Saturday, August 09, 2014

Fàilte gu Alba - Cataibh

Someone said my previous post about our Scotland trip was long.  Well, this will be even longer! My apologies!  I usually try to limit the number of photos, to leave the more representative ones, but this was our first full day in the Scottish Highlands (Cataibh in Scottish Gaelic), it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip, and I sort of need all the photos to give a fair visual narrative...

a hearty Scottish breakfast anyone?

To begin with, the day started in such a pleasant way!  Our hosts could cook a mean Scottish breakfast!  So full of flavour!  The oatmeal had a fantastic texture, and it was slightly salty, which went great with just a bit of brown sugar and (soy) milk.  Yum!  And the tomatoes and mushrooms!  Such a simple thing, but they were amazing!  So juicy and flavourful!   

And our hosts were not only good cooks, they were absolutely charming too!   They had this way of offering advice on where to go and what to do that was informative, clear, acknowledging of your original plans, and tantalizing with new discoveries.  We were torn between driving northeastwards, to some very impressive castles and shoreline, or northwestwards, to Cape Wrath, an adventure that required taking a ferry, then a bus, and was heavily dependent on weather.  Our hosts said they'd choose Cape Wrath, since they'd never been there, but they also mentioned they had been to a most solitary and beautiful beach (Sandwood Bay, or Bàgh Shanabhait) that was sort of on the way there.  Plus, they mentioned the drive from Bonar Bridge (where we were) to that bay was probably one of the most beautiful and Scottish ones.   Well, that made it easy!  Sandwood Bay it was!  

from Bonar Bridge (Drochaid a' Bhanna) to Laxford Bridge

We were promised a beautiful drive, and a beautiful drive is what we got!  It was stunning.  Lakes, valleys, flowers, islands of trees in the middle of fields, even a traditional house by a lake that looked as if it had been put there just for photo ops!  This time I made ample use of the "passing points" to stop and take photos and admire the landscape.  Truly gorgeous.  And you'll pardon the long series of photos, but really, look at what an amazing drive!

from Laxford Bridge to Blairmore

That was the first part of the drive, across northern Scotland from East to West to reach the northwestern coast.  The next part was no less wonderful, and very different!  We were driving up the West coast northwards, and the views were simply amazing.  The weather was perfect, the water as blue as naturally possible, and the sinuous and twisted coast had a faint Nordic fjord-like feeling.  We were in total awe. 

a [non]failed hike to Sandwood Bay (Bàgh Shanabhait)

We finally arrived to Blairmore, a tiny and remote hamlet, parked the car, and began the hike towards Sandwood Bay.  It was supposed to be a short hike, between one and two hours.  The sun was shining (we actually even got a tan!), the sheep were grazing, lake after lake of crystal clear water shimmered...

And at about three fourths of the way there I saw my husband's sunglasses fall through a hole in his pocket.   And then he started frantically looking for his prescription glasses in that same pocket!   Argh!!! They weren't there!   And do you know where he had taken them off?  Well, like after 15 minutes into the hike! That is, the frigging glasses could be anywhere between the beginning of the trail and where we were!  It was obvious my husband was not going to be in a state of mind to finish the hike and be at the bay with the prospect of spending the rest of the trip without his glasses, so we did the only thing one could reasonably do: walk back, scanning the ground in hopes of finding them.  Now, if you saw the photos above, you'll realize the place was beautiful, but finding slender, black rim glasses on a road like that?  A monochromatic "Where's Waldo" would be easier!  

As luck would have it, we came across some people coming our way... we asked... and they had actually found them!   They picked them up and left them "on a rock, between the big lake and the little lake".  We thanked them, and headed to that part of the trail.  Now, we're talking about a winding trail, and very irregularly shaped lakes, so looking for a flat rock by the path between "the big lake" (Loch na Gainimh) and "the little lake" (Lochan Dubh) wasn't as straightforward and, at some point, I actually lost hope.  Until... voilà!

Of course, we were not going to backtrack to go to the bay anymore.   And we were tired (it was hot!).  So we made the best of it.  Loch na Gainimh ("the big lake") was really pretty.  There was an abandoned boat. There were countless bright flowers around...   My huz did some Butoh, I allowed myself some playful silliness and put flowers in my beard, we relaxed, and we made this the highlight of our walk.  Yay for determination!

So, in a much more relaxed mood, we enjoyed our walk back from Loch Gainimh to Blairmore to get the car...

the North coast

All that could have been plenty for a day.  But we thought we still had just enough time to head to the coast up North and do a sort of loop to go back south to Bonar Bridge via a different road.  You know, just a quick look at the coast from the car, maybe a short stop for photos...  Of course, we were not ready for the first town we hit - Durness (Diùirnis).   You're probably gagging at the number of times I say beautiful and gorgeous and stunning, but what can I do! LOOK at those images!   The beach! the rocks! the cliffs!  A "quick stop"? Ha! We had to wrestle ourselves away from the place because it was just too perfect! 

We were hoping the rest of the North coast to Tongue (Tunga) was going to be less spectacular, because we really wanted to be back at the B&B before nightfall.   Well, here's what we came across before we could finally veer southwards into the inner valleys:

- more impossibly stunning beaches and cliffs...

- and quiet roads working their way around fjord-like lochs...

- and picturesque houses, skies, and... deer!

- and plenty more stunning landscapes, including a thousand-year-old castle: Castle Varrich (Caisteal Bharraich)...

Finally, the road home!

Intoxicated by everything we saw, we finally took a small road (no, really, for a stretch the vegetation to the sides was actually brushing against the car!) to go south from Tongue and back to our B&B.  All the while with the soft sunset light bathing the valleys and reflecting on lakes (which made for extraordinary sights but bad photos), until we reached Carbisdale Castle, which signalled we were close our local pub for a Guinness and a good sleep to prepare for next day's adventure... 

Next stop: the Isle of Skye! 

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