I stayed at Iain's on the Thursday night to get an early start. Woke up Friday morning to some fine fresh ground coffee that cleared away the remains of sleep, chucked our bags in the car and started the 265-mile journey to Achmelvich. The first leg of our trip took us through the motorway systems to Stirling, where we joined the A9 - the 'death road'. At least it was until the introduction of the average speed cameras tamed the insanity of this road. The views opened up as we travelled through the gorgeous snow-capped mountains along the western edge of the Cairngorms. We stopped for lunch at a car park south of Etteridge and read the stories on the information boards of General Wade's Military Road while the birds sang over the quiet hum of traffic.
At Inverness changed onto the A835. The weather lifted to reveal stunning blue skies, fluffy white clouds and we welcomed the beauty of many deep blue lochs. At Loch Glascarnoch we could no longer resist temptation and stopped in one of the lay-bys to photograph the Loch, backed by the majesty of the Beinn Bearg.
Our next stop was to admire the beauty of Stac Pollaidh. While we were taking photos, an Aston Martin stopped and the couple got out, admired the view, then continued their journey. Shortly after we left we met the Aston Martin in the perfect place to overtake. Which we did. And with far more pleasure than a simple overtake should have given because we both knew that we would never overtake an Aston Martin like that again.
Arrived at the Achmelvich Youth Hostel late afternoon and met the fantastic hostel manager, Jorine, who showed us to our room. We stowed our gear and explored the shoreline for a spot to pitch the tarp. The perfect spot was on top of a cliff above a white sand beach and a clear turquoise sea. It was like a holiday brochure photo. We noted the pitch bearings and returned to the hostel for dinner. I felt spoilt after many camping trips relying on a cooking fire and cooling things in nearby water. This trip we could cook in a proper kitchen and keep things cool in a fridge! You don't really appreciate these things until you do not have them. After a fine meal, packed minimal gear and returned to the pitch spot. Just as we got the tarp set up, the wind changed direction and we had to adjust the tarp to block the wind. Also noticed that the guy ropes went almost to the edge of the cliff and the drop was not one either of us wanted to experience. We found a comfy rock looking out to sea and sat, talking the evening away with a few beers. The sun went below the horizon, but the sky did not go dark. Normally this would be fine but tonight was the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower and all we could see were the very brightest stars. Then the clouds gathered and partially covered the pale blue sky. We gave up hoping to see any meteors and settled in bivvy bags for the night.
We were up, packed and back at the hostel for a fantastic fried breakfast for 0900! After a relaxed coffee drove to the Culag Woods in Lochinver for a gentle stroll among the magical trees. A heron landed at the top of the tallest tree and we could hear the forest birds singing. There were lots of small flowers hidden away that became obvious once your eyes tuned into seeing small details. The woodland paths lead to features in the woods: A yew tree at the top of a hill had wishes written on card and other objects hung on its branches, a viewpoint over Lochinver, an adventure playground and a forest bog. We walked down to a beach and collected pebbles polished smooth by the sea. It started to rain gently so we returned to the car and drove 11 miles to Stoer Lighthouse. Our journey was through a striking but desolate landscape – it must be hard living there in the winter. The road got narrower and less travelled the closer we got to the lighthouse – grass was growing in the middle of the road where vehicle tyres did not touch. I had hoped to get some lunch from the ‘Living the Dream' caravan outside the lighthouse, but it was closed on Saturdays! We looked around the lighthouse grounds, taking particular care to stay a good distance away from the edge of the cliff – the drop was far too far to end well.
Returned to the hostel for coffee, dinner and then walked to the coast to find a sheltered spot to sit and watch the evening. We saw the light from Stoer lighthouse, ships passing in the distance and a large flock of birds flying low over the sea, hunting a shoal of fish. At about 2230hrs we made our way back to the hostel – the sky was cloudy, darker than last night and our torches created some very dark shadows. Some hid small dips while others were deep enough to hurt. We were quite glad to be back at the hostel in one piece!
Up a bit later on the Sunday morning, made breakfast. Collected our gear together and headed back down the road to Glasgow through some crazy weather changes – from 9°C and dense fog or heavy rain to 20°C and bright sunshine.
A great introduction to the hostel system and one to repeat with my boys.
And big thank you to Jorine for such a warm welcome at the Achmelvich Youth Hostel.