I love Scotland, and I prefer to spend holiday time here on native soil than abroad. I’m not a “city break” kind of guy, and am at my most affable when ambling about amongst natural spectacles, so I could easily spend my days simply exploring the landscapes that are practically on my doorstep. With my week of leave finally here, it was time to venture further afield than ever before and explore some of the wild spaces and coastlines that the north of Scotland had to offer.
Hopeful of decent weather, I decided to saddle up the little MX5 convertible rather than the workhorse Panda 4×4, although this did mean packing creatively to maximise the diminutive boot space. With everything squashed in, the plan was to head north and travel the North Coast 500 route, a fantastic long-distance tour around the extremes of Scotland. Some of the western route I have already done, including the area around Applecross and Gareloch and the stretch from Inverness to Ullapool, so we made a beeline for Ullapool – this being the most northerly point in Scotland I had visited to date. Every mile I drove or step I took north of here was the furthest north I had ever been in my home country, and I was quite excited!
The first stretch north was quite a familiar run, through the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National park before heading along Glen Coe, both quality destinations in their own right – next time! The road wound further north then west towards the Kyle of Lochalsh (ignoring the temptation of signs proclaiming a scant few miles to the Isle of Skye) and past probably the most famous Scottish castle of Eilan Donan.
I skipped the loop towards Applecross and the famous (infamous?) Bealach na Ba, the Pass of the Cattle, and it’s twisting hairpin ascent which I had also visited. I did stop to take in the view at Loch Loyne, west of Invergarry. It’s one of the finest sights I think you can find, and it looked particularly impressive earlier in the year when there was still a lot of snow on the mountains.
Similarly. I bypassed the northwest stretch to Gareloch, past Loch Maree and the imposing sight of Slioch mountain, which I had enjoyed in February after a whale-watching visit.
After a dinner in Ullapool, a leisurely south-eastern drive took us onto the A837 road, twenty-five miles of winding single track that wove through moorland and lochside. The sky glowed pink on the horizon ss the sun lowered behind the distinctive hump of Suilven mountain,
I thoroughly enjoyed this road, although the guidebooks would have you believe the single-track roads of northern Scotland are hellish. If you take your time you get to enjoy the roads and the scenery, and can keep yourself and other critters safe – as dusk fell I spotted a pine marten dashing across the road ahead of me, and as the destination hotel at Dingwall neared, a tawny owl – perched stoically by the roadside – burst into activity as I approached and flew over the car. The sunset was incredible, and if the shepherd’s proverb is right, then it was an encouraging sign of fair weather for the second leg tomorrow!
The Undiscovered Scotland website gives some excellent travel and safety advice for negotiating the single-tracks of the Scotland wilderness.
Day 1 – Road trip total: 302 miles