DAY 8 //
After waking up too multiple soggy mornings and forever getting caught in torrential down pours, you’d think mother would have grasped by now that the Highland weather isn’t sunny-side-up the majority of the time. But no, she’s back with her morning wake up calls. Here’s for week 2.
Taking the B869 we headed towards Drumbeg this morning. We had every intention of visiting the ‘Lady & her Shed’ full of crafts which we visited last year. But arriving at the entrance we were out of luck, because of course, it was open every other day apart from Sunday’s. So leaving the ‘Lady & her Shed’ behind, (she’s actually called Crafts on the Croft) we continued into the small village of Drumbeg and visited another one of my favourite hidden Highland gems, which we also visited for the first time last year.
Hidden in the Highland wilderness is Assynt Aromas, formerly known as The Candle Shop and Tea Garden. Stopping for a drink and cake, I had one of my beloved loaded hot chocolates and a piece of the cookie dough, salted caramel and chocolate tart. It was truly scrumptious! If you’re ever in the Highlands and passing through Drumbeg you must visit this little hut of heaven. Filled with beautiful & limited handmade products, the scents of the soaps, candles and lotions are so lovely and capture the aroma of their names so perfectly. A keen favourite of mine is the Highland Lavender and Wild Rosemary candle, a gentle and enchanting combination which isn’t overpowering but smells divine! We love the products created by Helen and Danny, we just had to buy some more – you know start the Christmas shopping early! For such a small business, hidden away from the typical high street businesses, I find it so so important to support independent places like this especially in such a remote location like Drumbeg.
Saying goodbye and see you next year (hopefully) to Helen we left Drumbeg behind and headed over the Kylesku bridge, up past Scourie and took the A838. A very narrow and remote road, but with a beautiful white house situated on the far side of Loch More. It was the most idyllic house and setting that depicted Highland living.
After spending a lot of time driving around today we decided to go for a spontaneous stroll once we reached Lochinver. Well, what we thought would be a stroll turned into a little more of an upbeat hike. The beginning of the path is signposted which is situated opposite the bridge as you enter into Lochinver. The rough path takes you alongside the river, travelling deeper into the wooded valley. With the amount of water that had fallen lately the rapids and falls were very fast flowing. Emerging from the trees, the path gets quite boggy but is still well trodden and easy to follow.
As your passing through deer territory be sure to move through quietly, because you may be lucky enough to spot some on your travels – we did, you might be able to spot it in the photos below. But please keep your distance and let them be, don’t disturb them in their own ground.
Passing through a deer fence the path will start to incline slightly and fabulous views of Suilven and Canisp can be seen. Continue following the path until you reach another large deer gate – be sure to close it behind you!
The track then slopes down the other side and Glencanisp Lodge can be seen from your route. Reaching the final deer gate (be sure to shut it behind you!) pass through the gate and you’ll notice there are buildings ahead. You can pass through the buildings which will reach the public road, but just as you exit the last deer fence there is a sign for ‘nature trail’ which passes behind and above the buildings. We decided to take this route and actually it gives you a good view of the buildings and the surrounding landscape. The path then sneaks out onto the public road, continue following this road down the Glen and eventually you will reach the main road.
Feeling a little stiff & achy we headed back up the town to the car and set off back to Chalet, all very hungry and ready for dinner.
DAY 9 //
Checking the weather this bank holiday morning it forecasted a blazing hot day for down south, up north was a whole different scene. We woke up to howling winds & horizontal rains but as always it didn’t stop our mini day adventures.
Knowing the ‘lady in the shed’ (Crafts on the Croft) would be open today we headed up to her house to see what other highland crafts and goodies she has this year. Again we bought some Christmas gifts ( we’re so prepared this year) had a good chat to her and then was on our way back along the B869 heading towards Clashnessie beach. We stopped off for a stroll on the beach and I headed over to the Highland Cattle grazing in the field. I could stand and watch them all day, they have to be my favourites! Leaving the beach behind, we continued along the single track road pulling in at each passing bay for other vehicles then headed off towards Stoer Lighthouse. As the winds continued to howl and the rain swept across the wild headland we headed up to the lighthouse. (which is currently for sale – how cool would it be to live in a lighthouse!) Wondering around the walls of the property we gazed at the sheer cliffs being battered by the rough sea whilst we were blown around the headland. On a calm clear day the lighthouse and the Point of Stoer are amazing places to stop and look for sea creatures, and you can document your sightings back at the car park where Living the Dream provide a chalk board to keep a track of what’s been spotted and where.
Heading back towards the car we set off again, this time heading towards a new little independent shop called The Culkein Stores. A modern out building, situated in the owners garden is filled with freshly made jams, chutneys and marmalade’s, all made inside the buildings for visitors to see, and homely, handmade products line the shelves and walls.
Picking up some of the homemade jams and chutneys, we headed off again around to Culkein Bay and parked up for lunch. Once finished, off we set again! This time heading back towards Lochinver. On our route we decided to stop off at Stoer bay as we noticed a large group of people stood near the cliffs. Being the nosy people that we are we wanted to know what they were doing! So we parked up and headed over. Ha!
We had a really interesting talk with one of the archaeology workers as he explained there current community project in which they are excavating, conserving and trying to stabilise the Broch. Clachtoll Broch is one of the most spectacular Iron Age settlements in NW Scotland. It was fascinating to hear about the excavation and what they’ve discovered already hidden underneath mounds of stone, soil and rubble. I loved the fact that it was a community project and that locals where participating and working together to unravel the historic feature on their coastline.
Afterwards, we continued meandering about the bay picking up a few rocks / boulders here and there as the sun finally began to come out.
Our next port of call was Clachtoll beach. We usually have a day at Clachtoll beach paddling on the boards and chilling but because of the weather the sea has been too rough and windy – in fact there were physical waves today rolling into the bay which were surfable. We explored the surrounding hills and rocks and read the various information signs. One I will suggest for you to read is on the hillside through the gate by the public toilets – do make sure you go look in the window of the Bothy ahead, you might just be in for a little surprise!
Getting back in the car for the final time of the day we headed back to the chalet for a much needed cup of tea & dinner.
Even though it might seem like we’ve hopped in and out of the car all day, we’ve only been travelling short distances in comparison to some of our other days out. And even though we’ve stayed fairly local we’ve seen and done things we’ve never seen or done before & once again faced the glorious scenery in all weathers.
DAY 10 //
Never leave your parents to read a bus timetable. It destined to go wrong. Somehow managed to arrive an hour and a half early to the bus stop this morning! Waiting and waiting and checking the timetable numerous times, no bus ever arrived! Three times indicated on the timetable had passed and still nothing arrived – so just this once maybe I’ll blame the bus not the rents.
Giving up hope, we decided to drive ourselves over to Achmelvich instead where we then set off on another little intrepid adventure.
The skies were blue with the odd fluffy cloud here and there but the wind was blustery and stifling cold. Nevertheless, we headed back up the beach road towards Loch Roe taking the clearly signed footpath to the right.
**Oh my goodness! Forgot to say! When we were walking up the road what came round the corner, the bloody bus! Typical! **
Heading over the bridge which crosses Loch Roe we continued along the driveway, passing through a gate, and walking up past Ardoe Cottage keeping it on our right. Following the now grassy and stoned path up the hillside, over looking the Loch Dubh we carried on walking till we reached the top of the hill. Nestling down behind some rocks, sheltering from the wind we stopped for lunch before heading back down the same route swarmed by dragonflies.
Arriving back at Achmelvich, we stopped off at the new little cafe/shop, Tidal Gifts, for a hot drink. Talking to the lady we were actually her first customers! They’d only just got the shed completed and today was their first time of serving from inside the hut – previously they had been serving from inside their conservatory. If your ever in need of a hot or cold drink, freshly baked cakes or some beach toys then Tidal Gifts is the place to go! There hot chocolate, topped with marshmallows and cream, was super tasty and warmed me up nicely! https://www.facebook.com/tidalgifts/
Heading down to the beach we sat for a while whilst the sun shone on the waters surface. The water gleamed in the light making it look oh-so inviting – but let me assure you it isn’t the Caribbean temperatures it makes you believe!! Despite looking an inviting vivid blue there was a visible current on the choppy surface as the wind blew on shore. After getting sand blown in my eyes, up my nose, up my shorts, in my hair – anywhere imaginable in fact – we decided to head back to the chalet just before the rain arrived!
DAY 11 //
Itinerary: John O’ Groats-Dunnet Head-Thurso-Bettyhill-Tongue-Balnakeil-Bed
Waking up an hour late & to a deer chilling on the lawn outside the chalet, we quickly had breakfast and a cuppa before setting of up to John O’ Groats. The plan was to leave at 8, but us sleepy heads didn’t end up leaving till 9.Nevertheless, with very little traffic on the roads we headed off on the A837, joining the A839 to Lairg and onto the A9 up the east coast.
My mum and dad always speak about loving the West Coast the most as the east was to bland and flat, but until I saw it for myself I continued to be hopeful. After travelling up part of the coastline today, honestly, I found the east coast very bizarre. It didn’t feel like we were in Scotland and was far from what I imagined. The contrast in coastlines and landscapes was very unexpected. Whilst the west coast is rugged, mountainous, wind blown and remote the east is a series of rolling hills and pristine green farming fields, house after house and one very fast, busy road. Whilst it may still be jaw-droppingly beautiful and picturesque and I can’t wait to explore the east coast further, I certainly know which coast my heart lies at.
131 miles and 3 hours later we finally arrived at John O’ Groats. Having been to Lands End last summer it was strange to see how different these two landmarks functioned. Here I could actually touch, in fact hug the sign post! Once we’d taken a few hundred photos stood by the sign post, we headed off around the souvenir shops eyeing up all the garish trinkets. One of the shops which was a firm favourite of mine was Driftwood. Packed with a variety of beautiful gifts, cards and clothing suiting every age, to me it was my idea of heaven. I could have easily spent a fortune picking out Christmas gifts for friends and family – thinking back I wish I had done!
Starting the 4 hour journey back to Inverkirkaig we began our slow journey home. We were in no hurry to get home making it a nice, gentle meander along the north coast road. Stopping off at beaches or viewpoints, or simply pulling in at lay-bays to admire the view.
A particular spot I wanted to visit was Dunnet head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain. There’s so much to seee here and with the clear blue skies staying for the afternoon we couldn’t have asked for a better day.
Tip: make sure you’ve got some binoculars. Walking up to the view point we could see for miles. Storma island and the Orkneys were so clear in the distance and the point of Cape Wrath. It was glorious. But also admire what’s around you. Read about the military buildings situated on the hill, find out about there history and have a look around. Walk to the point by the lighthouse and watch the crashing waves hurl themselves against the cliffs. Walk along the public path, which passes down against the brick wall as you enter the car park, a bit precarious but it gives some great views of the islands and cliffs.
Setting off again, passing through Thurso and Bettyhill, heading towards Tongue the coast road was very quiet and lonesome. Then the most spectacular thing happened. What was wondering down the road and munching on the grass? Highland Cattle! I was in my element. Approaching slowly, we wound the windows down and got our cameras ready, only to arrive to one munching a plastic water bottle! I panicked. We all panicked. Dad managed to snap a shot whilst I jumped out the car to grab it off him. Thank fully it dropped it new picked it up and put it in a bin. I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It something you never expect to see, especially on a road so remote and secluded. It was alarming! I’ve already spent part of my holiday photographing the waste and litter washed up, or dumped, on the beaches we’d visited because I was amazed at the amount that spread our coastlines. I’d been documenting it as I’d already wanted to write post about it, now seeing this has only pushed me even more. Litter is so dangerous to any living creature, however large or small. But it can be prevented. PICK UP YOUR LITTER!!
(prepare for highland cattle overload!)
Continuing along the road passing the other cattle and snapping away we could soon start to see the mountains beginning to loom in the distance. Carrying on back down the west coast we stopped at Balnakeil Bay for a wonder along the sand. This has to be one of my favourite beaches as the pure white sand stretches for miles sheltered by the rolling sand dunes. This is definitely a camping spot for my next trip.
After picking up some of the delicate shells and being battered by the wind we set off for the final time. Arriving back at the chalet we just delved into another scrumptious dinner and I’ve headed straight to bed. Let’s just say it won’t take me very long to fall asleep.
DAY 12 //
Itinerary- (Achins) Inverkirkaig-Bed
Mega chills today. A very slow and lazy start to the morning but I think after yesterday we deserved it!
We decided to finally have a walk up to Alchins Bookshop, which we passed on the third day at the beginning of our walk to the Kirkaig Falls. It’s a great little stop off before or after your walk to the Falls or even Suilven! Selling a wide variety of books from Scottish fiction and non-fiction, natural history, hill-walking and children’s literature there’s definitely something for everybody. But also postcards, cards, paintings, toys, knitted clothing, CD’s and lots of other little gifts perfect for any occasion.
What I didn’t realise was that the bookshop is currently up for sale along with the detached house next door. But only because Alex, the owner. is retiring soon and he simply wants to pass the baton on to another couple who could keep the business running for another 25 years. Reading the article I was literally like wow! Why can I not afford this! This is the most ideal opportunity for me and the most beautiful setting to be around. The little shop is a surprise to any new comer to the area with such a vast array of products hidden inside this ‘oasis’ who wouldn’t want this bundle of joy – but for now, unfortunately it can’t be me.
Heading back to the chalet we continued our day of rest by lounging in the warm sun, reading, eating and chatting away.
This evening we decided to head out on the paddle boards in the bay as it might be our last chance before returning home on Saturday, weather dependent. Venturing a little further out than usual we headed past the headland, battling against the wind and waves, nosing into each little inlet to see if there were any more hidden bays. We’ve had such a lovely evening and the weather has been heavenly. But definitely time to go in now, because the midges are starting to eat me!
DAY 13 //
So last night I could not sleep. All I was thinking about was my independent business I SO WANT. After visiting the multiple small, remote independent business around the highlands and seeing how little they need to create a wonderful life for themselves but also how happy and grateful they are to be where they live & do what they’re doing has inspired me so much. It’s encouraged me even more to make my dream a reality and made me realise that if they can do it, why can’t I?
& then I had a bit of a wild idea! (which has seemed to make my idea of always wanting a shop of my own a little more attainable) What if I created a mobile gift shop?! This crazy idea not only stems from my love to visit quirky and distinctive gift shops, pop along to fairs and fetes, and community events filled with handcrafts. But also I’m most definitely the adventurous type & one to explore and travel the wilderness of the UK. So why can’t I combine the two?
I would still have all my initial intentions and desires just condensed down into the back of a van. Totally do able! It would still be this creative space which creates an opportunity for all creators; whether a new graduate, an arising artist or an established brand. It would still be my own space, or a creative hive as I like to think, which celebrates an array of illustrators, designers, print-makers even textile creators. I want to be able to show what is happening in all the tiny studios across the country and create an exciting opportunity, and a new way, of getting work into the public sphere. I would appear at fairs, events, festivals, fetes, in private car parks. I’d bring gifts to you all stocked and displayed from inside my little van whilst also maintaining an online shopping presence.
As I’ve said in a previous blog, I know this doesn’t come easily, nothing so challenging comes easily. But I have so much motivation and passion for this that I’m determined to make it a success.
Aside from planning a pretty wild plan in the early hours of the morning we’ve had a lovely, chilled last day. We went to a craft-makers market in the town hall of Lochinver, filled with a variety of handmade products, and of course we had to buy something!
This afternoon we had planned to try and get another paddle in at Achmelvich, but the clouds came along and the wind picked up making the water pretty rough to paddle gently on. So instead, not wasting the afternoon, we headed off for a little stroll over the hills to Alltanabradhan, a hidden secret cove.
The walk is lovely for an afternoon stroll and gives you the chance to explore and see more of the coastline. We first found the bay 2 years ago when we were paddling around the coastline. Today, the weather might not have been as glorious as usual and the tide might have been high but it was equally as charming. Unfortunately my battery died on my phone so I wasn’t able to take any photos of the bay.
After wandering around the bay for a short while we head back along the well trodden path, back towards Achmelvich. Enjoying my last bit of ‘holiday time’ I just sat on the beach and stared at the beauty that surrounded me. I absolutely love the Highlands, from the daunting mountains, to the white sand bays, to the glorious sunshine, to the howling winds, to the busy tourist towns, to the remote secluded houses. It’s a place that truly has a special place in my heart and quite frankly I don’t want to leave!
If you say the word Scotland to most people the majority of images that spring to mind are hairy legs protruding from beneath tartan kilts, rain, heavy snow, a Loch with a hidden monster, moorlands and more moorlands. What can I say? Yes, those things are inevitable but Scotland has a lot more to show than that. Just a few to mention are the vast expanses of white sandy bays dotted along the west, north and east coastline, days of actual blue sky and sunshine do exist and that a proud history has left its mark along the landscape. Maybe one day you should see if for yourself.
But for me my time in the Highlands has, once again, come to an end. But also so has my 21 years of ‘school holidaying’ with the parents. I guess it’s time to start planning my own adventures, where should I go first?
–Where we ate & shopped:
Assynt Aromas – http://www.assyntaromas.co.uk/
Crafts on the Croft
Culkein Store – http://www.culkeinstore.co.uk/
Tidal Gifts – https://www.facebook.com/tidalgifts/
The Storehouse (John O’ Groats)
Driftwood – Driftwood