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Take Britain’s highest road to the blissful sanctuary of Applecross

View from Applecross peninsula
View from Applecross peninsula

THE sign says it all: “This road rises to a height of 2053ft with gradients of one in five and hairpin bends. Not advised for learner drivers, very large vehicles or caravans.”

“Righty-oh,” says the woman whose driving has been likened to that of Penelope Pitstop (from the 1960s TV cartoon Wacky Races). “Maybe not the route for me!”

But the hills are calling and my nine-year-old daughter is willing me on.

“Go on mum, you can do it. Just keep your eyes on the road and don’t look down,” she cajoles.

The Bealach na Ba (or Pass of the Cattle) lays claim to being the highest mountain road in Britain and  runs from Loch Carron to Applecross in Wester Ross.

We make our hesitant way up and over the single track, peppered with passing places, for a jaw-dropping, never-to-be-forgotten drive. And the views! The day is so clear we can see all the way to the islands of Skye, Rum, Raasay, Rona, Harris, and Lewis.

My wee one and I are so awestruck we bring our vehicle to a halt in the car park at the summit and battle the screeching wind to soak up the scene.

If you don’t want to try it, there is an alternative, low-level route through picturesque Sheldaig and Kenmore.

But having braved the Bealach, we are rewarded by the enchanting little village of Applecross and the peninsula that shares its name. Home to an estimated 200 or so people, it is the perfect antidote to city life.

Cottages at Applecross and the mountains of South Skye
Cottages at Applecross and the mountains of South Skye (Alamy)

Applecross, with its tiny row of houses, sea wall and pretty hostelry, looks out to the mountainous Cuillin range on Skye and more than fits its Gaelic title ‘a Chomraich’, meaning ‘sanctuary’.

It’s said that the peninsula was one of the earliest lived-in places in Scotland, with settlements dating back 8,000 years.

Aside from its history, it has much to offer tourists. At the multi-award-winning Applecross Inn – offering food and rooms –  we sample the delights of its al fresco operation, an American-style
trailer-cum-diner cleverly dubbed ‘Inn-Side Out’.

We tuck into its fabulous fish and chips and celebrated Applecross Ices which swept the boards at last year’s Highland Show.

The Applecross Campsite nearby covers six acres and has space for tents, touring caravans and motorhomes.

Sea Kayaking guided adventures
Sea Kayaking guided adventures

Just a hop, skip and a jump away is the outdoor adventure firm of Mountain & Sea Guides who offer winter and summer mountain adventures, along with kayaking and gorge walking.

We are here to relax, however. Cue the siren call of Sands beach, about four miles away.

The days are spent picnicking, sand sledging,  swimming and oohing and aahing over spectacular sunsets. Huddled under a blanket, we watch as the great orange orb dips below the horizon, painting the waters pink – heaven! The beach sparked a flurry of interest after it became the temporary home of the TV presenter Monty Halls in his 2009 series Great Escapes. It followed Monty’s attempts to live as a crofter for six months. The peninsula’s panoramas supplied a breathtaking backdrop and led to a 1300% increase in internet searches for Applecross.

Even getting to this location was epic, having taken the magnificent North Coast 500 – Scotland’s answer to the USA’s Route 66.

This road trip covers 500 miles of the best the North Highlands have to offer. A circular route, it starts in Inverness, heads up the West Coast and rounds the country’s northern tip before snaking its way back to the Highland capital through the rugged north-east.

There are a million and one reasons why Wester Ross is a great holiday location. It has everything a lover of the great outdoors could dream of, from mountains to beaches, whale to bird watching, thriving little communities and a vibrant history. But most of all it quietly boasts what most of us lack … peace.


Fact box

Bed and breakfast at the Applecross Inn costs £65 per person per night. 01520 744262 or applecross.uk.com

Applecross Campsite charges £45 per night for its huts. For tents: £9 per person in high season and £7 in low season. applecross-holidays.co.uk

Contact Mountain and Sea Guides for details on outdoor packages: 01520 722734 or applecross.uk.com/msg

For general tourism info: visitwester-ross.com


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