February in Wester Ross

A short holiday with my daughter and the two dogs in Shieldaig, which is a tiny village on the shore of Loch Torridan on the North West coast of Scotland, opposite the islands of Skye and Raasay, a very kind present from her.

It’s only four hour’s drive from us, but what a drive – especially in winter. The A9 goes right through the Cairngorms, up to Inverness.

We turned off at Aviemore for a walk in the Rothiemurchus estate, around two lochs, Loch an Eilein and Loch Gamhna, surrounded by the rare Old Caledonian forest, containing important wildlife, including the osprey, Scottish crossbill, capercaillie, crested tit and European wildcat. The whole Cairngorm Nature Reserve is working to restore and regenerate the forest, by culling red deer and excluding sheep. The photo above shows bleak areas where only heather and grass can grow, due to overgrazing, and heather burning for grouse shooting. This is a landscape, so typical in the Highlands, which is actually very depleted.

Well maintained paths on the Rothiemurchus estate, and plenty of people walking or biking.

The trees are inspirational.

Somebody had to have a belly-paddle and a drink. Not Bims though.

While we took photos of the mysterious ruined castle on the islet.

One of these “Granny pines” had inviting roots to sit on in the sun, so we had our picnic lunch there.

Lucy always lugs the sandwiches and thermos along in her backpack.

All the trees are covered in thick lichen of various sorts.

The smaller loch had less maintained paths

sometimes a bit wet,

through heather and blaeberry

and plenty of rocky outcrops.

We were lucky with the weather, we had some sunshine, and barely a sprinkle of rain.

Lochs make for stunning views

There will be a fence at the edge of those trees, which without browsing mammals, would  softly cover that bald hill above with scrubby, patchy pine and juniper, dwarf willow and downy birch.

Every way you look there is “wilderness” and it is very lovely.

Soft weather and easy walking was a good start to our trip.

I am always behind, taking photos, or Bims wants a sniff – and my legs are shorter than Lucy’s!

A little paddle to clean off N before getting back into the car.

From Inverness we went west on the A835 and then past the Midge Bites café in Achnasheen to the A896 which winds down, as a single track road with passing places, to Loch Torridon, with many a loch and mighty peak, mountain shoulder and scree slope on both sides.

They had a thin coating of snow on them which gave them an other-worldy look.

Luckily we had no issues with snow or ice on the roads. My iphone had run out of battery so I wasn’t able to take photos of the dramatic Loch Torridan scenery as we drove along the loch.

Here is the view from my bedroom window in the cottage in Shieldaig we stayed in, an old family croft, done up as a holiday home, very warm and snug with a modern air to air heat pump system, and open plan kitchen and living room, a really comfortable place to stay with all mod cons. As you can see, outdoors is just a sheep pasture –

inspiring a small watercolour.

Dogs very much on leads outside!

The next morning we headed down the loch towards the sea and the coastal route to Applecross. We intended to have lunch at Applecross Inn but found it doesn’t open on Tuesdays, not to non-residents, anyway. Luckily we had a flask of coffee and some snacks. Our first walk was cut very short by a squally shower with large hailstones, so we decamped to a point a little further south to walk to two “coral” beaches. The sun came out again – for a while.

We followed rocky footpaths which were the only land access to the two tiny communities.

Birch trees and moss – I expect in a couple of months these protected little woody fringes will be studded with primroses.

Some quite steep drops from these paths, not a place to walk in the dark in winter.

The clouds grew again and we had another shower, not as fierce as the first one, but Bims and I retreated under the cover of this wonderful rock.

Although she was rather anxious as we had been left behind yet again. Sad wet ears!

But Ardbain beach was not far away. The white “coral” is in fact calcified seaweed, and it behaves quite oddly underfoot.

Views of Raasay and Skye, and a battering wind.

Some interesting cross-current sand deposits. Most of the rock in the north west of Scotland is very old sandstone, red with iron, laid down before there was anything but single celled life on the planet, and even older Lewissian Gneiss.


Then we retraced the path to the signpost and continued on to Coille Ghillie, through more birch and hazel woods.

The beach there of the same jellified coarse gritty substance, but with a barrier of rounded red sandstone boulders covered with a black stain, rather like Temmoku glazed stoneware.

These sheltered little bays must have been the main transport hubs for the four or so cottages at Coille Ghillie. One has been restored, but the others stand roofless.

Glaciation has left this landscape all humps and boulders. A fine crop of various seaweeds adorning this one.

Back to the car.

We were all hungry and a bit wet.

A good tramp back, with steep rocky bits, and some wet ones too. We sat in the car and shared coffee and energy bars.

The cottage had welcoming warmth when we got back. I am so impressed by the heating system. We didn’t touch the controls, and it was far more comfortable than our gas boiler on then off systems at home. The huge radiators hardly seemed on, except for the one under the coat hooks in the little hallway. (Dry coats seems a good idea.) The wood burner made the living room area too hot so we hardly used it.








Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.