I didn’t want to get up this morning. I suspect yesterday’s combination of rain and whisky had something to do with it, plus staying up late to watch the cricket highlights. I just about made it out of my room for the 10am checkout. It is pretty strictly applied in a youth hostel. They start coming round to clean the rooms and strip the beds. You aren’t encouraged to be late.
I made it about half a mile down the road and stopped for breakfast. Part of my problem was inertia. I had deliberately planned a shorter day today to give me time in the evening, weather permitting, to make an attempt at the famous Bealach na Ba mountain pass to Applecross. It goes steeply from sea level near Lochcarron, today’s destination, to over 2,000 feet and features in the now very popular NC500. I felt duty bound to give it a go while in this OS Map; but with important caveats. I couldn’t see the point of battling up if there was nothing to see. Or if it meant I would get soaked again. And I had received several warnings from other cyclists that the traffic (especially the larger camper vans) on the steep narrow pass made it positively dangerous during the day. So I had given myself 2 windows: tonight and tomorrow morning. If the conditions were right, I would go. If not, I can come back another time, or maybe go to Applecross via the longer and also very scenic coastal route from Sheildaig. One of my “rules” for this entire trip is that it has to be enjoyable. I’m not out to prove anything. I have ridden up the Hard Knott pass in Cumbria quite a few times. Yes, all the way. And that is a mile of 1 in 3. So that’s not my motivation. Oh, and I need to leave all my bags behind somewhere, too. Like maybe here, at my lovely bnb in the venerable Old Manse in Lochcarron village, right on the shores of Loch Carron itself. Even in the gloom of this evening it is a stunningly beautiful spot.
As I write during dinner in the rambling Lochcarron Hotel bar, there is no chance of going this evening. It has been raining on and off (more on) since I arrived in Lochcarron about 5.30pm and the cloud is sitting just a couple of hundred feet above the loch. No point in trying. We will see what tomorrow brings. It will make for a long day tomorrow; but after today, I can possibly live with that. In the end today I cycled about 35 miles of gorgeous scenery, the highlight of which was the exceptional village of Plockton, the “Jewel of the Highlands”, as it calls itself on the sign as you arrive. To be fair, that isn’t even boasting too much, because you would have to work very hard to find anywhere more beautiful. Not just in the Highlands; but anywhere.
Plockton is a proper little village of low, whitewashed cottages forming a more or less continuos arc around a spectacularly picturesque, east-facing sheltered bay. It lies near the south western end of Loch Carron, a sea loch that penetrates 12 miles or so inland, surrounded on all sides by jaw-dropping mountain scenery. The climate here is mild enough to give its waterfront a slightly tropical feel, with plants you would expect only to find in more southerly climes. As well as being a jewel, it seems to be something of a hidden gem. There were a few visitors nosing quietly around; but nothing like the hoards on Skye, just 7 miles or so away. Long may it remain unknown.
I had Plockton in mind for refreshment and it arrived in liquid form when I discovered it has a small brewery. So I sat in the Plockton Arms and made my contribution to the local economy in exchange for prolonged use of their wifi. It was a rare opportunity to not be in any hurry to move on. I watched people come and go, passed the time of day with a few locals, and generally relaxed. Well, honestly, why not? Tomorrow won’t be like this. Then I cycled the length of Loch Carron along its south shore, at times almost touching the Inverness to Kyle railway, and at other times watching it with envy as it continued along a flat course, hugging the lakeside, while I was forced up (and down) 1 in 7 gradient hills. All the way there was a juxtaposition of flowering rhododendron bushes and steep sided rock faces to add to the grand backdrop of the lake and mountains to my left. Eventually, inevitably, the rain came, maybe 15 minutes before I reached Lochcarron village on the north bank of the loch. I could see it for ages across the water, a long ribbon of white buildings in the distance, strung out along the shore. But there is no way across so you have to double back on yourself a couple of miles from the end of the lake. It is another enchanting spot, even in drizzle. Not quite Plockton; but well worth the effort of getting there. These villages are few and far between, so you make use of their cafes, accommodation, shops, fuel and so on. It will be many miles to anywhere comparable.
But that challenge lies ahead. The weather will decide what tomorrow brings. I would love to think that summer is about to make a sudden return here. Some sunshine would be a pleasant change. The temperature range in the UK is dramatic this week, with “killer” temperatures in the mid 30s splashed all over the headlines. But not here. We are in 3 layer territory with wind and rain never far away. I have seen the sun here on my last and only other visit to Plockton, more than 20 years ago. So I know it happens. But as many people have remarked to me in recent days, this is Scotland!