Wester RossThe first time that Dave and I came up to Scotland on our own in 2001, we found the Glenelg Brochs, and enjoyed exploring the fascinating structures. Since I moved north, Mum has asked several times about visiting them, and finally I relented and took her north, continuing to Lochcarron and Applecross afterwards.
Glenelg BrochsThe Glenelg Brochs are Iron Age structures of uncertain origin. Archaeologists believe that they are defensible homes, perhaps only used in times of attack, where the cattle could be herded into a 'cellar' and the people live on floors above. The thing that makes Brochs special, if not unique, however is the tall tapering circular wall that surrounds them. At the base it is actually two walls, with chambers, stairs and corridors between, but as the walls get higher, these 'galleries' necessarily get narrower until an internal ladder would have provided the final access to the roof. The two in Glenelg are the best preserved on the Mainland, and excelled only by Mousa on Shetland. Brochs that I have visited on Orkney and Lewis are also well preserved, although in a different way, so as not to be completely comparable. Click the pictures on the right to enlarge.
Bealach nam RattagainTo get in and out of Glenelg, you have to take this high pass also known as the Mam Rattagain. The road climbs from sea level at Shiel Bridge to over 300m, before dropping back to sea level at Glenelg village. From the top, the views of Loch Duich and the five sisters of Kintail are pretty spectacular.
LochcarronI have been to Lochcarron before, but rather stupidly forgot my camera that day, so this time I stopped to get a few photos. It is a pretty village strung along the northern shore of Loch Carron (surprise surprise!), and home to rows and rows of whitewashed cottages. It is only at the southern end where the shore becomes wide enough for more than a single street, as the hills rear up immediately behind the houses further north!
The road to get to Lochcarron from Lochalsh is one of many in Wester Ross which didn't exist 50 years ago. It was opened in 1970 to bypass the Strome Ferry, and occupies a very narrow shelf between the railway line and high cliffs for much of its length.
The other end of the Strome Ferry was at Strome Castle, a few miles south west of Lochcarron. However, before stopping there we went to the end of the road to enjoy the view across to Skye for a few minutes. The Castle itself is a very bare ruin, having been blown up in 1602 as the result of an inter-clan squabble. Apparently the clan under seige were running short of water, so some women went out in the dead of night to get some. On their return, they accidentally poured it into the gunpowder barrel instead of the water barrel. To add to their problems, one of the prisoners overhead about the problem and then managed to escape! You can imagine the rest!!
Last time I visited Shieldaig, I did have a camera, but that didn't stop me taking more photos this time round! It is, after Plockton, one of the prettiest of west coast villages, with the whitewashed houses curving gently along the roadside, every one of them looking out across the bay. Since the new road was built in the 1960's, through traffic bypasses the villages heart, leaving a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere. One day I will arrive here with enough time to continue north and visit Torridon, but by now the afternoon was wearing on and I was sure that mum would enjoy the Bealach na Ba and Applecross! The picture below was taken from the northern end of the village, looking back across the bay (on my previous visit!!).
Applecross is a large, wild peninsula between Loch Kishorn/Loch Carron and Loch Shieldaig to the north. It looks westwards to Raasay and Skye beyond. Until the 1960's, there was only one way in and out of this village, and that was via the Bealach na Ba pass built in the 1820's. However, as it is one of the highest passes in the British Isles, it is often closed in winter months, and the hairpins and steep climbs mean it is totally unsuitable for large vehicles. The result was that a new coast road was built, along the route of the paths and tracks that linked Applecross' other coastal settlements together. Whilst nowhere near as fun to drive as the old pass, it does at least provide a permanent access for the residents.