For posterity, the tweets I sent as the #EUref decision became apparent

27798372881_36bfcd08ef_mThe sunny Edinburgh lunchtime outside my window looks sublime, and I’ll be finishing up here soon so I can get out there and enjoy it. It’s Sunday, so about 48 hours after the UK’s 52% / 48% vote to leave the EU. The country will be going through some weird times in the days and months ahead, but for now here are some of the tweets I’ve sent since Thursday night relating to the EUref. This is mostly for posterity, so I have somewhere to refer back to should I ever wish to relive that sinking feeling in the stomach. (Top image courtesy of the Scottish Government, from Flickr.)

https://twitter.com/dsrjarman/status/746260763703115776

 

The evening had started so well!

 

As the reality began to take shape about the referendum result…

 

Some connections being drawn between the #EUref and Scotland’s #IndyRef from 2014:

 

Back to the misery…

https://twitter.com/dsrjarman/status/746132373796954114

 

This was weird:

 

Details started to emerge, about the vote and its consequences. Who voted which way? Who’s ‘to blame’?

 

Scotland’s future got more and more attention as it became apparent that Scottish voters had diverged so dramatically from vast parts of England and Wales:

 

Time for Scotland to prepare for an influx of refugees from the rest of the UK?

 

What of referenda as a means of government?

 

Analysis of the fallout started to pick up, from many directions:

 

A little humour. Just a little.

 

And so to the future:

 

It seems that most enthusiastic pre-Brexit camps may now those in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt and across the rest of the EU. Tired and bored of the UK’s messing around many will just want us gone, as soon as possible. Will that be time enough for the Scottish Government to put into place special arrangements for Scotland? This is becoming a humanitarian rescue mission.

Network creativity in Dundee: Mass Assembly 2016 #Mass16

Mass Assembly 2016Last Thursday, 26 May 2016, I headed up from Edinburgh to Dundee to Mass Assembly 2016. It was an early start, but the wonderful Scottish climate offers about 20 hours of daylight at the moment. That’s plenty enough to check on the new Forth crossing: looking good just now.

The whole event was devised and built around collaborations, networks, hubs and partnerships in the creative and cultural sector. I went along because of my interests in networks, as well as general support for Creative Edinburgh (one of the delivery partners). They worked alongside Creative Dundee to bring it all together. In the audience were those representing lots of other networks and organisations. A network of networks, a hub of hubs. All very meta.

The following notes lack much narrative. Rather than try to piece together the whole day, I have opted to copy and paste my bullet point notes. For further coverage of the day, please see the Storify constructed by Creative Dundee.

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Mass Assembly

26 May 2016, Dundee

Opening: Gillian E and Janine M

  • Setting out basis for the day, ref to ‘creative cities’ project that linked cities across Scotland.
  • Thanks to British Council and their support.
  • Notes boundaries that prevent people working together, including visas (in today’s case).

 

Session one

Canan Marasligil: Translation as a bridge

  • Discusses language (her personal journey) and translation.
  • Translation relying on networks, and translation can help build communities.
  • Project 1: #cityintranslation
  • Project 2: Spectacular Translation Machine. An activity based environment in which people translate materials (pictures) into their own words.
  • Highlights importance of networks for freelancers.

Josyane Franc: Creating the opportunities to engage the wider population (Saint-Etienne)

  • Links between Dundee and Saint-Etienne: both the first UNESCO City of Design in their countries.
  • Key stakeholders in network:
    • Buildings: concert hall, administrative institutions
    • S-E School of Art and Design
    • Cite du Design 2009: festival held in former arms factory, in the heart of the city
  • Process: took time to engage local people and administration
  • Local government: established ‘Design Manager’ position, to introduce design into planning of each new development in the city
  • La Manufacture: a creative district for the city, bringing designers, researchers, fab lab, companies, etc. – emphasis is on collaboration, within a focused built environment
  • Large scale project: involving residential, leisure and business environments
  • Future: national theatre due to open a space soon
  • Deliberate effort to publicise the network and the work it is doing
  • Important role of S-E biennale, which engaged local communities and other cities (international)
  • ’S-E changes design, and changes the idea of design’

Discussion: led by Clive Gillman

  • To create a community and a hub we need to think about: language, space, place, interactions…
  • Q: How do we describe a place?
    • A: The people. The people describe that place.
    • A: Ambassadors, at different levels, who play a part in the development of the city. From local politicians/authorities to activists.
  • Discussion led to urban/rural debate, including limits to what can be achieved in rural environments.
  • Digital: what can digital tools provide?
  • Real estate prices in urban centres can be astronomic, but still desired, yet workers are often remotely connected.
  • Libraries: what place libraries as a platform for social capital, knowledge, engagement, meetings, all parts of community brought together: making people feel comfortable in a space.

 

Session two

Steven Drost: Start ups and creatives – some thoughts / The live audit

  • The role of start ups, and start up culture, in the creative sector.
  • Start up culture is generally optimistic, but needs to be tempered by talking to communities and the people who will actually engage with them.
  • Lessons from start ups: iterate and improve; build a business around your ideas; work with pirates (not the navy).

 

Session three

Steve Hamm: The future belongs to crowds

  • Steve works for Swarm.
  • A trend towards a more crowd based approach.
  • Technology is taking us in this direction, allowing us to connect.
  • Economics too: the ‘firm’ operates to reduce transaction costs.
  • What of the connected world, where transaction costs are reducing, allowing for collaboration without the need for a firm.
  • Collaboration: necessary to collaborate with a diverse mix of characters.
  • The importance of meeting face to face.
  • Recording: important to track and capture the process and outcomes of a collaboration. Helps to produce something that can be shared.
  • Makes reference to SNA research into Broadway musicals: what’s the right balance between all new teams and those who are tired and stale with no means of introducing new ideas.
  • Uber: highlighted as a service that supports one group of users very well, but neglects others (e.g. the drivers). A need to develop a broader approach, of ‘user-centred’ or ‘community-centred’ design.

Alex Zacharias

  • From ‘August’ consultancy (New York).
  • ‘Responsive working’: encouraging companies to help businesses prepare for a new way of working. Large, old companies aren’t able to compete with newer ones, where they’ve been hamstrung by hierarchies and bureaucracies.
  • How to work with companies and individuals that don’t always see the need for change?
  • Key principles: open, learning, networked, iteration.

Discussion: led again by Clive Gillman

  • On ‘exploitation of intellectual property’: written into law that Creative Scotland works to support those who work with intellectual property. Yet also seen that many in the creative industries actually work with traditional means of activity: producing goods, etc.
  • A need for those who are being affected by collaborative work to be part of the process.
  • Super connectors: important in the development of communities, and can be found formally or informally; but can be important to look beyond these people in order to develop a broader understanding of the ways people might react to a particular project.
  • Embedding of artists and creatives within other sectors of the economy: what benefits can this bring?
  • Notes the importance of businesses working with creatives in order to reach creative solutions to problems: new ways of thinking can achieve breakthroughs, but it takes for the business to be open to new ideas and believing that they don’t have the solutions themselves.
  • Designers bring skills and superpowers to the table. Get yourself through the door!
  • Janine: notes use of ‘hot desk hangouts’ to get creative folk into organisations for a day, helping to show that creatives can have a place to work in that environment.
  • Nice section where different people stood up to talk about their projects and networks.

Scotland tour part four: the route we took, the places we stayed. #NC500 North Coast 500

Uig campingTo round off my travel journal of nine days in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, this post lists what Bob and I did each day, plus some costs. The opening post has links to Google Maps of the route, along with photos of the eastern and northern stretches. Part two covers Lewis and Harris, part three the return leg of Ballachulish and the West Highland Way. Planning the route started in earnest months before, in a London pizza restaurant, while we waited to attend at gig at The Roundhouse. After that we tinkered at the edges and there’s little we would add to the route, except more time perhaps to do more walks and visit more distilleries. Let me know if you’ve any questions about the trip (dsrjarman@gmail.com), and please do what you can to promote the North Coast 500! #NC500

(As it happens The Guardian is doing just that today, 23 August 2015.)

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Day 1: Saturday 8 August 2015. From Edinburgh to Contin. Distance: 201 miles (cumulative 201).

Activities: visited Glen Ord Distillery. Dinner: Coul House Hotel (excellent service and food). Overnight: Riverside Chalets campsite (basic facilities; lovely setting).

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Day 2: Sunday 9 August 2015. From Contin to Golspie; Golspie to Wick. Distance: 104 miles (305).

Activities: took the bus from Golspie to Brora and walked back, seeing seals and a stone age dwelling (6 miles); visited Dunrobin Castle for falconry display, croquet and aristocratic artefacts.  Breakfast: improvised yoghurt and fruit. Dinner: No 1 Bistro (slow service, excellent food). Overnight: Wick Caravan and Camping Site (good facilities; lovely setting, a short walk from town).

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Day 3: Monday 10 August 2015. From Wick to Durness, via John o’ Groats, Dunnet Head and Strathey Point. Distance: 157 miles (462).

Activities: visited John o’ Groats (furthest NE) and Dunnet Head (furthest N); back to Wick to visit Old Pulteney Distillery; walked to Strathey Point light house and around; drove across the top of Scotland. Breakfast: The Storehouse (friendly and tasty, great setting at John o’ Groats). Dinner: Sango Sands Oasis Restaurant and Bar (busy pub, good food). Overnight: Sango Sands Oasis Campsite (good facilities and easy to pitch; local beach).

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Day 4: Tuesday 11 August 2015. From Durness to meet the boat to Cape Wrath, and back. Distance: 5 miles (467).

Activities: took the boat and minibus to Cape Wrath Lighthouse (furthest mainland NW), walked south from there to Sandwood Bay and on to Blairmore (21 miles, including four burn crossings); minibus/taxi back to find the car. Breakfast: Mackay’s (excellent service and great food). Dinner: Sango Sands Oasis Restaurant and Bar (busy pub, good food). Overnight: Sango Sands Oasis Campsite (good facilities and easy to pitch; local beach).

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Day 5: Wednesday 12 August 2015. From Durness to Uig (on Lewis), via Drumbeg, Stoer lighthouse, Ullapool, Stornoway. Distance: 144 miles (611).

Activities: visited Durness craft village, including Cocoa Mountain chocolatiers; Drumbeg for cake, including a 25% gradient descent; bog walking around the lighthouse; ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway (Calmac), including a visit from the Stornoway Coastguard helicopter; dusk arrival at Uig Sands. Breakfast: Mackay’s (excellent service and great food). Dinner: on the ferry (tasty and filling). Overnight: Uig Sands Campsite (isolated and stunning setting; excellent facilities).

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Day 6: Thursday 13 August 2015. From Uig to Stornoway (on Lewis), via Callanish and Hushinish. Distance: 120 miles (731).

Activities: stunning morning on Uig Sands beach; visited Callanish Standing Stones and accompanying gallery; coastal walk at Hushinish (5 miles; furthest W), including the same helicopter; in Stornoway in time for dinner. Breakfast: improvised yoghurt and fruit. Dinner: The Park Guest House (quiet restaurant that stops serving at 19:00; excellent food). Overnight: The Park Guest House (quiet hotel; excellent en suite facilities).

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Day 7: Friday 14 August 2015. From Stornoway to Armadale (on Skye), via Ullapool and Applecross. Distance: 186 miles (917).

Activities: ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool (Calmac; no helicopters); fish and chips in Ullapool; coast road to Applecross Inn; Applecross Pass from east to west; Skye Bridge; night time arrival at bed and breakfast. Breakfast: The Park Guest House (very good). Lunch: The Chippy, Ullapool (excellent). Dinner: Kishorn Seafood Bar (excellent, informal, professional). Overnight: Morar Bed and Breakfast (very friendly, excellent facilities).

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Day 8: Saturday 15 August 2015. From Armadale to Ballachulish, via Mallaig (on the mainland), Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor. Distance: 83 miles (1,000).

Activities: quick dash across the bottom of Skye to see the Cuillin range; ferry from Armadale to Mallaig (Calmac); drove the A830 and A82 ‘Road to the Isles’ through Glen Coe, Glenfinnan, Rannoch Moor and down to Ballachulish; sea kayaking, arranged through hotel; drank whisky in hotel library. Breakfast: Morar B&B (excellent). Dinner: Ballachulish Hotel (excellent and filling, stunning view over loch). Overnight: Ballachulish Hotel.

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Day 9: Sunday 16 August 2015. From Ballachullish to Bridge of Orchy; Bridge of Orchy to Edinburgh. Distance: 138 miles (1,138).

Activities: drove to Bridge of Orchy Hotel; Citylink coach to Inverarnon Village; walked back to Bridge of Orchy via West Highland Way path (19 miles); home to Edinburgh via Stirling. Breakfast: Ballachulish Hotel (very good, buffet style). Lunch: The Real Food Cafe, Tyndrum (slow service, good food). Overnight: home.

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Total cost was about £1,600, split between two. If we hadn’t eaten so well just about every night that would have been lower. Camping for five nights was very cheap, then three nights not camping was less so. Sea kayaking cost £40 per person. The car was very reasonable: £207 to hire for nine days, plus £138 in diesel – granted they upgraded us from a Ford Focus to a BMW 330d! Calmac ferries for two people and one car were: £136 for Ullapool to Stornoway return; £34 for Armadale to Mallaig one way. Citylink was about £7.50 each.

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Finally, here are some tweets I sent while travelling.

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Links to the three main journal entries:

Scotland tour part three: Ullapool, Applecross, Skye, West Highland Way, home. #NC500

West Highland WayOne of the inspirations for this whole trip was for Bob and I to plug a gap in the West Highland Way. We walked most of it in July 2010, accompanied by friends for some of the southern stretches and tired limbs by the time we got to Fort William. Time was against us back then though so we skipped a bit (by bus), and it has taken us five years to join the dots between Inverarnan and Bridge of Orchy. More on that below, though as you can see from the first photo we had more fine weather along the way.

Part one of this journal covers Edinburgh to Ullapool, via the very top of Scotland. Part two is from a short but memorable trip to Lewis and Harris. Part four has daily route listings. In this final stretch we headed back to Scotland, taking the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool and then driving south. The winding coastal road led us to the Skye Bridge for a single night and quick look at the Cuillin range from a distance: we’ll be back for them one day. Then a glorious ferry and car ride, down through Glen Coe and on to Ballachulish. The West Highland Way trek came on the final day, before a final push for home.

Just to show that it wasn’t always sunny on our trip, these photos show the harsh conditions through which we had to make some kind of headway. Note the ethereal wispy clouds, the atmospheric islands in the mist. Witness Bob’s harsh weather gear as he manfully sinks a pint at The Applecross Inn (and the guy in shorts at the next table). Speaking of the Inn, we know it to be an iconic landmark for those making their way around this part of the west coast. Our short stop coincided with (as I recall) a joint 60th birthday party that was bringing people from far and wide. Space inside was at a premium and it was quite the culture shock from the previous week on the road. The bar had the dimensions and carrying capacity of a London tube train at rush hour.

No matter, for this was merely the entrée for the ‘Applecross Pass’: a road up and over the hills and one of a few on our route that has its own Wikipedia page. There you will find it under its Gaelic name, Bealach na Bà, taken from the pass it crosses at the top. The Wiki page notes that this is Scotland’s third highest road with alpine style hairpin bends to wind its way up (and down) the hillside. With my eyes firmly focused on the road ahead, I couldn’t help noticing the ‘miles to empty’ fuel gauge dropping rapidly as we ascended: climbing 1 in 5 gradients is not particularly fuel efficient! We reached the top, in fairly thick cloud, then dropped down the far side towards Tornapress. My advice to anyone heading this way is to choose a BMW, with a three litre engine and an automatic gear box. Failing that, don’t try to rush it and you’ll be fine. The barriers along the side of the single track road are a helpful reminder not to go over the edge, some mental cushioning to guide your way. It also helps to have spent several days on single track roads. Context is all and (whisper it) Bob and I didn’t reach the levels of anxiety we were half expecting, giving the prior warnings we’d received. We’ll have to return when the skies are clear, there’s a dusting of snow on the ground and we don’t have air conditioned luxury to cocoon us.

Having come down from the stratosphere time was ticking to get to our bed and breakfast on Skye, but when you’re feeling a little hungry and a delightful seafood restaurant appears out of the mist, what can you do? Excellent mussels, squat lobsters and other treats were consumed at the Kishorn Seafood Bar (with a member of the House of Lords at the only other occupied table), before we crossed the Skye Bridge and found our way to the Morar B&B.

The next morning gave us just enough time to cross the bottom of Skye to catch a glimpse of the Cuillin range, though the tops were shrouded in cloud. We had spectacular weather for the ferry crossing from Skye to Mallaig on the mainland – some of these photos show just how clear the water is on the west coast. Then one of the finest drives of the whole trip, down the A830 and A82 from Mallaig to Ballachulish, through Glen Coe, past the Glenfinnan Viaduct, across Rannoch Moor and onwards. This is another road on here and here. You really should make the trip one day, in both directions.

The village of Ballachulish sits near a narrowing of Loch Leven, where it meets Loch Linnhe. The Ballachulish Hotel was our final overnight stay, so we felt duty bound to make the most of our stay. Kayaking on the loch (taking in a mussel farm and a salmon farm), fine food, and drop or two of whisky. The photos will do a better job than my words of persuading you to pay it a visit.

And so came our final day on the road. The small matter of a 19 mile walk from Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy, along that missing stretch of the West Highland Way, was a fitting climax to an excellent week. Sad times though, as it became apparent that 12 years of service by my walking boots was at an end: Cape Wrath had been their final journey and no amount of emergency glue was going to fix that. We also established that we really hadn’t done enough to play about with the panoramic feature on my phone: here’s Bob, twice, on another sunny day.

There’s something good and wholesome about seeing a country at ground level, particularly if it’s under your own steam. Plugging this gap means we have now walked from Glasgow to Inverness, in stages. The walk itself was all rather glorious, polishing off the 19 miles in a little over six hours (plus food stops). Every hundred yards brought another photo opportunity – Scotland is a stunning place. The mix of ancient landscapes, carved by glaciers, with old stone bridges, modern farming techniques, a variety of forests, winding roads and pathways that have followed the same trails for generations… it was a privilege to see and to be a part of.

Thank you for reading!

Scotland tour part two: Ullapool to Lewis and back again. #NC500

Ferry rides… they come and go, one crossing much like the next I should think, apart from Stornoway Coastguadchanges in weather conditions. But that’s without counting on the Stornoway Coastguard to drop by. Purely a training exercise they said, nothing much to see here. Well, being easily entertained Bob and I loved it. We were also impressed: well done the Coastguard. As the boat charged along the helicopter arrived from downwind, kept pace for about 15 minutes as its crew discussed where they might drop someone, then went ahead and did just that. He swung around above the waves for a while, then was gently set down on the boat’s stern, followed by a stretcher. Both were then picked up (the stretcher still empty: nothing to see here, remember), and off they went. Amazing stuff and hopefully a fixture now on all Ullapool to Stornoway crossings. The ferry itself was pretty new, introduced this summer. Good food, a great viewing room in the bows, friendly staff and some impressive car loading. (Plus a helicopter. You got that, right?)

This is the second post covering an August 2015 tour of Scotland, with part one here and part three here. The fourth post provides daily route information. We only had two nights on Lewis and Harris (they’re one island) as a side mission from our drive around the North Coast 500. We loved the island though, so it gets a post of its own, with plenty of photos. First up, a dusk drive across to the Atlantic west coast, with views like this:

Isle of Lewis

 

We were heading to Uig sands, which was beginning to sound mythical and mystical thanks to the lack of information on it: little on the internet, few clues from the road signs. We got there though, as confirmed by a four year girl (and her father) who had pitched the only other tent. The wind was getting up, the light was fading, but the situation looked agreeable and the whisky tasted good. The next morning brought more good news – click on the photos if you’d like to see larger images.

Simply stunning.

The facilities were also excellent. If you’re anywhere nearby, and you can find yourself a pitch out of the wind, get yourself here. (Constant wind meant nae midges for us.)

Onwards, to Callanish and its standing stones. The visitor experience here is nicely balanced, with the stones themselves left to commune in relative isolation, as their guests wander between them and gather their thoughts. Close by are Harris Tweed hats (courtesy of the shop), excellent sausage rolls (via the cafe), and local art from Ivor MacKay’s studio. We made purchases from all three.

We kept being told about the terrible weather they have been having this summer. Not for the first time we felt lucky for the glorious sunshine we were getting. Driving south, into Harris, was a beautiful experience for this. Single track roads much of the way of course, but plenty of waved thanks as one car pauses for another to pass.

Onwards, then, to a place called Hushinish. The settlement was very small, but over the crest of a summer meadow we followed a walk that took us up high over the coast of a sea loch where we could look across to the island of Scarp. Around the corner and there were sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, that (rather repetitive) helicopter again, boggy stretches and more stunning views.

Lewis and Harris deserve repeat visits! Thank you also to the Park Guest House for some excellent food, and a first night’s sleep under a solid roof that didn’t rustle in the wind.

The third episode in our tour diary will cover the final two nights, from Ullapool to Skye to Ballachulish and a glorious final day walking part of the West Highland Way. Meanwhile, a few more photos of a noisy helicopter and some quiet tents.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in practice: a morning’s reflection with students from HKU SPACE. #edfringe

Centre Of The ActionTomorrow morning, 20 August, I’ll be with twenty students from Hong Kong University SPACE for three hours. They have been in Edinburgh and Scotland over the past couple of weeks, and our task tomorrow is to discuss their experiences, particularly in relation to the Festival Fringe. Rather that producing a few dozen slides to keep us ‘entertained’, I’ll be armed with marker pens, boundless enthusiasm and some useful links. Where better to host those links than on this here blog, which I’m also going to put up on the screen during the session… hello HKU!

All suggestions gratefully received! The focus will be on practical and operational considerations, with some historical context to help show how and why things developed the way they have. We’ll go through a year in the life of the Fringe and some of its key stakeholders.

There’ll also be time for some group discussion, around questions like…

  1. Which have been your favourite festival shows and venues? What did you like about them and what made them special?
  2. Which shows had the best marketing and why did they stand out to you?
  3. What makes Edinburgh a ‘festival city’?
  4. What will you take back to Hong Kong: what have you seen happening in Edinburgh that could be done in Hong Kong? What would be the challenges in making it work?

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Photo credit (CC): ‘Centre Of The Action’ / flickr.com/photos/dfluff/3889328855/

Scotland tour part one: North Coast 500 and Cape Wrath. #NC500

For nine days, and eight nights, in August 2015 I drove, walked, ferried, ate and drank my way around Scotland with an old school friend, Bob Burgoyne. After nearly 18 years of living north of the border it was about time I got to some of the furthest corners of the country. With Bob and I having walked through many miles of Scottish countryside in recent years we set about seeing a bit more of the place at ground level.

Over this and two subsequent blog posts I’ve some notes and photos from our trip:

  • Part one (below): Edinburgh to Ullapool, including two distilleries, Dunrobin Castle, John o’ Groats, the north coast, Cape Wrath, and Sandwood Bay. (Rough route on Google Maps.)
  • Part two: Ullapool to Lewis by ferry, Uig sands, Callanish standing stones, Hushinish, and Stornoway for the return ferry trip. (Google Maps.)
  • Part three: Ullapool, Applecross, Bealach Na Bà (Applecross Pass), Skye, the ferry to Mallaig, the Road to the Isles, Ballachulish, the West Highland Way (Inverarnon to Bridge of Orchy), and home. (Google Maps.)
  • Part four: this final post has daily route information – distances covered, the campsites and accommodation we used, and some of the places we ate at.

This all comes at a time when the ‘North Coast 500’ is getting some attention. This is 500+ mile circuit, as described on the official website (www.northcoast500.com). We covered much of the same ground, though without closing the loop from Applecross over to Inverness. As the site says this is ‘Scotland’s answer to Route 66, the new scenic route showcasing the fairy tale castles, beaches and ruins’. Hard to argue with that. Other blogs to cover large parts of the route include those by Miss Smidge and Julie’s This International Life. An online search will provide plenty of mainstream media coverage of the route, including Mark Beaumont’s successful attempt to cycle it all in one go (maybe we passed him en route).

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The car hire place had to upgrade us, and despite protestations we were forced to do the journey in a BMW 330d automatic. You’ll see it from time to time in the photos, covering some of our 1,144 miles. The total fuel bill was £138, which could have been lower if we hadn’t been on single track roads for about half the time! The automatic gear box really came good on those roads, with a lot of stopping and starting, tight corners, oncoming traffic and the ups and downs of putting roads through the wilderness. North Coast 500

Our first night was at the Riverside Campsite in Contin. Handy for the Glen Ord Distillery, it was also a short stroll from the Coul House Hotel, where we had our first luxury meal of the trip (with many more of them to come). Such has been the way of things on our trips north from the central belt, that a sparsity of places to eat is broken by somewhere absolutely amazing, serving wonderful local food.

North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500The beach in the early photos is between Golspie and Brora: we drove to the former, took the bus to the latter, then walked back. Yes, there’s a #sealfie amongst the photos, with about 50 seals in that group. There were others around, singing away to each other. Also spotted, an ancient settlement, and the slightly more modern Dunrobin Castle. Despite some misgivings about handing over money to the wealthy for the privilege of seeing their house, we really enjoyed the Castle. Admittedly that had much to do with the gardens, with their croquet (Bob won 3-1) and falconry display (eagles, falcones and owls).

And then onwards, across the north coast. John o’ Groats was seen and a hearty breakfast enjoyed (before nipping back to take in the Old Pulteney Distillery, in Wick). Dunnet Head was visited (in a hurry, it being the most northerly point on the mainland). Orkney was viewed across the water (and its beer enjoyed later that evening). Strathy Point made for an excellent walk, out to one of several light houses that we came into contact with. The pictures really don’t do justice to the power and majesty of the waves around this part of the coast. Very remote, with steep, high cliffs that drop away to natural arches and caves. As you can see plenty of natural flora too, and sunshine. The sun gave way to rain as we reached Durness, our campsite for two nights. Before pitching the tents we gave way to beer and pool in the bar, then made out homes between showers. It all worked rather well.

Cape Wrath: this time the top left corner, having ticked off the top right the day before. Cape Wrath is remote and access is limited, requiring a short drive to the ferry, which turns out to be a small boat with an outboard, that gets you to a waiting minibus. The minibus crawls its way along roads that have suffered in recent really bad weather (where normal ‘bad’ is 140mph gusts), and passes through various military checkpoints. We’re informed that NATO come here twice a year, to practise with their helicopter gunships and whatever else they fancy using. We didn’t get a return trip though, oh no. From the light house we struck out south on foot, making our way across 20 miles of open country, peat bog, heather, sheep hills and the occasional river. Three times we had to search for a way to cross rivers that really couldn’t have cared less if we were there or not, tumbling as they did over rocks and waterfalls. The fourth and final river was down at the beach: a broad sweep of loch water flowing out to sea. But what a beach, for this was Sandwood Bay and an iconic sweep of sand across a mile of Atlantic coast. As you can see from the photo, tiredness and relief were evident on our faces. Getting back to Durness and the pub was no mean feat: we arrived at the nearest village Blairmore (4 miles away) just in time to catch the taxi that we had sort-of arranged. Another few minutes and he would have gone, leaving us to figure out how to make the 20-30 mile journey home along the circuitous road. (Click the images for a better view.)

 

Tiredness brought a decent night’s sleep, followed by a second excellent breakfast at Mackay’s guest house: we thoroughly recommend this place for food and shelter. Then a cruise down to Ullapool, via another bog-sodden walk, more flora and a light house or two. A near faultless start to the trip, with only my walking boots suffering lasting damage (more of that to come in part three).

North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500North Coast 500 Cape Wrath