North Coast 500 - Day 4 - Talmine to Armadale

When I was planning my North Coast 500 trip, I decided to have one day where I didn't travel too far, just in case I needed a rest day and a bit of time out from driving. So on Day 4, I travelled just around the headland to Armadale.

But just going back a little to the end of day 3. My super lovely hosts at The Woodlifeway Guest Room, Steve and Lea, chatted to me about their journey up to Talmine from down south, and the crofting way of life. They love the nature they have on their doorstep, the deer, golden and white tailed eagles, the seals on the sand bank just across from the croft, and otters. But they were most excited when telling me about their regular sightings of the northern lights! They showed me photos they had taken from the bedroom window just a few nights before. I have been lucky enough to see the northern lights, it was a few years ago now when we took a trip to Finnish Lapland for my Mum's 60th. That and the starling murmuration are certainly up there as the most spectacular things I've ever seen. But there was an added excitement to think I might see this colourful dance in the sky here in the UK. I set my tripod up and we stood still, me holding my breath, it felt like a stake out. Although there was a bank of thick cloud in a crucial area, I saw the unmistakable green tinges. Luminous streaks in the sky, a painter's first brush stroke on a blank canvas.

After this excitement, I took myself to bed and slept so soundly. I woke up quite early, at 5.30am. I pulled back the curtains and was greeted with that beautiful early morning hue. With the sun yet to rise, the snow on the mountains was a dark cobalt blue studded with sharp black rocks, the small crescent moon hung in the pale blue sky.

Even though I had gone to bed quite late, I wanted to get out to watch the sunrise. I pulled on my boots and walked to the edge of the croft. A few birds had started their chorus.

I stood and watched the ever developing light. From behind a little stone building to my left, a bright orange glow grew in intensity.

And then the very tops of Ben Hope and Ben Loyal were crowned in a pale pink which inched its way down the mountainside.

They looked like a child's perfect drawing of a mountain, with the definitive snow line. And then, from the grass, a skylark flew vertically into that big sky, its song swirled around the croft.

I came back inside, just as Steve was lighting the fire, the room filled with the smell of wood smoke. I ate my breakfast with Steve and Lea, and we chatted over homemade bread, flapjacks and bread pudding. As the fire crackled, we talked about music, and croft life.

I was fascinated to hear that every croft has rights to their own particular patch of peat. Peat rights! Lea makes beautiful household goods out of wood. She told me all about the provenance of the wood she uses. I bought Dad a new coaster for his cocoa mug made out of sea buckthorn. They like to have music on in the house. All About Eve came on, and Steve told me about his goth loving past, we realised we share a penchant for The Sisters Of Mercy. Guitars are strung up on the white walls. Maybe when I go back, I'll have a sing with them, I know there will be a next time. 

I left the croft and drove away with their smiling faces in my wing mirror. I stopped a little bit further along the road, at the side of the Kyle of Tongue to see if I could spot an otter, but not this time. I had seen the seals basking on the sand bank opposite the croft before I left, a new world discovered by the retreating tide.

I just pootled slowly along the coastline. I stopped at Farr Beach, Bettyhill and sat on the warm sand for a while. I just listened to the healing sound of the waves and watched the rush of sea water as it edged along the beach, leaving ripples carved into the sand and little piles of seaweed dotted on the shore.

The afternoon was a little disjointed as I tried to find something to eat (not such an easy feat at the top of Scotland). I also noticed (with a heavy heart), that I was leaving the mountains behind. Being in the mountains and driving in that terrain had been exciting and exhilarating. Now the roads were relatively flat, the landscape transformed right in front of me. 

I passed the wildlife carefully.

My next Airbnb was Armadale House. I parked on the gravel drive and was met by my smiling host Detta, rosy cheeks and silver hair. We drank tea and ate biscuits in the kitchen and then she took me on a tour of the house that is undergoing renovation work. The beautiful shutters on the window, the grand staircase, a stag's head adorning one of the walls, and that big green front door.

I walked around the garden, a big pile of peat was drying in the fading sun.

Even though I hadn't done too much, I was tired and went to bed, my morning of waking up at the croft in Talmine still with me. 

The North Coast 500 - Day 2 - Big Sand to Inchnadamph

I realised that I mentioned the weather quite a lot in my last post (which you can read here), but it was a big part of the trip. How it affected the landscape, and me too. Just before I turned in for the night in the cabin, I had a short walk down to the stoney beach. It's the first time I'd felt a little isolated. The small houses dotted along the shore were uninhabited, and the wind danced in the electricity cables above. As the light faded, I decided to head back to the warmth of the cabin. 

Day 2 was all about headlands, mountains emerging from the clouds, dark waters, snow, stags, and a staring competition with a buzzard. I slowly made my way around Wester Ross through snow and surface water.

This day above all others tested my driving. I travelled down the side of Little Loch Broom. The water on one side, steep mountain on the right, I felt quite hemmed in. I realised how much landscape can affect my mood and to a certain extent, my anxiety. But it has the polar affect too as I climbed out of Dundonnell. The break in the clouds summoned the sunshine through tall trees and I felt my body respond. I felt another reaffirmation of why I was doing this as I watched the light through the bare branches, the low clouds breaking, and the cold dark waters of the streams rushing down the mountainside. 

I reached Corrieshalloch Gorge. My photos don't do it justice and it was a lot deeper than it looks! In fact when I tentatively walked onto the bridge, vertigo kicked in. The sides of the gorge were steep and narrow, trickles of water glistening on the wet stone. My mind started racing and it reminded me of a scene in some crime drama or other - so I inched my way back from the bridge.

Just as I was getting back into the car, I noticed these tall pine trees perched on top of the hill. Matchstick trunks, they were lined up like dominoes.

I drove further north to Ullapool. Although it was grey, the white row of houses and shops on the loch front were very welcoming.

I had scampi and chips in a cute cafe, a cafe obsessed with time. On a feature wall, paper with many clock faces on it. On the opposite wall, three clocks. Different models, positioned in such a way so not to look too symmetrical. Two of them read 1.25pm, the other 1.50pm. I glanced at my watch and it was 1.25pm. After eating a delicious lunch, I glanced at the three clocks, they all read 1.50pm. This alignment made me think it must be time to head off!

I was finding the single track roads my favourite to drive on. I wanted to feel solitude on my trip, and being on these little roads without seeing another soul gave me a taste of this. The Coigach peninsula was just spectacular to drive around. Along the banks of Loch Lurgainn, mountains would reveal themselves from the thick clouds.  The brown earth speckled with bright gorse, a welcome burst of yellow through the grey.  

Stac Pollaidh was particularly stunning.

As I said in my Day 1 blog, I was on golden eagle watch, twitching every time I saw a bird soaring or perched in a tree. I spotted an unidentified large brown bird high in a tree and stopped the car abruptly. There started a strange one minute stare off with a buzzard. Neither of us wanted to give in, but eventually it ruffled its feathers and flew away.

And then to Inchnadamph - I love that name! I was driving towards my B & B, and on the mountainside opposite Loch Assynt, a group of around a dozen stags were grazing. I stopped the car in a handy lay-by and raced to the back of the car to get a longer lens out of the boot, but thought against all the faffing and door slamming and just watched them. I took a few photos with the lens I already had on my camera. Their antlers made them look top heavy and they seemed cumbersome when they reached down to graze. A car pulled up behind me and skidded on the gravel, spooking the stags and they bounded away. I chatted excitedly to the B & B owner about my sightings, and she told me that Inchnadamph means meadow of the stags. It was certainly a highlight for me. 

It's a small hamlet, but oh so pretty. I took a little walk around and breathed in the day I'd just had.

 

I'm looking forward to sharing Day 3 soon - if I had to pick a favourite day, that would be it!

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