All good things come to an end and that includes our first ever experience of glamping, here at Durness. Glamping? Yes, even though we were staying inside a modern day shepherd’s hut, it qualifies as glamping. No yurts here, or big tents with all mod cons.
Part funded by the European Union. I wonder what you’d have to do to join such an organisation. We couldn’t bid farewell to our host Sandra because, overnight, she had to take her husband to hospital. In Inverness. Let’s hope he recovers soon, that’s a long way from home. Many of the photos today will be of the spectacular highlands scenery. There are not enough superlatives to describe the place. It’s big, it’s stunning, it’s almost overwhelming.
We thought we’d fill our flasks with hot chocolate. But, the first disappointment of the day was finding that Cocoa Mountain is closed on Mondays. And so to Ullapool, about 90 miles south. We didn’t stop at Smoo Cave in the end, we just pointed the car in the right direction and followed the one-lane road with passing places.
It was bright and sunny but quite windy. The further south we drove, the warmer it became and the wind died down a bit too. But looking at the scenery genuinely does put real life into perspective. These mountains will still be here long after our current inept government has been forgotten.
During the day, I was reminded of a few works of art that have entertained us over the decades. Here at Keoldale for instance is the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There were very few trees and bushes, which I think makes the landscape appear more rugged. Plenty of sheep and lambs around but we realised that other than on warning signs, we haven’t seen any deer yet. Then we saw on Twitter that that bloke from Location, Location, Location has been shooting them all.
This could easily be somewhere dark and menacing from Lord of the Rings.
We stopped briefly near Scourie. From about this point, the road had two lanes including white lines down the middle. It’s funny how you get used to using passing places, you miss them when there aren’t any more.
This selfie was taken from Kylestrome, looking over, we think, Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. Sometimes, we just don’t know exactly where we are, which is a shame.
You’re driving along, gasping at every new vista, and suddenly, even something manmade can jump out, someting with a ‘wow’ factor.
This bridge should look out of place, but it really fits in, as minimalist as a bridge can be, not attempting to draw attention from what nature has to offer.
Everywhere you look, there is something stunning, almost out of this world. The next scene took us back to New Zealand.
Nothing to do here except wait for the slow one at the back to catch up.
We pulled into laybys a couple of times, just to look around. Sometimes there’s a map. Here’s a tip to whoever produces these maps: please don’t put South at the top. We’re all used to North at the top. There’s no good reason for it, other than to wreak havoc and cause confusion amongst visitors and tourists.
Lunch was taken by the cool, clear waters of Loch Assynt.
Another couple stopped at about the same time as us, and, being British, we each complimented the weather and engaged no further in conversation.
From our picnic position, we could look over at Ardvreck Castle. Why didn’t we stop and have a closer look at the castle? Mainly because everybody else had.
Closer to our picnic site though was what’s left of Calda House, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
It doesn’t look like there’s enough rubble there to rebuild the other two walls, so I suspect a lot of the stone has been recycled into other buildings.
Did I mention Lord of the Rings? Well, we found a place called Elphin. In fact, we stopped at Elphin Tearooms for coffee and cake, and sure enough, all the locals have pointy, elfin ears.
Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve is just a short distance along the road and by the time we arrived, we were well fortified, full of beans and ready to go. Why? Because the elfin barista made non-decaffeinated coffee for us by mistake, and it would have been churlish for us to reject it. We just tweaked her ears instead.
If you’re interested in geology, this is the place to come. So many different kinds of rock to study but first, we looked at the deer much higher up the hill, behind a fence unfortunately, but it was exciting to finally see some in the wild.
No, I don’t know if Spot is really his name.
The rocks here have been accumulating for over a billion years.
There is a beautiful hike here up to the top of the crag. There are slopes and steps made from the local rocks, and the whole track is reassuringly solid. Hard to believe that the views can become even more spectacular as you climb, but they really do take your breath away.
The geological history of Scotland over 600 million years is fascinating. It’s certainly moved about over the millennia.
Inevitably some people will look at 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled Scotland, and they’ll think, huh, nothing’s changed then. Not us, of course.
Up and up we go, stopping to look around every so often.
It was hard work climbing some of these steps, plus it was a lovely warm day. We certainly felt like we were getting to know the crag. It’s high and mighty and again, makes you realise that something like not having a wifi signal is not really a big problem in the great scheme of things. Not having a 4G signal here though, what a disaster. Here’s a tip: if you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no realistic chance of acquiring a 4G signal, put your phone into aeroplane mode, otherwise it’ll drain the battery as it keeps searching for non-existent radio signals.
There came a time when we had to turn back. A number of factors combined to help us make the decision. I felt bad about not going any further with Liesel, but she said she was beginning to feel uncomfortable too:
- I’ve never been too keen on heights, and I suddenly realised I was too high, well outside my comfort zone;
- It was surprisingly hot, even at this altitude, and we’d brought no water with us;
- After some short flights of steps, my legs were shaking, and taking a couple of minutes to recover;
- Similarly, I was getting a bit out of breath;
- Even though we wanted to climb to the top, we just couldn’t see how much further there was to go.
Do something scary every day, they say, and this was quite scary for a while. Really glad we got as far as we did, though, it was a physical challenge and the view from such a great height was definitely rewarding. Photos just can’t give a realistic idea of the scale of it all. But they’re a great reminder of a fabulous adventure.
Another surprise was seeing this homage to the Alaska pipeline.
And here we are, back in ‘civilisation’. Ullapool always reminds me of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, because the Martians’ death cry is ‘Ulla’. (Sorry, spoilers.) We’ve been in the footsteps of Susan Calman to a certain extent, as featured in the TV series Secret Scotland. She tells the story of when she went on holiday as a child, with her parents, in a campervan. The only cassette they had to play in the van was War of the Worlds. Where was I? Oh yes, back in civilisation. How do we know? There are way too many people in the streets of Ullapool. Plus, there are double yellow lines on the roads.
This clock is the lovechild of Cogsworth and Lumiere from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
We wandered down to the harbour to watch people. So many to choose from. One family group were putting on their waterproofs, about to embark on a hair-raising, fast, boat ride. This guy from the Orkney Islands was very busy mending ropes.
Well, I hope his name is George, but I didn’t ask. (I did ask if I could take his picture.) He loves it here in Ullapool, but he’d rather be reading a book and looking at the view.
We found our accommodation, Ceilidh Place, hotel, bar and restaurant, bookshop. After settling in, we went for a walk and joined the queue (yes, a queue) outside the chip shop. We took away our supper and ate al fresco, on the grass opposite our place. Very nice, very tasty.
Now, back in our room, I’m writing, Liesel’s crocheting, I’m listening and Liesel’s (occasionally) watching the Tour de France. There is a family of seagulls outside, three cute, fluffy chicks, and we’re glad their parents haven’t yet told them how to steal chips from tourists.
What a beautiful day.