Well, once again, the weather played a part in our plans. This time by being too sunny. How come? Patience, gentle reader, all will be revealed. The idea for today is to set off and drive the ultra-scenic Wester Ross (don't ya' just love the George R Martin tie-in) Coastal Route and wild camp overnight at Shieldaig. Apparently there's a flat car park on the harbour edge, just a couple of hundred yards away from a good pub with both decent beer and, more importantly, decent food - we don't want to cook tonight. Then tomorrow we can either trundle on down to Fort William or pop over to Inverness and then on down following the entire length of Loch Ness to Oban. Before we leave, a reminder that Ullapool is both a thriving fishing port and the home to the Hebridean ferries. Both pics taken from the campsite.
It's a well known route, good roads, the first peninsula is mainly 2 track road and the second almost all single carriageway with passing places.
Trouble is it is a very well known route and very popular. Every parking place on the fist peninsula is pretty much taken up. Difficult to stop and see the scenic babbling burns or wide open ocean vistas across pretty little island clustered bays. And what traffic too, either large motorhomes or sports cars - one set of oncoming traffic yesterday went Porsche, Porsche, Porsche, Jaguar, Porsche, Jaguar, something I didn't even recognise, Nissan Micra. More than one Ferrari has swooped past, too. Add into the mix the high performance bikes that enjoy the thrill of the bends and somehow driving this desolate and isolated scenery feels more touristy than a Bank Holiday weekend in Margate.
The motorhomes too are all the white horsebox style things, large and incongruous on this landscape. It's quite weird, most other parts of the UK there seems to be a goodly mix of large motorhomes with small campervans but up here small vans are a rarity. Probably out of season means its all retired old fogeys (like ourselves)who can't travel without all their creature comforts (unlike ourselves). To be fair, there is also an abnormally high percentage of rented motorhomes too and they all seem to be of the same (large) size.
So we enjoy the drive but don't stop as often as we like, sharing a desolate view with a dozen other tourists somehow dilutes the experience. We do stop at Poolewe though as the signs advertise a market in the village hall today. A good chance for local produce such as a loaf of bread which we buy. The hall has a permenant bead/toy/2nd hand bookshop attached so a quick wander in. No books I want - they did have a Mark Wallington travel book but not "The Uke Of Wallington" which is on my reading list. I was very tempted by Jeremey Percey's "Coffin, Cats and Freetrade Sex Toys" if only for the quirkiness of the title, but resisted. [Note to self - investigate further on return].
Books featured in our next stop too. On round at Gairloch we turned off the main road and into the village. Almost immediately we passed a Buddhist shop which had a hoarding advertising the Mountain Coffee Shop ahead. Sounds good. The Mountain Coffee Company also hosts Hillbillies Bookstore. Now Hillbillies is my sort of bookstore. It's small, so has to be eclectic. OK so much of its material was of self-improvement type stuff (obviously a partner shop to the aforementioned Buddhist store) but with a fascinating range of fiction. Being small the books were obviously handpicked - there was the usual cult Keruoac, Henry Miller stuff but a lot of material both newly printed and older, probably cult classic titles that I'd not heard of. I'd wager my good friend David would have left with a heavy bag and light wallet. Temptation once again resisted but the coffee they served was Rohan Marley's (y'know Bob's son, maaannn) coffee and it was most excellent. The best coffee we've drunk all holiday. No books but a bag of beans to lively up ourselves.
Close to Poolewe we passed some large concrete structures - gun emplacements from the last war when the Russian Arctic Convoy used Loch Ewe as its base and sailed from the small port of Cove. History leaps out at you everywhere on this trip.
After Gairloch the road turns to single track, vehicles are less too but all of the picturesque seaside villages are full of tourists. We arrive at Shieldaig mid afternoon and the place is heaving. Definitely not the quaint remote village we decided to overnight in. The reason for all these people is, of course, the weather. It's the first really good day of the year, bright sun, temperatures well into the 20s. Everyone who has been hibernating for the past few months has decided today's the day to celebrate summer. Who knows, in Scotland, maybe one good day like this IS summer. For us it's a mixed blessing, nice light to see the scenery but a real danger of sunburn on my t-shirt bare arms. Also a decision has to be made, air-con and being able to listen to our audiobook (we've recently finished "We need to talk about Kevin" and now have a completer change with Bill Bryson's Shakespeare) or open the windows partially, to allow audiobook inhibiting road noise to enter the car along with the cooling airflow. We elect for the open windows.
So no wilding for us tonight! We've got a day or two to spare and on the way up a couple of weeks ago it was lashing it down with rain which made us pass Inverness. Why not do it now, it's by far the largest city, hereabouts so must be full of interest. We'll see. It's a few more miles of single track round the peninsula and then a 60 mile or so run to Inverness. That'll make 170 miles or so for today - a long day's driving particularly in this heat. The rest of the drive was uneventful; we stop in Lochcarron for a pee break and the local Spar shop has the very local Strathcarron beer which is only brewed in 400 litre batches, not enough to be sold too far or wide. Also they have locally smoked sea trout, expensive but a nice change for our lunchtime sandwiches later in the week.
A long day, heavyish traffic coming round Inverness so we were glad the campsite was easy to find. Not picturesque but a nice location next to the Caledonian canal. Next door is a Premier Inn with a Beefeater restaurant. I'm suspecting a limited range of local beer so suggest to Liz a stroll into town. Turns out Liz has already been researching this option and discovered that after about 1/4 mile or so there is a footpath that takes us another mile and a quarter over the river Ness directly into the city centre. When I say over the river Ness, well over and along, as much of the route takes us on 3 footpath interconnected islands in the middle of the river. We arrive at our destination, the Castle Hotel, and with recently ordered pint in hand go up to their restaurant. An omen of things to come, perhaps but the restaurant is fully booked for the evening! Mid-week, off season! Actually the place seems to be heaving with French and German student types. Wonder why?
Never mind, there's a Wetherspoon's not too far away. Despite several hand pumps the local beer selection is limited (for example no beers from any of the three very local breweries: Black Isle, Cromarty or Loch Ness). Still beer and food is cheap and Wetherspoons is always a good refuelling stop. This one even more than most, it was Tuesday Steak Deal Night and after all that driving I rewarded myself with the 14oz Aberdeen Angus steak and it was very good indeed. I doubt I've had many more tender steaks in the UK and for a steak that size I would normally be paying at least 3 times the £9.50 when you consider that the Wetherspoon cost also included a pint of their premium beer!