Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 – Episode Twenty-five

Friday 3rd March 2006

It had snowed overnight but the sky was bright and, more importantly, the road to Inverness was open. I had a good run down to Dingwall and was re-united with my now face-lifted LRC. From what I can see, Mackays did a first class job, though it didn’t take more than a mile or two for the snow and grit slush combination to spoil her showroom condition complexion. Apparently there had been quite heavy snowfalls in Inverness during the morning and the streets were a-slush, as was the hotel car park. I’m in a pleasant “garden” room (overlooking a very snow-covered lawn) which sounds idyllic, but it is at the furthermost point from reception and dining areas and the required “trek” is not enhanced by having to open no less than eight fire doors, all of which, of course, open the wrong way!
Dinner was unremarkable – so I won’t!

Saturday 4th March 2006

Whilst no more snow had fallen overnight there was a heavy frost this morning and the risk of “black ice” was such that the local news carried a strong recommendation to avoid all but essential travel. I had no difficulty acceding to that, particularly when later in the morning the snow started to fall again.
Confined to barracks therefore, I started on what is now, because I’ve left it so long, a major exercise – that of culling, cataloguing and captioning the photographs. It is now clear that that’s going to take more than just a day to do, so if the weather continues as it is, I may just carry on tomorrow; but whether I do or not, I’m feeling unjustifiably pleased with myself for starting, at least, on a long-postponed task.
Dinner was unremarkable-er!

Sunday 5th March 2006

No frost, but more snow, albeit only occasional and certainly not heavy. So, in the absence of any incentive to venture out of doors, I stayed in until I was picked up by Annie Webster and her husband Andy Stenton, who had kindly offered to take me to lunch. Close and long-standing NZ friends, Des and Linda Hackshaw, described Annie and Andy as “two of their favourite people” and e-mailed me before I left Australia suggesting that I get in touch with them if and when I was in Inverness. I spoke to Annie originally on arriving in Inverness more than a week ago and arranged to meet before I headed north, but the delay in the exchange of the courtesy car meant I had, at the last minute, to postpone until my return.

Today, however, we made up for lost time and shared a very pleasant pub lunch and lots of equally pleasant chat. Thanks for the introduction, Lindy; it was great to catch up with them.

Tonight’s forecast for tomorrow and the rest of the week is for improving conditions.  And, although there may be a little snow, there now seems no reason why I shouldn’t head for the West Coast as originally planned. Hopefully, the Gulf Stream will work its magic on the weather there.

Monday 6th March 2006

Some snow overnight, but the makings of a clear blue-skied day – and that’s what it turned out to be. My plan was to visit the Falls of Shin about 60 miles north of Inverness and, then, depending on whether or not the single-lane roads to Kylesku were open, carry on or backtrack. The backtracking option via Ullapool using the more-frequented A835 didn’t appeal too much because it added another 70 miles and another couple of hours.

But first things first, although there were a number of cars at the quite extensive Visitors’ Centre and I had to wait while a parking spot was cleared of snow, I was the first down the snow covered path and steps for the day. And wasn’t I grateful for my “snow boots”? I had expected from the surroundings that the falls would have a considerable drop which, given that people come here specifically to watch salmon negotiate them, wasn’t the smartest expectation I’ve had.
They were in fact very similar but not as forcefully impressive as the Black Linn Falls that I visited on my “Hermitage” walk. In their snow-laden surroundings, they were nonetheless picturesque and I took every advantage of that.

Path to Falls of Shin, Sutherland
6 March 2006
Upstream from the Falls of Shin, Sutherland
6 March 2006

The A837, the single-lane road I had hoped would be open had just been cleared and was just waiting to be travelled. This has to have been one of the most scenic drives I have ever done. The combination of deep snow all around, snow-clad mountains (not all of which are bens, I understand) and lochs (some frozen) was unbelievably beautiful and made the more so by the peaceful stillness of it all. What more can I say?

A snowy A837, Sutherland
6 March 2006

Photos: My drive from Falls of Shin to Kylesku, Sutherland – 6th March 2006

But there’s more! The small “Kylesku Hotel” where I’ll be for the next two nights has none of the fripperies of a Marriott but it has from my window a just marvellous view up Loch Glendhu. Who needs a phone or internet access or even a shower, anyway?

Kylescue Hotel – the view over Loch Glendhu from my bedroom
6 March 2006

As I’m the only guest, the Dining Room is closed but the local seafood for which the hotel is noted is available in the bar area. Simple, but simply great were an entrée of mussels and a main of breaded scampi. Tomorrow night I might just break out and try the langoustines – from all accounts the “signature dish”!

Tuesday 7th March 2006

So taken was I with yesterday’s drive that I had no difficulty convincing myself that I could take more of the same. The day itself wasn’t quite as bright, but it was fine and dry and that’s really all that mattered. Before starting on the scenic bit, I diverted to Lochinver to top-up with petrol. If the fact that this involved ringing a bell to summon someone from the tiny SPAR store across the road to turn on the pump suggests to you that the town had shut down for the winter, that’s certainly the impression I got. That the Tourist Information Office – the existence of which I could scarcely have been in any doubt from large signs on the outskirts of the town – was closed too, confirmed that impression.

On today’s drive I backtracked along the road I had taken yesterday as far as Lairg – and it was every bit as good heading that way. I then took the A838 back to Kylesku, this time via Laxton Bridge and Scourie. This particular route took me along the shores of Lochs Shin, Merkland and More as well as through much higher country at the foot of Ben Stack. As was the case yesterday, there was little or no traffic, which meant I could take my time, stop when I wanted to and just soak it all up. Suffice it to say it was another wonderfully scenic day. It even included a ruin – “Ardvreck Castle”, which I must admit I didn’t venture through the snow to visit!

Ardvreck Castle, Sutherland
7 March 2006

Photos: My drive from Kylescue to Lairg to Kylescue, Sutherland – 7th March 2006

I did try the Langoustines, and they were almost up to “Basil’s” grilled scampi – and that’s saying something!

Wednesday 8th March 2006

Oh what a difference a day makes. Overcast with lots of drizzle and some fog, but not enough to prove a driving hazard on my way south and west to Poolewe, but enough to dissuade me from trying any photography. A pity, but I’ve had two good days so I shouldn’t really complain. The route took me SW past a menacing Knockan Cliff to Ullapool and past Loch Broom, before turning W onto the coast road of Wester Ross to Poolewe. My choice of Poolewe as a staging post was first that it’s the nearest village to Inverewe Gardens which I’ve always wanted to visit, and second so that when I move south again on Friday I can take my time driving along the shores of Loch Maree, said to be one of the most beautiful.

It was still drizzling when I arrived at Poolewe but had cleared sufficiently in the afternoon for me to visit the Gardens. Not surprisingly it was every bit as drear as many a garden is in winter, though the shore setting and the snow did provide some incentive to try and capture some of what I saw. There were a couple of rhododendrons just coming into flower and a crocus or two braving the snow to provide some sorely needed colour. The rhododendron and azalea walks must be magnificent in the spring.

Inverewe Gardens, Wester Ross – Entry
8 March 2006

Photos: My visit to Inverewe Gardens, Wester Ross – 8th March 2006

As I’ve been off the air for a few days, I’m going to take advantage of the Poolewe Hotel landlord’s kind offer to use his dial-up connection to get this away and check my mail. My present plans are to move to Oban from here but I suspect finding internet access may not be any easier there. Mobile phone access has been equally difficult to come by and, as was the case in Kylesku, my phone is displaying that “Emergency Only” window here. I suppose that’s something – to be caught in a snowdrift with a “No Service” display would be a hint worrying!