‘ .. the finest of Scotland’s glens.’
Leaving Cumbria bright and early on a Sunday morning we find the motorway to Glasgow relatively traffic free. At Dunblane the motorway peters out and becomes the dreaded A9. We are avid readers of Ian Rankin’s ‘Rebus’ novels. Rebus, a rather cynical police detective, pours out a lot of vitriolic complaint anytime a job takes him north of Edinburgh and along the A9, complaining it is full of slow lorries, camper vans and roadworks.
We took a coffee break at Auchterarder, famous for being the home of Gleneagles, the golf course and hotel at which the 2005 G8 summit took place. I doubt very much if Bush, Blair, et. al. went traipsing down Auchterarder’s high street which has definitely seen better days.
Thus far the A9 proved to be quite an amiable dual carriageway, at least until we were north of Perth when it vacillated between dual and single carriageway. At Pitlochry (where we bought a couple of very overpriced sandwiches) the road veers west for some distance because the direct route is blocked by the massif of the Grampian Mountains. We decided to stock up on a few essentials (bread, cheese, wine, gin) at the Tesco in Aviemore and then push on to Inverness.
When we were planning our journey we decided Inverness would be a good stopping off point between Carlisle and the very far north of Scotland. We could have booked a place in the environs of I’ness but our friends and followers will know that is not our style. We had to find a place that was just within reach of absolutely nowhere, didn’t we?
The directions for how to get to our AirBnB told us that if we used the postcode to get to our booked accommodation it would take us to a different farm! There followed some very detailed directions which ended with the immortal words : ‘The key will be under the red chicken in front of the patio doors.’ I couldn’t help but picture me having to shift some broody, red feathered hen just to get at the keys she thought was an egg!
So we drove up ever smaller and smaller roads to reach an idyllic little croft set amongst the hills with glorious views all around. It really was a beautifully decorated, comfortable place set amongst peaceful surroundings. Quite a way from the cafes, shops and pubs in the nearest settlement, Beauly, and a world away from Inverness. But just perfect for us.
Not wanting to immediately get in the car the following morning we set off along a local track past Keepers cottage and towards Loch Neaty, hoping to maybe see deer, Golden Eagle or any other wildlife for which Scotland is famous. Unfortunately there was a dearth of such life but it was a pleasant enough walk to the loch which helped get our leg muscles working again after all the time spent in the car the previous day.
In the late afternoon we took to the road again to visit the Black Isle. It isn’t an actual island but a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Firths of Cromarty, Beauly and Moray with the fourth side delineated by rivers so it’s as close to an island as you can get.
The principal town of Fortrose has a ruined 13th Century cathedral so it would once have qualified as a city. Just beyond the town is Chanonry Point, a spit of land which sticks out into the Moray Firth. It has a lighthouse which dates back to 1846.
The big draw at the point, though, is that it is reckoned to be the best place in the UK (and one of the best in Europe) to see Bottlenose Dolphin from the shore. They can often be found swimming and leaping very close to shore and a board at the point informed us that this race of Bottlenose are the largest in the world. This dolphin normally occurs in warmer waters and it seems that these ones have had to grow much larger in order to cope with the cool waters of the Moray Firth.
Unfortunately, we didn’t time our arrival very well as the tide was going out so failed to see any dolphin, though we did get some nice views of a Grey Seal and it was a wonderful, if windy, place to spend some time and unwind.
For our final day we decided to follow Siobhan’s recommendation of walking in Glen Affric. The guide books say : ‘By common consent, Glen Affric is the finest of all Scottish Glens’ so you will understand that we were eagerly anticipating a good walk.
The single track road at the end of our track led into the glorious Strathglass Valley along the river Glass. It was a well named river for its pools were as reflective as glass and I can imagine that the fly fishing here would be excellent. At Cannich a Forestry Commission track leads to Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin (no idea how you pronounce that) and into Glen Affric itself. And, for once, the superlatives are correct – this really is one of the most beautiful mountain valleys we have seen.
Taking the recommended route along the left bank of the loch we were among Scots Pines, some of the last remnants of the original Caledonian Forest. And all the while we had views of the Kintail Mountains towards which we were headed. We had hoped to perhaps complete the 12 mile circuit of the loch but the weather started closing in and it looked like there was serious rain up ahead so we were more than happy to retreat the way we had come. We did however get a glimpse of an Osprey in the sky overhead and there are reports of Golden Eagle there.
We still had some time on our hands so took the opportunity to drive up the neighbouring Glen Cannich, now flooded by Loch Mullardoch which has been dammed. This is a quieter valley but still quite spectacular. The Mullardoch Dam is a rather ugly concrete structure but there is still plenty to see. A sign in the valley warns that if you are planning on walking in the hills you should call in at a cottage close by as deer stalking takes place in the glen from August to October.
We kept a good look out both for red deer and redneck hunters but saw neither. We did, however, see a female and a male Hen Harrier. This is the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK due to its impact on grouse moors so we were over the moon to see these birds.
Glen Cannich was a magnificent way to end our stay in the area but just when you think it’s all over it isn’t. Back at our croft Siobhan had told us to keep an eye on the far hillside for red deer around dusk. Having finished our evening meal we were scanning with our binoculars when, sure enough, we saw a herd of females and young dashing out of the cover of some trees and along well worn paths into a field no more than 300 mtrs away. There must have been at least 20, probably more but the failing light made it difficult to count and impossible to photograph but we were delighted just to see them.
On our day of departure I woke early and looked out of the bedroom window to a field opposite. And there before me were 3 Roe Deer, quietly cropping the grass. I just had to wake Jane show her. A parting gift from our lovely croft in the middle of nowhere.