High Pressure Over The Highway: Scotland’s North Coast 500, Day 1

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.

Per the Highway Code, all first time drivers of the Beach na Bà  must stop and have their photo made at this sign. IT IS THE LAW!
Per the Highway Code, all first time drivers of the Beach na Bà must stop and have their photo made at this sign. IT IS THE LAW!
Highway to Heaven? Nah, it's the "pass of the cattle".
Highway to Heaven? Nah, it’s the “pass of the cattle”.

It’s our first day on the North Coast 500Scotland’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.

Bridge over the Black Water at Rogie Falls.
Bridge over the Black Water at Rogie Falls.
Autumn colours just starting to show on the trees around Rogie Falls.
Autumn colours just starting to show on the trees around Rogie Falls.
The open road beckons, but will soon turn much steeper.
The open road beckons, but will soon turn much steeper.
The smell of coal smoke hung thick in the air at Lochcarron.
The smell of coal smoke hung thick in the air at Lochcarron.
Room with a view? I'll say! Amazing location for a home in Kishorn.
Room with a view? I’ll say! Amazing location for a home in 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!”

“What?!”

“Look. Over there.”

Homicidal deer?
Homicidal deer?

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.”

Steph enjoying the roadside scenery.
Steph enjoying the roadside scenery.
Warning: Pushing may be required.
Warning: Pushing may be required.
Stunning views across to Skye from the top of the pass.
Stunning views across to Skye from the top of the pass.

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.

How much to stay here forever?
How much to stay here forever?

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.

Because everybody loves Canadians. Such polite people.
Because everybody loves Canadians. Such polite people.
Scallops and bacon on a bed of rice with a fresh salad, accompanied by a Talisker Storm.
Scallops and bacon on a bed of rice with a fresh salad, accompanied by a Talisker Storm.

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.

Late day sunshine falling on Applecross.
Late day sunshine falling on Applecross.
Well played North Coast 500.....well played.
Well played North Coast 500…..well played.
Good night from day 1.
Good night from day 1.

And now, a few more photos from our first day.

I feel a potential road trip theme developing here.
I feel a potential road trip theme developing here.
Black and white Bealach na Ba.
Black and white Beach na Ba.
Layers upon layers of gorgeous scenery.
Layers upon layers of gorgeous scenery.
Sit back, relax, and take it all in.
Sit back, relax, and take it all in.
The Laird enjoys a common chipper, thank you very much.
The Laird enjoys a common chipper, thank you very much.

See you soon for Day 2!

2 thoughts on “High Pressure Over The Highway: Scotland’s North Coast 500, Day 1

Add yours

  1. That is some amazing countryside! Can’t you get the ‘default’ view a bit bigger, though? One has to eliminate the pictures to read the text more easily, and then to see the pictures properly to magnify them from the ridiculous to the rather-too-sublime.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: