Thursday, 18 June 2009

Coolin in the Cuillins

“Coolin’ in the Cuillins”

After a practice run at a site about twenty minutes from home, on a lovely warm weekend, we set off for Scotland. The weather had been really lot for several days and was about to change.

We called in at Colin’s, so that Mums and Dad could see the van, and set off late afternoon, arriving at Stirling on a lovely evening. The following day we made Skye. Our first experience of the Inner Hebrides. What a wonderful place, especially in the good weather we were having. Superb views of the Cuillin Mountains which were to be within vision for much of the following week.

We stayed on a basic campsite with the most essential facilities, namely pub within 250yds, hot showers, incredible views and no hassle. We woke to another blue sky, cool morning and set off on a walk described in the Ramblers Assoc 50 Best Walks in Britain. A long trek up Sgurr na Stri and we were looking down the Cuillin Cauldron, a bowl of dark mountains, almost inaccessible and almost always shrouded in mist, but not today. We knew how lucky we were! Seven hours later and 18 miles and we finally arrived back ******ered!!! We’d forgotten how distances here are so deceptive!

Incidentally the Black Cuillins and Red Cuillins. Nothing to do with the evening sunlight, as I initially thought. The Black Cuillins are formed from Gabbro, the oldest rock on the planet, so they say. Like volcanic Velcro! Even me with my dodgy knees had no fear of descending steep slopes!! The Red Cuillins formed mainly from granite and they do actually look red and black. Both rocks were originally from magma chambers of volcanoes which once dominated Western Scotland.

The following “rest day” we relaxed on a tour of the nearby Talisker Distillery and brought a 10yr old malt back to the van. The tour of Scotland had commenced in earnest!

“More Breath-Taking Views”

We provisioned up in Portree, the “capital” of Skye. Not much there, apart from an Indian restaurant and a few wool shops. A bit disappointing. But the harbour was pretty with cheerily painted houses. We found a wonderful site within walking distance of Dunvegan, the castle, and a good walk to Coral Beaches, unspoilt, white beaches. The pitch looked right onto the tidal loch with stunning views. This was exactly what we’d hoped for in a site. Very quiet. Blue sky mornings and days which stretch out until 11pm. In fact it never really seemed to go dark. Very strange closing the curtains and going to bed whilst still light outside.

We went on a lovely, undulating cycle ride along the coast to Neist Lighthouse.

After four days on Skye, we moved on, with plans to come back next year, to hace another walk into the Cuillins, walk around the Old Man of Storr, another geological wonder in the Totternish district, and more.

Failte na the Applecross Peninsular

A 35mile dead end over the scary Pass of the Cattle to Applecross. We’re back on the mainland but you’d think we were still in the Hebrides, with near views of the Cuillins, and outlying islands of Harris and Lewis. As on Skye all the road signs are in Gaelic, as well as English.

On the journey over we called at a little weaving croft at Cuaig. The couple, Lesley and Thomas Kilbride, who own the business, live here all year round, farm sheep, dye the wool with plant dyes and then spin the wool and weave it to create and sell products. There were four looms and Thomas explained and demonstrated the process of weaving. When I told him that my granddad was a cotton weaver, he pointed to the label on the loom, which said it was built in Blackburn. I think I owe it to my surname and DNA to google “Looms for Sale”, and Thomas recommended a website. ( I wonder if it would fit in Laura’s bedroom?!!!)

A great pub in Applecross, which sold fantastic food, a Post Office, a few old petrol pumps, advertising “top up for a tenner” to support this service, and about twenty houses, and that’s it for Applecross. Set along the edge of the Inner Sound with beautiful views.

Loch Maree and Ben Eighe Nature Reserve

Our first experience of wild camping, ie. not on a site, on the banks of Lake Maree. We did a walk into the mountains, up to Lunar Loch, which hints at the age of the oldest Nature Reserve in Britain. From here to Aviemore, through glens filled with rhododendrons, and gorse. What a great time of year to come here for plants and shrubs. The woods are full of wild flowers, ragged robin, campion, veronica, speedwell, and orchids.

It was cold and wet when we arrived in Aviemore, and apart from one day in Pitlochry, it pretty much stayed that way until we arrived back home. We walked on the same beach and stayed on the same site, where we stayed when Andrew was 3 and Laura was1, tottering about trying to keep the midges away from her ears!

The cycle paths from Glenmore Campsite to Aviemore are “new” and excellent. We went out on the Old Logging Path, off-road, past lochs and through the forest. SAW A RED SQUIRREL!!!!

Overnight at Pitlochry, and Ian cycled to Tummel Bridge and back. I wandered around Pitlochry, tired legs, sore knees, bent derailer (on bike, that is) and a whole host of other excuses!! The River Tummel is really wide, and before the suspension bridge, people and cattle were taken across on the little ferry. It must have been quite scary in full flow, because the passengers used to throw coins into the river as a wish for a safe passage!!

Back home to some sunshine and warmth, but with resolve to return again next year. In fact we’re booked in to do the Caledonian Etape, an 80mile cycle ride starting at Pitlochry, so we’re going to try and book the same site.

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