The Bealach na Ba, Gaelic for the Pass of the Cattle, is the steepest road in the United Kingdom. It is only three miles long but the climb, from sea level to the summit, is a rise of 2053 feet or more than 600 metres of single track hairpin bends. It is often impassable, due to snow and ice, in the winter and even in the summer months it is an intimidating prospect. For reasons completely unfathomable to me, it is a magnet for cyclists.
Though the journey to the top is arduous, the views are breath-taking and, if you time it well, a spectacular sunrise or sunset framed by the mountains of Skye on the horizon can be yours to enjoy in glorious solitude.
The weather of course is not always favourable but low light and mist simply makes the Bealach na Ba more brooding and magnificent. Here you are so high that when the clouds gather they form a milky sea below you, the peak of the pass a floating island in the sky, adrift on the currents of wind, cushioning the sound of rain falling on the valley beneath.
As is tradition in many high places, those that reach the summit, whether by foot, bike or car, add a stone to the ever-growing cairns that stubble the otherwise sparse moorland, miniature echoes of the hill itself.
Those that go up must come down and at the foot of the mountain a row of houses face out across a stretch of water called the Inner Sound to the Isles of Raasay and Skye. This is the biggest settlement on the Applecross peninsula and is generally referred to in most tourist information as Applecross Village but is simply ‘the Street’ to the locals. At the heart of the community is the Applecross Inn which manages to maintain that rare balance of pub atmosphere and exceptional food. The menu is locally sourced, seafood heavy and highly recommended. Although is doesn’t feature on the current menu, the langoustine salad I ate during my last visit is up there with the greatest dishes I have ever tasted.
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my love of camping and for those seeking somewhere to pitch their tent Applecross campsite is a short walk up hill from the village. As well as sleeping under canvas, the site also offers static caravans and wooden camping huts that resemble the hulls of upturned boats. This is deer country and, although the site is fenced, we were woken in the early hours to the sound of antlered intruders sniffing at our provisions. We were camping at the very end of the season, late October, and were the only tent in the field; I suspect the deer would not have been as bold had they been outnumbered. If you don’t mind a bit of damp and cooler temperatures, off-season is a good time to explore Scotland. Visitor numbers are lower, the midges are less vicious and although the weather is unpredictable chances of a clear dry day are not really that much different than in the summer.
Stay tuned for more of Scotland’s secrets. For the previous post in the series, click here.