Friday, April 10, 2009

A change of seasons

<Sigh> It was another one of those “Oh. Wow” days! We are seeing so much stunning scenery that we are nearing sensory overload!

It was still rather bleak as we left Heron Cottage this morning. The skies were heavy with clouds that were pregnant with rain. The tide was lapping at the gate at the bottom of the garden just 15 metres from the back deck of the cottage. There had been snow overnight on the high peaks that we glimpsed as we packed the car through rare breaks in the cloud cover. And the wind had quite a chill to it – down to 6°C guys, so please don’t complain about being cold!!

We travelled back across the Skye Bridge to the Kyle of Lochalsh. The majestic castle Eilean Donan can be seen from quite a distance away and we stop to get a photo but decide not to go in as we have a long day ahead! From here we followed one of the A roads in Scotland that is in such poor condition that I find it hard to believe that it is indeed one of the main roads! As the road winds in and out of the peaks we are constantly in awe of the volume of water that tumbles down the slopes. Scotland is not only the home of the brave, it is home of the fresh water!!

Heading east we travel alongside Loch Ness – one of the largest lochs in Scotland. Despite scrutinising ever little dark shadow in the water, Nessie the monster was nowhere to be seen. By this stage, the day had cleared considerably and the sun shone as we travelled the length of the west coast of the Loch before crossing near the head of the Loch and heading towards Inverness on a main road that at some times was a ‘single track road with passing places’ – still hard to believe the main roads here!

Driving into a very congested Inverness was a bit of a shock. The last week or so has been in remote-ish areas where if you passed more than two or three cars at a time, it was busy! Inverness brings us back to civilisation with a bang. The streets are narrow and it seems that with Easter looming the entire population is out shopping. Surprisingly even though it is Good Friday, it is very much business as usual. All the shops are open, the open air markets are trading (a la Maryborough Markets but busier – and trading in the main shopping mall in town). The banks are open as are the pubs. But obviously not the public services. We stop to have a look at Inverness Castle only to find it shut up tighter than a drum. We also learn that it is not open to the public. It is now the Courthouse and Sheriff’s Office.

Over the last few days we have travelled through many of the ‘Kills’ (towns that begin with Kill) and today it is the day for the Invers! Inverfael ,Inverbroom, and Inverness. Inverness sits on the banks of the Ness River and on the southern entry just before town we cannot resist stopping at the Lock Ness!! The lock on the river that is!

Once we leave Inverness and turn west towards the coast again, we get into some truly breath-taking scenery. We travel across part of the North West Highlands Geo Park where the rocks date from the dawn of time. The oldest ones date back 3,000 million years – incomprehensible! This is heart stopping scenery. The peaks thrust heavenwards with jagged sharp outlines in clean relief against the late afternoon sky. I feel as though we have reached the edge of the world and beyond those peaks, everything drops into a nothingness. It is very Jules Verne-ish! Very wild and untamed. Sharp arêtes, strange thrusted, twisted, folded and faulted rock faces, long sheer cliffs that tower above loose, dangerous scree slopes and boggy marsh leading down into ever present water courses and lochs.

We continue northwards along the lochs and come to Loch Assynt where rounding a corner we see the ruins of Ardveck Castle and Calda House. The castle dates to the 1400s as the home to the MacLeods of Assynt. Following a siege in 1672, it was taken by the Mackenzies and thereafter attacked by MacLeod followers determined that no Mackenzie should ever live there. It was finally ruined by lightening during a storm in the late 1700s. One of the MacLeod brides shunned the austerity of Ardveck Castle and so was built the infinitely more comfortable Calda House with a total of 14 bedrooms. But with the local feuds the house was soon unaffordable and was burned down in 1737 during more conflicts with those blasted Mackenzies!

Tonight we dine in Lochinver at the Caberfeidh Hotel (Karberfay Hotel and LockINver). They were very busy and quite a few of the menu choices have been crossed out. Still, there was plenty enough of a selection to please us. We settle on:
Goats cheese grilled with balsamic cherry tomatoes on a fresh salad (Michael)
Beer Battered Haddock (locally caught large haddock fillet coated with Chef’s special beer batter. With a homemade chunky tartare sauce, thick chups – sorry, chips and salad) Michael
Surf ‘n’ Turf (Rib eye medallions on caramelised eschallots and red onion with a duo of freshly caught local langoustines. Served with potatoes and salad) Maria
And even though we did not have lunch today, after the large meal of last night, neither of us can face dessert.

About 7:00 pm we head back out of town and onto another of those single track roads to get to Ardsaile B&B at Achmelvich. We had a little difficulty finding accommodation as there is not a huge amount once you get north of Inverness and we wanted to see Cape Wrath. However, with a little help from one of the other B&Bs in Lochinver, we got onto Doug and Angela Mainland at Arddsaile B&B and so find ourselves here on Good Friday.

Angela and Doug give us a lovely welcome and show us to a ground floor huge bedroom with a walk in shower (yay, no climbing into the bathtub to shower tonight!). Wisely, they have put the living areas on the upper floor to maximise the view and the bedrooms downstairs. As Angela put it – in the bedroom you sleep! There are blue tits crowding the feeders in the trees just outside the picture windows and Angela says that otters swim in the loch just down the back with seals at the beach 1½ miles down the road.

Michael goes for a walk to see what he can see before the sun sets about 8:30 pm. The beach is indeed 1½ miles away, but up two very steep 10% slopes it felt like 3 miles on the return! Angela tells us that the beach is like the Riveria in summer crowded to the hilt at anything over 20°C! Michael says it is a beautiful crescent shaped beach with rolling sand dunes behind it and hugged by headlands on either end. The sunset was spectacular.

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