Day Four: Applecross to Lochinver

We woke to blue skies and bright sunshine …. only joking, it was raining! But the forecast said it would brighten up, and it did, so by the time we’d had another hearty breakfast the skies were beginning to clear. With the roof down and Scottish Pipes and Drums playing (yes, really, we bought a CD in Inverness!) we set off along the coast road, and what a road it was; so little traffic and good visibility ahead with stunning views to admire, driving heaven!

We rejoined the A896, yes, still single track in places, and here we met the first real traffic so our progress was slowed as we were in a convoy of vehicles stopping and starting through the passing places. When we finally turned off the A896 onto the A832 we were back onto a two carriageway road with fast sweeping bends, another great drive. Even when it too became single track it was wide and fast with good visibility so another enjoyable drive.

We passed Victoria Falls, another tourist spot on the route. I offered to stop but for some reason Angela declined, at least I think that’s what she meant!

The weather forecast was for light showers during the day, and they were right. With the roof down, as long as the rain isn’t too heavy, and you keep your speed up, you stay dry, though we did get a few funny looks from other cars! When stopped at Gairloch to admire the coastal views, the clouds hanging over the hills where we were heading looked very ominous, so we decided to play it safe and put the roof up, good call!

By the time we reached Ullapool the rain had stopped again. We had booked onto a cruise to see the local wildlife so we had a dry start although nature decided it didn’t want to play today; we saw some seals but no eagles or dolphins. The skipper did his best to keep us entertained with his encyclopaedic knowledge of seabirds, and the views around the Summer Isles were amazing, including an island community currently being rebuilt. On the return journey you could see the clouds and rain approaching so the skipper wisely steered around to miss the worst of it, and the sun was shining again by the time we moored back in Ullapool!

After lunch we completed our journey to Lochinver where our B&B was a former pub and bakery dating back 200 years, the first building in Lochinver. Renovated by the owners it still has some of it’s old charm, and our room overlooked the harbour.

Lochinver is a small community, so everywhere closes early, and the local restaurant was fully booked! Fortunately we found one shop still open so we dined in our room watching the boats in the harbour (actually, after eating in restaurants all week, it made a pleasant change!).

Today we covered 91 miles by road, and 30 nautical miles (35 miles) by sea, so 121 miles in total! Well, they all count don’t they?

THE LAST WORD: firstly a p.s. from yesterday, Andy said making whisky isn’t that difficult, it’s just distilled beer, so I am expecting him to be making moonshine in the garage using becks lager when we get home!

Today: The landscape is interesting in that it quickly changes from barren moors to lush pockets of ferns and trees, I ventured my option on why this is, I don’t think Andy bothered to listen after my fourth guess! Lots of sheep, some highland cattle, 1 Thelwell pony. Some roads, some mountains, some clouds, sea and lochs.

It was lovely to be out on a boat, I have told Andy that I want one that size and we can live on it, he said yes but I’m not convinced he really meant it! Andy couldn’t help himself and used his Sea GPS thingy app to track the boat and monitor the Captains driving, really?! The grey seals were lovely, one was waving to us, lols, they were sunbathing, they looked like dogs with no legs, so cute! We sat upstairs on the boat (max 8 people + a baby awwww) with two sets of older couples and the youngsters with the baby awwww, they braved the weather quite well although in the end it was just us and Richard from Keeping Up Appearances and his wife (not Hyacinth) left for the final approach, we sheltered under the cabin roof, Richard was determined to get his money’s worth from his new waterproof with hood and stayed in his chosen spot stoney faced despite the rain, wind and sea spray, as funny as a tv sitcom!

Lockinver is like France, shut! Even the Spar shuts at 18:30, I mean there’s nothing to do here what do they do in the evenings? Colin the B&B Landlord greeted us wearing old paint and oil covered clothes, I said ooh you look messy, what a mistake, he and Andy then had a four hour conversation about land rovers! Apparently he buys old dead ones and puts new bits in them…”what about the LD483xli56 24 tdi4? What a gearbox that had”…”do you know why it was nick named Lee? because the wing mirrors were based on Lee Evans ears” you get the idea! There’s a large soft sofa in the entrance hallway, I can only imagine it is for the poor women to sit on while their men talk about LRs!

The boat driving police!

The coast road from Applecross

Waiting for the cruise on the boat in the background

Seals!

Our B&B – The Old Bakery

Room with a view – and a fishing boat coming in

Fine dining!

Day Three: Inverness to Applecross

Who in their right mind would call a single track road with passing places an ‘A’ Road?! The Scots, that’s who, but more of that later.

Unfortunately on this occasion the weather forecasters had it just right, we woke to grey cloud and drizzly rain. But we weren’t going to let a bit of rain dampen our spirits, though it did mean we kept the Boxster’s roof up!

I dressed in a blue and red striped polo shirt, matching blue shorts and blue deck shoes …. well, we haven’t had a fashion update yet so I thought I’d get one in! Moving swiftly on ….

Our day started with a quick visit to the Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre just a short walk from the hotel. The presentation of differing tartan attire through the years, and the actual workshop where kilts were being hand sewn, made an interesting impression, but it was the video presentation with a rendition of ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers?’ by Andy Stewart that stuck with us the rest of the day!

We then made a short hop (in the car) to the small but very well stocked Botanical Gardens before starting on the actual NC500 route.

We were warned it could get busy with slow moving camper vans, but again we were blessed with light traffic allowing us to speed along (legally!) at our own pace. The rain persisted so the roof stayed up.

En route we made a stop at the Glen Ord Distillery where we toured the production facilities and then sampled a wee dram of their finest 12-year-old whisky (well, Angela did, I kept mine for later). From there it was a short ride to our next stop, the Rogie Falls, where we saw salmon jumping the falls, a first for me!

I must now confess (if I don’t Angela will tell you anyway) to making a slight navigational error. There was a circular walk to the falls, so we returned by a different route, or so I thought. After 15 minutes it became clear we were heading away from the car park, so we had to retrace our steps. Not too bad you might think, but let me say the hills around there are bloody steep! So for the second day in succession we embarked on what felt like a marathon – who said this was going to be a restful holiday!

By the time we made it back to the car the rain had stopped, so we braved putting the roof down. Thirty minutes later the heavens opened and we pulled over to put the roof up; it takes an awfully long time to go up when you’re getting soaked!

So in persistent rain we drove the rest of the journey, and here’s where we found ourselves on a fairly busy A896, a sometimes very narrow single track road. Even some of the passing places weren’t that generous. So progress slowed somewhat while we stopped-started-stopped our way towards Applecross.

The final few miles took us over the famous (infamous?) Bealach na Bà road climbing to over 2,000 feet with gradients up to 1 in 5. The view from the top was fantastic, at least that’s what the guide book said – we were in thick cloud from about half way up! So with nothing to see but cloud and road (at least Angela couldn’t see the sheer drops on her side!) we descended to Applecross and our accommodation for the night. And in true Scottish tradition, just as we arrived … the sun shone brightly!

Total distance travelled today 89 miles.

LAST WORD: I though this was supposed to be a driving holiday not a walking one! He may be an Engineer and be able to navigate around the world in many modes of transport but without his gadgets and satellite connection his orienteering skills are zero. I knew we were going the wrong way from the beginning, I kept saying (and pointing) “but the car park is over there and we are walking in the opposite direction”, but he is a man and he knows what he’s doing, yep, going the wrong way mate! There are two routes marked on the map (which he didn’t take a photo of so we could refer to it) the (short) yellow one and the blue one (blue because that is the colour you will turn when you have a heart attack at the end of it!) and I did all of this dressed as a sandwich in my £2.95 Scottish ‘souvenir’ Poncho!

Now I may be able to use this walking holiday to get fit and lose some weight, however, the portions at dinner in the Applecross Walled Garden Cafe and Restaurant applecrossgarden.co.uk were generous and so delicious I had to eat loads, this is the sort of place I would love to own. More haggis and local fish, de-li-cious!

Fashion update – this week I shall mostly be wearing my Test World jacket and sandwich bag poncho!

When we get our own house I am definitely changing the conservatory to a hot house.

More haggis nom nom nom

In the Hot House at the Botanical Gardens
Not long to wait, only 12 – 15 years!
Rogie Falls – but I missed the salmon jumping!
Despite the exhaustion we still had the strength for another posed photo at the end of the trail – what is it with standing on rocks?
Bealach na Bà without the clouds! (Photograph: Stefan Krause)
Our B&B – as quiet as the grave (especially true as the cemetery is right next door!)

Day Two: Arrochar to Inverness

We woke to overcast skies but at least it was dry, for now! Matt laid on a sumptuous breakfast spread which we chose to take in our room overlooking the loch. Then with bags packed and the roof down (guess who was wrapped up in mid-winter clothing!) we set off for a leisurely drive to Inverness.

We soon found ourselves in amongst some fantastic scenery, especially through Glen Coe, with the tops of the hills shrouded in cloud. Again we were blessed with relatively light traffic so made good progress while enjoying the views.

Our first stop was an unscheduled diversion to the Glen Nevis visitor centre in Fort William. Here we could see the mountain disappear into the clouds, except it wasn’t the mountain! What most people think is Ben Nevis actually isn’t; what you can see is Meall an t-Suidhe (pronounced … don’t ask!) which is only about half the height of Ben Nevis (not that it makes much difference when the top is covered in clouds!) Apparently the walk to the top of Ben Nevis takes about four hours, but we decided to give it a miss this time and head on our way.

Our luck with the traffic ran out, or so we thought! We hit a traffic jam out of Fort William which wasn’t moving; traffic was coming in the opposite direction but we weren’t moving. We surmised the traffic lights at some roadworks were malfunctioning, so Angela quickly found a diversion which a) was more interesting than the main road (somewhat reminiscent of the narrow alpine passes), and b) bought us back to the main road which was now free of traffic!

Our next stop was Fort Augustus on Loch Ness. We stopped for a photo opportunity and a bit of Nessie spotting. We’d intended to do more at Urquhart Castle but it was packed and they weren’t letting any more cars in, so we bypassed this stop and made directly for our hotel in Inverness.

We did a bit of the tourist stuff in Inverness, went up to the top of Inverness Castle and admired the view, looked in the rather small Inverness Cathedral, and then took a much longer-than-expected walk to the Ness Islands. By this time the sun was out and blazing, so when we finally got back to the hotel we were exhausted. Thankfully dinner was very close by!

Today we covered ‘only’ 127 miles in just over four and a half hours. Tomorrow we start the official North Coast 500 route. The weather forecast isn’t looking so good but this is Scotland where you get all four seasons in one day!

THE LAST WORD: Bircher Museli, tastes delicious, my stomach does not like cereals! Another reason to have the roof down! There are 90 steps to the top of the Castle (and 90 down again!) “we only covered 127 miles in 4 hours” that was the riverside walk to the Ness Islands and back! Still trying to find Andy’s sense of humour, but I haven’t checked all the bags yet, maybe they sell them in the kilt shop next door? There was a band of kilted men playing bagpipes to serenade us at dinner, fortunately they were about half a mile away! Not sure why Andy had me stand on a rock at Loch Ness, do you think it makes me look taller?

Breakfast – and this is just for starters, the main course arrived later!
Some scenery – there was lots of it.
Loch Ness. What is that? Is it? No, it can’t be …. IT IS!
Quick stop for another photo at Loch Ness. If you look carefully you can just see Urquhart Castle.
Panorama of the River Ness from the top of the castle. Our hotel is just the other side of the bridge overlooking the river.
St Andrew’s Cathedral
Bridge to Ness Islands. It didn’t look quite so far away on the map!

To ‘e’ or not to ‘e’!

How to spell ‘whiskey’? Or is it ‘whisky’?

Personally I’ve always spelt it with the ‘e’, only because when I learnt the phonetic alphabet in the Air Training Corps it was spelt with the ‘e’. But we’ve noticed in the shops here it’s spelt without.

The difference between whiskey and whisky is important: whisky denotes Scotch whisky and Scotch-inspired liquors; using whiskey to refer to Scotch whisky can get you in trouble in Scotland! Whiskey denotes the Irish and American liquors.

So my apologies to any Scots reading my earlier posts … from now on it’s whisky!

Day One: Home to Arrochar

The first day of our Scottish tour got off to a flying start. Amazingly the car was packed first time without the need to reduce the number of bags and we were ready ahead of schedule to depart!

This day was all about getting up to Scotland so there’s not a lot to report (thankfully!) other than to say it was a long drive, 374 miles and just under eight hours including stops, but the traffic was light with no major delays. Even the weather was kind, we had the roof down as we cruised the final few miles along the shore of Loch Lomond to our B&B in Arrochar arriving just before 5:00pm. And what a gem of a place! Matt, the not-so-Scottish owner, welcomed us to our room with views over Loch Long, and even provided a welcoming dram of whiskey and local cheese.

Dinner was a short walk up the road to The Village Inn, a traditional pub with a wide selection of cocktails, her Ladyship starting with a ‘Pornstar Martini’, let your imagination run wild with that one!

Contrary to popular opinion, all the locals we met on our evening stroll were really friendly, one stopping to explain the derelict buildings across the loch were the remains of a Royal Navy torpedo testing station; more than 12,000 torpedoes were fired down the loch in 1944. It closed in 1986.

Fingers crossed for the weather tomorrow for our journey along Loch Ness to Inverness, and the official start point of the North Coast 500.

THE LAST WORD: (by Angela)

I have fewer bags than Andy! The journey was only 3 hours (I slept the remaining 5). No pornstars arrived with the cocktail. My hair was frizzy and looked awful when we set off but half an hour with the Boxster blow dry option and I was red carpet ready. I ate the best ever Haggis, tatties and neeps with whiskey sauce for dinner. We didn’t get to see or stop at the Tunnocks Teacake factory but there are two in the room, well there were but one seems to have disappeared! Fantastic view, so quiet and smells of seaside.

Will it all fit in?!
Our accommodation for the evening
The view from our room … WOW!
A welcome like no other – a dram of whisky and cheese!
Loch Long
A Pornstar Martini …. and a cider!

The Route!

NC500

So the next ‘Andy and Angela’ adventure is about to start!  Back in the Boxster, we’re heading to Scotland to do the now famous ‘North Coast 500’, which, according to their marketing, “ … helps you to discover the best the Highlands has to offer, from magical and mystical castles, sample amazing local produce, with fresh from the sea and land specialties, the wonderful distilleries and breweries or take to the water on an exhilarating wildlife safari. The North Coast 500 offers a truly unique touring experience, quite unlike anywhere else in the world and many of those who have done it have said it was life-changing for them.

We look forwards to our lives being changed, hopefully for the better!

Our route deviates slightly from the ‘official’ route as we are going to spend a night on Mainland, the main island of the Orkney Islands.  But otherwise we’re staying pretty close to the official route.  But this means we’ll be doing a few more than the ‘official’ 500 miles.

Our plan is to do the route as you can see on the map, in a clockwise direction (there’s much debate as to which way is best!) with stops as follows: –

Day One:  Arrochar, Loch Long, Argyll and Bute (not shown on map)
Day Two:  Inverness, Invernesshire
Day Three:  Applecross, Strathcarron, Highland
Day Four:  Lochinver, Lairg, Highland
Day Five:  Dunnet, Thurso, Highland
Day Six:  Kirkwall, Orkney
Day Seven:  John O’Groats, Wick, Highland
Day Eight:  Dingwall, Highland
Day Nine:  Ballater, Aberdeenshire
Day Ten:  Bassenthwaite, Keswick, Cumbria (not shown on map)
Day Eleven:  Home

The total estimated distance is 1,650 miles.  Follow our progress and enjoy the trip with us!