Monday, 30 August 2010

You take the high road and I'll take the low road...

Written 26th August

And we'll all get to Scotland at the same time as we're all traveling in the same little van :)

I will say this now and up front: I am not going to do Scotland any justice here.  It is glorious and beautiful with a long history crammed full of outlaw heroes and famous battles and haunting castles and sadly we only have time for a whistlestop tour on this occasion.  And with our current re-starting issues, I have had to curb my usual "oh oh oh stop it's pretty I want a picture" habit too, so some of the best scenes and places we have passed are either uncaptured or seen through the fly splattered windscreen.  Which is a real shame but there we go, can't be helped.  It should be enough to wet your appetite.

It didn't start gloriously though.

We awoke to more rain in our little loch-side stop but pressed on anyway

and it had cleared up a bit by the time we reached the edges of Rannoch Moor and the famous West Coast railway line which cuts across it to link Glasgow with Fort William and on to the Isles. 

No Hogwarts Express chuffing along the line beside us this time but in consolation, a vast expanse of moor, a beautiful impressionist daub of purple and green.

Cloudy and wet again by Glen Coe, just a few miles further down the road

but happily it was clearing again in time for the curiously angled Corran Ferry

heading for the Ardnamurchan peninsula,

the westernmost point of mainland Britain.

Yep, we are back on the last of our cardinal points quests and somewhat surprisingly, if you look at a map which shows the UK as it is commonly orientated, the westernmost point of the mainland - obviously there are lots of islands further out - is all the way up here and not Cornwall.  

It was a proper rollercoaster of a single track road, hurtling up and down and round corners and would have been fabulous in the midget, which would have approached it like a game of Rally Sport Challenge, dodging in and out of the passing places and round and past other vehicles with the skill and speed of a gokart on steroids. 

But it was somewhat less fun in an ever-willing but slightly lumbering van where every unanticipated sudden stop had the potential of turning into a prolonged and frustrating starter-killing halt.

But we got there in glorious sunshine - which sadly disappeared before the photos whilst we had a celebratory cuppa - with its lighthouse and view of the isles.  

Reporting pedantry obliges me to clarify that, according to Wikipedia that well known repository of truth and fact, the westernmost point is in fact Corrachadh Mor about a kilometre to the south.  I know, I know, that's no middle of the night nine kilometre arctic expedition to actual north and in the spirit of the quest we should have actually gone there, but when we looked at an OS map in the visitor centre, there was no marked path and much of the way seemed to be across marshy ground at sea level.  And then it started to rain.  So this is as west as we will go.

Three down, one to go!

Back on the road then, after a tactical bit of sitting around until it was dark, which made it much, much easier to see when someone was coming in the other direction but also gave the added frisson of danger and excitement of unpredictable deer hopping over fences and into the road...  There should definitely be a Scottish Highlands version of Grand Theft Auto or similar:) and so to a random layby stop where we awoke to fantastic sunshine.

And a much better day weatherwise yesterday - hurrah!  Along the Road to the Isles

- albeit heading away from the Isles -

to Fort William and a glimpse at the top of Ben Nevis (I think) looming over the town holding back an impending blanket of cloud. Scottish tourist sight: tick!

Onwards and upwards then. 

Over the tops of the moors,

alongside lochs,

past Eilean Donan castle, sitting regally between Loch Alsh and Loch Duich

and on to Kyle of Lochalsh, the link between Skye and the mainland.  We did inadvertently voyage over the sea to Skye, but found that the sky was somewhat merging with the land and sea over there so turned round and headed back over the bridge towards the sunshine.

After a short detour to Plockton - dubbed Scotland's prettiest village,

but sadly neither very small van friendly nor adequately captured here -

we washed up on the shores of Loch Torridon

at Shieldag for a much needed break from driving and a fabulous loch view,

before a heading on through Wester Ross to Gairloch

and an epic drive along the coast to a spot recommended by Brian high above Corrieshalloch Gorge to watch the sun set orange against a green and purple land and sky. 


And happily another glorious, glorious day today,

over some fabulous roads with the peaks and valleys of the North West Highlands spread out before us under a vast expanse of blue sky. 

And our first John O'Groats signpost!  We're nearly there!

It is simply beautiful up here.  Not as high as Norway, there are no snowcapped peaks here, but instead the most glorious palate of colours .  Whereas Norway is a stark contrast of deep blue sky, mirrored by sparkling lakes, set in lush green flora and punctuated by grey craggy rocks, Scotland is an endless rumpled blanket, woven together in a natural heathery tweed of seamlessly blended ambers, oranges, greens and purples.  A very different epic but epic nonetheless.

And right up here in the far north, the most fabulous expanses of fine white sandy beaches at the top of the world.  

So, here we are, stopped for lunch at Durness.  We had planned to potter along and stop up here somewhere before a grand finale and triumphal arrival at John O'Groats tomorrow but according to the tourist office it is set for horrendous rain tomorrow - the sort you southerners have apparently been having all week - so we are going to head right on there now.

to be continued...