Day 3 - Bealach Na Ba (hairpins and hair raising) and on to Gairloch
We turned right off the A87 and stopped for a tourist photo of the sign announcing we had started on the old ‘Wester Ross Coastal Trail’. We had deviated from the route of the new North Coast 500 which starts in Inverness – this was a personal choice because we knew how lovely the route up through Glencoe and the Road to the Isles would be. Although we had been travelling through the stunning scenery of the lower highlands for some time nothing prepared me for what we encountered almost immediately on beginning the route. Although these are ‘A’ roads they are unlike any ‘A’ road I have been on anywhere else in the country. The views from the car take your breath away and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that ‘heavy traffic’ involved maybe two or three cars.
Chris had told me all about the ‘Bealach Na Ba’ and how he hadn’t decided whether to drive it. It added a considerable amount of driving onto the plan for the day but we both felt it was too good an opportunity to miss! We had already encountered the Gumbawz Rally, who appeared to want to take all the roads at breakneck speed, and multiple motorbikes on their way to the road, but as we were in no hurry we decided to lunch at the bottom in a delightful little café and art shop –the Bealach café - and enjoy the lovely sunshine. The café was situated at the entrance to Bealach Na Ba and whilst we sat in the sun enjoying our delicious freshly cooked toasted sandwiches, we – and several of the locals enjoying their Saturday – were astounded at some of the vehicles who set off to ‘undertake’ the climb! Most interestingly was the reaction of the locals as a car and caravan set off on the route! Just in case you are unfamiliar with the road it is a pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula, with a twisting, single-track mountain road with very tight hairpin bends that switch back and forth up the hillside and gradients that approach 20%. It has the greatest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres (2,054 ft) and as you enter the pass it has some very scary, disturbing signs! I’ve travelled over other mountain passes including the Honister in Cumbria which also has road signs designed to spook you so I thought I would be fine! The road may be a single track but it has plenty of passing places and the people we encountered were mostly polite, but like most places these days there is always one who is going to come through and beep their horn and glare at everyone because they are in a rush. The views from the passenger side were amazing and I had one job to do on the way up – video it to show the family when we came home! I was doing fine and really enjoying the climb until we hit the hairpin valley – the view behind was unreal but I suddenly developed a fear of falling off the road and ended up having to close my eyes – cue 5 mins of video of my knees, Chris shouting look at the view and me saying I can’t! Thankfully we reached the viewing park at the top in one piece even after a close encounter on one of the hairpin bends! It was so worth the stress and fear as we gazed out onto Skye and the Hebrides. The journey down I thought was much better and we visited Applecross for a toilet stop! Wish we had had longer to stay there the Applecross Inn looked wonderful – people sat outside in the sunshine eating lobster and a general air of peace and tranquillity and of course outstandingly beautiful views.
The road to the Isles is a beautiful one although we were surprised to find that in the time since our last visit 5 years ago lots of the viewing places we had stopped at had become quite overgrown. Still stunning views but just different from our previous visit.
Our journey involved a stop at the stunning Eilean Donan Castle, which in the weather conditions gave us picture postcard quality photos. It is a lovely place to visit but hard to get photos which don’t contain any of the hundreds of visitors who are also there. Pipers busking outside, lovely shortbread in the café, selfie sticks everywhere but well worth the break – and of course a toilet, which was, for that day the last one we were sure of the location of!
We travelled for the rest of the day on a beautiful single track coastal road encountering hardly any traffic but amazing views. Our journey seemed to consist of jumping out of the car all the time with our cameras and saying wow! We reached Gairloch for an overnight stay in the Shieldag Lodge late afternoon and once again were thrilled to find Chris had chosen a lovely overnight stop. The hotel was old and full of character from the whisky bar to the suit of armour, pool table, quirky decoration and a lovely room. We were welcomed by the lovely staff and felt immediately at home. Dinner was delicious again – very good quality and perfect service. We both chose a game terrine followed by the most beautiful piece of cod in a lovely sauce. We were very lucky to be first in the dining room and snagged the best seat with a view out onto the loch – not sure all the guests were thrilled with this we heard some mutterings about people in our seat! After dinner we decided to take the cameras out to watch the sunset and here we met the Highlands most famous residents – the midgies! Horrible creatures who enjoy eating Chris very much! We had gone prepared with our Smidge but hadn’t thought to put it on. We didn’t make that mistake again! If you forget your Smidge all the hotels we stayed in had it for sale and even tick removal kits! Scary! After all the trauma of midge attacks it was time for a whisky and bed. Once again breakfast the next day was lovely - all freshly cooked and the hard working staff could not have been more friendly or attentive.