Welcome to the second part of my North Coast 500 photo trip starting this time from my overnight stop at Applecross. If you missed the start of this journey then I suggest you read Part One from Inverness to Applecross before returning to read about this stage.
Starting off from Applecross on a beautiful morning following the road around the peninsula I was treated to magnificent views across the Inner Sound to the Isles of Raasay, Rona and beyond the sunlit hills of the Isle of Skye before eventually arriving at Shieldaig.
After a short stop in Shieldaig, the road started to climb out of the village and I was almost immediately presented with a view across the inlet of Ob Mheallaidh (Deceitful Bay) on the southern shore of Upper Loch Torridon looking towards Beinn Alligin (Jewelled Mountain), Beinn Dearg (Red Mountain) and Liathach (The Grey One) all of which are over 3000 feet.
The Torridon Hills exhibit some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the British Isles, perhaps only surpassed in grandeur by The Cuillins on Skye. The rocks are made of Torridonian sandstone, some of which are crowned by white Cambrian quartzite. They are amongst the oldest rocks in Britain and sit on yet older rocks, Lewisian Gneiss.
Continuing along the road above Loch Torridon the day started to fall apart. Shortly after the stop to take in the view above I stopped again pulling on to some gravel to take more photos. Immediately I got out of the camper I heard the noise of air coming out of one of the tyres and within two minutes it was completely flat. My heart sank and I wondered how I was going to sort this out in such a remote location. Whilst I had a spare wheel/tyre trying to change it on the sloping gravel would be too dangerous. I thought my best option was to drive up the hill to try to find some level ground where it could be changed. Fortunately, I had better luck when I found a large layby only a few yards further at the top of the hill. Whilst trying to establish if anyone knew if there was a garage nearby I was fortunate enough to speak to a Scot who whilst not local offered to help to change the wheel. Offering to help was an understatement as he and his travelling companions, an Australian and their respective partners completed the job entirely themselves and in very quick time. If they ever come across this article, which I hope they do I would just like to thank them wholeheartedly for their help in getting me back on the road so quickly.
Whilst I could now move on I had to drive carefully as I needed to get the puncture repaired as soon as possible because the spare wheel could only be used in an emergency and was not suitable for driving long distances. The next village was Torridon where I had intended to take the side road and drive and walk to Diabaig a photo location I had on my list. I had already lost time and needed to get to my next overnight stop at Ullapool so any idea of further photo stops/walks had to be put out of my mind until I could get the puncture repaired. Driving on through Glen Torridon and being able to see the mountains clearer than I have ever done before lightened what had been a difficult morning.
Checking at a number of villages for someone to repair the puncture after almost 50 miles I eventually managed to find a garage. An hour or so later the puncture was repaired or was it, as the mechanic, who had found two punctures, said that when he had tried to inflate the tyre it started to bulge where one of the repairs had been done and he couldn’t refit the tyre. A new tyre was ordered and that was to be delivered to a garage in Ullapool by early afternoon the following day. Now the middle of the afternoon I pressed on to Ullapool.
Fortunately apart from the diversion to Diabaig and a couple of other locations I intended to visit I have on previous trips walked and photographed most spots that I was keen to complete. One from a previous trip is below and shows Loch Maree which I passed during my search for a garage.
After a night on the side of Loch Kanaird at Ardmair just north of Ullapool, I spent the morning strolling around Ullapool frustratingly waiting for my allocated time of 2 pm to get the new tyre fitted. When it did and after a further half-hour wait and them removing the spare wheel from the camper they told me that the new tyre had not arrived from Dingwall. Annoyed to say the least !! Eventually, a solution was found and the new tyre fitted by 5:30 pm and I was on my way again on the NC500. My next overnight stop was in Durness a two-hour seventy-mile drive away, which is nearer to Norway than it is to London, a considerable amount of which was on single track roads. Because of the distance and time of day, I had no alternative but to drive non stop to Durness, disappointingly missing out the Lochinver loop, and again omitting some of the planned locations I wanted to photograph. Like the previous day, fortunately, I had driven and photographed parts of the Lochinver route before. If you wish to see some photos of locations on the “missing loop” take a look in the Sutherland and Caithness gallery.
Needless to say, I was very disappointed with the events of the last 24/48 hours but on the bright side most of the time on the drive to Durness I had a clear road and favourable weather arriving at Durness just as day turned to night and allowing me to photograph the last rays of sunlight over the Kyle of Durness.
I’d arranged to stay two nights in Durness with the objective for day 3 of the trip to visit Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point on the British mainland and somewhere I had wanted to visit for some time. Access to Cape Wrath is challenging for many reasons including its remote location. There is only one road and it is separated from the main road network by the Kyle of Durness. The only way to access the road without hiking over moorland is by the Cape Wrath Ferry, a foot passenger only boat, which crosses the Kyle. You are then driven 11 miles, which takes an hour in a minibus across 100 square miles of moorland wilderness known as the Parph to get to Cape Wrath itself. The road was built in 1828 by the Lighthouse Commission and looks and feels as if it hasn’t seen much maintenance since. On my last visit to Durness in 2011, I didn’t manage to get across to Cape Wrath as the small ferry was not running due to stormy weather and the eruption of the Icelandic volcano. On this occasion, I was determined to make it and was first in the queue for the ferry at about 9:15 am even though it wasn’t sailing till 11 am due to the tides. It was a fantastic morning and I spent the time taking in the views across the Kyle and talking to a very pleasant couple who were completing the route on their respective motorbikes.
In the view below looking southwards across the Kyle, Beinn Spionnaidh dominates the skyline, and Foinaven is further away to the right. The Kyle is a coastal inlet which extends 5.5 miles inland from Balnakeil. The boat in the photo is not the one I went across in but as I was to find out later it was the one I came back over in !!
After the events of the last few days, I couldn’t have been any luckier with the weather for a visit to Cape Wrath and whilst you only get an hour to take a look round before the minibus/ferry return trip I did manage to find a reasonable spot for a photo of the infamous location. There is a small cafe at the lighthouse which I am sure is very welcome in less pleasant weather. Toilets are not available so if you plan to visit I suggest you “pay a call” before leaving Durness.
A highlight on the Cape is Kearvaig Bay which I would have liked to take a look around but the minibus timetable did not allow sufficient time, however, I did get the opportunity to take a photograph from the road. Kearvaig Bay is a spectacular white sandy beach which lies just to the west of the highest cliffs on the UK mainland and surrounded by rocks and sea stacks. Stack CloKearvaig has in recent years become known as the Cathedral. It has two spires at either end and a window can be seen in the centre just below the base of the two spires.
During the return minibus journey I was advised that this would be the last day of the season – how lucky was I – and that the passenger boat I had come over in had been taken out of the water due to approaching bad weather and that it would now be a 4 passenger boat being used on the return crossing. Fortunately being only 10 minutes and good weather it was acceptable although I wouldn’t have liked the suggestion in less favourable conditions especially with no life jackets to be seen. It was mid-afternoon by the time I was over the water and back on dry land and so I revisited Balnakeil Bay, another location that weather prevented me photographing on my last visit and on this occasion I also took the opportunity to complete what would be one of the few walks of this trip out to Faraid Head – seen in the distance below.
Finishing the day on a high certainly went some way to making up for the earlier disappointments and seems a good point to bring this episode to an end as tomorrow I move on again heading east along the north coast towards Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on mainland Britain.
Why not join me next time for what hopefully is a less eventful time, at least as far as transport is concerned. Read the final and concluding part to find out.