A Life in the Slow Lane

In Search of the Past

Last night Sarah and I took advantage of being in a town by going out to a pub to eat. We chose the Argyll Hotel because we had read somewhere that they held a folk open house on Mondays. The food was reasonable, but the night was made by the folk music. Musicians started turning up at 9pm and one by one played or sang folk songs. The music was not necessarily Scottish, although much of it was and one of the leading contributors was, in fact, Californian, but she had a great repetoire of unaccompanied Scottish ballads. Perhaps most interesting was a woman who played the pipes, among other instruments. These were not Scottish bagpipes, but much smaller pipes from the Scottish borders which were much more suitable to playing in a room and with other instruments.

Today we went in search of my past. In the 1970s, my family together with my Uncle and Aunt and three cousins, had two holidays in this part of the world, at a campsite at a place called Clachtoll. That was where we headed today.

Unbelievably Ullapool didn’t have a LIDL so we had to put up with Tesco’s to restock Basil and then we were off.

We had to chose whether to travel via the main road or the coastal route, which one book said was unsuitable for motorhomes. When we arrived at the junction for the coastal route it simply said unsuitable for vehicles over 8 metres. Basil’s only 7.4 metres so the decision was made.

The sign warned of difficulty for long vehicles after 4 miles, which constituted one very easy hairpin bend, so Sarah and I laughed smugly to each other, reminding each other of various roads in Greece, Italy and Norway. Little did we know what was to come!

Stac Pollaidh

The views were again staggeringly beautiful on what is now the 14th day in a row of sunshine. In particular we treated to the mountain Stac Pollaidh in all its glory. The general terrain when you get this far north in Scotland is not that high, so what mountains there are seem to sprout, singly, from the landscape, thrusting from sea level up to two or three thousand feet. The fact that they are not abutted by other mountains seems to make them more impressive somehow.

After a while we pulled in to let a minibus pass on the single track road. Instead of overtaking he pulled up along side us and indicated for us to up the window. He told us that there was a section coming up that he could only just get through and he wasn’t sure we would make it.

We pushed on with tension slightly heightened and looking out for suitable points to turn Basil round, if that became necessary. First came a bridge which had Sarah and I hanging out of each window to make sure Basil came to no harm. Much worse though, was a whole section, several miles long, which had a rock wall constructed on one side to prevent vehicles going over the edge and a wall of rock on the other. Unfortunately the gap between the two was barely big enough for Basil’s girth and especially going round corners we were constantly checking that we would not hit either the rock face or the wall. I’m just glad we did not meet any large vehicles coming in the opposite directions, because passing places were few and small.

Clachtoll with Stac Pollaidh and other Assynt mountains in the background

Finally we extricated ourselves at the end of the coast road and after passing through the small town of Lochinver we were soon at Clachtoll. The site has become a little more commercial than I remember it, with a few static vans, and the land around the beach is now owned by the local council, whereas 45 years ago it was part of the site, but other than that nothing has changed (58.191736, -5.335480  £23 a night with electricity). The beach is fantastic with brilliant clear turquoise water.

Clachtoll Beach

The curator in the Ullapool museum yesterday told me about a Broch near the campsite which has recently been excavated. We discovered it was about a mile from the site and so Sarah and I had a lovely walk in the warm sunshine along the coast to the Broch. You may recall that we visited a Broch on Lewis and this one was much the same, although had collapsed even more. It was build over 2,000 years ago and the recent excavation established it suffered a catastrophic collapse for some unknown reason sometime around the year zero.

Clachtoll Brock

The rest of the day has been spent soaking up the sun and Sarah had taken the opportunity to give Melek a trim since he’s suffering in this Scottish heat! When I get home and people say “you look brown, where have you been?”, they won’t believe me when I say the Scottish Highlands!