Skye to Torridon over the Bealach na Ba
More Torridon photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk55HSWz
Torridon, Torridon. THE most magnificent area. I am a Torridon bore, a Torridon anorak.I shed a tear when I leave and feel my heart soar every time we arrive. W H Murray, one of our finest writers on landscape, a Himalayan explorer and part of the expedition which paved the way for Hillary’s successful attempt on Everest, described Torridon as ‘having more mountain grandeur than Skye.’ It is – along with Assynt and the Black Cuillin – one of 40 officially designated ‘outstanding landscapes’ in Scotland. It is stunningly beautiful, majestic and no other area which can better it for ever-changing light.
We made an early start that morning, promising Chris’s Mum that we would be up again in 5 weeks or so then heading south on the fast main road, just as the skies began to clear after a night of heavy rain. Typical that the Cuillin – finally – were now clearing spectacularly! Ah well, better to see them than not at all, even if we were leaving them behind.
Just HAD to pull over above Sligachan at a favourite lay-by where, by climbing onto a hillock on the opposite side of the road, you get probably the finest view of Sgurr nan Gillean and Marsco rising like prehistoric sentinels out of the moorland.It is a breath taking sight.No matter how many times I have seen this view, it always looks different, the colours or light, the season, the cloud formations on the dark peaks. Neanderthal mountains. Sensational. Sgurr nan Gillean is often translated as Peak of the Young Men but it is far more likely to be the Peak of the Gills, not so romantic but more descriptive of its sharks fin outline.
I snapped away and noticed another three or four cars pull in sharply to do the same, followed by a Rabbie’s bus.I always feel a real delight when visitors see this iconic corner of the island at its best.
It’s a wonderful drive south towards Broadford. I still think the route over the Bridge to Skye is the best one from the mainland for views. Filled up with petrol in the village, then headed over the Bridge saying a sad farewell to it all , everything looking simply gorgeous.The forecast however, despite the brightness now, promised strong winds and more rain! What had happened to our summer?! May and June are often the best months but the last few weeks had been miserable, cold and wet, too often grey and dull. We’re hardly a country renowned for the sunniest, warmest weather but it should be better than this.
Blowing a gale
We had thought about climbing Bheinn Bhan today, the ‘white mountain’ It offers a high start just off the Bealach na Ba road. But once again, the winds up there sounded horrific so – another hill escaped the trudge of our boots. Yet, as we drove up the first section of the Pass of the Cattle, the sky was blue and the hill was clear and looked SO good. I was regretting our decision already – it’s so easy to forget how awful it is on the ridges when the wind is blowing a hoolie. Somehow you forget just how dangerous it can be on steep exposed ground. Maybe we could try it? I glanced at Chris , posing the question but he was having none of it – not a chance.
There is a small waterfall just off the road near the starting point for Bheinn Bhan and we stopped to enjoy the place a bit, out of the wind. A glorious spot for a picnic.It had taken us about 2 hours from Sligachan to reach this point.
It’s all single track up and over the Pass and round the coastal route to Torridon. The tarmac winds 6 miles from the Kishorn shore to over 2000 feet, the highest pass in Britain.There are more passing places now than ever but luckily it was quiet going up and we didn’t have too many stop-starts.Hardly a hardship certainly when the landscape is this good.
It was bitterly cold and blowing a gale at the top so we had a quick look at Skye across the Sound of Raasay, me huddled in my Duvet jacket and hat.Even C, who never feels the cold and has been photographed in shorts on a hill in winter, found it decidedly chilly and unpleasant. If it’s clear and especially at sunset , this viewpoint is one of the finest on the western seaboard.
The Potting Shed cafe, Applecross
Stomachs were rumbling now and two options presented themselves – the excellent Applecross Inn or a new one we hadn’t tried – the Potting Shed Cafe. Tough call but we forced ourselves to drive past the Inn and make for the Garden Cafe this time.
The rain was on now, as we parked up and made a dash through the garden and inside. Thank heavens I’d been talked out of the hill walk.
It was busy but we got a table overlooking the delightful if wet gardens. What a gorgeous place. Very smart , more like a restaurant than a cafe. Spacious and airy and light.
We’d stocked up in the Co-op in Broadford , deciding we’d eat in the B&B tonight, something we find really relaxing at the end of a full day. I don’t enjoy going out for a meal every day, even apart from the expense.We love our own time together, chatting and snacking on favourite goodies and quaffing some wine in the comfort of our own place and space.Planning the next day. So it was soup for us both with some good home made bread and a piece of coffee cake for me afterwards.Tea and coffee and the Garden Cafe got a big thumbs up – one to try for a proper evening meal in future, definitely, though I winced a bit at the cost of their seafood platter for two.50 quid.Ouch.
Stopped at Applecross’s lovely old whitewashed church for a browse. A beautiful, tranquil place . St Maelrubha is buried in the graveyard but his grave is unmarked. The name ‘Applecross’ is the Anglicised form of the original Gaelic name – A’Chomraich, The Sanctuary. And a sanctuary it feels, remote from the cares and worries of a faster, more urban world, a place to recharge and just ‘be’.The hills are quite gentle here, not too high and it’s a green, wooded place. Softer than the landscape we had just travelled through.
Some years ago, we walked to the small beaches to the south and west of the village, where we watched a pair of golden eagles on a deer carcass, taking what they could before the gamekeeper came to claim remove it from the hill.I don’t know whether he had shot it – perhaps it was injured – or whether he had found it already dead.
It’s a superb coastal drive beyond the village, as the road climbs above the sea. Sand Beach was looking inviting and the rain had stopped so we parked up and wandered onto the shore. It was quite busy – which means there were about 6 other folk about. Beautiful spot. Chris got the binocs focused , as is his wont, on ‘Naval Craft’ he’d spotted in the Sound, a source of endless fascination and something we all pull his leg about. My Uncle John was the same.He would spend ages surveying whatever manoeuvres they were doing , trying to identify the ships.The sea and ships are in the blood of Highlanders, islanders especially; so many men from the Hebrides went to sea in times past.It was almost a calling.Uncle John was in the Merchant Navy and was also on several Arctic Convoys during WW2. Horrendous.I used to wonder that that didn’t put him off ships for life but he was always drawn to them.
The drive round to Torridon is one of my favourite drives anywhere – even more so than the Bealach. The Inner Sound is deepest blue/green, sometimes turquoise and Raasay and Rona sit in dark shadow with the Trotternish Ridge dominating the horizon.
Then further south, the big peaks of the Red and Black Cuillin rise dramatically from the ocean. Below the road are the remains of lazy beds, the rippling ridges of grass covered earth where crofters of the past worked a hard living from the land. Never was a farming method so wrongly named.
We pulled off into the big lay by at the point where the road turns along towards Loch Torridon , taking in the emerald green fields and sad, abandoned stone houses.Quite few have now been renovated into smart holiday homes, just yards from the shore.We spotted Holly’s House, a beautifully restored cosy croft house which we’d taken for a 5 day winter break a few years ago.
The drive along Loch Torridon is a corker – an absolute wow and not lesser in any way to the Bealach, though far less precipitous. I was waiting for my favourite little cottage to appear, right beside the sea and suddenly there it was – all bright red roof and whitewashed walls. It has featured in so many calendars and magazine shots and postcards. One day, when I win the Lottery , I’ll make the owner an offer they can’t refuse!
Now the Torridon giants came into view – Liathach, (the big grey one) and Beinn Alligin (the jewelled mountain or beautiful mountain) – soared in all their majesty across the loch Beinn Shieldaig, clothed in deep green Scots Pinewoods, drew the eye despite its lowly size.
This area looks ancient.Despite the weather and even when the mist is down, it has a beauty of form and colour which even the clag can’t detract from.
The Torridon cafe – scones and wine and brilliant cakes
Into the Torridon Stores and Café – a daily routine when we are here. A cheese scone and glass of wine for Chris – very civilised cake shop, to serve alcohol; hence it went up ten fold in Chris’s estimation. Latte and some ginger slice for me.To be in this lovely homely wee place with 3 days ahead of us – well, I was a happy lady. Very happy indeed.And my husband always says he likes a happy lady, that that is his aim in life – a happy wife! (Are men really so simple? – and I don’t mean that in a bad way). My handsome and kind husband says he certainly is – it is women who see things in too complicated a way. Oh, the discussions we’ve had about that one!
Torridon village always looks like the mountain will fall on top of it.It’s a tiny place, quite picturesque and the location is unbeatable.
Drove along to the start of the private road where we usually take a holiday house in Nov and /or Feb. It’s a road that leads into the Torridon Estate and although you can only bring a car if you’re staying there, you can walk through the Estate easily enough.We also know it has a resident otter which the Estate has named Nancy. Parked up at the lay by a few minutes from the road and walked along it, kitted out in our waterproofs as the rain wasn’t far away. In minutes, like magic, we spotted a small black head in the water quite close to where we know one of her holts (nests) is. There she was!
Diving for fish and crabs just forty metres or so offshore. And then, after bobbing up onto the surface a few times, she appeared with something in her mouth and began swimming towards shore, exactly where we were. Keeping still as much as we could , we watched her waddle out of the water and proceed to eat her catch, half hidden in the weeds and rocks.It was demolished very quickly.Then she began cleaning her coat and rolling in the weed before finally heading back into the sea, keeping a good watch out all the time behind her.We’ve found if you stay stock still, they don’t see you that well; their eyesight is apparently not that good.
Diabaig – our most picturesque village?
Very chuffed at our luck, we headed back to the car.It was nearly 4pm so time to drive up the superb road that winds its way above Loch Torridon’s north side below the flanks of Beinn Alligin and stake our claim at the B&B. Another belter of a drive. (They all are round here).Passed through the glorious pinewoods that mark the start of the Beinn Alligin walk and which lead easily into Coire Nobuil. Breathtaking beauty all around. Then along the single track towards Inveralligin, a tiny hamlet of lovely houses, until the sign for Brybeg appeared.
And it was a delight. Run by a warm, chatty Irish lady and her husband, a local, who are soon selling up and heading for Spain and a sunny retirement.£35 each for B&B – brilliant value.
Big garden looking across to Beinn Damh, or Mountain of the Stag as it translates. Nice comfy room and en suite.Had a glass of vino and some nibbles then relaxed in the lounge and met our fellow guests, a friendly Irish couple. They were desperate to see otters and couldn’t believe our tale about Nancy. Gave them a detailed explanation of where to look tomorrow. The chap was an accomplished photographer and was astonished by the ever changing light – he just couldn’t get over it. They had toured most of the Outer Hebrides in previous years and loved Scotland.
it was a bit early to retire to our room and with the rain not featuring as the forecast suggested , we decided to head out again and drive the 9 miles or so over to tiny Diabaig , an exquisite village in what can only be described as a mini Fjord, an inlet of Loch Torridon. It’s a magnificent drive in an area full of them – a rival almost to the Bealach as it gets quite precipitous in places, though there is no danger.But there are a few ‘heart in the mouth’ occasions when the drop gets a bit too close for comfort.
Stopped at the viewpoint cairn looking over Loch Torridon – one of the finest views in the country, absolutely gorgeous.Then over the top of the pass and down the other side , contouring along the hillside on the narrow single track road and trying to ignore the BIG drop into the moorland on my side. Then it was over and we descended sharply down into the glen and flatter ground.
On the horizon, north Skye was bathed in beautiful early evening light.
Then the final drop down into the village, circled by a wild, rocky peninsula. The few whitewashed crofts suit this harsh but beautiful terrain so well.And that is pretty much Diabaig – with its pretty stone harbour and little fishing boats bobbing peacefully in the sheltered water. It’s a stunner of a place.
Gille Bridghe Restaurant
We were keen to check out Gille Bridghe’s menu, a converted schoolhouse which gets great reviews.Tomorrow’s lunch spot?Nice menu indeed.Pretty reasonable too and lovely inside.
Wandered out onto the jetty and just drank in the beauty of the place. Not a soul around at 6pm – maybe the residents were enjoy their first tipple of the evening.Chris, I knew, was keen to do just that so we headed back, glad that we’d made the minor effort to catch this most perfect of places on a sunny evening.
Had an early tea in the room, being careful not to spill any of the seafood we’d bought; Na Mara Langoustines and Crab Claws and dill marinaded herring.Some mayonnaise and lemon. Nice bread and lots of tomatoes.It was excellent and incredibly filling – all that protein! Some prosciutto too. Crisps and then loads of tea and chocolate for me – Chris was on to better things by now i.e wine. His Dad brought he and his 4 brothers up to enjoy wine with their meal in the hope it would keep them off the really hard stuff – whisky. In fact, he never has been a huge fan of the Uisge Beatha (water of life) – wine is always his drink of choice.
Caught up on some internet stuff and lots of messages back and forth to the boys – there is no wi-fi or phone signal at the family house on Skye, which I have to admit it, is a big miss as I am hooked on messaging .I like to know what’s happening….trivial or not. Chris says I am now the family’s ‘HQ ‘ – once my Dad’s role until he passed away nearly 4 years ago.I spoke to him most days – rarely anything important, just touching base.It’s still a huge miss.
We were now pretty settled into reading and relaxing for the evening. But then the sun came out in full force about 9pm.We HAD to see Torridon bathed in this brilliant light (well, I had to. Chris would have been quite happy to stay put but he insisted, no he wasn’t staying put,of course he would come out with me.)
Another beautiful sunset
It really was a glorious evening , though windy….that wind just hadn’t stopped for weeks. (Two months later, it was reported that there were only 8 calm days between April and August).No midges of course – the only benefit.
The light over Torridon was only as it ever can be in the north west. Exquisite. Just a wow.
Back at the house, our hosts and the Irish couple were watching reality tv of some kind so we bowed out of that and headed back to our room, saying a quick goodnight.
The only slight awkward thing was, we had no tea making facilities, a really unusual scenario in a UK B&B. Instead, the arrangement was to ask the lady of the house to put the kettle on. I found this a bit off-putting as I usually have a few cups of tea of an evening but could hardly keep going back to bother her time and time again. So I asked for one cup and that was IT. We hadn’t brought our kettle either so then realised we would miss out on tea in bed in the morning! Oh no – a favourite start to the day, in tatters. The agony of wee routines ‘oot the windae’, as they say in Glasgow parlance.Went to bed suffering mild withdrawal symptoms and a bit parched.