Today I’m heading for the remote Applecross peninsula. This was once only accessible by the mountain pass of Bealach na Bà (“pass of the cattle”) which was (and still is) often impassable in the winter. As a result of this a new lower level road around the coast, which can normally be kept open in winter, was opened in 1970 and it’s this route that I’ll be following today.
I had hoped to be able to use the bus for this walk, one was listed on Traveline and the company that operates it, Lochacarron Garage also had the timetable on their website, which was a good sign. This bus is meant to run along the coast road from Shieldaig to Toscaig via Applecross village (technically Shore Street). This runs twice a week between Toscaig and Inverness but the section between Toscaig and Lochcarron is served only on request. To request the bus you must call the bus company before 6pm the day before you want to travel. This I did, but unfortunately was told that the bus wasn’t running at all at the time “due to Covid” which is something I’ve been hearing an awful lot of on this trip. (Good news however, the bus service did resume again a month or so after I did this walk (a lot of bus services didn’t) and is still running at the time of writing, December 2021).
So I’d have to instead use my folding bike to cycle one way and walk back. Today was forecast to be heavy rain all day. This isn’t ideal conditions for walking and in particular walking on roads. The roads soon get wet and passing vehicles send up spray as well as all the rain landing on you). However on the plus side walking on the road meant I had a firm surface to walk on, anyway.
After a nice breakfast at the hotel I was staying at in Kyle of Lochalsh I drove around the coast to Shieldaig, where I ended the previous day. The roads around this part of Scotland are terrible, more a long series of potholes intermixed with occasional areas of smooth tarmac so it was a bumpy ride.
When I got to Shieldaig it was still dry. I decided therefore that I wanted to do the first mile along the A896 first, before the rain started (assuming it was going to start) and before the traffic picked up during the day, as I don’t like cycling on main roads (actually I don’t like cycling at all, but I like it even less on main roads!).
I parked up at the south end of the village just north of where I got to the previous day waiting for the bus that didn’t come (I was not having much luck with buses on this trip). I then unfolded the bike and cycled south on the A896. Fortunately for me it was fairly flat and soon I reached the turn off for the Applecross coast road. Now I needed to find somewhere I could leave the bike that also had space to stop the car in order to collect it later. So I continued down the Applecross coast road and after only a few metres found a suitable spot, a memorial with a gravelly area next to the road you could park on. I got off the bike here and then inspected the memorial.
It turns out it was actually a stone and plaque to commemorate the road being opened by Princess Margaret on the 11th May 1970. I debated trying to find a tree or something to lock the bike to but in then end pushed it into a little grassy dip above the memorial and left it there, I’d be back soon after all.
Now I headed back on foot to Shieldaig. The road sign informed me that Lochcarron was 13 miles via the main road or 41 miles via Applecross – quite a difference.
Though I think the latter sign only really exists as the road around Applecross is, unfortunately, part of the North Coast 500 (or NC500) route, which brings with it a lot of extra road traffic.
The road now ran through pine woodland, with intermittent views of Loch Shieldaig through the trees. A sign mentioned that this was a red squirrel re-introduction zone and to drive carefully.
Well I was walking not driving so I kept an eye out for squirrels (sadly, I didn’t see any)). The road, despite being an A-road was mostly single-track though in places there was sort of gravel “run off” beside the road so two cars could pass.
Soon I was back at Shieldaig and so picked up my car and drove to where I left the bike, which was still where I left it.
I wasn’t particularly happy with leaving the car here all day so I decided to leave the bike there and drive on along the coast road to look for the next possible place I could safely park. Being a single track road parking opportunities are limited and I didn’t want to park in a passing place. Given this road was built in the 1970s I was expecting it to be better than it was. I had heard that driving over the Applecross Pass was a challenge so I expected this road to be easier. Well it wasn’t that easy. Narrow, twisty and hilly and I met a couple of cement mixers so had to reverse at a couple of points. I wasn’t looking forward to cycling this later. In the end I found a large gravel area beside the road between Inverbain and the turning for Ardheslaig so I parked there and since it still wasn’t raining, decided to begin walking back south from there.
Heading back down the road I soon had a pretty cottage ahead, white with a red roof and a lovely view over the loch.
The road descended down to soon end up beside a little beach at Inverbain. There was a sort of path down to the beach so I headed down to there. It was a mixture of sand, pebble and sea weed but it was nice to be able to get right down to the shore and I could see the island of Eilean an Inbhire Bhain in the loch.
I headed back up to the road and continue along it to reach a bridge over the river Abhainn Dubh. For a short river there is a surprising amount of water coming down it.
After this the road climbs but at least I am rewarded with a fine view over the loch and can see a fish farm a bit further north along (to my irritation, these rarely seem to be marked on the Ordnance Survey maps which is a shame because they make a good navigational aid). I could also look back to the red-roofed cottage.
Heading along the road it now turned a little inland to go over another stream in a steep valley and briefly back down towards the shore.
Soon after another climb I was back up and now with a fine view over Shieldaig.
By now the rain was starting, but it was at least intermittent and mostly drizzle. Up and then back down into another valley with another view of Shieldaig at the top. The rain was just starting to get harder now but I wasn’t far now back to where I left my bike.
Soon I was there, just as the rain got heavier. My bike was still there and by now it was just past midday. Where I’d left the bike was around some pine trees where there was a sort of rounded dip (I wondered if it might have been an old crater from a bomb during World War II). Here I found a log to sit on under the trees where I was out of the rain, which hadn’t yet penetrated the needles of the trees, so I had lunch here. Whilst I was here a group of NC500 drivers arrived all in modified cars. One had broken down on the junction. They then all tried to park up and help (including trying to push it), but of course they all tried to park their own cars on the narrow road here blocking it completely when a lorry came). It was chaos. They were still at it when I’d finished lunch and with the horns now blaring it was time to move on for some peace and quiet. The road was tougher than I had expected and with more traffic including quite a few lorries and with the rain I’m afraid I decided against cycling back to my car. I decided instead to leave the bike here and walk back again. So that is what I did.
On the way back I nearly got taken out by a lorry who was driving down the road but then with oncoming traffic ahead reversed into the passing place I was standing in. Either the driver didn’t see me or didn’t care, as he began to reverse towards me and I had to run out the way to avoid being hit by the lorry! I gave the driver a gesture when he did pull out again but he either didn’t see or didn’t care. After that I was glad I hadn’t opted to cycle, it’s a lot harder to go backwards on a bike!
By the time I was back at the car I was quite wet. I sat in the car debating whether to continue. If I did I’d first have to go back and get the bike. I decided to continue but I couldn’t be bothered to go back and get the bike – I’d leave it there and get it on my way back to the hotel. Otherwise by the time I’d drive back to the bike, folded it up to put it in the boot, driven back and unfolded it again I could have covered quite a distance anyway because you can’t drive very fast along this road. That meant it was going to be more there and back walking instead. So I decided to leave the car there and set off north this time (this walk is getting rather bitty!).
From where I parked I continued north soon passing an information board and beyond that the dead-end turning to Ardheslaig. I debated whether to include this or not as it is a peninsula and there is no path beyond the end of the road. In the end I decided to compromise and headed along the road to the head of pretty Loch Beag.
I continued on the road on the eastern side of the loch until it turned inland away from the coast and so decided to head back again.
Back on the “main” road I continued as it headed inland to cross another fast-flowing stream.
As the road climbed further I could see out to Loch Torridon but the other side was now disappearing in the cloud – heavier rain was coming.
The road continued to climb, going just below the summit of the hill of A Bhainlir. The views were good but the rain was just coming now, I could see it ahead. Sure enough it soon started so it was time to put my waterproofs (not waterproof) on.
The road now headed down again and I was glad to be less exposed, now passing the inland Loch na Creige.
From here the road dropped down to cross another river. I was getting very wet now so decided to continue to the next place it was possible to park and call it a day and head back. The road had taken me a mile or so inland but now it turned back towards the coast.
In another mile I had reached the junction for another dead-end road off the coast road, this one heading for the village of Kenmore.
Beside this junction was a large area of gravel with plenty of room to park. That would do for parking next time. It was time to head back.
I was getting very wet and not enjoying walking on the road. After half a mile or so I came across a footpath to Ardheslaig.
I had missed it on the way here and checking the map I could see the track was clearly marked and closer to the coast and I wanted to get off the road, so that looked to be a good route to follow back. In fact checking old maps this path was once the only link between Kenmore and Ardheslaig before the road opened in 1970 and the path still exists though is probably much less used now.
This turned out to be pretty good, at least by the standards of most paths in Scotland. I suspect it might have been engineered enough to take horse or perhaps even horse and carts at some point i in the past, and the route was very obvious, if boggy in places.
It also didn’t drop down as far to get over some of the valleys.
Due to the wet weather forecast for today I opted to use an older “backup” camera today (a Canon EOS400d) worried about getting water in my better one (a Canon EOS 6d) that was supposed to be “weather resistant” but I had recently found out not to be so when the lens all steamed up inside after being out in the rain (fortunately it recovered). For some reason (and I’ve obviously corrected it here) from this point on, this backup camera decided to save every photo in portrait format no matter if I was holding the camera that way or not.
I presume water must have got inside from the rain, though I wasn’t aware of it. It worked fine to let me download photos onto the computer once back at the hotel, but the next day it immediately told me the battery had run out when I tried to turn it on. I tried a fresh battery with the same result. I tried re-charging the original battery with the same result. It never worked again and was not worth repairing (It was by then old and I’d bought it second hand anyway). So that was the 2nd Canon EOS400d I’ve managed to destroy on my coastal walk (the first near Aberdeen when I accidentally fell in the sea with it around my neck).
Anyway back to the walk – the path higher up was turning out to be really nice. Despite the rain it was far more pleasant being off the road and the path ran higher up giving me better views and was closer to the coast. Although the rain was still heavy it did look a bit brighter across the loch than when I was here earlier.
Soon I reached the other end of the path.
I now saw why I’d missed the other end of this path earlier. It starts about 15 metres back from the edge of the road about 15 metres along the entrance track to a private house beside the road. I continued back along the road to the turning for Ardheslaig. Now heading up hill I was approaching the information board I passed earlier. Unusually this had been fitted with a little roof so when a car was coming up behind me I opted to step off the road and shelter under this whilst I waited for it to pass me. The car then began to slow down and pulled up next to the sign. Did they want to read the notice too? No it turned out they had spotted I was very wet and wanted to offer me a lift! That was very kind of them (especially now with Covid and many people are reluctant to be in a confined space, like a car, with people they don’t live with). I thanked them very much but explained my car was only about 200 metres further along the road so I was happy to walk that short distance back and not make their car all wet. I did tell them it was a silver car and they’d see it just ahead shortly (this was so they’d know I wasn’t lying, I know some people act a little hurt if you refuse their offer of a lift, so I wanted to make it clear I really was only going a short distance more!).
Soon I was back at the car, now soaked through. Fortunately I had prepared for this possibility and put a change of clothes in the boot. So I changed into this before getting into the drivers seat, so as not to make my car seat all wet.
Then I headed back and stopped by the memorial stone to retrieve my wet bike that I’d barely used all day! I was a bit disappointing with my progress today which was partly down to the weather and partly as a result of me deciding against cycling. I’d have to be braver tomorrow and use the bike more, so as to make better progress. When I’d planned this trip I’d hoped to do the coast between Shieldaig and Toscaig as two walks by using the bus (so I only had to walk one way). It was clear I was going to have to allow more time to do it but having said that Applecross was turning out to be a very beautiful place so I didn’t mind spending more time exploring it and taking in the beautiful scenery.
I then headed back to the hotel I was staying at in Kyle of Lochalsh. Fortunately today there was room for me to eat in the restaurant when I got back (I hadn’t pre-booked) so at least I could have a proper meal!
This was a nice walk that was rather let down by the poor weather (and to a lesser degree my reluctance to cycle). Despite the weather the scenery was lovely and I particularly enjoyed the old track between Kenmore and Ardheslaig as it was so nice to get off the road for a while.
Here are details of the public transport for this walk:-
Lochacarron Garage bus route 704: Toscaig (request only) – Applecross (request only) – Shieldaig (request only) – Kishorn (request only) – Lochacarron – Achnasheen – Garve – Dingwall – Inverness. One bus per day each way on Monday and Saturday only. If you want to use the bus between Toscaig and Lochcarron you must book this the day before, by 6pm, by calling 01520 722997 as this part of the route only runs on request. The bus will stop anywhere it’s safe to do so on request, so you can use it stop at the junction for Kenmore.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.