Saturday, 7 May 2011

Go West!

A year or two ago, I made a trip to the far North, ending up at Ledmore Junction, where the fading light forced me to turn for home. I said at the time that I wanted to continue the trip down towards Ullapool, and in mid-April this year, while Mum was staying, we decided it was time to do just that. So, packing a few sandwiches and cereal bars, we headed west.

The weather along the Moray Firth was beautiful, until we got to Nairn, where an unexpected haar rolled in. Normally the fogbanks stay offshore (or sit over my house) but some twist of the weather meant that they followed course of the inner firth, and it wasn't until we had gone quite a way inland that the sun broke through again.

It took around four hours to reach Ledmore again, and the great lumps of Assynt rose before us. Last trip, I posted a picture of Suilven in the rear view mirror - this is the way it should look!

The road south runs through the Geopark - the whole area is fascinating from a geological point of  view - and we couldn't resist a diversion through the heart of it, past Stac Pollaidh towards Achiltibuie and the Summer Isles.
The road is one of the usual single-track-with-passing-places, and there are several small car parks for hill walkers, all full. Small lochs lie in the hollows between the hills, and we were delighted to get a great sighting of a black throated diver in full breeding plumage - not close enough for a decent photograph, unfortunately. Further on, we pause beside Loch Raa, where a flurry in the water turns out to be two otters! Again, they were not photographically obliging...

The sheep, on the other hand, were quite content to pose.

Not far from Achiltibuie, a small ferry takes visitors across to the Summer Isles. (and yes, they do exist outside of the 'Wicker Man' - in fact they have nothing to do with it at all.)

Turning back, we look again for the otters, but they have gone, as has the diver. We rejoin the main road and head for Ullapool, on the shore of Loch Broom.
It's an active fishing port, and full of tourists so we don't linger, heading instead for Gruinard Bay. Gruinard Island is more notorious for being the site of anthrax testing in the second world War, and was only decontaminated in 1990. On a previous trip, we saw a white-tailed sea eagle on the island; today the bay held more divers - red-throated and Great Northern - which are hard to follow as they do exactly as their name suggests - they dive, and usually surface a long way from where they vanish!

Time to go. Past the naval refuelling station at Loch Ewe, the gardens of Inverewe, to Poolewe at the end of Loch Maree.

We follow the lochside, towards Achnasheen, and come to a sudden halt in a convenient layby. 'There's a black grouse in that tree!' 'What - good heavens, so there is!'
And there was.

Next time, it's Torridon and Applecross, and the third highest (and most dramatic) road in Scotland...unless we go to Skye first! we shall see...

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