This week, we made the trip up to the Coigach Peninsula on the North West of Scotland, just above Ullapool for a gig at the Coigach Community Hall in Achiltibuie/Polglass. A beautiful part of the country indeed! Unlike other mountainous regions in Scotland, Coigach’s (and its neighbour Assynt’s), mountains are a bit more spaced apart. This makes each mountain very dramatic since you can see its whole shape quite distinctly. Famous mountains in this area include Stac Pollaidh (pronounced “polly” – the “d” is silent in Gaelic), Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, Ben More Coigach and Beinn Gharbh.
We drove up to Inverness and bought food for our trip, then headed over to Ullapool for a lunch stop. As with all our trips north this year, the weather was absolutely magificent! Hot and sunny every day. Is this really Scotland?!?!
We carried on up the A835 and turned left into the stunning dramatic scenery of the Coigach Peninsula. We headed for Achnahaird on the shores of Enard Bay for our first evening, with stunning views of Stac Pollaidh in the distance beyond Achnahaird Beach. The jagged ridge of Stac Pollaidh is slowly cracking up and gradually being worn down by the weather and looks very dramatic.
After a 40 minute barefoot run across Achnahaird Beach and along some of the roads in the morning, a few more photos of the area:
Tonight was our gig in the Coigach Community Hall in Achiltibuie. We’d played there before, as part of our 8 gig Highland Tour in September 2005. Its a beautiful hall built in 1999. The interior is all wooden beams and supports. Good acoustics too. The village looks onto a view of the Summer Isles.
A very enjoyable gig, and nice to see some teenagers there too (on holiday from Glasgow). One of them was considering changing over from playing the bassoon to taking up the saxophone. Yee-ha! At the end of the gig, someone had left their handbag. About an hour later they arrived to collect it, having walked nearly all the way back to their campsite some 3 miles away! Still, it was a beautiful evening (and still light at 10.30pm).
Some of the dreaded midges were around as we packed our equipment away, but luckily there were bats swooping around in circles at high speed, hoovering them up!
I went for a run the following morning, along the road towards the beach. I saw a track leading off-road and thought that would be a good route. I saw a guy cutting peat to dry out for the winter. It turned out he was on the only piece of dryish land! I was ankle deep in boggy mud and trying to run through big tufts of grass, often leaving a shoe behind in the mud! After about 10 minutes of trying to find a dry path and my way back to the road, I past the peat cutter again. He said that there was a slang term for Irish people called “Bog Trotters“. I said “I think I’ve just become one!“.
After a shower in the hall, we headed to Achiltibuie Beach for breakfast. There were Ringed Plovers nesting there. Someone had written a sign on a small rock to warn people (the sign says “Little Plovers”, but they are actually Ringed Plovers – you can tell by their orange bill, whereas the Little Plover has a black bill). Their camouflage is amazing. They have exactly the same colouring as the stones on the beach. When they stand still, or are sitting on their nests, they’re almost invisible.
There’s a great short poem by Edinburgh born poet, Norman MacCaig, which really captures the movement and camouflage of this bird.
After breakfast on the beach, we headed back towards Stac Pollaidh and over to the neighbouring region of Assynt.
We drove on to our next stop – Achmelvich Bay. A beautiful spot on the west coast with a small beach with white sand and green/blue sea.
Then on a wee bit further to the viewpoint just before you get to the Bay of Clachtoll. What a view! You can see four very distinct mountains: Beinn Gharbh, Canisp, Suilven and Cul Mor.
Some close up shots of Suilven:
And a few more promotional shots:
Our next stop was Loch Assynt, not least because I have written a tune called “Loch Assynt” and wanted some photos to go with it. We also wanted to take some promotional photos of us in scenic Scottish settings. Just as we approached the loch, near Inchnadamph, we saw 20 or so Red Deer just by the road. Then another group of them…..then another…..and another! We must have seen 100 Red Deer that afternoon. In one location, on a hillock overlooking the road, they looked like they were posing for a Victorian photograph! We even saw two deer in someone’s front garden in Lochinver later that afternoon! Amazing! Beautiful animals.
Whilst stopping for lunch just before Loch Assynt, a Golden Eagle was soaring powerfully above our heads looking for its lunch. Its the first time I’ve seen one. Much bigger and much more powerful looking than a buzzard, and had the distinctive splayed primary feathers like “fingers”.
Loch Assynt has these distinctive “islands” with quite tall trees on them. Very dramatic!
We carried on to Kylesku. There were seals basking in the warm sunshine at the harbour.
The Kylesku Bridge links Loch Glendhu with Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin and was opened in 1984 by the Queen. The bridge replaced the ferry. Anyone who missed the last ferry used to have a 110 mile journey from Kylestrome via Lairg!
This area was used to train the XIIth Submarine Flotilla in World War II in the use of X-craft, 52ft-long subs armed with explosive charges, for an attack against the Nazi German pride of its fleet, the Tirpitz. There’s a memorial up near the bridge.
We headed on up to Scourie (and bought some food from the local shop), and then onto Ben Stack and Loch Stack. I think Ben Stack is my favourite Scottish mountain. I remember the first time I saw it when we were on tour in 2005. You drive around a bend in the road after Laxford Bridge, and there it is! It stands on its own (typical of the area), and has a very iconic triangular shape (almost like a Hollywood movie image of a mountain). I love Loch Stack too, with its empty, ruined cottage at one end. Very scenic. We used the location to take some more promotional photos.
We headed on in a southeasterly direction, following the A838 alongside Loch More, Loch Merkland and Loch Shin and across to Tain. Having heard about Portmahomack on Facebook, we decided to head there for the night. Its a stunningly beautiful wee fishing village on the Tarbat Peninsula in Easter Ross, about 9 miles from Tain.
On the trip home on Sunday, we drove down the A9 (some shocking examples of people overtaking very dangerously! One motorbike overtook someone at speed on the inside, as they were on a slip road entering the A9!) Just after The House of Bruar, two ducklings were crossing the road (the A9!!!). We couldn’t avoid them, but luckily managed somehow NOT to run them over, as we saw them safely waddle to the side of this main thoroughfare in our rear-view mirror. Phew!
And then past the signs for Tullybelton just outside Perth, which I always feel is an anagram of “bellybutton”, but sadly, it would need another “b”! And back to Edinburgh.
A very enjoyable trip. A very friendly audience at our concert. Great scenery. Great weather. How can this be “work” and not “holiday“?! Fantastic!
There are many poems about this part of Scotland by Edinburgh born poet, Norman MacCaig. Here’s links to a couple:
Other poems by Norman MacCaig – well worth checking out!
- “Ringed Plover By A Water’s Edge“
- “Climbing Suilven”
- “Haycock, Achiltibuie”
- “Midnight, Lochinver”
- “High Up On Suilven”
- “By Achmelvich Bridge”
- “Sheep Dipping, Achmelvich”
- “Looking Down on Glen Canisp”
- “Moment Musical in Assynt”
- “Stonechat on Cul Beag”
- “Summer Evening in Assynt”
If the number of the poems he wrote about this part of Scotland doesn’t already tell you how much he loved it, his poem (above) “Assynt and Edinburgh” certainly does. Its hard to think of a poem that REALLY depicts a bird as well as “Ringed Plover By a Water’s Edge” – I urge you to check it out (see above)!
Words and photos by Ian Millar © 2018