Aberdeen to Applecross
Monday, 26th September, 2015
“That’s it, I’m getting out to push. Look, we’re slowing down those poor cyclists behind us.”
“Put your seatbelt back on right now Robert!”
Getting the fancy-first-name treatment from Steph is a sure fire indication of seriousness, so I buckle back up and close the car door. I wasn’t really going to jump out of our barely moving Clio, but when you have to drop it into 1st to make it around and up the hairpins on the infamous Bealach na Bà – a road of unparalleled ascent and steepness on mainland Britain – well, the thought did cross my mind.
It’s our first day on the North Coast 500, Scotland’s unofficially official tourist route around the far north of the land and answer to the US of A’s (officially defunct for 30 years) Route 66. Apparently Prince Charles and some other civic minded types were concerned about the lacklustre number of tourists visiting the hinterlands of the Highlands, and so ventured to conveniently package and appealingly brand the experience. Now, let me just preface what I’m about to say by publicly declaring my cynical hatred of all things to do with “packaging” and “branding”, especially with regards to travel and cultural experiences. But…..they done did good with this one! The website and app are (in my humble opinion) extremely well done, and there is a palpable social media buzz about the whole thing. I might well be completely wrong about this, but the impression I get from the campaign is that it has been created by people who have a genuine love for the far north of Scotland and simply want to expose others to the landscape, culture and history of the place – while adding a wee cash infusion to the local economy of course.
Hypothetical musings about motivations and megabytes aside, there is no denying that the scenic hits come thick and fast once clear of the route’s starting point in Inverness. (We’ve actually started from our home in the Aberdeen area this morning – what most people from the Central Belt consider the hinterlands anyway – adding barely more than 1 hour to the drive.) After a stop for excellent coffee and cake at The Old School in Beauly, we slowly make our way west with further stops for exploration and photos at Rogie Falls, Ledgowan, Lochcarron, and Kishorn.
Which brings us back to the Bealach na Bà, the road which – eventually, I think – will deliver us to tonight’s destination, Applecross.
“Stop, stop, stop, stop!”
“Look. Over there.”
Three deer – which a second ago had been bounding downhill, on what I am certain was a collision course with us – stood staring just a few metres from our car.
“Cool. Uh, I’m not sure we’ll get restarted on this hill.”
“See, told you I would have to get out and push.”
We eventually reach the crest of the pass and make the descent to the Applecross Campsite where we have one of their ‘upside down boat’ style camping huts booked for the night. The setting is, in a word, idyllic.
“We’re driving north from here, all the way up to Durness, then across and back down to Inverness. It’s called the North Coast 500. This is our first of 5 days on the road.”
I immediately feel like a dork for name dropping the North Coast 500 label into that sentence, but the warden seems unfazed, happy even, that we’re venturing further afield.
“Well, you couldn’t have picked a better week. Looks like the high pressure should last until Saturday.”
“Aye, I know. Looks like we got lucky with the timing.”
I immediately feel like a dork for saying “aye” with my blatantly American accent, and doubly so for saying “Aye, I”, although once again the warden seems unfazed.
Having unpacked our bedding and arranged the hut for the night we make the short walk down the hill to the Applecross Inn for dinner and booze. The setting is, in a few words this time, idyllic to the hundredth power. The bonus comes because we have food and booze – really, really good food and booze I should say – and because we can actually sit outside for our dining experience – a real rarity in Scotland.
After an unnecessary but oh-so-delicious dessert we head down the road for views of the sun setting over the Isle of Skye. Bellies full and waves gently lapping against the shore, idyllic doesn’t even begin to describe the moment we’re in. We both shoot a few photos, but mostly we just sit quietly, taking it all in, hardly believing just how lucky we are to be right here, right now.
Yeah North Coast 500, so far you done did good.
And now, a few more photos from our first day.
See you soon for Day 2!