Friday, 28 November 2014

Road to the Islands Part 6: Kylesku Bridge, Clachtoll, and Return of the Mojo

May 2014

It doesn't take a Genius to work out that I am a Gael at heart. I don't understand why (my family is from Kent for at least the last 150 years), but there is something I find so attractive about the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I had enjoyed the East Coast, but one minor thing was bugging me. I'd driven up from Dover and, while I discovered a truly beautiful stretch of coastline, I didn't really find anything that I could not have found closer to home. East Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, East Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire, and especially Northumberland... they are all so beautiful in that 'Big Sky' East Coast kind of a way. With so much East Coast Gorgeousness close to hand, there would be nothing really to take me back to the North East of Scotland now that I have enjoyed its cultural attractions.

The West Coast however... oh my goodness me, that is something else. Wild, desolate, rugged, and beautiful landscapes that are found in no other parts of the UK with a language and a culture to match. I can't get enough of it, so much so that I am now doing a University Course in Scottish Gaelic, aiming eventually for my first ever degree.

So... despite the fact I had remained as open-minded as possible, and I really had enjoyed my time on the East Coast and in the fantastic Naver/Nabheir Glen, I cannot deny that turning the corner at Durness (and leaving behind the rubbish experience at Cape Wrath) was a 'turning of the corner' in more ways than one. The weather went from OK to fantastic. The scenery went from fantastic to stunning. My spirits lifted beyond measure. Swooping through dramatic glens on deserted roads with my Airstream behind, I actually allowed myself to relax and feel good again. It was an uplifting afternoon.

Being the adventurous sort that I am (that's another way of saying 'disorganised' and 'running by the seat of my pants') I had no plans for the evening. I took a few side roads to see if they'd lead to nice places to camp for the night.

They didn't.

Twice I ended up having to unhitch the Airstream, spin it around, and head back. Given the to-do with the Cape Wrath experience, that made it three times in a day I had to turn the 'van around. This, my friends, is why I love my single-axle caravan, and why, being a single caravanner, I bless my motor mover. It's not that I cannot reverse my caravan, it's that quite often I'll end up with nowhere to reverse it into.

That night I finally ended up in a layby off the A894 at Kylesku, next to the bridge and just out of sight of the road which made me feel a little less conspicuous. Unbeknown to me at first, it turned out to be an interesting place to stop.

Like 99% of motorists I would have hooned over the bridge without thinking twice about it. Now, having stopped to breath and to rest, I had the time to examine the interpretation boards and explore the area.

The curved box girder bridge looked impressive from my makeshift pitch. Before the bridge was built, the A894 was broken by a ferry crossing at this point, and that ferry only ran in daylight. People rushing for the last ferry caused accidents, and many faced an unexpected night in Kylesku or a long, long diversion via Altnaharra.

You'd think that all changed sometime around 1964, wouldn't you? But no, this was the state of affairs until 1984, a mere 30 years ago. Fascinating.

Next day I set off with Clachtoll Beach Campsite in mind. It wasn't too far away, but my dear friend M had told me to take the coast road around the peninsula to Lochinver. What M had obviously forgotten was this sign as you turn off the A894:

Hey ho. These signs are there for a reason. I carried on along the A road taking the long way 'round, but nevertheless was still rewarded with an AMAZING drive. This, dear reader, is what caravanning is about - the joy of the journey and discovery:

My welcome at Clachtoll was warm and friendly, always super-important to a solo traveller. It was a lovely site for a night stop where I could unwind and catch up on work for a bit. Being anxious to get to the islands I only stayed for one night, but I enjoyed the area and the site so much I'm already planning my return visit. Next time I'll definitely be taking the motorbike as well!