We have just spent a remote 10 days in the North west of Scotland. Everyone said how it was one of the most beautiful areas in the UK and it really is. Photos don’t do it justice. We cycled from place to place, working our way up the west coast and up hills. Here is the first half of our trip. More to follow. More and full sized photos here. Tom’s photos here.
Wednesday 05 September 2007 – London – Inverness
After spending the afternoon doing important things like cleaning the vegetable drawer in the fridge, about a minute before we had to leave I realised I had forgotten to pack things like a bike lock and bike lights so a frantic rush meant we caught the train to town with about 10 seconds to spare. We made our way to Euston to get the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness and a journey picnic and a gin and tonic in the cabin meant that we were immediately thrown into holiday. We also knew that when we woke up we would be looking at the Scottish highlands instead of the Euston Road.
Inverness – Garve (by train)
Cycle to Ullapool (32 miles)
Accommodation: Waterside house
Waking up with a view of the Cairngorms was pretty amazing and travelling the length of the UK is really a good way to spend time sleeping. Although the gently rocking of the train does aid sleep the stopping at the stations and loud people getting on at Crewe doesn’t. We changed at Inverness to get the train to Garve where we actually started cycling. Garve is small and quiet however the first few minutes of cycling saw us hit a traffic jam because of some broken traffic lights which turned from red to orange and then back to red so the front car would start moving and then had to stop immediately. The midges were already out too. It was fixed and we carried on for another few miles before seeing a hotel that offered coffee. We were on holidays so it would be rude not to.
There were another couple of cyclists in there who were making a similar journey to ours but in about a third of the time. They had taken the coast road we were planning to take the day before, and the just looked ill when talking about it and said it was really really hilly and hard and not at all fun. We just thought they needed to relax, cycle less and enjoy it more. It’s a holiday.
We arrived in Ullapool. Had a good look in the tourist information. Had a strange desire to buy Scottish tea towels. Then went and found our B&B which was in a lovely position on the sea front. The evening was spent in a local bistro overhearing a pair of local ladies telling the chef how excited they were to be going to see the Simpsons movie in the mobile cinema that evening. It was the talk of the highlands.
We then enjoyed the local bagpipe band and highland dancers put on a performance in the ferry carpark but retreated to the B&B when the midges got too much.
Ullapool – Achiltibuie – 28 miles
Accommodation: 192 B&B
Getting to Ullapool meant we had some pretty amazing views but it all stepped up a notch when we turned off the main road to head towards Achiltibuie and the Coigach peninsula. The weather wasn’t amazing in the traditional sense of it being full sunshine but it was Scottish amazing because it was so dramatic and constantly changing. The first view of the coast not only included coast but also had sunlit mountains in the background, a river in the foreground and heather a rusty ferns covering everything else. The single track road with hardly any traffic on it went past an incredible sandy beach just as the sun came out.
We arrived at our B&B – up a big hill and past the Polbain stores – and we were greeted by the owners Midge and Peter. Over tea, cherry cake and shortbread we heard all about the village, the village hall and its advanced accoustics, met Harry whose honey we would eat for breakfast and too many other things to mention. Immediately I felt like we weren’t staying in a B&B but in someone’s house. Making it more lovely was the amazing view of the Summer Isles from our bedroom and our bathroom.
In the evening we went to the local pub for some food. Local as in a mile down a remote single track road, past lochs and harbours and heather. The most beautiful trip to a pub I have ever had. Then we had homemade scampi made with locally caught prawns. The best I have ever had. Then a dark cycle ride back up hill.
We were planning on a boat trip around the Summer Isles organised by Ian in the Post office but when we woke up and looked at the view there wasn’t really a view and the islands had disappeared in the cloud. So we decided to get on our bikes even though it was our day off and we started off with the Summer Isles Smokehouse just down the road from the B&B, next door to the pub. We bought salmon, trout and cheese and I recommend a visit becuase it’s a third of the price of mail order.
We then just made our way through the village visiting the Polbain Stores, Di’s salad and egg stall in her garden, the beach, the harbour, the village hall to look at the floor which had a massive bump in it because they had switched the underfloor heating on and it had warped – it was the talk of the village – and we ended up at the Hydroponicum.
What an amazing place. I recommend a look at the website to read about it but basically it is a greenhouse in which they grow produce without soil to sell and to provide for the restaurant opposite, and for their own cafe. It was threatened with closure last year but the community and local businesses bought it and now it is run by three locals. We spent a couple of hours there and enjoyed a delicious luch of homemade tomato and herb soup made with tomatoes grown in the room next door. Oh and Lizzie (Midge and Peter’s daughter) worked there and was very helpful in explaining what it was all about.
Then we slowly cycled back to the B&B via the circular route the locals apparently sometimes cycle to get their exercise. The sun had come out and we were treated with a slow climb with the views behind us growing more and more spectacular, and then when we got over the hill the Summer Isles greeted us on the other side.
We came home to enjoy some beer made on the Isle of Skye, oatcakes, cream cheese and big chunks of smoked salmon.
Achiltibuie – Achmelvich Beach (25 miles)
Accommodation: Achmelvich Beach hostel
Breakfast at 8.30am was a bit painful for Midge as she and Peter had been at a village do until 2am but even so breakfast was still the best we had all holiday, especially with Di’s eggs and Harry’s honey. It was a bit hard to get away as it was slighly rainy and we just chatted in the kitchen until about 11am.
I was about to say the cycle to Achmelvich beach was uneventful but it wasn’t. We first stopped at a little cafe/bookshop and enjoyed hearing about a wedding everyone had been to the night before. We were just listening in, they weren’t actually telling us. Then the whole journey over the 20miles was punctuated with the wedding. The wedding car was parked along the route. The pie shop in Lochinver everyone said we had to go to was closed because of a wedding. Things are so much more spread out in the highlands and if there is something happening then it seems everyone is involved.
But the worse thing about our cycle was coming round a corner and finding a herd of cows on the road. Cows and calves (I tried to keep stories of people being trampled to death out my mind). We were adventurous and dinged our bells and they did actually clear off the road. They all cleared except for one who just stood still, staring at us. As we got closer we noticed it had a ring through its nose and it was massive. There was no where to escape. I momentarily stopped breathing and tried to hide behind Tom. Tom – with no other option – just kept going. Cycled on by (quite slowly) and the bull moved on. I started breathing again and I have never cycled so fast out of a situation.
We arrived at the hostel on the beach and managed to upgrade to a private room which was nice. Our room was next to the female dorm and a lady warned me that a day before there was a man staying in our private room who didn’t realise that the room with the sinks in was mixed sex so he had walked in without knocking and found her there with her top off. So I was to warn Tom that she might be in there with her top off. We were confused. We nicknamed her Tits.
Tom cooked a lovely meal of pasta with a creme fraiche, mushroom and smoked salmon sauce served with Di’s salad (it had flowers in it). Tits had corned beef and mashed potato (not made with real potato) mashed together, formed in a ring with baked beans in the middle. She had to open the window because Tom’s garlic was too smelly. I don’t think Tom was impressed and I was glad I didn’t have to share a room with her.
Achmelvich Beach – Scourie (35 uphill miles)
This was the hardest day cycling with about seven steep arrow climbs marked on the map so we were prepared for it but it was still worse than we thought. There were some 25% climbs and some we were unable to cycle because our front wheel would just come off the ground in a wheelie action because it was so steep. I had a sense of humour failure towards the end because there was no flat ground. It was either a hill or a downhill with a headwind meaning you still had to cycle. Knackered. One highlight early on in the day was meeting a man we called Mr happy because – yes – he was just so happy. He was on holiday with his very happy wife who didn’t say anything but just smiled. He was very happy to hear about our travels.
But we arrived at the B&B in Scourie eventually. It was called Fasgadh but I’m afraid it earned the nickname Fagstink. It was a bit smelly. But it had a bath which was welcome, even though the water was yellow. I hope it wasn’t nicotine stained water.
We went to the pub at the back of the Scourie hotel for dinner and had the best haddock and chips ever. The haddock had been caught just up the road and it was tasty fish.