Laundry Day! Whoo-hoo! It takes until 10:30 to finish everything, but at least we're clean and can go out in public without offending people. We walked around Thurso, waiting for the launderette to open. It's a neat town, small, very inviting, with a long beach. The beach, (apart from the washed up dead sheep) is very attractive. Nothing is open yet, so we're just walking through the narrow roads and along the harbor.
From Thurso we followed the dreaded Tourist Trail along the top of the island. This runs out along the coast, all the way around to Ullapool, where we're staying tonight.
If Lowland Scotland is beautiful, the Highlands are breathtaking. The coast is craggy and rocky, the blue ocean seems unreal. It's utterly gorgeous. We followed the road along the Kyle of Tongue, and took a scenic detour around it, on some single-track road most of the day. The Lochs were beautiful and we spent a lot of time oohing and aahing about the scenery.
The towns up here are so small as to be nearly nonexistent. Where do these people get groceries? Or Tampons? Mail order?
We happened upon a T in the road (and had to stop so I could figure out just where we were) and found the town of Rossal. Or rather, we found the site where Rossal had been. The town was burned to the ground in the Clearances, when landowners evicted everyone on the lands. We found a long suspension bridge over the stream, and bounced our way across a few times. Mark somehow convinced me to go first!
We had lunch (ham baguettes and lots of conversation) at a tiny tearoom by the side of the road, by Creadoch Croft. It was getting windy and starting to cloud over, so we decided lunch sounded good. There is a different pace of life up here in the Highlands, I think. The gentleman running the tearoom was very friendly and very talkative. He asked us about where we'd been and what we like so far, and where we were heading. We ended up talking about German drivers and the fact that on the single-track Highland roads they believed that the passing places are for everyone else, not them!
Further along the coast is Loch Lomond, and from there, a quick side-trip that was ominously labelled "Beware of Bull". Then we saw the names of the towns down this rocky path: Tarbet and Foindle. It was an interesting drive, down near the craggy coast. At one point, we were warned of a "blind summit" -- they weren't kidding! As we neared the top of the hill, another car topped the rise, and we couldn't see a thing! We never did see the bull, though.
The mountains are deceptive -- while most are well under 1000 meters, small in comparison to our own Rockies in Colorado at 15,000 feet, the relative size is still impressive. All 3000 feet or so of mountain rise up from the ground where I'm standing. I'm not at 10K looking at 13K.. the effect is quite impressive. They're "soft" mountains -- no rocky crags, just heather covered slopes. At least we're pretty sure it's heather. It's brown right now. I can barely imagine this landscape covered in purple heather blossoms.
We spied a "pile of rocks" off the road, and climbed over a few fences to see Ardvreck Castle. It was quite ruined, and signs all over the castle warned us that it was dangerous. We could see the outlines of a huge castle here, although the tower it mostly crumbled. It is in a very picturesque location, though: on a long spit of land into the loch.
The drive around the shore is certainly curvey -- it runs around each loch and bay. It's 117 miles from Thurso to Ullapool by the SINGLE main road for a distance of about 35 miles as the crow flies. It takes all day.
And there aren't multitudes of ways to get places up here, like in the Lowlands. Unlike the south where every own is linked to every other town in a huge network of roads, the Highlands have one main road and only a few tiny side roads -- most of them dead ends.
We stopped all the time just to pull over at the side of the road and stare at the mountains. We stopped near Dunbeg to look at the vista of the mountains. The overlook boasted a huge plaque that read:
The prominent mountains on the skyline are remnants of reddish brown Torridonian Sandstone, topped by younger and harder white quartzite. Prolonged erison of the sandstone has exposed a 1000 million year old "fossil" landscape in the underlying gray Lewiston Gniess of the foreground. These are the oldest surface rocks in Britain, dated in parts to 3000 MILLION YEARS
We also stopped on the shores of Loch Torridon to sun ourselves on the rocks overlooking another glen, laying out on the flat stones sleepily. There was a couple setting up to take pictures with a medium format camera -- the man spent literally a half and hour fiddling with the settings on the camera before snapping a SINGLE picture. I nearly laughed. One CLICK and he started packing up. If I'd spent that much time setting up a single picture I would certainly take at least two, just in case the first one jiggled or the film was boogered!
Ullapool is a harbour town -- everything lines up around the main harbor and ferry. We showed up at our hotel to find that they've overbooked and we have no room. Yeah, fun! However, the very nice girl behind the desk (from Australia, I think) actually made us a booking at another hotel in town (see if a hotel clerk in the states would do that!) and we end up at the Argyll Hotel and Restaurant. The bar is busy and the food is very good, so who's to complain? I finally had fish and chips, with vinegar and salt. Then we walked down around the harbor and watched the boats and ferry come in. The town is crowded with students and other people -- I'm not sure what is going on here, or if Ullapool is this busy all the time.
We've had lousy luck with B&Bs lately. Even the highly recommended hotels and guest houses have sucked. Maybe it's location? We haven't had many choices lately, so maybe we'll get back round Edinburgh and things will change.
©1999-2001 R. Fingerson
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