After our ridiculous encounter with a small hill yesterday, we went into today’s drive with more than a little trepidation. Yet at the same time we felt we could handle ourselves with a whole lot more confidence having picked up some great tips for driving in the snow from our Scottish readers!
The original plan was to take the road from Achiltibuie down to the A835, and then follow the NC500 around the coastline and over Bealach na Ba (Applecross Pass) before arriving at our accommodation in Lochcarron.
In light of the topsy-turvy weather we decided it was far better to place safety first than to blindly carry on. We didn’t know what state the NC500 was in on the coast, let alone up on the pass, and didn’t want to risk it on the narrow roads and steep hills in the event that another unexpected snow storm came through. And so it was with some regret that we made the decision to travel inland towards Garve, and then cut south-west down to Lochcarron.
Leaving Achiltibuie was quite a drive! It’s interesting that the NC500 doesn’t include the section from the south of Lochinver towards Achiltibuie, and then south-east to rejoin the A835. It was incredibly beautiful driving around the base of Stac Pollaidh, watching the changing light dancing up and down the snow covered slopes, while mists and rags of cloud hung around its peak like a grey neckerchief.
Today was the first day that we’d actually had much sun, and we realised why so many prefer to travel the NC500 clockwise…when you’re on the west coast you’ve got the sun at your back!
Every time we either looked over our shoulder or in the mirror we would see a new vista opening up behind us. One location was particularly dramatic, Scorr Tuath on our left, Stac Pollaidh on our right and Loch Lurgainn nestled inbetween, being swallowed in the distance by a fast approaching storm!
Who knew what havoc was being wreaked inside that grey cloud of doom?! Sprinting back to the car, we closed the doors behind us as the first salvo of hail stones sprayed the car. Just in time!
It was pretty clear as we drove towards Ullapool that far more snow had fallen inland than out at Achiltibuie. The fields were carpeted in white and the roads had been ploughed some time earlier. We imagine these sights and experiences are commonplace for many Scots, but for us it was all a big eye-opener!
Ullapool was our lunch stop for the day (subzero temperatures!) and we also took the opportunity to stock up at Tesco’s for all the raw materials we’d need for meals over the next few days (as good as the local pubs are, they put a massive dent in the wallet!).
The docks and waterfront area were lit up and looking very nice!
While a diversion off the NC500 was needed, we were fortunate that one of our destinations for the day lay at the junction of the NC500 and the road to Garve – Corrieshalloch Gorge Nature Reserve.
We were really looking forward to doing a couple of short walks and viewing the waterfall, but as we turned the corner it became pretty obvious that there had been a whole lot less traffic on the NC500 and as a result there was a LOT more snow on the verges. The car park at the gorge was nearly knee deep and even with all our new-found tricks for driving in the snow we weren’t going to tempt fate!
Instead, we drove to the look out just 500m down the road and took in the magnificent views up the River Broom towards Ullapool and another grey wall of cloud moving at a rapid pace towards our location.
The highway to Garve, and then Lochcarron, was just a deviation, but it kept us interested the whole way.
At times the conditions were fantastic, with views all the way to the distant mountains through crystal clear air. We were so happy to see herds of deer snuffling in the snow for green shoots!
And then the weather would close in and all our attention was on the road ahead.
The passing spaces on the sides of the road that had been so perfect as a place to take photos in previous days were now covered in snow drifts and far too deep for us to stop. No more photos 🙁
This was particularly painful as we approach Lochcarron, blue skies and an orange setting sun the backdrop to two huge reindeer bucks, narrow heads and proud antlers crisp silhouettes against the white powder snow.
What a photo it could have been, yet perhaps the memory will now resonate more strongly for the lack?
And then there were the storms that kept sweeping through. It was never dangerous, but as an inexperienced snow driver it kept Andrew on his toes for much of the way! Any worse and the cold sweats would have started 😀
The relief was palpable as we drove into relatively snow-free Lochcarron. We’d survived!
Here’s hoping tomorrow delivers us great weather so we can make up for lost time!
For our adventures on Day 9…click here!
If you missed our earlier shenanigans, you’ll find them here: