Tuesday 16 June 2015

Tour de France

Our final full day on the west coast of Scotland was spent on a trip to the Applecross peninsula. As has happened to us before, it was a last day of holiday that began with cold and wet weather, but which redeemed itself with some warm sunshine and blue skies in the afternoon.

Our drive took us along the shores of Loch Maree and skirted around the edges of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. Inevitably, it also had a wee detour to Torridon village for elevenses (see previous post). From Torridon, we headed west to Shieldaig and then south towards Lochs Carron and Kishorn. Here we picked up the single track road that leads tortuously over Bealach na Ba, or the Pass of the Cattle, to the Applecross peninsula.

I was already aware that the narrow road had numerous hairpin bends, eye-watering drops on one side and a magnificent view from the summit. I was also aware that it was raining and our ascent was taking us into the clouds. O... K, thick fog certainly added a bit of spice to the climb and took several years off my life. At the summit, the only view was of numerous mobile homes parked up, hoping for a break in the weather, so we carried on without stopping. After a few hundred yards, a small figure emerged from the gloom, running up the hill towards us. I was just about to mutter something along the lines of "Who jogs up here... in this weather... in the middle of nowhere?" when the wee damp soul waved at us to stop. It was a young French woman, who explained in broken English, that there was a problem lower down the slope and could we hold the traffic here until it was sorted out. We ran through the usual list of questions: Is anyone hurt? Should we call 999? Did she need help at the incident? All of which were answered with a "Non". So we parked in the middle of the track with our hazard lights on, whilst 'la petite femme humide' disappeared back into the murk. C'est ├ętrange, n'est-ce pas?

After a few minutes (which I spent wondering if the whole thing was a ruse), a convoy of lights emerged out of the fog, which resolved itself into a small 4x4 towing a tiny caravan, plus an entourage of held-up traffic, and the afore-mentioned French lass still on foot, who was now soaking wet, bless her.

We edged out of the way, so that the traffic could pass, and the 4x4 and caravan parked beside us. The young couple proceeded to have a domestic, until Our Lass intervened with some calming words (and lots of arm waving). We think that they had frightened themselves with the terrain, but were now cold and wet too, so Our Lass advised them to have a spot of lunch and we left them to it.

Reaching Applecross, my internal navigation took us to a walled garden that indicated it had a cafe. By the time we had warmed up with a bowl of soup, the weather was less ominous, so we wandered around the garden, which was looking lush and fresh.

We then drove south from Applecross village for a few miles, until the tourist hordes had thinned, parked up in a likely spot and set off on foot along an interesting-looking path. We didn't even stop to put on our hiking boots, so keen were we to be out in the fresh air.

My unease at not having a 1:25000 map to hand was mollified by the gorgeous scenery, warm sunshine and a myriad of wildlife. We ambled through moorland and woods, contoured around a small bay, and then emerged onto a verdant flower-studded pasture that led to a rocky shore.
What's not to lichen?
The views across to the isle of Skye were fantastic, though I was remiss in not photographing this as I was trying to spot a Cuckoo which kept giving tantalising glimpses without ever being in camera range. After sitting by a white shell-sand beach for a while, we decided to retrace our steps, as we needed to allow time for the return journey and a pre-booked restaurant meal. No sooner had we set off, when a commotion ahead caught my eye. There were gulls alarm calling and filling the sky, though the only immediate cause seemed to be a Grey Heron that was trying to vacate the scene as quick as its languid wing beats could take it. Puzzled as to the gulls' over-reaction to a possible predator, I carried on scanning the area and belatedly cottoned on to what was happening.

Looking back over the bay towards Applecross, we could see the real culprit, a White-tailed Eagle, which was being harassed by most of the gulls and waders in the area, if not the whole of Wester Ross.

A first for both of us, which had us grinning like lunatics for the rest of the day.

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