Around Loch Carron
The single track drive along to the village of Torridon gets better and more impressive as it enters the 26,000 acre (10,400 hectare) Torridon Estate run by the National Trust for Scotland. In the village there is a Visitor Centre that introduces this fascinating landscape with its three great mountains, Liathach, Beinn Eighe and Beinn Alligin. Torridon is of particular interest to geologists as Torridonian sandstones, at 750 million years old, are the oldest in Scotland.
This is also a paradise for wildlife with otters, pine martins, wild cat and wild goats being plentiful but elusive. Look out for ancient pines known as Grannie Pines on the slopes of Beinn Eighe, once part of the ancient Caledonian Forest. Some are over 350 years old.
The peaceful village of Shieldaig forms a crescent around the head of Loch Shieldaig, an ideal outlook for holiday cottages or the camp-site perched above the village. From Shieldaig, there is a winding, minor road that circumvents Applecross Forest to the village of Applecross past fish farms and tiny lochside hamlets.
There is a rough stretch of grassland and beach to the north of the village of Applecross, ideal for a picnic if the midges are not too fierce. A religious centre was established here in AD673 when the Irish monk, Maelrubha, built a monastery almost as important as Iona and later ruined by Vikings. It is possible to continue south past the village to a dead-end at Toscaig Pier where fishing for mackerel is quite productive.
From Applecross, the infamous Bealach na Bo Pass or Pass of the Cattle is a low gear climb with hair-pin bends to the summit at Meall Gorm, some 2,328ft (710m) up with incredible views looking back over to the islands of Rassay, Rona and Skye.
The descent overlooks Loch Kishorn and finally arrives at the holiday town of Lochcarron on the shores of the sea loch of that same name. There are two local hotels and B&B's are plentiful. One novel option is the Bank House B&B on Main Street. Here, half of a Bank of Scotland branch has been turned into pleasant bed & breakfast accommodation. There is plenty to do based in Lochcarron including hiking, fishing and sightseeing around the neighbouring area. Lochcarron Golf Course is at the east end of the village which is a fun 9-holer with plans to extend to 18 holes.
To the west of the village, Strome Castle, or what is left of it, stands on a spur of land overlooking the mouth of the loch. This 15th century MacDonald stronghold fell to the Mackenzies when women of the MacDonald clan, accidentally poured water into their own gunpowder store. The Mackenzies, hearing of this, attacked and, on their victory, blew up the castle which has remained a ruin ever since.
On the opposite side is Stromeferry (no ferry) as the sign points out, reached by following the high A890 overlooking Loch Carron from the south. Not far beyond Stromeferry is a turning for the scenic route to Plockton and Kyle of Lochalsh. In spring, the road-side is dense with wild rhododendron bushes in full bloom.
Plockton, sometimes referred to as the 'Jewel of the Highlands,' is many people's favourite west coast village with its trim little cottages lining the shores of Loch Carron and multi-coloured yachts bobbing in the sheltered bay. This was the setting for the television series, Hamish MacBeth. With the effects of the Gulf Stream, pine trees stand next to palms.
With such an attractive environment, the village can become quite busy and, to capitalise on this, there are craft shops, cafes and gift shops. There is also sailing, canoeing and windsurfing on the loch with equipment for hire from Leisure Marine who also run hour-long boat trips looking for seals.
The main road into Kyle of Lochalsh was often backed up for miles with traffic waiting to board the ferry for the Isle of Skye. With the new bridge whisking vehicles over the channel in seconds, Kyle is now less of a bottle-neck. Despite a 'transitory' feel, there are plenty of shops and a few good walks with views that take in the smaller islands with the Isle of Skye n the background. There is the Kyle Golf Course with its 'honesty box' and 9 holes, now slightly overshadowed by the new bridge but a nice, little par 3 test.
The road to Fort William
Returning south via the A87, some 8 miles (13km) from Kyle is the most dramatic and photographed castle in the country, Eilean Donan. The castle was built in 1230 on a rocky outcrop, the stronghold of the MacKenzies. The interior, only two rooms and a shop being accessible, is no match for its outer aspect and spectacular location used in the movie, Highlander and featured on so many Scottish calendars or tourist brochures. There is a good view point above the castle reached by driving up the minor road towards Keppoch. The best light for photographs is obtained in the morning or at dusk when the castle is illuminated.
Further on at Morvich is access to the Falls of Glomach. The National Trust for Scotland has an audio-visual presentation nearby that gives details of the Kintail estate and all that goes on there. There are many walks but the most spectacular lead to a 370ft (113m) waterfall, the Falls of Glomach.
The A87 is a splendid drive through Glen Shiel passing
the Five Sisters of Kintail, past Loch Cluanie and on to Loch Garry. There is a parking
area that overlooks Loch Garry and with the evening sun descending, the 'map of Scotland'
can be discerned in the outline of the loch. At Spean Bridge, further on, there is
a junction that divides east to Dalwhinnie and the A9 or south-west for Fort William
which is 10 miles (16km) away. This is also a good stop for food or a browse around
the mill shop.
Thursday, December 26th, 2019
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