From Loch Ness we drove to the small but picturesque village of Garve, situated on the River Blackwater – a perfect spot for exploring the Scottish Highlands.
We were very fortunate to be invited to park our van in the grounds of the beautiful home (a converted and beautifully modernised croft) of friends John and Vera. Very generous on their part as we had only met John for the first time reasonably recently when he was visiting brother Bruce in Brisbane and hadn’t – until our visit to Garve – ever met Vera. Despite this, we received genuine Highland hospitality and thoroughly enjoyed a lovely home cooked meal on our arrival.
The hospitality continued the following day when John drove us and acted as tour guide on a spectacular road trip around some of the “must sees” of the Highlands.
Our lunch destination was on the Applecross Peninsula an extremely isolated spot that was only accessible by boat until the early 20th century.
Fortunately for us the settlement of Shore Street, lying on the small Applecross Bay, is now accessible via a winding coast road that would have been a nightmare for us in the camper van so we were very grateful to be chauffeured in a very comfortable car by someone familiar with the tricky terrain!
Our first stop en route was to take in the fabulously dramatic view of Loch Maree – surely one of the most scenically attractive areas of Scotland. Queen Victoria thought so anyway, and after her visit in 1877 (and remarked in her diary “hardly anyone ever comes here”) flocks of people followed in her footsteps.
At each turn there were even more amazing vistas, including of Liathach (meaning ‘The grey one’) a mountain of 3,461 feet (1,055 m) which when seen from the roadside below appears to rise up in a series of near vertical rocky terraces.
After all that dramatic scenery we had worked up an appetite and were more than ready for lunch at the legendary Applecross Inn.
If we were happy to have left the campervan back at our hosts’ house on the way to Applecross we were thrilled and relieved not to be negotiating the notoriously treacherous Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle), which crosses the peninsula and reaches the height of 626 metres (2,054 feet).
On the other side of the spectacular pass we drove through the gorgeous village of Plockton which because of its spectacular setting and traditional Highland atmosphere has been featured in numerous TV series and films, most famously in the TV police drama Hamish MacBeth.
We stopped at another sweet little village called Duirinish where we saw a small herd of shaggy, hairy and very endearing Highland cattle grazing on luscious green grass on public land (with no fences!) in the middle of the village. A frenzy of photo taking later we were were on our way back to Garve for an excellent barbecue.
The following day our tour continued with a visit to Strathpeffer – a spa town (the sulphurous springs were discovered in the 1770s) developed in early Victorian times but only reaching the height of its popularity after 1885 when the railway arrived (it is said after pressure was excerted by Queen Victoria). A junction on the main line to Kyle of Lochalsh near Dingwall was built which spurred on development and Strathpeffer reached its height as a spa in the years immediately before World War One.
The Strathpeffer line is now closed but the station has been restored beautifully and now houses a small museum and a very nice cafe where we had a delicious coffee and cake.
In the afternoon we went for a lovely walk around the Silverbridge circuit which is very close to where we were staying.
The circuit took us through very pretty woodland bordered by a glorious foaming river with peaty pools and gushing rapids and across two old stone bridges.
The Garve bridge was built in 1767 supervised by Major William Caulfeild of the British Army who was inspector of roads for Scotland. Apparently this was built to allow government troops to move around the Highlands after the Battle of Culloden.
The Silver Bridge was a little younger – built in the early 19th Century to provide drovers and others heading south with their goods, an easier route to travel south.
We managed to get ourselves gloriously lost on our way back “home” but the countryside was so lovely and the air so sweet that we were very content to keep walking until we found our way back again.
Our highland adventure was completed with a visit to the village of Ullapool for dinner at the Arch Inn. This lovely little port on Loch Broom has a population of around 1,500 but despite its small size it is the largest settlement for many miles around, and an important port and tourist destination.
We were so grateful to our hosts for showing us around this beautiful and fascinating part of the world.