Ullapool to Loch Migdale: Sunday 4 Oct

img_8279Early-morning Tesco shoppers woke us up by arriving in our car park. (Strange to discover that fishing for migratory salmon and sea trout is not allowed on a Sunday – presumably in acknowledgement of a Presbyterian Sabbath – but retail opening seemed to be allowed from 08:00hrs until late!)

So, barely raising the blinds after throwing some clothes on, we set off north again, stopping for breakfast yet again overlooking a mirror-still bay at Ardmair – in a layby alongside the main road (doubling as the slip-road to the other local campsite, also now shut for the season.) We were flanked on the seaward side by a beautifully wide and gently-curved grey-pebbled beach against which the crystal-clear sea water gently lapped, lifting the skirts of stranded jellyfish along the tideline, which were rapidly drying out as the October sun climbed into yet another cloud-free sky.

We skimmed pebbles across the glassy sea; stood stock-still and soaked up the island-dotted seaward view; admired the stone-balanced pebble cairns on the beach and then, slightly reluctantly, set off again with our tummies full, heading onwards but still not entirely sure of our northernmost destination. A brief diversion to a tiny harbour with nothing more than an emerald-tinged slipway as it entered the water at Kylesku – a trendy-looking boutique hotel adding a touch of sophistication to its view of the redbrick public conveniences.

We turned around and headed back on the main road over Kylesku Bridge crossing the Loch’s throat and on towards Scourie, another coast-side village which sadly reflected its rather negative-sounding name, so we kept on rolling along to a high point overlooking yet another sea loch (speculating on exactly how many they might have.) In the bay below the road, an industrial-looking fishing boat was moored, assumedly to service the rope-grown mussels presumably hanging below the network of buoys further out in the loch, all of which was explained by another informative roadside panel.

We stretched our legs here and clambered up behind the road onto an aubergine heather–topped plateau and – having checked the map – decided that this was as far north as we wanted to go. A few quick photos to commemorate the moment then back in the van and, turning the next right-hand bend, we commenced our journey southwards.

This didn’t last long as signage pointed out a waterfall-with-gorge-combo, so we parked up and wandered along a man-made path which led downwards in zigzag fashion. We emerged onto a small pedestrian suspension bridge over a narrow and perilously deep gorge cut through by a waterfalling force – too small for river, too large for stream – which gouged its way between the steep and narrow stone walls which amplified the water’s roar.

Off the wobbling bridge and onto a cantilevered viewing platform suspended over the unnerving drop with just room for two. Then back along the edge of the gorge through steep woodland to the van again and back onto the road, heading eastwards until the top of Loch Shin, with another single track road signed and which, on entry, provided an idyllic view in glorious sunshine of a clear brown river shimmering through a stand of tall Scots pines beyond which lay a well-appointed Fisherman’s cottage – the fishable banks of the river clearly inaccessible to those of us without local knowledge, salmon rods or permits.

One or two cars passed us in our layby as we caught up with phone calls to family and with the sun still shining in the clear blue sky, we drove on, skirting Loch Shin for what seemed like ages, running through deep shadow cast by towering mountains to our right then emerging into warming sunshine – for mile upon mile – with the distant road offering clear views of any approaching traffic – which comprised two cars in the entire length of the Loch.

In need of a campsite for the night – primarily to take on water and dispose of waste – we followed signs to Woodend – a Club campsite of which we were previously aware – but were bemused to find it open, unoccupied and with no answer from the Warden’s adjacent house, we decided to avail of a “service stop”. We parked up alongside a primitive toilet block where we dashed smoothly about like naughty school-children, helping ourselves to water and toileting facilities before setting off again without discovery and feeling triumphant at our impudence – especially as it had really been too early in the afternoon to have pitched camp and the site was very remote from either civilisation or the Loch shore.

Onwards in the afternoon sunshine to Lairg at the tail-end of Loch Shin where an incongruously modern visitor centre provided extensive information on the local flora and fauna, ably complimented by Eric The Warden who willingly provided photocopied details on local fishing and suggested another local waterfall where salmon could be viewed jumping – as indeed they were if you waited long enough on another specially-constructed viewing platform – to which we walked after a brief late-lunch picnic in a rural children’s play area.

Road and OS maps were consulted and a vague route plotted onwards – although Eric’s further local intelligence had highlighted a Loch Migdale, not too distant from our current position, so, finding an attractively narrow and clearly under-used B-road, we followed it to find said Loch, glinting enticingly in the late afternoon sunshine. Here, alongside it, in an impossibly-perfect location, we were able to park the van in a water-lapped layby, undisturbed by anything but a small herd of rust-coloured and curious cows in an adjacent field.

Out came the chairs, as did our much-travelled and long-awaited bottle of champagne, cigars and citronella joss-sticks and we sat quietly overlooking the shimmering Loch and its distant Canadian-style far shore, back-dropped by impossibly blue sky. Quickly overcome by the beauty of the location and the proximity of the water, primeaval urges took over and the fishing rods came out.

A bit of online, smartphone research and information gleaned from a passing (English) local provided us with a contact for fishing the Loch (his telephone number subsequently found for us remotely by Jenny at home in Lichfield) to whom we duly spoke and arranged to boat-fish the following day for £40 all-in.

A simple in-van supper ensued as night fell around us, providing the clearest dark night sky we’d ever seen, with hundreds of stars visible above our heads (one of them shooting) as well as a clear view of the Plough and, confounding our myopic expectations, a startlingly clear view of the Milky Way – which provided a visual scale to the huge extent of the star-spangled sky stretching all around to the visible horizons.

Enough of a chill to warrant firing up the heating as we snuggled up to watch yet another episode of the highly appropriately titled “Edge of Darkness” on DVD before nightcaps and bed.

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