I know that spending three weeks, touring the north of England and Scotland in two small tents, isn’t everyone’s idea of a great holiday, but it happens to be mine (well in the absence of funds to do it in five-star hotels anyway). Which is why, after exploring Ardnamurchan for a few days, we set off further north, eventually ending up at one of Scotland’s more remote campsites, at Achmelvich, on the west coast of Sutherland.
The thing about Sutherland is this. If you could rely on good weather, there really is no more beautiful place on earth. Even in bad weather, it’s still the most beautiful place on earth in my book, but sadly, when the only thing separating you from the bad weather is a flimsy sheet of nylon tenting, you do tend to temper your ardour – just a jot.
But, if the sun shines and the wind drops, it’s easy to imagine yourself somewhere in the Caribbean (OK, to be entirely honest, and in fairness to the Caribbean, I’ve never been there, and am not likely to go either, but this is how I imagine it).
We were lucky – in just over a week, we did have some nice days – yippeee!
Of course, if the wind drops, there is also quite a significant chance that the midges will seize the opportunity to feast on your blood, but who’d let a little thing like that bother them?
Anyway, while we were there, we made good use of the time. We walked up Stac Polly – it really isn’t difficult, but you get amazing views and it’s one of those walks that gives you a lot of fun for the effort. It was especially nice to be under-flown by a couple of RAF jets, in just the same place that we had the same experience, ten years ago.
We also walked up Quinag – my all time favourite Scottish mountain – for reasons that are very precious to me. Again, not a difficult walk, but if you do it, don’t turn round at the trig point on Sail Gharbh, carry on to the end, where it drops away – naturally you need to be careful, but you’re rewarded with magnificent views of the bridge at Kylesku.
We were grateful to the campsite for having it’s very own little fish and chip shop open on a couple of the days we were there. But after one particularly rainy day, we were forced to head off, further afield in search of food (it was FAR TOO WINDY AND WET to get our little camping stove out).
We took the incredibly scenic road around the coast to Drumbeg, where, at the Drumbeg Hotel, we were treated royally by the landlord, his wife and their dog. What a splendid evening. Great food, good beer, excellent chat and a pool table for the daughters to thrash their father on. On the journey back to Achmelvich, we were again treated to close up encounters with a couple of big deer.
The other place that you have to know about if you’re in the area and it turns wet, is the Achin’s bookshop at Inverkirkaig. Not only is this an excellent bookshop, the perfect place to top up your supply of holiday reading, it also has plenty of desirable gifty items – you know the sort, the stuff you wish you could justify buying for yourself, but above all, it has a very acceptable cafe, serving freshly made meals and good coffee. Might not sound like much, but if you’re camping and it’s been wet for days, the simple pleasure of sitting on a chair in a warm cafe, while someone else does the cooking, is almost spiritual.
If you’re really lucky, as we were, the rain will stop while you’re eating, and later, you’ll be able to take the walk along from the bookshop, to see the famous Falls of Kirkaig.
They are truly spectacular, but the final approach is not for the fainthearted – which included me this time. I sat myself firmly down on a nice solid rock and waited until the intrepid husband and daughters got back.
When the sun came out, we stayed at the campsite, as the beach is just a minute’s walk away. This of course is why it’s such a perfect place when the weather is kind. There’s no reason to go anywhere else. Although we had a wonderful holiday and did a lot of sight-seeing, it wasn’t until we got to the beach at Achmelvich, that I really chilled out. I found a rock that sloped at the ideal angle and drifted off into a wave lapped reverie.
I just love that place.