Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Fourteen
5 August 2020
Another grim day, but I didn’t fancy another one in the car park – that might prove a bit TOO depressing..! After a slow start still feeling a little uninspired, I decided instead that I would take another day off being a photographer, and that I would simply be a tourist instead. I was fairly close to a part of the NC500 route that I was thinking of avoiding. Apparently it was, reportedly, a very steep and tricky route with a series of tight hairpin turns – all on a single lane road. The thought of driving this had me feeling quite nervous, but today, I changed my mind, and decided I was going to try and brave it after all and have a bit of excitement instead! I left loch Maree full of enthusiasm for my days holiday, headed for Kinlochewe, turned right and drove towards Shieldaig. I had no internet for my sat nav, but the route was easy, being just one road, and I simply followed it with some good music playing. Despite the grim weather, I was still able to enjoy some of the stunning views along this stretch, and my mood remained fairly chilled.
I passed a spot that had a beautiful mist driven layered view that I really liked, (see the post header pic) so I jumped out at a car parking spot to take some photos of it, leaving River free to pad around me and explore while I worked. Perhaps a little photography was going to be on the cards after all today… After a short while, River suddenly started barking, and I thought that another dog owner had taken their pooch for a walk. River seems to have taken a total dislike to other dogs of late, and this was beginning to cause me some irritation and embarrassment. I waited for her to calm down, or for the dog owner to appear, or for her to come back when I called, but none of them happened. Eventually I decided to check out what was going on, since she clearly wasn’t happy! As I rounded the camper I was greeted by the sight of my dog challenging a young deer with very big antlers (!!!) He was totally unafraid of my yapping mutt and simply stood his ground as the dog (from a safe distance, I noticed) simply went mad. I immediately called her over again, and dragged her into the camper, where she instantly quietened, and I moved my camera round here instead to shoot this beautiful boy. There was a camper parked next to me, and as I photographed the buck, a lady from it came over, commented on him, and said that she had seen him put his antlers down towards River at one point… so it was just as well that I had hoiked her into the camper I think!
Shortly afterwards a delivery van pulled over and a chap climbed out with several goodies in his hand. The buck headed straight for him and I got the distinct feeling this was a pretty regular thing between the two of them. The driver told us that this buck often came down to the car park if he saw cars or campers parked up, and that he was pretty friendly and confident for a wild deer. Shortly after, he left us, and the deer looked towards us in hope… but I had no carrots or anything to offer a deer, so instead packed everything away, and when he realised we had nothing to offer, he started to wander away too.
I continued my drive round to Shieldaig and after I drove through the village I took the next turning right, towards Applecross, enjoying some stunning views across lochs Shieldaig and Torridon. I expected this area to be really pretty, but the grey, rainy weather really didn’t do it justice to my eyes today, and the lack of pull over spots between showers meant that, in reality, there were no photos that I was able to take for most of the drive. Even though I had restrictions on my favourite scenes, I did managed to find one spot with a dedicated car park. I took a breather here instead, and snapped the view with my camera before the next downpour, to try and get a feel of the place at least. I suspect my mood with the weather might have stopped me actively looking for some parking spots elsewhere, but I think its certainly an area worth re visiting at some point. I know in the right conditions, this can be an outstanding area for photography.
After I had taken the turn towards Applecross the views towards Skye were lovely. It was all a single lane road, but there were plenty of passing places. As I drove this bit of road, I was beside myself to find Highland Coos just grazing on the sides of the road. I have wanted to get a photo of these for the last couple of years, but have never managed to find one… today there was not just one – but 6!! All were mooching around, and I tried to grab a quick photo of these gorgeous beasties from the drivers seat as I very carefully drove past. Then, on realising that there was no-one in front or behind me, I decided to pull over and take a few pictures properly. These cows were awesome, and SO obliging. Clearly they are used to people because even the mum and baby were happy to just stand and let me snap a few quick photos. Of them all though, this one just sitting on the verge was my favourite. She kept her eyes on me the whole time, and even though I was trying this hand held, (and I am not particularly good at handheld) I was able to get some really good clear pictures of her. I couldn’t wait here for long though, so I grabbed what I could over the minute or so, and quickly jogged back to the camper.
As I went to pull away, I noticed a large motorhome heading towards me, so, as I was already in the passing place, I decided to just wait with my engine running until they had passed, before pulling out again. Only they didn’t pass me. Instead the driver pulled up at a really daft angle with its nose right in front of me in the passing place, and its back end blocking the whole of the road – and then 6 squealing young women all jumped out with their phones out ready to take selfies with the cows. I couldn’t believe it. They were totally oblivious to any other road users, and it only took another minute before a second car had to just stop and wait in the road behind them. The girls didn’t seem to care, and they very inconsiderately stayed for ages taking lots of photos with different arrangements of people, with each of the cows, while the traffic built up in front and behind them. Eventually there were some traffic horns that drew their attention to the road blockage they had caused, and they finished up and climbed back into the motorhome. I tucked Fred over as much as I could while the driver wriggled the huge vehicle straight again, and then squeezed passed all the traffic queued behind me. From the looks on the faces of the drivers that trailed behind them, there were a lot of angry people… and quite rightly so, since the girls had demonstrated no thoughts for anyone but their own little bubble.
The road continued round to Applecross, and I planned to stop here to enjoy some of the food available from the pub here. I had read some good things, and it seemed like the perfect place – until I realised that it was SO packed with holidaymakers, that there was literally nowhere to park. This was the first time I had seen so many people in one spot since I had begun this trip, and it left me with no choice but to keep moving. I was quite disappointed.
It wasn’t long after Applecross that the road began to climb, and I started to recognise the route from a video I had seen online. This was it… this was the bit that was going to take me to the hairpin turns, and my excitement began to build… so did my nerves, and I really hoped that I wouldn’t stall the van on one of the tight bends! It seemed that fate had other plans for me today though, and as I climbed the road got foggier and foggier until in the end I wasn’t thinking of stalling at all, I was really frightened of anyone coming head on at me, and very fearful of having to reverse without clear visibility behind me! In the end that visibility got so bad, that when I spotted a parking spot to my right, I pulled in and finally breathed. This was getting really terrifying!
As I paused for a cuppa to calm my nerves, a man knocked at my window, apologised for disturbing me and asked advice on the condition of the fog from the area I had just come from. It seemed that he was in a motorhome being followed by his sister-in-law in a camper behind him. Her nerves were so shot, she was having a minor breakdown and was a complete wreck. I got out and walked over to reassure her that the drive was only going to get easier from here, since for me, it had only been getting worse. They then told me the full story of their experience so far – apparently as the motorhome had been carefully driving, with the camper behind, and a car behind them, another (single) car had approached them head on, and had point blank refused to reverse to a passing place, despite it being explained that it was easier for him to reverse than 3 vehicles. In the end the oncoming driver just turned off his car and refused to move. and by then there were more vehicles queuing up behind in both directions, and a major argument erupted with this one driver being stubborn and obstinate about it all. Other oncoming cars eventually reversed up, and the man was basically forced to move back by the words of a lorry driver in the motorhome queue and he finally let the morothome, campervan, and all the backed up vehicles through. No wonder she was stressed!! Driving up a single lane road, with little to no visibility was hard enough without an blazing row with an awkward driver, and then be forced to have to edge past other vehicles…
I reassured her even more that the route from here was way better than that sounded, and they headed off again feeling a little more confident. I, however, was feeling quite unnerved so decided to wait for a few hours to see if this mist might lift. I wandered out with River to stretch her legs a bit and found a plaque to the side of the car park. Turns out this spot was the much adored viewpoint that I had been quietly looking forward to as a reward for getting round the hairpins. For me however, the view was lacking a little bit (!!) and I still had to face the hardest bit of the route. On the plus side, this did meant that the hairpins were close. By 5pm nothing had changed weather-wise sadly, although the traffic was greatly reduced – so I decided to brave it!
Here is where my luck changed… firstly, instead of going UP the hairpins, which I was dreading, I went DOWN them… and with no other traffic I managed to do so without stopping at all (YAY!!!) Secondly, as the hairpins finished, the fog started lifting really quickly, and a minute or two later, I managed to see this view. There was another small parking spot to my left luckily, so I was able to get this shot into my camera at least. Not quite the view I was hoping for, but a pleasant reward for my heightened stress levels of the last few hours.
Feeling a massive relief driving from here, I simply continued along the A890, past a couple of small lochs, and headed for the Glen Docherty Viewpoint. I considered that, if the weather was going to continue being so grim, I would at least have a relatively pretty view in the morning…