We expected this to be another day of narrow twisting roads punctuated by stops to take in stunning views. It was that and more. I had included Applecross, our destination for tonight, because the North Coast 500 site that Charles had sent me to when I was planning mentioned that Applecross was accessed via the highest road pass in Britain. I reasoned that we did not need to cross it twice, in and out, so we should take another route in. That was the Wester Ross Coastal Trail.
Breakfast at our motel was served from 8:00 am so we were seated soon after that time. Cereal, yoghurt, coffee, and toast with spreads were available and orders were taken for cooked breakfast. Majella just had fried eggs. I had the full deal including black pudding and tattie scone (like a hash brown from mashed potato) along with egg, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, tomato, and baked beans. I was fuelled for the day but I’m not sure I will repeat the black pudding experience.
We were on the road by 9:00 am with a brief pause to visit an ATM on the way out of town. The quickest route from Ullapool to Applecross should take about 2 hours over 140 km. We planned to take a longer, slower and more scenic route. The sky this morning was mostly blue with a few scattered clouds and rolls of white cloud hanging on the mountain tops. We were not able to go very far without stopping for photographs. That became the pattern of the day with frequent stops necessary to try to capture some of what we saw.
Our route went up the Loch Broom from Ullapool and down the next valley until we met Little Loch Broom, another sea loch, at Dundonnell. It was not yet 10:00 am and too early for coffee after a late breakfast so we stopped for photos and a walk around before driving on. Toward the open end of the loch we gained some height and a view up, down and across the loch which is surrounded by rounded boulder hills.
About 30 minutes later we stopped for coffee at Oran Na Mara in Drumchork near Aultbea. The café is a large room in a home with two holiday flats upstairs and is run but a husband and wife who made good coffee served with tasty shortbread. The café overlooks Loch Ewe and after coffee we drove on to the end of the loch, across a peninsula to Gairloch, back across country and along the western edge of Loch Maree.
We stopped briefly at the Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre where we learned something of the geology of the region. There were short and long walks on offer but we were not inclined to risk the midges, some of which had taken an interest as we arrived. We drove on down another valley toward Torridon. Along that road we were impressed by towering peaks that were made of layers of rock that appeared as rectilinear prisms rather than rounded boulders. At times both kinds appeared on opposite sides of the valley or occasionally one on top of the other. The forces that operated over millions of years to form layers of sediment under an ocean and then raise it to the tops of mountains must have been massive.
A little way beyond Torridon we stopped at Shieldag for lunch at the Tigh an Eilann pub. Majella had cauliflower and broccoli soup. I had ham and salad sandwiches with cider, as she was driving.
We could have shortened our trip a little by going south from there but instead went west around the scenic coastal route and were treated to a series of spectactular views of mountains, sea lochs, and islands. The road was narrow and dotted with passing spaces which most drivers use effectively but some insist on having the road to themselves. Occasionally it was necessary to slow to avoid sheep and at one point our path was almost blocked by a small group of highland cattle. Majella squeezed us by with little room to spare.
As we approached Applecross our views to the west and south were of the mountainous islands off the coast. By that time it was overcast and the views were not as clear as we would have liked but the cloud added an air of mystery.
We arrived at our accommodation, Hartfield House, at about 2:30 pm. It is a hostel (YHA style) and the notice on the door indicated that reception was attended from 5:00 pm until 10:00 pm. That left us with some time to fill.
We drove the short extra distance to town to have coffee and hot chocolate at the outdoor area operated by the Applecross Inn. There were a few houses a little way down the road so we walked in that direction until we saw a sign for a shop about a mile further on. We walked back and drove there to collect breakfast basics. While in the area we visited a photographic gallery we had seen advertised on a sign.
With more than an hour still to fill we found the Walled Garden and spent some time wandering there. At one point we saw some tall plants with heads topped by large purple tufts and assumed they must be giant thistles until Majella realised they were globe artichokes. The garden had a variety of other plants, edible and decorative, surrounded by a high stone wall. It also had a restaurant that offered a dinner alternative to the Inn and another we had seen in town.
From the garden we went to the heritage centre but by then it was 4:30 pm and we discovered it had closed at 4:00 pm. We wandered the graveyard by the nearby church for a bit before heading for our hostel where we arrived just before 5:00 pm. A young woman arrived soon after and we were able to access our room. It is better than fine for the price but the shared bathroom is less welcome. There were few or no alternatives when I tried to book months ago.
For dinner we went back to the restaurant at the walled garden. I had pizza, covered with shredded chicken and pieces of bacon and chorizo, with a glass of Montepulciano. Majella had the prawns with a glass of rosé. When the prawns arrived, complete with tools for cracking and extracting, she looked at the plate and was amazed by their size. Then she noticed a large claw and thought there must also be crab. There was no crab, just prawns with large claws. I wondered if they might be mutations courtesy of the British nuclear program. Majella attacked them with gusto and finished with a look that brought to mind Meg Ryan’s diner performance in When Harry Met Sally. She seemed well satisfied but we followed the mains with a shared platter of Scottish cheeses, oatmeal crackers, chutney and grapes. Dinner there is recommended.
Then it was back to our hostel room to sort ourselves out and prepare for another day.