\\ ‘It’s brightening up’ (Part 1)

Travelling 17 hours completing 717 miles, battered by rain and wind we finally arrived, tired eyed, at the chalet in the remote north western bay of Inverkirkaig.

I may have slept for roughly 75% of the journey, but descending upon the Great Glen I was wide eyed & in awe of the distinctive mountainous beauty. Consumed by the sheer scale and imposing mountains  means no one can pass into the northern highlands without taking in the defining geographical feature. And yet this only reflects a small portion of the dramatic Scottish scenery, as it guides you towards white sand beaches and remote landscapes.

DAY 1 //

Itinerary: InverKirkaig-Bed

A very relaxed first morning, indulging ourselves in all the holiday necessities, first being a good old fry up followed by, some may say, too many cups of tea.

Swarmed by the beloved midges we set off for a late morning stroll up the bank of the river Kirkaig heading towards one of the highlands best hidden nooks. Tucked away among the pine trees sits, Achins Bookshop. Knowing we’ll be back for a browse of the shelves later in the holiday we headed back down the road towards Loch Kirkaig. With the sea at low tide, we wondered across the seaweed and stones towards the shoreline. I ventured over the moorlands, only to find another secluded beach out of sight & mind of all other tourists. Unfortunately, there was no direct access down to the beach, just a sheer drop separated myself from the sand below.

And so, the only way to access was by water and I did just that. As the afternoon arrived the skies were blue & the sun beamed onto the bay. Pumping up the paddle boards and squeezing into our wet-suits we headed down to the bay for a paddle. Obviously my first port of call was to venture over to the little inlet and see what hid on the beach and in the hillside.

As the tide had drifted in the sandy beach was now no where to be seen, so I did not land on the beach but I meandered round the coastline and spotted a secluded white house. Standing alone on the hillside, surrounded by greenery & sheltered by the moorlands it was simply picturesque. Dreamlike. Basically one of those houses I used to dream of as a child which is on its own and overlooks the sea.


Despite the blissful weather, crossing the bay was a little more challenging than anticipated. Getting caught in the waves and the wind as I paddled across may have caused me to let out a few yelps and wobbles here and there – but I like to think everything was under control.

As I ventured further out of the bay into the deeper depths of the sea, looking back the view was impeccable. The houses stood small whilst Suilven (2399ft) stood tall and majestic, like any great mountain should. Circled by cloud the peak was still ever so visible, only making me want to climb it even more – despite the long but gentle 5 hour walk to the base and then the tough 8 hour ascent to its peak. But I’ll ignore those figures.

Described by poet Norman McCaig as ‘one sandstone chord that holds up time in space’ it is one of Assynts most distinctive dome rising mountains above the heather boglands.

A

DAY 2 //

Itinerary: Achmelvich-Bed

A glorious sunny morning only means one thing…. BEACH DAY!

So off we headed to Achmelvich, a beautiful white sand bay with crystal clear waters – it’s one of those places you see on Pinterest that just seems unimaginable and you expect to be located on some exotic island. But no, Achmelvich is more than worthy of a detour on any day out located in the windy, cold Scottish Highlands.

Knowing we’d be here for the full day, we were in no hurry to get out paddling. We relaxed, we read, we chatted. (Minus all the screaming children, barking dogs & bleeting sheep) It was blissful. Whilst the sun shone, I decided to go for a little explore over the cliff path, which leads you onto another hidden bay, away from the hustle and bustle of giddy tourists. You can access the beach by either the gated track or by the sandy, cliff path. And of course I took the precarious sandy, cliff path. Sheltered by defined rocky cliffs this beach is the ultimate hideaway. Following the path I headed down to the beach and to the shoreline, exploring the exposed rocks and rock-pools as the tide had lowered. Seeing if I could find any fish or shells, instead I was surprised to see a little baby seal basking in the sunlight.

I wondered around the bay for a little while longer before heading back along the path, only to notice the seal had entered the water so I followed it back around to Achmelvich bay. As it, not so gracefully, slid up the side of another exposed rock in the bay, hiding itself from the beach goers but visible to those from above I simply just sat and watched it observe the surroundings before heading back over to mum and dad.

Later in the afternoon we got suited up and headed out on the paddle boards. I decided to paddle over to the hidden beach I walked over to earlier and had a meander around the rocks. It is incredible how clear the water was. You are able to see so far down and see all the living creatures swimming and crawling on the sea bed.

Deciding to tackle the wind we all paddled round past the point and started heading towards the nearby Loch. It felt like we were getting no where as the wind seemed to just drag us backwards. Eventually arriving at Loch Roe, which is visible from the road as you drive down to Achmelvich bay, we paddled down into the bay. Knowing what to expect, as we’d ventured down here last summer, we were soon followed in hot pursuit by several seals. This seems to be their hiding ground in this area. They’re such inquisitive and nosy creatures. I always find they’ll get close enough to make you very aware they’re close by and watching you, but they’ll never come too close to put anyone in danger.

There must have been 2 dozen seals basking in the sunshine in the bay. As we didn’t want to disturb them as the tide was coming in and there sun spots would soon be submerged, we made our way back up and out of the Loch and headed back round to Achmelvich bay – this time with the wind behind us, yay!

I can certainly say as I’m writing this my eyes are heavy and wanting to close and my body is crying for a massage. Today may have been hard paddling but so, so blissful and enjoyable. Seeing the coast from the water gives a whole new perspective on where your exploring. You find inlets and caves where you’d least expect them and view the coast and cliffs in a whole new light. If you ever get the chance to hire a canoe or a boat, please do. It will most definitely be a holiday highlight!

A

DAY 3 //

Itinerary: Inverkirkaig-Lochinver-Bed

With a loud awakening from mother hen, “it’s brightening up outside, come on” off we set to the Falls of Kirkaig.

Setting off from the chalet in Inverkirkaig, look for the sign ‘Falls of Kirkaig 2 1/4 miles’ located in the nearby car park. Walking past the Bookshop sign, taking the lower tarmac road, will lead you onto a damp, muddy path to the falls. Passing by the River Kirkaig, this part of the path seems so mystical as the birchwood embanks the steep sides and encloses your route. Whilst the path is well trodden, this stage can be quite slippy – as we found out! as its a mixture of large stones and mud under foot.

Climbing higher, the shelter of the trees are soon left behind as the path emerges out onto heather moorland and continues high above the glen. Working your way along the narrow path be sure to take in the view of the rolling hills and the mountains looming ahead. On our walk to the Falls we were very lucky with the weather. On a clear day a fabulous view of  Suilven can be seen from the path, as well as other neighbouring mountains. It may seem like you’ve been walking for hours along the beaten path, but soon you will come to a clear junction. Sign posted clearly, branch off to the right. The path down is very steep and rocky, but you soon know your heading in the right direction as the noise of the falls can be heard before they are seen.

With the amount of rain that had fallen recently we knew the falls would be spectacular, and they certainly did not disappoint. Of course I had to scramble all the way down to the lowest point of the descent, just to feel that little bit closer. But the view and impressiveness did not alter from the view higher above – you just may find you’ll get wetter from the spray caught in the wind, I sure did!

Our trek back might have not been quite as dry as the weather took a turn for the worst. But it certainly shows how quickly the weather can change and how prepared you have to be. You can see from the photos below just how quickly the clouds can roll in and absorb anything in its path. Nevertheless, we meandered back along the same route, through the heather moorland and along path by the river bank.

Arriving back at the chalet, a little bit stiff and achey, we had a well earned lunch before heading into Lochinver for a food shop and a visit to the Highland Stoneware shop.

If you’re near Lochinver, visiting the pottery shop is a must! Even if it’s just to see how they create their unique pieces. You can see first hand, by following the green lines located around the building, how they create their plates, bowls, vases, mugs etc. stage by stage. As you walk around, you can chat to the workers who continue working as visitors browse the shop. It is so interesting to hear about their stories and how they got into this work and what it’s like to create these individual pieces, each and everyone different – maybe I could create a photo story about highland stoneware and blog about it.

( http://www.highlandstoneware.com/ )

We may be going to bed feeling pretty stiff and achy but it’s 100% worth it. Till tomorrow.

A

DAY 4 //

Itinerary: Durness-Ben Hope Road-Bed

Waking up to a wet & blustery morning we decided to take a trip in the car and travel the 57 miles to the Smoo Caves, a mile east of Durness. The Smoo Cave was most definitely a surprise. I envisioned a small entrance which guides you into a larger sea cave in the depth of the cliff. How wrong was I!

Making our way from the car park, we crossed a bridge which has a fast flowing river cascading over the rocks and down a hole in the cliff. Venturing down the steps in the cliff, we crossed another walkway and made our way into the deep inlet. The dramatic cave boasts a wide entrance filled by daylight, carved by the ocean, wind and small streams. Upon entering the cave there’s a distinctive distant noise of trickling coming from deep within the first chamber. Remember the waterfall I mentioned earlier? The waterfall which I saw descending down into the cliff, falls 25 metres through the opening in the ceiling into the chamber. It was incredible. The back of the cave is smothered in green moss and small plants and water droplets fall from the ceiling.

(There are also tours available which take you deeper into the cliff face and into a second chamber, but due to a large amount of rain water falling lately and strong winds the  tours weren’t available on our visit – gives me an excuse to visit again!)

Whilst it might not be the grandest or the most exquisite cave, its definitely teased my imagination. What lies past the first chamber? Lets just hope I return someday, sooner rather than later, to answer my question and intrigue.

After spending a short while in the cave we made our way up the opposite sloping path, onto the hillside. Walking along the footpath, which ran parallel to Geodha Smoo inlet, we walked across the hillside, brushing against the muted purple heather blossoms, not to sure what to expect ahead. Reaching the coastline the views were phenomenal. The rocks and cliffs are so rigid and worn despite the differences in rock. Spending quite some time pondering around, we decided to head a little further around the coastline. I think this is something I’ll always encourage, if it’s safe enough, don’t always stick to the trodden path, adventure off track sometimes because I’m sure you’ll find by doing this you’ll come across the most interesting of discoveries, just like we did. A small arch way or bridge had formed in the rocks as they’ve been carved by the water over the many, many years. It seemed to hidden and so unaware of. Not long after, in the distance we could see the rain moving in from the west. Leaving the rugged and dramatic coastline behind we made our way back across the heather towards the car and set off away from Durness.

Heading away from Durness we took the A838 towards the east before taking a slight wrong turn down a narrow single road. It was definitely a road driven very little as grass grew down the centre. Along the road sat the base and footpath to Ben Hope, the most northern Munro. Falling down the hillside was a fast flowing waterfall, and as always mother was drawn to the idea of walking up alongside and seeing it close up. So we did just that. Taking the steep, muddy path we got as far as we could until the midges got unbearable. We took in the incredible view one last time before quickly, but steadily, making our way back down. I so wanted to climb higher as the ascent is said not to be super long, even though it’s steep, but it was only safe to walk back down as we weren’t kitted out and the mist and rain was beginning to follow us once again.

Leaving the rain behind we continued along the lonesome road, we must have travelled about 30 miles down this long, windy road with only one car passing us the entire time.

Making our way back onto the main road we began our journey back towards Lochinver once again.  The afternoon weather changed drastically once again and the rain never caught up with us. Instead the sun shone and we drove under the clear blue skies and alongside the still clear waters. It was tranquil and the most perfect end to a 160 mile day.

A

DAY 5 //

Itinerary: Achmelvich-Bed

After checking the weather forecast, we believed we were set for a day of sun. Maybe not your typical blazing hot summer sun that you get on your summer holidays, but the mild sun which usually blazed down on the highlands was just as good for us.

Arriving at Achmelvich we set straight out on our paddle boards meandering around the bay. Looking either direction, out at sea and past the sand dunes, we could see the bad weather rolling and only a few minutes later we were getting hammered by the pouring rain. Paddling our way back round to Achmelvich, with the rain coming horizontal, it soon eased off and quite literally the sun shone & the sky turned a vibrant blue & the wise words of mother hen came true, once again, ‘it’s brightening up’.

So we kept on paddling around the bay heading over to a little inlet which is usually knee deep when we explore it as the tide has gone out. Using the snorkel mask I explored the sea beds, watching the crabs crawl along the bed & the jelly fish glide near the surface. Being submerged gave a totally different perspective to sea life and it was incredible to see how clear and fresh the waters are in these parts, minus the brain freeze that followed soon after.

I don’t think we could have laughed more due to mums reaction to us saying ‘there’s a jellyfish’ – I’ve never seen her move so quickly! Ultimately a holiday highlight! After all the swimming and messing around we didn’t even think about the time and before we knew it nearly 3 hours had passed. Heading back to the beach we had some lunch and a very chilled afternoon soaking up the sun.

Later in the afternoon I decided to have a little walk over to Hermits Castle. As I’ve only visited it before by paddling around the headland and venturing  into the little inlet, I thought taking the path through the campsite and over the hill would make an interesting adventure, and so it did. It wasn’t a long walk to the tiny castle, but very wet and slippery underfoot! Hermits Castle has to be one of my favourite historical features in Scotland, I think  purely because of its ‘wee’ size and where it stands. It was built in the 1950’s by English Architect, David Scott, who apparently only lived in the castle for a weekend despite taking months to build. Nosing around it for a short while, I made my way across to Achmelvich Point, Split Rock was visible in the distance towards Clachtoll, and Achmelvich bay was lit up by the sun. Away from all the beach goers, I was separated from the noise and activities. Where I stood was simply quiet, blissful and breathtaking.

Heading back towards the beach, I passed back through the campsite only to get the most scrumptious whiff of fresh fish and chips. I bet you can guess what’s coming next. Yep, we’re on the beach, sat under the scorching sun eating Bev’s fish and chips – certainly some of the most delicious fish and chips I’ve ever had, but definitely the most northerly fish and chips I’ve ever had!

(The pictures below don’t even look like they’ve been taken on the same day, let alone in the same hour! It just shows how quick and dramatic the weather changes around these rugged landscapes)

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A little something else….

I do admit I am a terrible people watcher and I do find it hilarious watching people find their ‘perfect spot’ on the beach. First we stop and have a browse at what’s on offer. Next we walk, looking oh-so-certain with the spot we’ve found, to that ‘perfect spot’. But no. Next minute we are walking in a different direction. We drop the bags, then someone will always make everyone pick everything up and move over about 2 metres to that ‘even better perfect spot’. But no, it’s still not good enough. We’ll move a little further along, drop the bags again & then decide where we first chose was best all along. So we all trudge back to the first spot and sit. If you don’t do this as a family, you clearly haven’t been sitting in the ‘perfect spot’. It’s all very British.

A

DAY 6 //

Itinerary: Stac Pollaidh-Bed

I soon twisted mum and dad around to the idea of climbing a mountain. A little hesitant at first, but with blue skies and fluffy clouds in the sky it all helped change their mind.

A short drive to the Stac Pollaidh car park, we geared up and set off up the path.  Underneath the blazing sun we took the constructed path to the left, at the split, taking us clockwise around the mountain. Passing many other walkers on our ascent, the majority heading down the mountain, we continued our intrepid walk past the left side of the mountain (if your looking at it from the car park). Pausing every now and again for breathers we navigated our way higher and higher up to the ridge.  Whilst the final ascent  may have been extremely steep we waited patiently for the stark beauty and panoramic views over the great wilderness.

And what a phenomenal view it was.

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Whilst the skies were still blue the view was ever so clear. I could see the summer isles, many nearby Lochs, surrounding mountains including Cul Mor and Suilven. The horizon was as clear as day and every car and person on the ground was simply a tiny object. I had a few minutes on the summit of Stac Pollaidh all to myself, whilst the parents slowly worked their way up. This feeling of being alone, seeing the vastness and sheer beauty that surrounded me was unbelievable. It made everything I worry about, everything I think about, everything I do, seem so tiny. Gazing around at the view was the most soothing and breathtaking feeling. I forgot all my worries, I forgot about everything. Because just in that moment, it was me and only me, plus a million miles of landscape and seascape but I couldn’t have asked for more serene company.

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It wasn’t long till we could see the mist and rain rolling in and from both the sea and the surrounding terrain. Closing in quickly, the rain soon started to fall and a loud outbreak of thunder fell across the land. Treading carefully we made our descent, soaking wet and returned back to the chalet only to be engulfed in an evening of pink dusky sky.

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A

DAY 7 //

Itinerary: Ullapool-Achmelvich-Bed

Today we drove to the village of Ullapool. As we are usually passing through on our way back home, we never get the chance to have a good meander around. Of course we visited all the tourist shops, eyeing up every souvenir on offer and I did the classic thing of buying postcards which I have written and sent to my grandma and granny. I love sending postcards. I don’t feel like young children send them much nowadays, compared to when I was a child. We’d always send my grandma one every summer holiday as a little update of our ventures – despite talking to them on the phone 3 days earlier. I think they’re such a lovely gift to receive in the post & I always find joy in choosing the ‘appropriate’ image on the front.

We also visited the An Talla Solais gallery. I love visiting this gallery, I think because this is something I’d like to offer within my independent business one day, I love to see work by locals or afar artists, designers or photographers being exhibited and shown to a wider audience. The exhibition within the gallery space was also really interesting, displaying a wide variety of mediums all collating to a single topic, ‘Murmur’.

But also the gallery displayed ceramic, jewellery, paintings, drawings, textile and many other different art mediums in there shop. All such diverse and abstract pieces, but all so compelling and interesting – pieces that the public would want to buy rather than look at and think what is that? – I think that is very important!!

Below are a few photos of the gallery and their current exhibition & shop goodies.

http://www.antallasolais.org/

Heading back to lochinver the weather had well and truly warmed up and sun was shining high in the sky. On the road back, in the distance, Stac Pollaidh could be seen very clearly as the sun shone brightly on the summit – totally different to yesterday! Stopping off at various lay bays to admire the view, the water in the Lochs was so calm and still creating such clear reflections on the surface.

Arriving back at the chalet we quickly unloaded and then reloaded the car with food, nibbles and drinks and set off to the beach for a BBQ at achmelvich.

I’m sat writings today’s adventures from the white sand beach, mum & dad are getting sozzled  (& by sozzled I mean drinking too much, not sozzling in the sun) whilst I try to remain the sensible adult! The sun has gotten quite a bit cooler now as it’s lowering behind the headland. With only the sound of the waves breaking against the shore and sheep bleeting in the background, it’s a perfect end to another perfect summers evening in the highlands.

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A

DETAILS:

–Where we stayed:

http://www.balsfjord.co.uk/ 

http://www.kirkaigchalets.co.uk (stayed here previously)

–Other modes of transport we saw for hire on our travels:

http://www.wickedcampers.co.uk/ 

–Where we ate & shopped:

Highland Stoneware – http://www.highlandstoneware.com/

An Talla Solais – http://www.antallasolais.org/