A 'whistling stop' tour of the North West

How did you make the most of the recent spell of good weather? As Scotland Outdoors user Alan Crichton reveals, he and his wife Pat took the chance to jump in their new campervan and explore the west coast.

Campervan at Poolewe

Now that I've hit the 50s my lifestyle and work situation has allowed me to take more quality time. Being of the walking persuasion, having hit this milestone and made a lifestyle change, I decided the time was right to buy myself a campervan. Not one of the houses on wheels type that some curse when they don't have the clear roads to overtake but a tiddler just big enough for two and great for the Scottish west coast single track roads. A little Tardis in fact. Living in Aberdeen and being able to grab regular long weekends away, the recent hot spell saw us jumping aboard and heading off Thursday evening for the North West of Scotland.

This area is just an absolute gem to explore. A roadside park up with a couple of other kindred campervan spirits saw us embarking on a walk/scramble on the Northern Pinnacles of Liathach (The Grey One). We couldn't believe that May could bring such scorching heat to Scotland. Liathach is one of these peaks that looks impregnable when first viewed as you drive down Glen Torridon, but on closer acquaintance, you will find there are ways and means. The massif has two Munros, these are linked by a pretty spectacular aerial ropeway of a ridge but can be avoided on the south side via various paths or attempted as two separate days.


Having taken in a collie dog the previous night who had lost her owner (turns out he had set off to camp in the hills but they'd lost each other in the fog), we hoped that our good deed of reuniting the pair would be repaid sometime. Thankfully it was that very afternoon as coming off the hill with five miles of tarmac to trudge, an old VW van stopped and gave us a very welcome trip back along the glen. We never got your names, the couple from London, but many thanks again. Torridon in general has some spectacular walking whether it be the high tops of the big mountains, gentler walks round to Coire Mhic Fhearchair (now there's a mouthful!) with its spectacular triple buttress or the lower nature trails of Loch Maree.

Friday night saw us at the Camping and Caravan Club site at Poolewe. Quite busy for mid-May but fantastic facilities and one of the most spectacular sunsets I've seen in a long time. I must admit that the west coast of Scotland scores big time in the sunset stakes. The site warden tells us that they sit on the front each evening watching the sun set. No two evenings are ever the same, apparently.

Poolewe sunset

After our wearinesses of Friday on Liathach, we decided to call Saturday a rest day. Maybe "rest" is not quite the right word. Although it was a relaxing day, we didn't actually rest for too long. A morning exploring Inverewe Gardens, a most pleasant lunch on the shore of Loch Ewe then off to explore Altbea. Loch Ewe was a major deep water harbour during the last war where the Arctic Convoys gathered before their hazardous passage to Russia. I can imagine the Naval personnel getting their marching orders to "Alt where???".

Setting off on our travels again, we just had to take the side road to Mellon Udrigle. With a name like that, you've got to go and find this place. Five miles up the west shore of Gruinard Bay (the island of Anthrax testing during the war) on a single track road brought us to one of the most fantastic vistas imaginable. There is a crescent of white sand and pale blue sea with the peaks of Sutherland rimming the skyline across the bay. But to crown it all, the woman who owns the field fronting the beach allows you to stay there for 5 pounds a night. Best fiver I've spent in a long time, and that's something coming from an Aberdonian!

View of Mellon Udrigle from inside the campervan

An evening stroll along the beach saw Pat playing in the rock pools (50+ going on 12, I reckon), eider ducks, oyster catchers, dunlin and red throated divers, not to mention the cuckoo serenading in the background (serenading is not quite the word that Pat would use, especially between 5 and 7 in the morning). The couple in the van next to ours had seen a school of porpoise off the point the previous evening. And again, what a sunset.

Sunday was back to the hills again with an ascent of An Teallach (The Forge). The area behind An Teallach has some of the remotest peaks in Scotland so an early start (or overnight camp) is the order of the day. Some hard graft to put in to get to the tops, but what views. Beware though if you get onto the rougher stuff. These peaks are of sandstone which doesn't have the positive handholds of most scrambles and navigation can be a little problematical on a poor visibility day with many terraces and buttresses below. My advice: save them for a good day because the views are just not to be missed.

An Teallach ridge

A most welcome pint and some grub at the Dundonnell Hotel gave Pat a welcome break from cooking and me from driving. And one of the best night's sleep in a long time, even with the best attempts of the early morning wakeup cuckoo. And so home to re-provision the van for its, and our, next adventure.

Fifty something? I'm afraid that the pipe and slippers will have to wait for a long time yet. Oh, and by the way, the whistling stop in the heading refers to the number of stops and whistling of the kettle indicating tea time. It's always time for tea.

Page first published on Tuesday 4th August 2009
Page last updated on Tuesday 4th August 2009


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