Glen Coe and My NC500

Glen Coe

Days 1-8
Glasgow | North Ballachulish

After an overnight in Glasgow (Premier Inn in Milngavie) where I saw my good friend Carol, I spent a week hiking in the Glen Coe area. I stayed with HF Holidays at Alltshellach in North Ballachulish. It was a very convivial week and I met Ang and Phil and we laughed a lot.

Sunday 10th
The Lairigmòr, 13km and 620m

Loch Linnhe
Loch Linnhe
Loch Linnhe


Monday 11th
Kingshouse to Kinlochleven along the West Highland Way, 13.5km

Blackwater reservoir


Tuesday 12th
The Isle of Lismore, 10km

Telegraph cable sign with an actual bit of the cable
Restored croft on Isle of Lismore
Passengers only ferry


Wednesday 13th
Kentallen Peninsula, 12.5km and 240m

Loch Linnhe
Loch Linnhe
Quite large, possibly cow
Loch Linnhe
On the run
Loch Linnhe


Thursday 14th
Gleann Domhanaidh, 12.5km and 340m
This was the very wet day, nobody got to go up Ben Nevis but we had some fun crossing a river.

Ben Nevis distillery


Friday 15th
Garbh Bheinn, 10km and 900m
This was the big mountain day, we started at sea level. Heads are down a lot as we concentrate on foot placement.

We’d just done a fun bit dangling on a narrow ledge, narrower than the width of my boot, and with a big drop.
Loch Linnhe
Loch Linnhe
Loch Linnhe
Some of the summiteers, Richard, Bill and me
I became an HF poster boy briefly (blue cap)

NC500 Clockwise

Days 9 to 16
Shieldaig | Poolewe | Lochinver | Borgie | Lybster | Invergarry | Kirkcudbright

Saturday 16th
I drove from North Ballachulish to Shieldaig. I didn’t drive up the Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle) to the Applecross peninsula because I’ve driven it several times before on previous visits. Since then this part of Scotland has been invaded by motorhomes and I didn’t fancy meeting one of them on the mountain pass. It would be me having to reverse down the mountain as reversing a large vehicle on that road either up or down would be a nightmare.
Shieldaig was the central purpose of my trip. I buried the last of Carol’s ashes in a quiet untrodden spot looking out to Loch Shieldaig with mountains behind. I wrote a short piece about that here.

Kishorn
Badachro
Shieldaig
Shieldaig

Then to Poolewe via Torridon, saw a stag, Kinlochlewe and Gairloch. I checked into a nice room in Corriness House. Drove out immediately to the Badachro Inn. Despite my confirmed booking there was a private Halloween party taking place. The cat woman behind the bar offered me chilli but it wasn’t what I wanted let alone to be in the middle of a party. Drove all the wiggly way back in the dark and had emergency posh pot noodle. After the more or less constant noise of an HF holiday I needed a good dose of peace and quiet.

Sunday 17th
Breakfast was fine, plastic flowers on the tables was the only let down. I could hear Carol chuntering away about this.
I explored the area around Loch Ewe, lots of WW2 concrete left from the Russian Arctic Convoys, not as much as the German concrete in the Channel Islands but still a lot of leftovers of a big operation. Lunch in the Perfume Studio overlooking the loch, then a short walk past yet more concrete. Lovely warm sunny day.
Although the manager at the Badachro Inn had apologised and offered a free meal, I was too tired so instead had emergency supplies meal of soup. Fell asleep watching/listening to BBC Alba, most relaxing.

Ewes at Poolewe
Large flat stone, I was intrigued by the markings, stone was about 2m x 1m

Monday 18th
Left Poolewe for the drive to Lochinver. I’d made a rough plan of the things I wanted to visit each day with room for not doing them and for doing other things spontaneously. I stopped to visit the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum in Aultbea which was small and interesting. I liked the first hand statements of the local people and how they lived with the soldiers, some Polish, some Indian, who were stationed there for most of the war.
It was a great drive, quite gloomy weather wise but dramatic scenery, passing mountains I’ve read about. I stopped to look at Corrieshalloch Gorge which had a modern looking bridge which turned out to have been built in 1874. It felt quite unstable but I ended up crossing it twice to look at this very narrow, very high gorgeous gorge. It was created by glacial meltwater.
Next stop was Ullapool for diesel and supplies at Tesco. Onwards to pass Stac Pollaidh mountain and then a stop for a picnic lunch. I made another break to walk round Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt which is overlooked by Quinag mountain. Arrived in Lochinver not long after 4. I was trying not to overtire myself.
Stayed at The Old Bakery with a room overlooking the bay. No tissues, no chair, nothing to put my suitcase on. But v comfortable new bed. Ate out at Peet’s which has a big fish menu. I ate veggie and it was ok, nothing spectacular.

Quinag
Stac Pollaidh
Ardvreck Castle
Ardvreck Castle
The lonesome road
Corrieshalloch Gorge
Ardvreck Castle
Dear deer in Lochinver

Tuesday 19th
After a stressful time in the shower, which threatened to flood the entire room, I had a continental breakfast with ham and cheese, continental was the only breakfast offering. I left The Old Bakery, run by 21 year old very chatty Evan. He’s doing well just needs a little more attention to detail! I was impressed with what he’d done so far.
I drove the exciting route (the map calls it the wee mad road) to Drumbeg which had a great shop. Then on for about 20 miles in all, at one point being nearly squashed by a huge truck on the single track road. How it did the bends on the steep slopes I’d just done, I can’t imagine, let alone what happened when it met one of the ubiquitous motorhomes. Today felt like a lot of pulling in for motorhomes and vans and the weather was appalling so I mostly didn’t see much at all especially when it was bucketing down and misty and consequently I am well tired.
I stopped at Unapool for coffee and shortbread and learnt a bit about the Geopark. Drove down miles and miles of glacial plain below Foinaven mountain, Strath Dionard. It’s a really impressive feature. A strath is a broad mountain valley.
I also stopped to look at Smoo Cave just beyond Durness. When she was here, Susan Calman said it means Cave Cave. Not as bad as Torpenhow Hill which is Hill Hill Hill Hill. I didn’t do the caving trip because I’m scared of things like that. Whilst I’m on comedians I follow Zoe Lyons on Instagram and I’m also following her on the NC500. She’s about a day ahead of me in a camper van.
Then I just kept going following Google Maps which has become less reliable up here. It’s wanted me to take several dead ends today (I didn’t because I also have a road map). However I did take an unclassified road to Borgie because today’s hotel is the Borgie Lodge Hotel. First, cows who didn’t want to move at all, then a 30 mph speed limit on a road you would be hard pushed to go over 20 mph on, then more post boxes than you see in a town, then a half naked man appearing out of nowhere in the torrential rain and mist but actually getting out of his wetsuit near a beach. I’d gone about 5 miles out of my way but hey, fun miles.
The Borgie Lodge Hotel feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere but is actually quite near the A836. I thought the boy who welcomed me was a bit surly. He gave me Corona lager without a glass and suggested I sit to eat my dinner by the window, out of which I would have seen nothing but dark and rain! Andi, whose hotel it is, was a lot more friendly.
I had a good dinner with some wine. Enjoying my room under the eaves.

Winch at Smoo Cave
Smoo Cave
Smoo Cave
More lonely road

Wednesday 20th
Good breakfast. No stags, apparently there are usually so many they fill the field but not today.
No real plan for the day. It started off dry and sunny but a lot cooler.
I stopped to look at Cnoc Freiceadain Long Cairns but within minutes was totally soaked having ignored the clues that it was about to rain! No boots, no waterproofs!
Brought all the water into the car and had to change my clothes, fortunately this was a v remote location.
I kept on to Dunnet Head which is the most northerly point of Scotland, where I managed to stay relatively dry. Couldn’t see anything really. Then same again at John O’Groats which is often thought of as the most northerly point, where it was 5 degrees as well as v wet and windy.
Wick for replenishing supplies of cheaper diesel and picnic lunches at Tesco.
So very many abandoned derelict houses here. Most single storey, hugging the contours for shelter, and then the odd one with 3 or even 4 stories, standing proud and broken all at once.
Soon arrived at the B&B a little north of Lybster, there are a lot of places in this area which end in ‘ster’ which is a steading or settlement. Modern house overlooking the sea, lovely and warm and well insulated. Purple in the loo tank made me think I was ill! Also horrible patterned sheets!
Drove to the village to eat at the pub but it was closed for the season so it was cup of soup and pot curry night.
Attended my LGBTQ bereavement group on my phone. No wireless here. I love those people, they have made a huge difference to my life.
Best village name of the day – Swordly.

North coast
View from my room at Borgie
Dunnet Head, more WW2 concrete
John O’Groats
Sunset at Lybster

Thursday 21st
Hammering overnight rain on the Velux window. Another continental breakfast only. This one entirely self service.
Best sign of the day “Caution otters for 1 and 3/4 miles” followed hard by “Deer for 2 miles”.
Cold start to the day, 3 degrees. I stopped and walked to Badbea clearance village. It wasn’t a village that had been cleared but one that people who had lost their homes in the clearances had created in the early 1800s. It was in an inhospitable location, perched on a cliff face. The idea was that they would work in the fishing industry. The population shrank year by year.
Next stop was the Glenmorangie distillery for some shopping.
Then to Culloden, which now has a visitor centre, opened in 2008. I think I must have been about 10 or a little older when we had a family holiday round Scotland, anyhow all I remember was a lot of headstones with the clan names on them in a row and how we looked for the Mackintosh stone because dad’s mother was a Mackintosh and was descended from them. I remember it being wet and bleak, so that bit hadn’t changed. There is a line of stones but not lots and the Mackintoshes seem disproportionately represented because they have 3 stones. The visitor centre has a really good immersive 4 walled video show which makes you feel like you are in the battle.
Down the Great Glen, along the side of Loch Ness to Invergarry.
Invergarry Hotel, great dinner, Skye lager, Raasay whiskey. A proper old fashioned hotel.
Fire alarm at 10pm. I was in bed because I wasn’t very warm. I put some clothes on top of my pyjamas as didn’t want to freeze outside for ages. I grabbed my essentials – money, keys, phone. It was not a fire. On returning to my room realised I hadn’t picked up my wedding rings. I know I’m not supposed to collect things but I also want to be identified if I was hurt in a fire.

Badbea
East coast
Memorial to the families at Badbea
Culloden
Culloden

Friday 22nd
Nice breakfast. It turned out that a guest had left a plastic handled brush on top of one of the wood burners which had started to melt and had set off the fire alarm, I’m just glad the fire control systems worked. Beautiful autumn sunny day with early morning mist. Stopped a few times to take photos, drink my coffee. I’ve got into a good routine making up my flask each morning. This works well on the long drives when there might not be a cafe at the right time and mostly there wasn’t or if there was it was shut. I got food and drink pretty much right with picnic lunches and emergency cup a soups/noodle type pots which weren’t Pot Noodle and were actually quite nice for dried food.
I got to Kirkcudbright and checked in. Out to Castle Street Bistro which was very well organised, distancing, sanitising, masks, contact tracing all done. Less ventilation going on now that it’s getting colder. I throw the windows open wide every time I arrive somewhere new.
I came to Dumfries and Galloway because Carol and I used to come to this area a lot. I can’t remember when. We did loads of cottage holidays over the years, we had a Herefordshire period, then D&G, Northumberland, the West Highlands. Carol was very good at finding us holiday cottages.

Spean Bridge Commando memorial, I like the faces
Invergarry
Invergarry


Saturday 23rd
Breakfast at the Arden House Hotel was as bad as I expected it to be. This hotel was too cheap and had hideous decor, but it was clean. I asked for a poached egg and was given 2 fried eggs which had been cut to look round. I don’t get this at all, they were shiny with grease and pock marked on the underside so clearly fried. Why pretend? I’ve had this before somewhere. Maybe they just don’t know how to poach an egg but want to say they are offering them? Madness, they didn’t get a very good review from me.
Decided not to look round Kirkcudbright after all, I was tired and really just wanted to get home. Nice easy journey back. I stopped but didn’t go in Tebay services, didn’t want the stress of the non maskers.
Whilst I’ve enjoyed the drives and the scenery, I’ve also been really tired so am having a rethink about my next Scotland trip. I enjoyed Borgie Lodge and Invergarry but didn’t really like The Old Bakery, Lybster or Arden House. I need to research much more and plan more.
I listened a lot to Radio 4 and most of Brandi Carlile’s back catalogue. I didn’t have enough time to do walks but the weather was also a bit challenging for that. Basically I need to stay longer in places.
It was lovely to return to my nice clean home. It’s still hard coming home, it’s still hard doing anything without Carol. I know it’s coming up for 3 years but at times I really struggle.

Carol’s final places

Dove Stone reservoir

17th June 2019, with Paul and Dave

Esthwaite Water

11th October 2019, our wedding anniversary

Llanymawddwy

18th October 2019, Llanymawddwy

Dunstanburgh

27th October 2019, with Liz and Ariel

At home in the top garden

Sometime in 2019. There is a wooden owl for company and the spot is decorated by all the rocks I brought home from mountain hikes.

Shieldaig

16th October 2021

Last of the last. Carol was like no other. I miss the brains, the knowledge, the humour, the infuriating, the trivial, the obsessions, the boring, the passion, the loving.
Carol used to say that she loved me even when she was asleep and now I know that is true.

There is no closure, it does not end. It dims a bit and then grabs your heart and twists when you least expect.

Now everyone dreams of love lasting and true
Oh but you and I know what this world can do
So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
And I’ll wait for you, and if I should fall behind wait for me

Bruce Springsteen – If I Should Fall Behind