NC500 – Day Two: Scotland in July, when the rain gets warmer.

We woke up to the sound of fairly strong wind and the suspicion that our tent was probably in worse shape than when we put it up the night before, if that was even possible. This provided us with some urgency to get showered and hit the road again before our tent became more like a kite.

After cleaning up as much as you can in a public shower, our next priority was to find somewhere that opened early enough for us to get breakfast. Our plan was to start our journey north in the hope that we’d find something on the way. For a second time we journeyed over the Bealach na Ba, and for a second time we were consumed by the clouds and unable to admire any of the views which supposedly exist on this road. Having driven the road in worse weather and worse spirits the previous day, we were able to enjoy our second attempt slightly more but there was still a sigh of relief once we were through the hills.

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Views like this made the hunger manageable.

We drove for about an hour before we came across the dainty, Whistle Stop Cafe in Kinlochewe. After resisting the urge to order chocolate cake for breakfast (its a constant struggle) – I settled on the more substantial Scottish breakfast. White coffee and black pudding isn’t a bad way to start the day. As we left the cafe, the rain that had been threatening us since we woke up was in full force and it didn’t look like it was going away any time soon.

After breakfast, our plan had been to visit Inverewe Gardens. The pictures we had seen of the gardens were stunning but they had clearly been taken in much better weather than what we were given. Rather than the tropical garden experience we had planned for, we were more likely to endure a typical Scottish outing of rain and grey skies with the unusual addition of palm trees on the side. Weighing up our expectation vs reality we made the decision to save the gardens for another day (more of that ‘adapting’ stuff we’ve been practising). Onto the next stop – Corrieshalloch Gorge.

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Anthrax Island – something out of a dystopian fantasy.

On the way to the gorge, we decided to make a photo stop at Gruinard Bay which, on a good day, is said to be beautiful. While enjoying the beach on a sunny day may have been nice, the main reason we stopped was not for of the bay but instead for the island opposite and the interesting story attached to it. In the background of the above picture you can see Gruinard Island, and while its appearance is rather unspectacular, its history is of much more interest. Some pre road trip research revealed that, during WWII, Gruinard Island had been a government testing ground for biological warfare. Opposite a beautiful bay to rival any in Scotland sits an island that was contaminated with Anthrax for decades. How strange and rather eerie…

A sign on the island used to read: “This island is government property under experiment. This ground is contaminated with Anthrax and dangerous. Landing is prohibited.” However the experiment was declassified in 1997 and the island has now been declared safe, although the last confirmed case of Anthrax on the island test flock of sheep was just a decade ago. I don’t think I’ll be taking my chances any time soon.

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Bridges shouldn’t be built to sway.

By the time we reached Corrieshalloch Gorge the rain still hadn’t let up, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The rain meant that a lot of the attractions we had planned to visit were much quieter than normal.

The gorge was just a short walk down the hillside. While we had seen pictures of the sight, it difficult to know exactly what to expect. The pictures really didn’t do it justice. As I found out when trying to take my own pictures, it was almost impossible to showcase the sheer size and depth of the gorge while capturing the detail of the rock that was carved and shaped by the water.

The bridge over the gorge warned that only 6 people at a time should venture across it – a warning that many people chose to ignore. However, considering the looming drop to the gorge below, I patiently waited at the edge until the bride was slightly less congested. Standing on the bridge, it was easy to feel insignificant with those surroundings.

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Cave exploring *giggle* – I just fell like this.

From the gorge we were just 15mins from Ullapool which seemed like it would be the best lunch stop for a while. We had a quick bite to eat at The Seaforth and while I stuck with my obligatory driver’s soft drink, Brian sampled some of the local beer. We didn’t spend long in Ullapool but it seems like a small hub in the North West and somewhere that we would definitely visit and possibly base out of for future trips.

We did have some slightly longer hikes planned for the afternoon but the idea of getting soaked while walking for hours, then sitting in a car while damp for hours, then sleeping in a tent all night was less and less inviting.

We decided to opt for a shorter hike to the Bone Caves instead (we were getting really good at adapting). For some reason, instead of changing into my waterproof boots I thought I’d just wear my not so waterproof trail running shoes. This was not the best decision I’ve made. Although the hike was only a couple hours long, the rain was constant and parts of the path were flooded. By the time we reached the caves, both o us were soaked – our idea of staying dry on a shorter walk wasn’t really going to plan.

When we actually reached the caves, exploring in them gave us a small respite from the rain. It was a nice experience to be able to explore such an untouched environment. A combination of the weather and the remoteness of the caves had meant that for the entire hike we had only seen a couple of other people, it was like having a private valley exclusively to ourselves.

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Kylesku Bridge – beautiful to drive over, beautiful to look at.

Unlike the previous day, we now only had a half hour drive to our campsite and it was well before dinner time. Without the pressure of time, we were able to take a much more leisurely pace. While I still tried to drive at 60mph, we made more stops for pictures along the way.

Just down the road from the Bone Caves was Ardvreck Castle. We hopped out the car to have a look at the castle, but didn’t venture too close – still soaked from our earlier walk, we weren’t keen to add more rain to the equation. You know the rain is bad when Brian, a history major, chooses not to stand and read the information of the castle.

Luckily, as we got further north, the rain seemed to be fading. So much so, that by the time we got to Kylesku bridge we were able to actually leave the car without waterproofs.

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That campsite is tough to beat.

We arrived at our campsite in Scourie and pitched our tent all before 6pm, which was incredible considering our efforts from the previous day. We were now professionals at tent assembly and actually got our home for the night looking presentable enough for a photo, this time. By this point, the rain had completely subsided, matching our good mood and high spirits.

We ended our day with some food and beers at the Anchorage Bar. Both of us had incredibly fresh seafood for dinner, and the beers weren’t bad either. After a long day of driving and missing out, my pint of Tennents tasted surprisingly good.

Overall, day two had been much more relaxed. While we didn’t have the best weather, we still had fun. By giving ourselves less to do, we weren’t so constrained by time and actually had a greater opportunity to enjoy what we did do. I suppose we had learnt from the mistakes we made the previous day.

As cliched as it sounds, for us it didn’t matter what we were doing, as long as we were together – although it took me a little longer to realise this.

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