The North Coast 500 - Day 3 - Inchnadamph to Talmine

I mentioned in my last blog (you can read it here), that this day, day 3, was probably my favourite. The bright blue sky and surprisingly warm sunshine certainly were a factor. Day 3 was all about open roads, snowy mountain tops, deserted beaches and crystal blue waters.

I woke up early and had a bowl of porridge on my little veranda at my B n B, a breakfast with a view. Whilst I was away, I found a new love of porridge, something I'd always thought wasn't my thing. After breakfast, I took a short stroll down to Loch Assynt to the soundtrack of oyster catchers flying overhead.

I packed the Corsa up, it had that warm car smell when I climbed into the driver's seat. I felt the warmth of the sun through the glass as I drove along the side of Loch Assynt to Lochinver.

I had the most incredible mushroom, chestnut and red wine pie at Lochinver. When I posted about it on Instagram, quite a few people replied excitedly to say they'd tasted these gorgeous pies too! After finishing the last bite, I was happy to know that they have a Pies By Post business.

I followed the road around the coast, and for the most part I had it to myself. It could have been the day when I felt most alone, but the landscape seemed to hold me. Sometimes there were stretches of road that felt very remote, and just as I was wondering if I'd see anybody ever again, out popped a little house with smoke curling from its chimney.

My first stop was Clachtoll. Such a perfect little beach. Dunes, white sands and turquoise water. I had it to myself.

The only other person I saw on this stretch of road was the postman. I pulled into a couple of passing places to let him go by, but on the third time, he waved and gave me a smile of recognition. I don't know quite why, but it gave me a boost, another reaffirmation.

The ever changing landscape was exhilarating. From the beach, to driving along cliff tops, to mountain views. Little lochs peppered the brown land. As I looked at the map again, I realised that today I would be reaching the very top of Scotland. For some reason before I set out (and this is how my anxiety can manifest itself), I had pre-empted a wave of panic washing over me when I reached the most northerly point. The furthest I could possibly be away from home on this trip. Although the thought grumbled away a few times, I didn't give it air to breath, and I know it might not sound much written here, but it was a significant turning point for me.

Along the single track road towards Drumberg. The tarmac carved into the horizon. I stopped to look at the map just to check the next petrol stop as I'd noticed the gauge getting past the wrong side of the quarter full mark. As I stopped, I noticed two pairs of deer eyes staring at me from the side of the road, they chewed nonchalantly. Bored with me, they sauntered into the trees. The landscape made me feel incredibly small. Everything seemed to be oversized. The lochs, the mountains, even the sky.

After travelling along the single track road for the morning, I met the A road again to head further north. I joined a small herd of campervans and motorhomes with shiny bike racks and bright logos. Travelling further into North West Sutherland, I started to feel an urgency to reach the top of the country. I drove a little quicker than anticipated up to Durness, so I didn't make any stops or take any photos until I hit that little town. I had a welcome hot chocolate in Cocoa Mountain and let Suzi know I'd made it to the top. Just along from Durness is Smoo Cave. It's very impressive at 130 feet wide, 200 feet long and 50 feet wide. The river Allt Smoo falls from an 80 foot drop into sea water below. The sound was deafening, and again, nature made me feel incredibly small.

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I drove towards my Airbnb in Talmine. The majestic Ben Hope caught the late afternoon light.

And then to the lovely croft that was home for the night, and that's exactly how it felt. I had such a warm welcome from my hosts Steve and Lea. A pair of slippers waited for me at the door, and inside, the log fire glowed in the burner. The perfect end to a long day's driving. I settled in for the night. I'll write more about this lovely croft in my next blog, about my glimpse of the northern lights, and a beautiful sunrise that started Day 4. 

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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