Gleams in the North

Rama and I went north at the end of July, in fine weather but after yon unnatural heat.  I took him to my usual stopping places: the Perthshire Visitor Centre at Bankfoot and Ralia going north, the Dairy at Daviot and House of Bruar coming south.

The coffee at Bankfoot is nothing to write home about, though they say it’s Brodies.  I’ve always ordered a cappuccino and keep wondering if it’s machine-made from some mix as it’s like flavoured hot milk; I shall try a different order next time.  I go because it’s not far off the A9 and it has toilets so try to ignore the acres of gaudy gifts; it’s a port in a storm.

Ralia I love, and my heart always lifts as I pull off the A9 and into that wee birch  tree-lined side road.  It can be an adventure in the car park as they don’t have painted lines and some folk can be really thoughtless. (I would like a job going round Scotland fining folk who haven’t parked within the lines or who could have left more room for others to fit in.  That is, if I’m not too busy going round cafes checking for dirt or inspecting  souvenir shops with a view to banning the sale of embarrassing or inappropriate trock.  However, another job I fancy is being a bus and train seat inspector, issuing on the spot fines to folk who put their bag on a seat or sit by the aisle to get both seats to themselves; I’m thinking community service for a second offence.)

One time, I got the last available space at Ralia and as I left the car, observed quite a drama.  A car came out of a space opposite where I was and the next car that arrived pulled in just past the space and got ready to reverse in; suddenly, another car roared front first into the space.  I was gobsmacked as was the driver of the waiting car.  I made some comment in solidarity to the driver and this emboldened her to get out and challenge the cheeky guy who’d just stolen her space.  He took umbrage, rammed his car into reverse, charged out of the space and up to the far end of the carpark.  I laughed, knowing he’d be out of luck there and serve him right.

In Sutherland, our culinary highlight was at the Kylesku Hotel and what an adventure we had getting there and back.  This was because we were taking the loon out for his tea and he was staying in Drumbeg at the time, spending a month making a geological map of the side of a mountain.   Rama and I decided to make a day of it – though Rama’s day, as I discovered, starts very much later than my own so it was early afternoon when we set off for Lochinver along that lovely road via Oykel Bridge.

Lochinver has very fine views of the outer isles and a bonnie front street but could maybe do with a few more places where visitors could sit inside and get a drink.  We walked most of the way round the bay but I wrote off the Culag Hotel for being a bit rundown the last time I was in and so we came back to the Pie Shop.  They’ve got a great selection of pies for sale, not that we were buying at the time, just having a drink.

The plan was to pick up the loon at 6 and it was maybe half past 4 when we left Lochinver so, believing we had plenty of time, I decided to take the turning into Achmelvich for old times sake.  I’d forgotten how scarey the road was and how daft some drivers can be who’re not used to single track roads, refusing to reverse into a passing place even though they’re nearer and then driving at me at speed while I’m doing the reversing.  Achmelvich was busier than I ever recalled it and had sprouted a few facilities but the beach was just as I remembered it and Rama posed obligingly for several pictures.  On the way back to the B869, I had to stop suddenly just round a corner as a woman had been so overcome by the need to take a photo of Suilven, that she’d pulled into a passing place, left her door wide open and with no room for a car to get past.  There were at least two other cars behind me before she turned and noticed.

On we went through Clachtoll, Stoer and Clashnessie – all very bonnie with their sandy beaches and blue water but I was now starting to fret about getting to Drumbeg for 6 and then finding the right house.  I’d had a look at Google maps before I left home so had a bit of an idea and the loon had said it was 5 minutes from the shop.  On and on we drove with no village in sight until finally, there it was; I turned left at the shop and pulled up at the house at one minute to six.  The loon had obviously been on watch and came out immediately, saying, “I suppose this was Rama’s doing”.  I was quite indignant as indeed it had not been; it had all been my own work and anyway, Rama’s gadget was out of action so that was a rare one-up for the old auntie.

I now had two nephews in the car and the 8 miles from Drumbeg to where we joined the main road turned out to be the most frightening driving experience of my life so far.  I had a white-knuckled grip on the wheel, determined to keep the car on the road through sheer willpower as I breasted blind summits and tried not to think about a plunge down into Loch Nedd.  We were in the People’s Republic of Assynt and I couldn’t even give this fact proper appreciation.

I called repeatedly on God as I saw the road zigzag up the next hill and then heard the loon gleefully tell me that we hadn’t come to the worst bit yet.  I found I was actually sweating as I’d booked our table for 6.30 and I hated the thought of being late.  I was also horrified at the thought of doing these 8 miles twice more and then crossing Scotland before I would see my bed – if I ever did see it again.

I pulled up at the Kylesku Hotel dead on half past 6 and sent the nephews in to secure the table while I found a parking spot.  By the time I got in, the loon had taken a look round and given the place his seal of approval – and that is rarely granted.  The setting is magnificent: the hotel overlooks the old ferry slipway where Loch a Chairn Bhain meets Loch Glendhu and the dining room has a view of their waters.  The décor is calm, not detracting from the windows and the magnificence outside and the staff were all lovely and helpful.  Both boys are vegetarians and they had several menu choices.  I had fish. Yes, it was expensive but they’re good lads really and deserved a treat.

I tried hard to relax and forget about those 16 miles of torture still to come.  I started to consider taking the loon back to Drumbeg and then going on south to Lochinver before heading east on a double road.  However, when I looked at the hotel’s map, I realised how foolish and time-consuming that would be and with a good meal inside me, maybe I was finding some courage.  So off we went, the loon announcing we’d be less likely to encounter traffic trying to go the other way at that time in the evening.  Going east to west, some of the blind summits seemed even more tricky but I took them, if not in my stride, in a slightly less panicked fashion.

After once again taking nearly half an hour to go 8 miles, it was time to say goodbye to the loon and for the third time within 4 hours, drive this bloody bit of road.  We were now in the gloaming so the deer were feeding close to the verges – all I needed was another hazard but Rama became my animal spotter.

“Deer … look out”.

“Yes, yes”,  I replied looking at the two on a hillock to my right before suddenly spotting the muckle big stag just at the left hand side of the road.

Oh the bliss of turning on to the main road and heading south for Inchnadamph and Ledmore, though not only were there more deer at the side but also sheep on the road.  Rama remained vigilant however and I was now on the home straight with my bed  calling me.  At the time I was giving no thought to my proximity to the Loch of the Green Corrie, though I’m now re-reading Andrew Greig’s book.

From leaving Ledmore, we didn’t meet a single vehicle and were home on the other side of Scotland within an hour of having turned on to the A894.  We saw several caravans and camper vans overnighting in passing places; I don’t know if they were dodging charges at sites or if there aren’t enough sites but if they were genuinely seeking to spend the night in a wild place, they could have got off the road properly.

Another good day out was to Knockan Crag to see RMF and her pals performing as part of Feis Rois.  It was an afternoon performance and for long stretches, they were playing to a dog, four unruly children, and a handful of bemused tourists with me and Rama applauding enthusiastically from our perch on some distant rocks.  There was a stall set up by Scotland’s Natural Larder and Rama got me four excellent recipe cards – nettle soup, wild garlic bread, nettle pesto and fruit leathers.  For more information, go to their website

When we left Knockan, we just had to call at the Elphin Tearoom to see how they were doing and their new blue Tibetan flags were flapping in the breeze.  It was nearly closing time but, after a wee misunderstanding, Rama got his cheese and tomato toastie and I had their ginger cake again.  I swithered about buying a local print of a crofthouse under the stars but went back inside to get it; there’s light streaming from one of the windows and the starry plough is overhead.





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