Friday, April 30, 2010

April 28, 2010: A Fantastic Drive

Today was my last morning in Ullapool, and since I knew that I was going to be driving a long way today, I decided to fill up again on The Frigate's cooked breakfast, or "fry up" as the locals call it.

After breakfast I did some last minute souvenir shopping and then headed out to conquer Ullapool Hill - a small 350 metre mountain behind the city that provided some more training for my upcoming mountain half-marathon this Saturday. Additionally,it provided me an opportunity to get some nice pictures of the town and its surrounding area, since the weather the day before had been rather gloomy at the best of times, and downright awful at the worst.

(Ullapool is a wonderful town that I will certainly go back and visit again some time. It seemed that every pub or shop had won some kind of award for Best This or Best That. Even the public toilets are award winning.)

(The famous Caledonian MacBrayne ferry. Because of this ferry service to the islands on the outskirts of Scotland, Ullapool is considered a "life blood" town by the government, and this means it gets a bit more attention and money to make sure the roads leading into it are kept clear of snow and open all year round.)

(The town of Ullapool, as seen from the top of Ullapool Hill.)

At around 2 PM, I finally left Ullapool which, as I would soon find out was far too late. My first stop though was only 13 miles away at Corrieshalloch Gorge, where visitors can walk on a bridge and look down over The Falls of Measach. While at the gorge, I met an English couple who told me about a great town along the west coast called Applecross that I just "had" to stop in and see. I told them I would add it to my list since I was heading in more or less that direction anyways.

(I didn't tilt the camera, the rocks were slanted that way on their own. This picture was taken on the walk around the gorge, leading up to the Falls.)

If I thought the roads leading to Ullapool were difficult on Monday, I received an even bigger shock today. After two days of driving in the north of Scotland I have finally gotten used to the narrow roads, which is a good thing because the coastal roads of Scotland are some of the best driving roads in the world if you can take being only inches away from the oncoming vehicles. That said, they're also very scary roads, and incredibly dangerous, so I'm sure glad I upgraded to the SRI Astra with its superb handling or I might have died. I now know why European cars have "European tuned" suspensions; if they didn't there would be no drivers left in Europe, or at least Scotland.

(My Astra enjoying the scenery while I take a rest in a "lay-by" (road side turnout) along one of the aforementioned coastal roads.)

(My Astra watches what is essentially the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, in Applecross, with a new buddy. Unfortunately the weather had turned downright awful by this point.)

(A wonderfully quaint cottage in Applecross.)

(The Applecross Inn: My first chance to eat since leaving Ullapool.)

There were two "B roads" (minor roads) heading into Applecross, and unfortunately I took the wrong one, which added some considerable time to my journey, but eventually I made it to the little town on the sea side and was able to get a delicious smoked salmon sandwich - my first meal since breakfast. While finishing my sandwich I had a pleasant conversation with a very helpful elderly couple, again from England, who had been to Applecross twenty times. They directed me to the "short" way out, which involved the scariest hill climb/decent on single track road ever (just one lane shared by cars going both directions).

The way up the mountain featured blind turns that could have held a potential head-on collision while the way down contained razor sharp hairpin turns, and was so steep and the visibility so poor due to the fog and rain, I would have surely toppled over the edge in a car made for American roads. To make matters worse, on Scottish roads the sheep graze wherever they please, and also cross the road wherever they please, as slow as they please. The deer also seem to think the road is for grazing, and on this one journey alone I encountered five separate groups of deer eating on or crossing the road in front of me. However, unlike the deer in Alberta, the red deer of Britain aren't dumb, and they actually get out of the way when they see you coming. All in all it was probably the most exciting drive of my life. Anyone coming to Scotland is strongly encouraged to rent a car and drive the A87 from Invergarry (on the southern tip of Loch Ness) to Fort William; you'll never forget it! (Don't worry though, the A87 portion of my trip was a relatively safe one.)

(Look closely, you can see one of the more than a dozen deer who crossed the road in front of me at one point or another during my trip.)

(A compilation of videos I took whilst driving in the wonderful north-west of Scotland. Some were taken to show the beautiful scenery/roads, while others were to show the kinds of dangerous conditions one can get himself into on the roads of north-west Scotland. After driving down some of these single track roads, I'll never complain about that one stretch of undivided highway around Sturgeon Lake ever again.)

Finally, after 8 hours of driving I made it to my next hostel in Fort William at 10:30 PM. My night in Fort William may have been shot, but I'm not too concerned as the drive down was an experience I won't soon forget.

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