvaig where there is a bothy and two stacks which are known as ‘The Cathedral’.

We saw several walkers and cyclists during our time on the Cape, some of whom were wild camping. At one point we spotted a few red deer in the distance. They are numerous on the Cape and are one reason why there are no trees. Just before you reach the lighthouse there are views south towards Sandwood Bay which is only accessible on foot. Apparently there have been reports in the past of mermaids being spotted from there.

 The lighthouse itself was built in 1828 by Robert Stevenson and was automated in 1998. It is now run by solar panels with a generator as reserve. There is a café there so after refuelling and we still had some time to wander around before the return trip. There are views from the surrounding cliffs.

The old foghorn is still there.

You can sometimes see porpoises and dolphins from here but we only saw a few grey seals at a distance on the sandbanks before we reached the pier on our way back.