[This walk was completed on the 7th August 2019]
I shrug my rucksack back on, and turn away from the Bealach na Bà viewpoint. Despite the lack of an actual view, I do feel an intense sense of achievement. This particular section of the walk has been worrying me for ages, but I’ve conquered the pass and one of the most difficult parts of the N500 route.
Onwards. Down into the mist.
I only drop down a few feet in height, and the mist magically clears away from the road.
It is still there, lingering on the hills on the other side of the valley, but it really is nice to have a view again. That fog was making me feel almost claustrophobic. Now I can look across the open landscape and appreciate the sheer emptiness of this place.
Apart from the road, there is nothing here. I haven’t seen a building for miles. And the traffic, which was building up by late morning, seems to have mysteriously disappeared too.
A downhill walk seems so much quicker than an uphill one, particularly if the surface is smooth tarmac and the slope isn’t too steep. I make rapid progress and fall into an easy walking rhythm.
The road winds almost leisurely down this side of the mountain pass. Yes, there are some steep patches, and a few tight bends, but nothing like the dramatic twists and turns I experienced on the way up.
The landscape, too, seems to have mellowed out. Instead of the dramatic river valley and the towering cliffs, there is just a gentle hodgepodge of grass, stones and pools of water.
I need a toilet break, and climb up a jumble of rocks to find a spot hidden from the road. From a high point, I look towards the distant coast… but there is only a vague impression of sea visible through the mist.
Back down on the road, I continue to make rapid progress. To be honest, the landscape lacks drama after my uphill climb, and so there is little reason to stop and take photographs.
An hour after setting off, I reach a place where the road bends sharply, crossing over a lovely old bridge. Of course, this is worth a photograph. I do love bridges.
I check my map. The bridge seems to have a name. Drochaid an Uillit Bhig. [Later, using Google Translate, I discover this means Little Burn Bridge – another prosaic name which sounds far more mysterious in Gaelic.]
I look down the burn. Like the road, it meanders gently down the slope towards a distant valley. But… what’s that? A building! The first one I’ve seen since I left Loch Kishorn behind.
The building, the first I’ve seen for hours, assumes huge importance in my mind. (The same thing can happen on empty beaches, when a distant piece of driftwood seen across acres of barren sand can achieve immense significance.)
I hurry along the road. But when I reach the structure… it turns out to be a storage shed of some sort. In fact, it looks just like a lock-up garage. Wouldn’t be out of place in a city street!
The only clues to the shed’s more weather-beaten life are the metal cords that tether the roof to the ground.
Oh well. What did I expect? A cafe? Onwards.
I hear motors behind me, and step off the road to allow a stream of cars to overtake me. Why so many? They’re bunched up because they’ve clearly been stuck behind a slow-moving motor home for some time.
The cavalcade meets some oncoming cars, and there is the usual shuffling around as they negotiate the narrow passing space.
I’m glad I didn’t try to bring The Beast up here. Not only would there have been all the anxiety of wondering if he would make it up to the top, but I would be really embarrassed to be the cause of such a hold-up.
Out among the grasses, are the bleached remains of trees. Skeletons of what would once have been a forest. I’m always sad to see massacred trees, but at least these trunks are weather-beaten enough to look almost endearing.
I round a corner. Ah… there’s the sea. That must be Applecross Bay. I’m nearly there!
On the other side of the bay, the coast road winds northwards. That was my route into Applecross yesterday, to avoid taking The Beast over the high pass.
To be honest, the coastal road has enough twists, turns, narrow places, and steep climbs, to be quite a frightening drive in its own right!
A couple with two small children are standing on a track, next to a footpath sign. I assume they’ve walked up from Applecross. They are carrying one infant, while another child (just out of shot of the photograph below) is lying on the ground crying.
Parenthood is such hard work! I wonder if they will have to carry him down the hill?
Further along, on a corner, a number of cars are parked beside the road. I assume several families have met for a walk, or maybe they’ve just stopped to admire the view? When I pass, I hope for a smile – because these are the first people I’ve met close up since I set out (if you discount the ghostly figures in the mist at the top of Bealach na Ba.) But they don’t seem to notice me, and are busily nattering in Spanish.
A few yards farther along, the sun comes through and lights up the road. I turn round, and am struck by the brightness of the scene against the dark hill behind. Can’t resist a photograph.
The road is curving down now. Not too steeply. Following the side of the valley. I pass a footpath sign, marked “Allt Beag Track” and stop to check my map. It’s good to see there are marked paths in the area, but this one isn’t going in the right direction for me.
I’m heading into a wooded area. A “Danger” sign warns of lorries turning, but I don’t meet any. It’s nearly 4pm. Perhaps they’ve all gone home?
Across the fields, to my right, a group of deer are grazing in a field. They watch me carefully, but don’t run away.
Earlier this morning, I met some some deer as I was leaving the campsite. They seemed quite tame – maybe campers feed them? – and I wonder if these deer are the same herd.
On my left, I see a pile of logs stacked up beside a track. The warning sign up the road must be for logging lorries. No sign of any activity now.
I pass through an open barrier, similar to the one I passed through down near Kishorn. This allows the road to be closed if the weather conditions are bad or, I guess, if there has been an accident and the road is blocked.
I shudder at the memory of the motorcyclists I saw earlier, tearing round the tight bends up near the top of Bealach na Bà. Narrow roads, logging lorries, and hired camper vans… it seems a lethal combination.
Onwards. I can see buildings through the trees. I’m nearly there.
On a tight bend, I come across a traffic jam. Only four vehicles, and it only lasts a short while, but I have to wait until the cars manoeuvre around each other.
A flock of geese (I think) fly over my head, calling to each other. They haven’t sorted themselves out into a proper V formation, and seem to be squabbling over who will take the lead. I pull my camera up and catch a blurry shot.
I understand from wildlife programs that birds take it in turns to fly in front, at the apex. They provide a slipstream for other birds, and it is a tiring position to be in.
Just beyond the cleared traffic jam, the road swings around in a tight U bend…
… and at the bottom of the U is the turn off to the campsite where my loyal Beast is waiting for me. Hooray! I’ve made it!
I’ve booked into the campsite for a couple of nights, but I decide to extend my stay. It’s taken me so long to get here, I’m going to do some strictly unnecessary walking and explore the area.
Miles walked today = 13 miles
Total miles = 4,395 miles
Route (morning in black, afternoon in red):