The most serendipitous thing about Scotland: aft when the best laid plans gang a-gley, something else equally diverting crops up. There may even be a sequence ...
Ardnamurchan to Rosemarkie
"You must go to the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse," Scott had told us.
It was the westernmost point of the British mainland. An interesting little conundrum in the making, right to this day. If we count Ireland as an island and Britain as a mainland that just about remains true. How can that be, though? In 3 days' time, won't we become the Isle of Brexit? The doughty Scots might think differently. Maybe the inhabitants of Northern Island, too. How long before it is the westernmost point of the Scottish mainland. Think about it in your own time.
However all that turns out, Shan and I determined to go there while it remained the westernmost point of the country in which we reside. That decision occurred before a few parameters changed, including the predictability of a ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoan. We decided to go the other way around and had booked in at our attractive campsite at Resipole.
I made inquiries about the journey to the lighthouse while checking in. Initially at 90km it was a round trip that was just about achievable on bikes. Shan had her eBike and that distance with a decent break for lunch at the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Cafe would have been doable.
"Sadly, my wife did her back in a few days ago on Mull," I reported to our site owner. "How feasible would it be to drive down there?"
"That's your great beast out there, isn't it?" He gesticulated through the window and turned back to me shaking his head: "I wouldn't take that down there. Very narrow."
We explored public transport possibilities but there really wasn't one. Not within our time limits, anyway. I tried not to appear dejected.
"On the way here we saw a nature reserve that we would've liked to explore more if we'd had the time," I responded bravely.
"That would be the Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide. It's a 5km round trip," our host brightened, adding: "guests have been known to see otters there on the island it overlooks."
Shan was keen to walk. At her own pace, which is flat out for about a kilometre, stop and wait for her husband somewhere she can sit, and then stride ahead again.
With this epic view of Loch Sunart still in our heads, we set off. The walk was easy along the road and we had plenty of time to stand clear when the occasional vehicle approached. You could hear it from miles away.
There is an off-road trail but, after consultation with our host we decided it might be difficult for a dodgy back. Anyway, we were soon enough in sight of our hide. It is the tiny white dot poking out of the forest on the left of the first picture below.
From the second picture above you can tell we've reached the hide and are peering out hopefully for otters. There was one obvious seal. After an hour or so of debating whether the slug-like shape (on the right of the 3rd photo) was a log, another weird aquatic creature, or maybe even an otter who was resting, a large bird landed near the black splodge.
Splodge stirred for the first time. Not by much but we imagined we heard a faint bark:
"Oi! are you storking me?"
"No, I'm the mediator, can you two get together and seal the knot?"
"Well, I'm not lichen that lazy B over there, hasn't moved for half the morning, lolling around in the mud like that?" This came from stage left.
We turned our attention to attempting to photograph varied species of sylvan fungi. See how many you can spot in the last pic above. One of them seems to be impersonating a woodpecker in a wig.
After a substantial period of peering patiently through the hide's generously arranged fenestration, right hand seal had moved a full yard, slightly further up the "beach". Still no otter. Not even a killer whale.
"Do you think if we wait another two hours we'll see an otter ... or maybe a white-tailed eagle?" I asked my wife, who was eyeing me expectantly.
It was such a gorgeous place from which to savour the loch but it was getting cold being so still.
As we reluctantly left our eyrie we looked back at the camouflaged shelter and agreed.
You don't have to see an otter to appreciate the grandeur and peace of staring out at water, imagining dialogues between its aquatic inhabitants. This is not a bucket-list selfie posting tourist opportunity and so much the better for it.
Perhaps the lighthouse might have been more exciting but there was always time.
And we had pictures to show Kate and Andrew (our daughter and her hubby) of sweeping vistas without another soul in sight. They love places like this.
On our walk back we paused to smell the clean loch air and enjoy the Highland forest edging towards the water.
All too soon we were back at the environmentally sensitive Resipole Farm Holiday Park.
There will be another visit to the Ardnamurchan region. We need to spend an extended time around the shore of Loch Sunart. The last picture below is a wistful farewell
So we don't know if the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse will have remained in Britain by the time we are able to return for another adventure. Maybe it will be a foreign holiday to enjoy the legendary hospitality we have experienced from Scottish people. Anyway, more of that in the next episode.
The following morning we turned right at Salen (Sàilean). Yes, there's another one on Loch Sunart - wonder if it's "Twinned with Salen, Mull"? . We will travel west of there one day.
You will have realised that we didnae do the whole peninsular but every view reminds one that Scotland has a very wiggly coastline. This is from Roshven, looking out towards Eigg and Rhumach. Behind those lie Rùm and Skye and beyond that the Outer Hebrides.
Next stop Fort William.
"D'you think that there's a Ben, Shan?"
"Marilyn Munro, definitely!"
"Great view for a campsite, issinit?"
We'd furtled about (7.2M Campy doesn't take too kindly to repeated U-turns), trying to find the obscure address of our caravan park, but now we were staring at this splendid vista.
But what did Fort William have to offer. Endless camping shops and pubs, it seemed. We needed a few specialist camping items and hadn't done a pub for a while.
"So, let's hit the bright lights."
"I'm up for it," Shan responded. We resolved to walk into town. It was further than we thought but we did pause for a fort and then some sheep, a couple of steam engines and the ubiquitous Ben (picture below).
Our visit to the high street didn't start particularly well. I know climbers and serious walkers need to travel light but we needed water purification tablets for a 50l water tank. At climber's rates we'd have had to mortgage Campy. We decided to skip the shopping and find solace in a pub, possibly one that did food. We chose one "traditional" establishment. As soon as we stepped inside we realised it was one of those places the pubco thinks is what tourists think a British pub should be like. It did have a view of what we assumed was Loch Eil so we had one drink and departed, feeling a tad disgruntled.
But not enough to give up just yet.
If you think a town should have a bit more life, don't give up ... keep asking locals until you like what you hear. I don't know what swung it, maybe the delightful helper in the local bike shop, but we ended up at The Geographer; it was lively and enticing but full. We were not daunted and entered. Could we just buy a bottle of wine and wait, we asked? We couldn't, we were told: there simply wasn't enough room. With heavy hearts we turned to leave. The place looked perfect.
"Hold on a sec, if it's just the two of you I can fit you in in an hour," our prospective hostess interrupted our disappointment. "If you like, you could pop around the corner to the Garrison West for a drink and come back in an hour."
We took her advice. The look on Shan's face says it all (above). Not only were we welcomed by the staff and customers alike, we were allocated the best seats in the house.
"We were sent here by The Geographer," we explained.
"We all eat there, it's splendid." our server enthused. "Why don't you come back here after your meal for a nightcap."
That was as much persuasion as I needed anyway. Shan was a tad unsure, not being a whisky drinker.
Back to the Geographer and we were not disappointed. Unpretentious but the food showed thought and attention to detail. We seem to recall sharing a bottle of wine, too.
Our cheeks were already ruddy by the time we returned to the Garrison West. Some mighty fine single malts beckoned. Shan's reluctance was soon overcome with a glass of Baileys and she matched me glass for glass as I tried as many superb whiskies as I dared. We hadn't really let our hair down since Buchlyvie.
We got a taxi back to Campy. The driver was most friendly and understanding. He was an EU citizen.
The next day we traversed one of the few routes in Scotland we had travelled before ... along the shores of Loch Ness. We decided not to pause and crossed the bridge above with the Beauly Firth to port and the Moray Firth to starboard. We were soon ensconced for a few days overlooking the sea at Rosemarkie.
We had stopped off on the outskirts of Fort William for provisions and Aldi Gin - okay, I'm a cheapskate but Shan encouraged me to try out the foraged granite "iceblocks" from Mull. Lucky my name isn't Hendricks. What could be more relaxing than a G&T and gazing at the horizon with the mouth of the Moray Firth at one's back?
Coming next: Mucking about in the Rosemarkie/Fortrose/Cromarty/Avoch environs