Daily total: 120 miles
Up early again today to pack the car with what seems like just as much stuff as we brought with us. I had expected that we’d eat out way through a deal of the baggage we brought, but nope, we seem to have replaced a lot of it. But eventually it was done and we said goodbye to Croft Cottage and Lower Milovaig for the last time. The 9 miles of single track to Dunvegan didn’t seem to go any quicker even though we’re used to it by now, so the two-lane blacktop was greeted with a cheer. Speed could now be made retracing the route we followed yesterday, but I was compelled to screech to a halt as we rounded Loch Harport just below Struan. The weather was so clear and the water so still that the reflections across the loch were nearly perfect. I had to grab a picture.
On the road again we made a slighter earlier (for us) stop for a coffee at the Sligachan Hotel under the brooding peak of Glamaig in the Red Cullin. The car park was packed with the cars of walkers, all out on the hills, but there were a number of photographers manipulating tripods round the Sligachan River and trying to catch the fleeting sunlight on the hills. I counted five of them at one point (not including me with my little Panasonic). I took some tripod-less snaps as the sun disappeared and went into the hotel for a coffee.
From the Sligachan Hotel it was a non-stop hour’s run to the ferry terminal at Armadale. We arrived a full hour before our sailing just as the previous ferry was leaving. The CalMac man-who-does-everything/harbourmaster smiled sorrowfully at us – he must have thought we’d missed our sailing – but he presumably ditched that idea when I went and collected my pre-booked tickets for the next ferry from him. With an hour to kill we sampled the delights of Armadale (which are not extensive) and had an ice-cream. It wasn’t long before the waiting park was full of other vehicles with a couple of coach loads of passengers ambling about. The ferry duly arrived, and for once my position in the front of the queue translated into a position at the very front of the boat.
The 40 minute crossing of the Sound of Sleat was totally uneventful on a flat calm water, though the views were lovely. Driving into Mallaig on the other side was a culture shock, being a busy place, both as a ferry port and the terminus of the West Highland Line (but more on that anon). We grabbed a parking place and a decent cafe for a spot of dinner.
Heading back towards Fort William I was determined to make a stop at Genfinnan, both to see the ‘Harry Potter’ viaduct and the monument. When it turned out that it was Scottish National Trust-owned so we could park and get in for free, my Yorkshire-ness was fully tickled. A whole group of people were stood at the foot of the car park overlooking a rather insipid view of the viaduct, waiting it seemed for a train to come along. I got fed up of that so donned my boots for a muddy climb to the better viewpoint. About 3/4 of the way up the steep climb I heard a train’s whistle, so for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life I turned into a fell runner and sprinted the last few vertical yards. I was rewarded with a fine view of the viaduct, across which the “Hogwarts Express” (sorry, “Jacobite”), obligingly puffed. Magical.
Back down at the bottom we had a walk over to the monument at the head of Loch Sheil. I rather foolishly decided the climb the damn thing. It wasn’t much different from a castle tower going up until the last bit where you had to wriggle through a loft-hatch-sized opening onto the top of the monument. Not the smartest thing I have ever done as I clung to the top and grabbed a few pics without looking down.
Back on the ground (thank God) there was a piper playing for a coach party, so we latched on to that and got a few very biscuit tin pics of the girl (for it was a girl piper) in front of the Loch.
On from there and through a busy Fort William to our overnight stop at the Isles of Glencoe hotel at Ballachulish. This hotel has a truly special location at the side of Loch Linnhe and is built is a style slightly reminiscent of an Alpine lodge. Our room had two massive Velux windows overlooking the Loch, but I was quickly out of the room again trying to capture the last light on Sgorr na Cìche (the Pap of Glencoe) before the sun set behind me.