Heading down the West Coast of Scotland, we’ve experienced our worst weather ever in a motorhome: the “Beast from the East” and Storm Ali were mere trifles in comparison. Mind you, it all pales into insignificance when you get to Loch Ewe and consider the conditions faced by the Arctic Convoys….
Overview: 4 days, 212 miles
At the end of our last post, we’d parked up for the night next to the Kylesku bridge. We’d chosen the small picnic spot on the south side of the bridge over the more exposed parking area on the north side on the grounds that it should be more sheltered from the wind.
Ha! The Scottish weather was more than a match for us (again). It’s been waking us up most nights for the last couple of weeks, with rain suddenly appearing out of absolutely nowhere in the wee small hours, pelting SOK relentlessly for a few minutes and stopping as abruptly as it started. This can happen several times a night, with the result that you end up struggling to get back to sleep, primed as you are for the next onslaught…..
On Sunday night, the Scottish weather went one better – hail. I’ve quite honestly never heard such a racket. I don’t know how big the hailstones were or with what force they were actually hitting us, but I really wouldn’t have been surprised if on Monday morning, SOK’s roof had been as dimpled as a golf ball. At one point there was a huge clap of thunder that sounded about ten feet above our heads. “Oooh errrrrr” muttered Mark……
Proof was all around us the next morning (though miraculously, SOK seemed absolutely fine). Yes, that was some hailstorm in September….
On Monday we did a loop out to the west through Drumbeg, round to Lochinver and then back east along the shores of Loch Assynt. It’s not far on the map but it took us all day, tootling along on single track roads through amazing scenery:
Scotland’s single track roads are actually perfectly OK in a small motorhome; the open landscape means that you can see oncoming traffic well in advance, and there are lots and lots of passing places. Much less stressful than driving down the narrow lanes in Cornwall, for example.
We came across a stunning viewpoint with the added bonus of a ‘phone signal. Oh, and a pair of Oriental tourists in a rental car blocking the entrance to the parking area whilst they adjusted their anti-pollution masks before continuing on their way…. Bizarre…..
Awww…. a tiddly Highland coo….
We spent Monday night on the car park for the “bone caves” just beyond the southern end of Loch Assynt. We had a walk up to the caves on Tuesday morning. Lots of bones have been found in the caves, including 14,000 year old remains of horse, brown bear and reindeer and a fragment of a 20,000 year old polar bear skull. The bones are long gone (apparently the polar bear fragment is in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh) but it’s a nice walk up to the caves nonetheless.
The route from the car park to the caves follows the glen you can see in the photo above.
As we got back to the car park, two guys with caving gear were just setting off up the path. They told us that the limestone caves behind the bone caves are the longest and deepest cave system in Scotland, but, (nod nod wink wink) “that’s not where we’re going”…… Secrecy must be a big thing in caving circles?!?
We stopped off in Ullapool on our way south on Tuesday afternoon. It’s a really nice little town. The talk in Boots was all about whether or not the ferry was going to run that evening. The wind was certainly getting up by that point……
Our overnight stop was at a little place on the coast called Mellon Udrigle, where we’d identified an independent campsite that only charged £10 a night (no electric) and got great reviews.
We chose the most sheltered spot we could find and kept our fingers crossed for the wind to drop. Mark added yet another strap to the bike rack. The back of SOK is starting to look like some kind of Houdini stunt….
The wind didn’t really drop but it didn’t get any stronger either, so all was well…. After a reasonable night’s sleep, we were ready to head off and see what else we could find to look at.
Just down the road from Mellon Udrigle is the Russian Arctic Convoy Exhibition Centre at Aultbea on Loch Ewe. Loch Ewe was used as a convoy assembly point between February 1942 and December 1944 for supply convoys headed for Russia. During the course of the war, these convoys supplied Russia with 5218 tanks, 7411 aircraft, 4932 anti-tank guns and huge quantities of smaller items.
Each convoy was made up of merchant ships, most not really designed to be operating in the Arctic, escorted by Royal Navy ships whose job it was to try to protect the merchant ships from German ships, submarines and aircraft. Life on the Arctic convoys was pretty grim (Churchill described it as “the worst journey in the World”) and extremely dangerous: 18 naval vessels and 87 merchant vessels were lost from the Arctic convoys during the course of the war, with the loss of 1944 and 829 lives respectively.
Luckily, we’d seen a TV programme a few months back presented by Jeremy Clarkson (one of his serious programmes) about Arctic convoy PQ17, a disaster described by Churchill as “one of the most melancholy naval episodes of the whole war”. Basically, intelligence suggesting that the feared German battleship Tirpitz had left the Norwegian fjord where it had been anchored resulted in the naval ships accompanying convoy PQ17 being ordered to bugger off and leave the merchant ships to it. The merchant ships were simply told to “scatter”. Over the next week, 24 of the 35 merchant ships in the convoy were lost. Some of the others had to go to incredible lengths to survive. Not our finest hour. It was a very good programme, one we’d recommend.
Anyway, back to the exhibition centre. It’s smaller than we’d expected:
It’s a local project aiming to get museum status. As such, all power to them. It was good to have seen the Clarkson programme before visiting though as there’s no introductory video to tell you what it’s all about if you don’t already know. There’s a lot of detailed information here; as you can see from the photo below, it’s quite traditionally presented – take your reading specs!
Inverewe Garden (National Trust for Scotland) is also on Loch Ewe. We were really lucky: it stopped raining just before we arrived and started again within a couple of minutes of us getting back to SOK!
Inverewe was created from the 1860s onwards by a chap called Osgood Mackenzie and further developed by his daughter Mairi. A “shelter belt” of coniferous trees gave enough shelter for plants from around the World to be able to thrive here.
Of course, many of the plants in the garden are now past their best for the year, but the woodland walks were still fabulous and the place wasn’t at all busy.
We spent Wednesday night on a forestry commission car park next to Loch Maree. The scenery here is supposed to be spectacular. Unfortunately, it was weather for ducks (and, it seems, canoeists) again:
Today (Thursday) has been another day of single track roads, this time from Shieldaig along Loch Torridon and round the coast to Applecross before tackling the Pass of the Cattle back east towards Lochcarron.
Single track road towards Applecross:
The small village of Applecross on the far shore:
Applecross has a couple of very tame stags hanging around town:
The Pass of the Cattle, used in past times to drove cattle fom Applecross to other parts of the Highlands….. it’s narrow, windy, and steep in places – but nevertheless, there were some quite large motorhomes negotiating it:
We’re now parked up for the night in a small car park at Ardaneaskan on the northern shore of Loch Carron. Tomorrow’s plan is to drive round the loch and cross to the Isle of Skye…