What a glorious day! There was blue sky and sunshine from the moment we got out of bed and the forecast promised more of the same with cloudy periods. Armed with that knowledge we made plans to get out and about while the weather held as by all accounts Lochinver has had little enough fine weather over the summer. Perhaps we have been lucky (or perhaps we bring the sun with us!).
With several options available we decided to take a trip into Ullapool as Alex was in need of a pharmacy for cold and flu tablets that actually work - not the useless pseudoephedrine variety they stock in supermarkets. Along the route we had a choice of tackling Knockan Crag, The Bone Caves at Inchnadamph or the Leitir Easaidh path as well as exploring Ardvreck castle ruins.
Deciding to work backwards we drove through spectacular scenery, including a breathtaking view of Quinag, before passing into Ross and Cromarty and finally cruising into a bustling Ullapool.
The waterfront was filled with people taking advantage of the sunshine and warm weather and we heard English, Dutch and German as well as the local Scots accents all around us. The shops along the harbour-front were doing a roaring trade while the pubs and cafes had people dining and drinking alfresco wherever there was the opportunity.
Strolling along the waterfront we stopped at intervals to take photos and recalled our last visit to Ullapool a few years ago which was equally warm and sunny. After a short spell browsing the shops and buying a few items in the process, we ducked into Tesco and grabbed some lunch on the way back to the car.
Driving back the way we had come we looked for a nice area to park and have something to eat as it was now after midday. At last we came to a parking bay with an information board and a magnificent view of the landscape with a dramatic Stac Pollaidh in the background framed by rugged peaks on either side. The sky remained clear with a few wispy clouds streaking the vivid blue and we enjoyed the amazing vista of mountains, lochs and glens as we ate warm cheese and onion pasties washed down with Coldpress Pumpkin Power juice. (Why does that sound like something out of Harry Potter?).
On our way again, the next stop was Knockan Crag (or in Gaelic Chreag a' Chnocain) where the Moine Thrust runs through the crag; a puzzle for Victorian geologists who were confounded by the fact that older rocks appeared on top of much younger ones creating the "Highland Controversy".
The visitor centre and trail provide geological and historical information on the nature of the controversy and explains the solution in an interesting and entertaining way. The visitor centre has interactive displays that both adults and children can enjoy, and the trail itself is dotted with interesting displays, including sculpture and poetry, which add to the experience. As a bonus there are the spectacular views of the mountains of Coigach and Assynt.
The way is quite steep in places and there are many steps, some of which are a challenge to those of us with short legs, but although tricky and sometimes strenuous it is not an arduous climb. It is, however, a narrow path often on the edge of a steep incline which does achieve quite an elevation so it would not be ideal for anyone with a dislike of heights.
The trail itself goes in an elongated loop from the carpark, first stop being at the visitor centre then up to the first viewpoint; this is a fairly steep ascent but with several opportunities to stop and rest at information points along the way. We made only a brief stop at the viewpoint to take photos as we were swarmed by midges waiting in ambush at the top for unsuspecting travellers!
Following the trail along the face of the crag and parallel with the road far below we were treated to an unexpected aerial display which made our day. Hearing the sound of a roaring engine we found ourselves at eye level with a RAF jet as it screamed down the glen. We were literally standing at the same height the jet was flying and I could look straight into the cockpit and see the pilot - and yes, he was close enough to see the whites of his eyes! A thrilling experience for aircraft lovers like ourselves. Unfortunately I was too slow to get a photo and he was alone although we had hoped he had a few friends with him.
We continued along the trail marvelling at the incredible views with lochs far below us as still as glass and reflecting the mountains and clouds above. We reached the second viewpoint at the Eagle Stone but did not follow it to the top although it was a detour of only two-dozen steps and instead followed the zig-zag trail, which descended very quickly to ground level. Once at the bottom we returned to our starting point at the visitor centre. We had walked 2km and it had taken us an hour to complete.
As we stowed our gear in the car and made ready to be on our way it was obvious that the best of the weather was past and it was becoming cooler as clouds rolled in obscuring the blue skies of earlier in the day. Pressing on we eschewed another hike and passed by the Bone Caves, leaving them for another day, as we drove on to Ardvreck Castle which is the ruin of a 15th Century fortress which belonged, initially, to the McLeods.
In the 16th Century the Marquis of Montrose was at one time imprisoned here by the Mcleods but eventually polical fortunes turned and it was the McLeods who were vilified with the MacKenzie clan taking long-awaited revenge on the McLeods and laying siege to the castle.
Today it is reduced to a single turret rising up from the ruins with two walls remaining, one on either side, and the remains of the cellars are visible although now gated for safety. Much of the stone was removed in later years to be used in the construction of other local buildings.
Further along the promontory stands the ruin of a house which was built for the lady of the castle in 1726 as she disliked the "austerity" of the castle itself. The house was burned down by the MacKenzies in later years as revenge for it having been taken off them by the Sutherlands! Having spent some time exploring the ruins we returned to the carpark and from there, home.
We both agreed that this had been our most enjoyable day so far.