Day 5: The Kyle of Tongue and home

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The beach below Talmine

Woke to a breezy but beautiful morning  – and with a big hearty, cooked breakfast to look forward to. Private B&Bs are such a great deal in Scotland, making them such good value.I think I paid £30 for the night for Cloisters and it was a delightful, simple place, clean and fresh.

Got showered again – a bit excessive, I know  –  packed up and walked across to the main house where a beautiful antique table was set out for me in a small conservatory. Lovely old china and cutlery too , which I love.Very interesting things on the walls and on tables; a couple who had clearly travelled the world in their time.

Audrey and Bob were delightful,  despite the previous night’s brief, almost silent welcome. They’d retired from Aberdeen, having fallen in love with the area and yes, they had travelled throughout the world – Africa, the Far East,you name it.

Although I usually skip breakfast , when it’s all laid on like that I go into overdrive.Fruit juice, fresh fruit and muesli, yoghurt.Then the full shebang – sausages, black pudding, bacon, boiled eggs, mushrooms, tomato, beans.Fantastic – I probably consumed all my calories for the day and more in that one sitting.Gallons of tea and toast.Honey.Wonderful.

I was invited up into their main lounge, the main body of the church and what a room it was. Enormously high ceiling, with wooden rafters, almost circular inside with lots of dark wood and beautiful wooden flooring.It was quite a sight – and must take a heck of a work to clean and dust. I felt so relaxed in their home and with them and chatted for ages.They had no idea Cloisters had a 5 star TripAdvisor rating (neither had I until I check that morning). They just got on with business and remarked that it was getting harder work as each year passed, with local help not easy to find and age catching up with them.I finally forced myself to get up and go – hopefully Chris and I can come back here and enjoy the house and the area a bit longer.

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Tongue landscape

By 9.30am I had found a parking space above the Kyle with just a short scramble down the moorland onto the beach below.Ben Loyal reared up impressively in the distance, a beautiful shapely mountain. 5 minutes later and I was strolling the sands – absolutely massive and pristine with marram grass dunes and turquoise water.It easily lived up to its photos and more – what a stunningly beautiful part of the Highlands, blessed as they are with mostly wonderful scenery throughout.That combination of ocean and white sand and mountains does it for me every time.I can’t get enough of it.

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Atlantic Grey seal offshore

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I was the only one there for a good half hour until two girls appeared and we nodded a friendly greeting to each other.They sounded foreign   – Italian I think and seemed as enthralled as I was with the whole place.Took lots of photos – endless shots as always.Despite doing a one-day photography course I am still locked into Automatic with the Panasonic Lumix 24x zoom.I also had the Nikon D5300 with me but despite the better light sensor, I find myself happier with the colour from the Lumix which goes down to F2.8. Bizarre and not too sure why this is the case.

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Ben Loyal

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I spent about an hour wandering around the unusual spit of dunes in the middle of the Kyle before finally heading back to the car for the drive south.

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Tongue’s church

The road was mostly empty   – and single track   – as it took me high above Tongue again and tantalisingly close to Ben Loyal – one on my ‘to climb’ list.In fact, the scenery was just gorgeous – a wild lochan with little beaches made me stop quickly just to get out and admire it, its situation was so beautiful, the empty, wild countryside all around bathed in warm early summer light.

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Ben Loyal from the Lairg road

I stopped and started so many times, as another great view of heather-covered moorland and high hills – some still capped with snow – came into focus at every turn in the road.It was far, far lovelier than I had imagined, this drive.Far to the west the big mountains of Assynt – Ben More Assynt and Conival , both over 3000 feet and therefore ‘Munros’  –  were heavily covered in snow even in late May.I’m sure you could walk across that moorland and not see another soul for days.

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Empty, quiet road round Loch Loyal
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Wild moorland all around

The air in the Highlands is a delight.Sweet and fresh and clean.Wildflowers dotted the road edges and bright yellow gorse was dazzling and smelling deliciously of coconut.The green on the trees was pale emerald – that fresh new green of early summer, a promise in itself of warmer and even longer days (though already it wasn’t dark till 10.30pm and easily light around 4am). It’s time when I always think – what will THIS summer be like? How good will it be and where will we explore and enjoy during the long, long days? (I was blissfully unaware at this time that it was destined to be one of our worst summers on record and the pretty decent weather I had was the end of a fine spell that petered out into rain and cold, grey skies and biting winds, for the most part).

Lairg finally came into view , 38 miles from Tongue and about 90 minutes later because I’d taken so long to drive the road.Yes, single track slows you down, but mostly, it was due to the constant stopping to admire the wonderful country I was heading through.No regrets about that though on such a fine day.

I like Lairg.It’s a neat village in pleasant country, sheep country , dotted with smart modern bungalows as well as some fine stone houses.Found an excellent cafe overlooking its small loch  – the Pier Cafe – going like  a fair and with a dazzling display of home-made cakes on display.My kind of place.

Ordered some tea and a big piece of carrot cake , despite not being hungry in the slightest  – sheer greed. Some of the food being delivered to tables around me looked first class – lunch was in full swing by now as it was around 12.30pm and tables were reserved right, left and centre.I was lucky to get a table at all.A window seat? No chance, all reserved.I did try the outside seating beside the loch but the wind was cold and strengthening.Too chilly.

I pretty much wanted to get home after that and while the scenery was nice, it all took on a more Eastern Highlands feel and, finally, more lowland character as I approached Inverness. Decided my one stop would be House of Bruar near Blair Atholl – Harrods in the Highlands , a shopping emporium par excellence  – if you are a millionaire.Country tweeds and shooting gear and all the paraphernalia the toffs buy for a Highland holiday.But wow – beautiful stuff.But it’s the food court I enjoy – smoked salmon and trout, great cheeses, venison and sticky toffee pudding.Great chocolate.I defy anyone to go in and leave without buying something.Pricey, yes, but very, very enjoyable. And it’s worth the stop for the toilets alone with their 5 star hotel feel and Arran Aromatics Lavender hand soap.A very civilised and always busy stop.Nice buildings too and a little walk up the river to a waterfall , if you have time and which is very pleasant.

It’s two hours from Bruar to my home and I managed to miss the worst of the rush hour traffic heading into Glasgow.

Brought home a bottle of wine and smoked salmon to celebrate with Chris and tell him as much as he could bear to hear of my sojourns.Orkney’s landscape and the NE coast had never appealed to him but the Cathedral and archaeological sites had and I might just have converted him to the idea of planning another trip together up there, given how much I waxed lyrical about so much of it.But as ever – there is just so much to see and so little time . 10 days in the NW Highlands and Skye beckoned the following week and we had 3 weeks in Botswana, Victoria Falls and South Africa already in the diary for September. Plus, a few days in Cairngorm at the end of June.

Another beautiful journey in our beautiful world.

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