North West Highlands and Skye : Loch Clair, Glen Torridon and a Pine Marten

The tent is chucked.

http://www.arrina.co.uk


Leaving Brybeg along the Inveralligin road

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The wind had dropped a lot. Missed our cuppa in bed in the morning given the odd lack of a kettle set up in what was otherwise a cracking B&B. Lovely Irish woman running it and her Scottish husband. Met our two fellow guests (from N.Ireland) a  very nice couple, the husband quite a serious photographer with some impressively expensive lenses.Clearly knew what he was doing when I, with my almost equally impressive Sigma lens, did not.This was their umpteenth trip to Scotland and they were now tracking the elusive otter. Told them where to look and yes, when they asked, I admitted we’d got a view up close the day before.I hate doing that – it always sounds like braying when someone else hasn’t been so lucky and we’ve seen otters countless times in the Highlands and islands.Hoped they’d be in luck today.

Enormous breakfast, lots of nice chat.Very disappointed to learn their house, Brybeg,  is up for sale and that they are are heading for Portugal in the autumn! Big loss.Too many poor summers and long winters, they felt.Not sure I’d totally agree with that perspective but……

Couldn’t resist trying to spot Nancy the otter again before he headed into the village so got out in the drizzle and wandered up and down the private estate road for a while. No joy. We DID however meet our Irish friends who unfortunately had had no luck either.

We were now supposed to be camping for 2 nights but the forecast of more gales and heavy showers wasn’t appealing.We’d got too used to warm cosy houses and comfort.Time to think again.Just had to spend more time in Jo’s Cafe as we could get wi fi there and see if anything was available. May is busy ( though you’d never think it) but it’s all relative and there aren’t that many places to stay.It pulls the same people back year in year out and booking ahead is vital.Chris raised the dreaded prospect of maybe going home which nearly caused a major fall out; but I know he had no wish to camp in cold, windy wet weather.I didn’t either. He had enough of that coming up with his Duke of Edinburgh expeditions in the Trossachs, Mull and Cairngorm next month.

Rattled off a few enquiries and then settled in to enjoy the cafe latte and homemade scone in front of me; it was too early even for Chris for wine at 11.30am so he had a latte too.And then ping –  a reply came in from the owner of a tiny little converted barn  in Arrina, about 25 mins drive away on the opposite side of the loch.Nice spot.Super price – £25 each per night for a small self catering place with a minimum 2 night stay.Perfect! We’d take it.

That sorted and the sun making an appearance we stopped off briefly at the Community Hall which often has nice photo prints for sale. Then headed on through magnificent Glen Torridon to Loch Clair and a short easy stroll to an iconic Highland view.

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Loch Clair

The wind had dropped again, the rain was off and the beautiful loch was like a mirror.The big hills were clearing quickly of their cloud and mist. It was stunningly beautiful.Spent an age taking photographs of the same view but it really is wonderful.The whole area is glorious – from the Scots Pine fringed loch to the ancient snarled hills that rise above it to the scary terraced flanks of Liathach itself.Too cold still for midges, we wandered down to the Lodge admiring the birch trees coming into leaf ,  crossed the bridge, then headed back to the car.

 

 

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A quick look in the Torridon Deer Museum  – very interesting for kids too, lots to touch and handle – all done by Lea McNally the famed National Trust Ranger who lived in the adjacent house for many years.

 

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Wonderful writer about the area and wildlife. Strolled across to the Deer Park though I always think (are they farmed?) they look less handsome than their wilder counterparts.

 

It was around 2.30pm now and we were keen to see our new place.The drive round to Arrina is just splendid – one of my favourite coastal drives anywhere. On a par with,  if not exceeding, that of Chapman’s Peak in South Africa and it’s certainly more impressive than the Big Sur coast, lovely though that is.

 

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By  3pm we had pulled into the parking area in front of our accommodation for the next 2 nights, in a beautiful situation above the loch. Met Muirne and her daughter who were trying to fix the shower as the plumber had failed to show! It was very simple , a converted barn  but a comfortable place, perfect for two, quite charming.It’s not easy to get short lets at this time of year. Tiny garden, flower pots. All old stone walls and slate roof, a lovely sympathetic conversion. And another big plus – Muirne fed a pine marten most nights so with any luck I’d get some close up shots.

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Got ourselves unpacked and were so glad we’d found this little place.

Wandered down to the harbour, though there was an awful working garage full of junk right next to it that was a real eyesore. Soon turned our backs on it and headed up the hill to get views over the loch.It was a glorious if cold day now,typical of the Highlands; one minute you think the clag is down and the mizzle on forever, the next, blue sky appears.It makes for spectacular light.

We’d popped in to Kenmore where Donald McIver has fresh shellfish for sale but he was shut.No boats out in the gales.

So we had chicken pieces sautéed  in chilli and curry powder to look forward to ( Chris’s signature dish, super tasty) , plus his excellent homemade potato and onion mayonnaise – to die for. All dead simple and easy to cook.

Took another wander after dinner to get some sunset shots, the evening, again being a cracker.Headed up the small hill behind the house and surveyed it all – it was truly magnificent.

 

 

 

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Muirne put out a whole egg and some peanut butter and jam out around 10pm and we waited with bated breath to see if the Pine Marten would appear.Sure enough, about 10 mins later, I saw him from the kitchen window, darting down across the garden and along the side of the path to where the goodies were.I raced to the front door and watched him through the glass panel, trying not to shake the curtain too much. I had the big 500mm lens all ready to go but through the glass I knew it wouldn’t be very sharp but better than nothing.

 

 

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He shot off before I could even press the shutter, with the egg in his mouth. Then 5 mins later back he came and licked the peanut butter off the plate, nice and slowly – perfect for viewing! What a thrill! He looked up nervously a few times but then got on with the serious business of eating.Then off he dashed, into the folds of the moorland beyond the dry stane dyke.

Had a look at the clearing sky at 11pm, the stars not quite visible as it was still so light.Cracking cold outside but stunningly beautiful. Utterly quiet.What a find this place was.

But during the night gales and rain came in.The thought of being in the tent chilled me – thank heaven’s we’d seen sense.

Last Day

It looked pretty damp outside so we had a leisurely breakfast of gallons of tea and bacon rolls, then relaxed a bit and read.By 11am it was looking much better so off we headed to pretty Shieldaig village.

Had a nice coffee and cake in Nanny’s and strolled along the front.

http://stevecarter.com/nannys/nannys.htm

It’s a beautiful spot.Bought a few things for dinner later – venison steaks  – and got some postcards then on to Torridon village and a walk along the single track road to see if Nancy was about. But the wind was still quite strong and the waves were choppy, not so much chance of seeing her little head bobbing through the water.We did have the thrill of watching a beautiful Black Throated Diver close to shore, a wild Arctic bird which sometimes stays as late as May before heading for Greenland or Scandinavia.

 

 

 

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The rain started again so we headed in the car up and over the road to Diabaig to grab something to eat ( one thing about bad weather, we lurch from tea room to tea room. Great fun!) But we don’t go in for lunch in a big way really , so Chris just had coffee and I had a first class coffee cake with mine; wonderful baking on display.It’s a delightful place and we’ll need to do it better justice next time.

 

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Wandered out on the exquisite stone pier, a long jetty with an ancient stone fishing hut and just drank in the place. Traditional whitewashed cottages line the shore and craggy hills form a semi circle above the hamlet, like a Norwegian fjord.On the horizon, Skye’s Trotternish ridge is outlined sharply.There is a walking route round into Loch Torridon which I really want to do some day – in better weather.It was sheltered here, but the wind was fierce on the loch itself.

 

 

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The drive back is one that could take you hours in half decent weather; it just takes my breath away every time. We stopped at the most vertiginous spot on the hill road just to savour those amazing views.It rivals the Bealach na Ba in many ways but few every make it round here. At sunset, it is sensational.

 

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It was stop start all the way to Torridon village where we just had to stop off at Jo’s cafe and eat more scones and tea and for Chris, his first white wine of the day. Chatted to her for a bit  – they are the nicest people that run the place – bought more postcards and a few snacky things from the shop.

Of course the drive back past the Torridon Hotel had us stopping again though the wind would have cut you in two.And it was Baltic. May is rarely super warm but this was just ridiculous. Everyone was talking about what had happened to what is often one of our better months.Camping in this would have been a nightmare.

Headed round to Sand beach for a stroll as the rain had eased again.It’s a beautiful place and a few other hardy souls had also had the same idea given the window in the weather.

 

 

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Then it was back to the Barn and a nice bottle of Cava popped open with some olives and crisps to nibble on and relax.Another day in paradise – despite the weather.

The Pine marten came down again for his treats about 10.30pm, just as dusk was falling.We’d stretched our legs just before that on another wander through the tiny hamlet and up onto its highest knoll, to enjoy the views.But it really was bitterly cold.

We’d failed to do any of the high tops which we’d put on our list – Sgurr Dubh, Beinn Shieldaig, Bheinn Bhan; a big disappointment but it was killing weather up at 3,000 feet, no pleasure and we’ve become fair weather walkers these days, certainly when the big mountains are concerned.But at least I’d had a good dose of Torridon, even if the weather hadn’t been kind to us this time.It renews the soul, as so many parts of the Highlands do, putting you in touch once again with the wilds and the wilderness and this relatively small part of the world’s utter unspoiled beauty.We will be back.

 

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