NorthCoast500 Day 2 – Beauly to Scourie

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Up bright and early, I enjoyed an excellent breakfast prepared by Isobel before heading off just before 8.30am.  It was a mixed weather forecast and I had a lot of driving ahead of me, so was keen to get going.

I was driving North Coast 500 clockwise, so first stop was Rogie Falls, which  was only 30 mins drive from Beauly.  I wanted to see salmon leaping as it is the salmon run season. I wasn’t disappointed, other than I couldn’t capture them on camera.  These guys are the Ironmen of the salmon world as they have already swum a considerable distance upstream from the sea, and were trying to leap up this waterfall.  The urge to reproduce could not have been stronger …

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This is a great walk – and was just enough to wake me up and walk off breakfast.  After 40 minutes I was back on the road admiring the scenery as I crossed over from East to West. My first sight of the West coast was Loch Caron, and I took a brief detour off North Coast 500 to do a spot of shopping at Lochcarron Weavers in Strathcarron.  Well worth the three-mile round-trip detour if you are looking to take home something warm and cosy from Scotland …

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Once back on the road, my mind switched to a more serious task – the next leg to Applecross over the Bealach na Ba.  This is often described as one of the UK’s most challenging roads. When I read the sign at the start of the road, I thought ‘maybe I’ll just follow that Swiss registered landcruiser – they must know about mountain roads’….

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After about half a mile, the landcruiser stopped in its tracks and reversed into a passing place just ahead of me.  The obstruction was about half a dozen sheep on the road ahead,  so I overtook and showed him how to drive past our Highland furry friends.  The road then steadily climbed and disappeared into the mist.  Yep, the Northern Highlands were definitely having  duvet day …

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As the road became steeper, it meandered with more purpose and the switchbacks became more challenging, I pushed on changing often between second and third gears. At the third hairpin close to the top, I saw three cars lined up in a passing place waiting for me.  Two were very fancy coupes – I was too busy keeping on the road to notice the models, but I caught the eyes of the drivers to wave a polite thank you.  They all looked extremely apprehensive.  It must have been pretty steep looking down – even in the mist.  A few minutes later I was at the top of  Bealach na Ba and stopped at the viewpoint – although there seemed little point…

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The view on a good day is a glorious vista towards the Isle of Skye.  At this point I decided I HAD to return and drive North Coast 500 in early summer.  The descent off Bealach na Ba seemed much more gentle and soon I was parking in front of the  Applecross Inn,  I couldn’t help thinking that the road was fine and wondered what all the fuss was about.  Then I remembered that I’ve driven in countries where the terrain is sometimes challenging – Bosnia, Afghanistan, Oman.  Back to Applecross – even in the light rain, it was very pretty and welcoming ..

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After a brief , and an early lunch of soup at the Applecross Inn,  I headed off to a drizzly Applecross peninsula, which was still breathtaking …

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The road then led to Torridon, which I was excited to see as I remember the grandeur of these mountains from my childhood  The clag was starting to lift, but not enough to see these magnificent mountains. My consolation however was a perfect rainbow…

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Despite the changeable weather and only seeing the mountains wrapped in a duvet of cloud and clag, the landscape was still a treat.

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By mid-afternoon the clouds were low and started to empty and I had to drive past one of Scotland’s prettiest view – Loch Maree. So I sped towards Ullapool.  It was a pity, but part of the Highlands experience is accepting the weather.  Even on a wet day, the Scottish Highlands are still magnificent – and the weather can change very quickly, for the better.  This was Ullapool, less than half an hour after heavy rainfall.  another of many rainbows seen …

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Ullapool is the gateway to the Outer Hebrides and is probably the busiest town along this coast.  It has all amenities, coffee shops and stores, so worth planning a stop into an itinerary. Plus it is very charming.  Despite its Northern latitude, the temperatures are not harsh as it benefits from the Gulf stream.  This is evidenced with these palm trees – complete with sun-bathing dude …

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After filling up with petrol, I headed North again, just as the weather turned once more. Again, I passed some of the most breathtaking landscape wrapped in its duvet of cloud.   This was looking towards Stack Polly …

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By now I was getting tired and began to realise this leg was a bit to ambitious to drive in one day.  By the time I reached Loch Assynt, it was late in the afternoon, but I knew I didn’t have too far to go – perhaps another hour …

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This last hour of driving through the  Assynt peninsula turned out as one of the prettiest stretches of North Coast 500, although I missed out one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches at Achmelvich.  This stretch of North Coast 500 is classified as a “B road single track” – until this road trip I was unaware single track roads had two classes!  Driving this stretch required quite high levels of concentration and anticipation as the undulating, and sometimes mountainous road clung to the coast.   Driving over the Assynt peninsula, I found the scenery of lower, moss clad rocky hills simply gorgeous …

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There was another hour or so of similar vistas, some by the coast taking in the beach at …. and passing very picturesque hamlets …

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As I was leaving a very Scottish sounding village called Clashnessie, two pick ups trucks had stopped at a parking place.  The windows were wound down and a conversation was clearly taking place.  I thought perhaps there was an accident ahead, so wound down my window in nervous anticipation.  The driver just looked at me and smiled, adding “sorry, we were just gabbing” (chatting).  That pretty much sums up Highland communities and passing places.   Even if you don’t stop to speak – as they did – you still communicate and interact with other drivers by giving a polite thank you wave to who ever gives way.

The distant sight of the Kylesku bridge was the first sign that this beautiful stretch of road was coming to an end.  Soon I was back on a nice EU funded road A road and was just minutes from my destination.  Despite my fatigue, I still stopped to take one last image of the day, looking towards Kylestrome …

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A couple of miles further on was a very welcome sight – the signpost for the Eddrachilles Hotel.  After 9 hours and 258 miles of incredible and varied driving, I was ready for some rest.

 

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