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!

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