Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Eleven
1 August 2020
Back at Ardvrek Castle and I had another good nights sleep. In the morning I quickly visited the castle again. The history here was pretty graphic. The clan MacLeod built the castle in their Assynt lands around the 1490’s, and spent many years arguing and battling everyone around them, both neighbours and clansmen alike. By the time their most famous prisoner, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose was imprisoned in its dungeons in 1650, the stories of murder, executions and sieges were well known, and the Macleods were a proven quarrelsome bunch. According to the board telling its history, The Mackenzies of Wester Ross besieged the castle in 1672, and after 14 days Ardvrek finally fell, forcing the Macleods to finally loose their lands here. The story doesn’t end there however, In 1726, the then lady of the Assynt, Frances, wife of Kenneth Mackenzie II, didn’t care much for the castle, and asked for a grand house to be built instead. Partly using stones from Ardvrek, Calder house was built within sight of the old castle. It had every modern convenience, and for its time was a lavish property, boasting a fireplace in EVERY room… an unheard of luxury back then. So much money was spent on the property, supporting the royalist cause, and on the countless parties that were held there afterwards, that within just 10 short years of Frances’ extravagances and Kenneth’s weaknesses, the debts rose excessively, and the family ended up financially ruined. The lands of the Assynt were transferred to the Sutherlands and on the 12th May 1737 the house was looted and burned. The area remained unoccupied from that point on.
When I first read this history, the castle begged to be photographed in really moody weather, and this morning I finally got it!
As I walked around the castle this morning, I noticed that River was limping so I stopped to see what was up, and was horrified to see blisters on both front paws. She seemed happy walking on the grass so I assumed it was the gravel paths that had caused it but I made the visit to the castle a brief one. I left her in the camper to rest her feet, while I visited Calda house and the small waterfall (Ardvrek waterfall?? – it doesn’t appear to actually have a name, but it was really pretty!!) over the road to the castle. I tried whenever I could to just leave River in the camper if I knew gravel was involved, not that she was remotely happy with that idea! I wasn’t going to let her feet get any worse however, and I made sure that she took only easy trips with me for a few days. Thankfully her paws healed very quickly and she never complained after that. For now, I walked up and down both sides of the waterfall, managed a sweet shot of it and then walked back towards the Castle to see it from this angle. As I did, I stopped and chatted to a couple having breakfast by their car who had been there the night before, camping. They had plenty to say about the midges of the last night, which made me feel rather grateful that I hadn’t braved them for a photo after all! They sounded particularly horrific!!!
Thankfully (for River especially) today ended up a largely driving day as I drove gingerly through single lane roads and tight turns all the way up to Drumbeg. The views and sights were stunning, the weather picked up to a lovely sunny day, and I really wanted to jump out everywhere to take photos. Unfortunately there was nowhere to pull over when I saw one though, so had no choice but to keep going. This road was a particularly tricky drive, and at times I really had to fight myself to stop looking at the views. It was important here to watch the road as there were very tight bends on this one lane route, and a continual stream of traffic heading right at me. I think this was the trickiest part of my whole NC500 drive and there was more than one occasion where I had to reverse backwards right by a steep drop. My heart was very much in my mouth at some points.
I also hadn’t been paying attention to my fuel gauge, and suddenly saw that it was running VERY low. I hoped (well prayed) there might be fuel in Drumbeg when I got there.
It was just a very small village, with nothing else there but a stunning view. I pulled up at the viewpoint to get a breather, have a cup of tea to calm my now shattered nerves, and to have a think of my options. Although the view was pretty, I have to be honest and say that I felt it wasn’t all it was hyped up to be, and much preferred the views on the way up. There was really only one spot that you could take a photo of so I took the obligatory shot just for the sake of it. I have obviously been very spoiled in my travels to think this view was just ‘OK’!!! As I stood drinking my tea, and taking in the view, I started chatting to a chap and his son who were looking at their NC500 map, which rather cleverly showed all the fuel stops for the route. Together we found the nearest one to here, and I realised that I would have to drive to Lochinver, some 20 minutes away. This made me very nervous, but I just about made it… limping in with Fred surviving on fumes I think!! I would advise people to ensure they have a good amount of fuel in their tank before doing this stretch of the route especially, and to pay close attention to their fuel levels as it was really hairy for that last bit!
I had wanted to go to Clashnessie, and passed it as I drove, but thought that I would be more comfortable if I knew I had fuel, so headed to Lochinver first. Once filled with fuel (and cookies and other goodies from the Spar shop opposite!) I headed back to Clashnessie, parked down by the beach and walked up to the falls themselves. River did come with me this time, and seemed quite happy to walk without complaint. We took our time and walked on grass wherever I could, to help her feet. As the path left the road, I met a couple who advised crossing at the stepping stones by the cottage, which whilst confusing me initially, were very clear as I approached. The path was easy, and the stones no issue to cross, allowing me to approach the falls on the left side. It looks like you can also stay on the right side, and get almost as close to the falls, so there are multiple options that I might try next time.
These falls are glorious. I thought Wailing Widow was stunning, but these almost put them to shame with their multiple levels of cascades, and its clear, open approach. You see these a long time before you get close, and you can get up very close on the side I was on. It was a good job I did cross via the stones earlier I feel, as I saw a man struggle to cross up here and a few others tried, but failed completely. The stepping stones were easy, and even though the path afterwards was very muddy and slippery underfoot, I would certainly prefer that route to the one these guys were trying… and I have crossed several rivers in my pursuit of these photos. I took loads of pictures while I was here, I mean LOADS, before I very reluctantly wandered back. Its impossible to not want to keep snapping! I felt so at peace here. However, I wanted to take photo of the derelict cottage as well, with the falls in view behind it, so wandered back down and asked the land owner if it was OK to work from his property. He very kindly said yes, telling me a little more about it. – that the property had belonged to his parents and now was shared by him and his sister. He mentioned that the water conditions can get really high when the falls very get full, and that apparently you loose the stepping stones completely. With this news I think picking your timing, and taking care is paramount at some points of the year.
Whilst I had been chatting to the man with the map at Drumbeg, he mentioned that the views at the Stoer lighthouse and the rock formations along the coast there were particularly lovely, and thoroughly recommended stopping by there. Once I had finished at Clashnessie, I thought that maybe this might make another interesting stop, possibly for the night. However, I drove round, and around, and around the area, but I couldn’t seem to find the way to the lighthouse as the road had been blocked off to vehicles. I have since examined my route, and it looks like I was heading up towards the Old Man of Stoer rocks via Culkein, instead of the lighthouse (duh!!) , so next time, I need to head more west. At the time however, I was left feeling a little disappointed and the evening was wearing on, so I had to look for a stop for the night and reluctantly started the drive off the peninsular… only to get stuck behind a herd of cows that really didn’t want to move off the road. It ended up quite a chuckle point for me as I edged very, VERY slowly through them as they one by one wandered out of my way to let me through. I eventually found myself at a parking spot near Lochan Sgeireach on the B869, and stopping near there for the night. Its the strangest thing, because although I didn’t note the position in my diary, it is on my google maps and have a photo of Fred parked up with the mountains behind – but its the one night that I have absolutely no memory of from the whole trip! Why this has happened at this one place is beyond me…