Mountains, Mist, and Midges
Shortly after Lochinver I crossed back into Ross and Cromarty making my way towards the Coigach peninsula. Full of tough hills through which narrow roads wind, I walked from one small settlement to the next, passing through Achnahaird and Reiff to name just two. Looking seawards the panorama of the Summer Isles unfolded before me. This archipelago consists of approximately 18 islands, with only the largest, Tanera Mor, inhabited on a regular basis.
Continuing down the shoreline to Achiltibuie, I took what is referred to as ‘the postie’ cross-country route around the coast to Ullapool. Apparently this eleven-mile route had also been previously used by school children of secondary age: they would depart on foot on Sunday afternoon to arrive in Ullapool much later that evening. Here they would stay in arranged accommodation, attend school until Friday and then tackle the return walk home for the weekend.
I was fortunate enough to walk this route (now waymarked in places) on a clear, bright day with glorious views out to the Summer Isles and ahead to Ardmair and Loch Broom. The path was far from clear, with heather and ferns concealing much of the way. In many places the trail made use of stream beds or the numerous rocks and boulders that were strewn before me, with their ledges providing irregular footpath steps. Being a very hot day, and having recently seen a small adder, I was careful when pulling myself up onto the warm rocks and mindful of my steps into dense undergrowth. In some areas one wrong step or a trip could have been a disaster with a sheer drop to rocks and sea below. There were many boggy areas too which, in wetter conditions, would have made for miserable walking. If this was a route for postmen and school children, they must have bred ‘em tough in those days!
Ullapool in Easter Ross was humming with tourists and visitors. A cruise ship, Oceania Marina, was anchored-off and the ship’s tenders were doing a brisk trade ferrying passengers to and fro. Ashore, a queue of coaches took the ship’s visitors to various nearby landmarks and sights. With over 1,000 passengers disembarking, local coach companies were kept busy - I could vouch for this as I met many on my unpleasant main road walk away from Ullapool down the shores of Loch Broom. Unfortunately, the little ferry that used to run across Loch Broom is no longer in operation, so for me it was a long trek round before I headed over the hills to Little Loch Broom and the Dundonnell Estate.
This 33,000-acre estate and its three storey mansion was once owned by the Mackenzie clan, but since 1998 has been owned by the lyricist, Sir Tim Rice. It’s an impressive place reached via a narrow stone bridge which the Victory Van driver did well to negotiate. The area is towered over by An Teallach (The Forge) mountain rising to over 3,400 ft. This dwarfed me as I walked along the main road beside Little Loch Broom heading for another string of villages, including one charmingly named Durnamuck! Regrettably, heavy rain and low cloud marred all the best views.
After the recent heatwave, heavy rain has descended on the Victory Walker for the latter part of the week. Because of this, streams, rivers and waterfalls have suddenly sprung into life again, cascading spectacular volumes of water towards the sea. Meanwhile the humid weather has brought the midges out with a vengeance. Changing my walking speed, weaving an evasive course, swatting them with my stick and shouting at them has done nothing to deter the little blighters. What I need is a cunning plan!
See Photo Album No 42 – Mountains, Mist and Midges