Unwind in Applecross

After a treacherous pass in the rain, and camping
in a hurricane, Nicola from the Scotlanders finds sanctuary in Applebay

In the crisp spring afternoon sunshine a scruffy black and white collie splashed around in the still waters, far off, across the wide expanse of rocky beach.

He regularly searched the area surrounding the nearby pub to ensure his owners were paying attention, the occasional bark making sure he was still the centre of attentions as he flicked water high into the air and pounced on unseen objects underfoot (underpaw?).

The snow capped mountains glittered on the horizon and the great expanse of water twinkled under the beam of the sun. The wind was still and the quiet chatter of the pub patrons was soothing as I took in the scene.

I was sitting at a weather beaten picnic bench overlooking the Inner Sound off the west coast of Scotland, outside the Applecross Inn, a popular stop off for travellers exploring the area.

The mountains were the Cuillin range on Skye, usually so foreboding but deceptively calm and benevolent today. A group of motorcyclists were enjoying their drinks as they planned their ongoing route.

Young children played in the sand while their parents savoured the moment and drank their tea. The peacefulness made me feel a million miles away from urban life as I soaked up the sun with a pint and abandoned book.

The people around me seemed similarly relaxed, perched on benches and lying on the grass verge. You won’t think that we all had just made a perilous journey to get here.

The Infamous Bealach na Bà

Once only reachable by ferry you can now arrive on the Applecross Peninsula by road.

But not just any road. The Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle) is one of Britain’s scariest and highest roads, with hairpin bends and sheer drops.

By the time we had started our attempt of it the previous evening the light was fading. The torrential rain was battering off the car windows and the wipers were struggling to keep up. As if I wasn’t nervous enough.

One good thing about the weather, though, was the lack of any other cars or, thankfully, lorries, which gave us the opportunity to take our time and navigate without the fear of having to reverse into a passing place.

The single track roads are tight and the bends loop and twist as it make its way up and through the mountains – to 2,054 feet to be precise, making it the third highest road in the UK.

It might be a challenging climb, but the reward is worth it with spectacular views from the top to as far as the Outer Hebrides. We, of course, missed the view because of the thick fog but I surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying the drive – it’s definitely an exhilarating experience!

Now, looking out over to the Cuillin Mountains from my picnic bench I was glad to have braved the road.

Our night spent in the Applecross Campsite a short walk away was an adventure too. My shoddy luck had ensured our first ever night in a wigwam coincided with Hurricane Katie and the gale force winds that whipped around us left me feeling a little like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Even when I did sleep I dreamt of floating in the river on the wooden base with my duvet wrapped around me.

All For The Views

The next morning though it was all worth it when I opened the door and the sun was shining. Situated on a hill above the bay of Applecross the campsite feels relaxed and laid back.

A large poly-tunnel with long wooden benches and tables is at night filled with travellers sharing tales over drinks of their adventures. The talk that morning revolved around the winds of the night before.

Such was the fantastic atmosphere and prime position on the west coast I promptly booked another night and spent the afternoon exploring Applecross.

Many people cross the pass purely to say they crossed the pass, but the township itself is well worth investigating. Rustic and charming with hardly a person in sight it’s a world away from the high tech modern world we live in. In fact the name Applecross comes from the Gaelic A’ Chomraich, meaning “a sanctuary”.

It suits it. Sheep graze by the roadside and the fact they often refuse to move can be quite comical. Little weather worn fishing boats lie on grass verges, abandoned in days gone by.

Homely and Delicious

Given that the whitewashed Applecross Inn is one of only a couple of places to eat in this secluded bay I’ve a sneaky suspicion it would be a hive of activity no matter what the menu tasted like – but its clear the chefs still strive to make the food both homely and delicious.

The ever-changing menu is sprawled on blackboards hanging from walls and it is packed with dishes sourced as locally as possible such as Applebay dressed crab salad or Whole Applebay prawns.

Local venison, oysters and lamb all feature, too, and they also do a legendary haddock supper. That evening we enjoyed some tasty Scottish chicken linguine and soaked up the slightly chaotic but cheery ambience.

Our second night in the wigwam was a much more dignified affair. The wind was gone and the night was silent other than the lapping of the water below and the distant sound of ship horns.

The wigwams sleep four and come with a light, heater and plug socket. They aren’t the height of luxury but much more comfortable than a tent and make for a rather unique experience.

Until around 1975 the Bealach Na Bà was the only way into the area but there is now another road, which is almost as spectacular but not quite as dramatic.

It curves the coast around the north of the peninsula giving panoramic views over the sound to Skye, then heading around the north tip it takes you high above the picturesque village of Sheildaig and Loch Torridon.

Sheildaig, with its little white cottages, lined up along the shore, is an exceptionally pretty place so I had to stop and take photos. A return trip over the Bealach na Bà was very tempting now that the sun was shining and the skies were clear, but we couldn’t resist an unknown road and I was more than happy with this choice as we joined a little fleet of campers winding around the coast.

We finished up the road driving through the mighty and magnificent Torridon Mountains. A satisfying end to a memorable 72-hour mini-break.