Applecross To Ullapool

Northern Coasts

ROUTE LENGTH: 152 MILES

By Road

Lochalsh is on the A87, from there take the Main Street north to Plockton and pass through. Follow road north-east to junction with A890, turning left onto it. At Strathcarron, turn left onto A896, passing Lochcarron. To reach Applecross itself, turn left onto road marked ‘Applecross’. Afterwards return and turn left,north along the a896 to Shieldaig. Follow the road to Torridon and then to Kinlochewe, at the south- east end of Loch Maree. At first, you can turn right along A832 to Achnasheen for the spectacular views over the valley. From there return to Kinlochewe, and drive along A832 west along Loch Maree, entering the park.

To contact about visiting the islands, visit http://www.nnr- scotland.org.uk/loch-maree-islands/contact-details. Follow road to Gairloch and then to Poolewe and Inverewe. Follow to junction with A835, turning left and going to Ullapool.

By Cycle

Decant from train at either Lochalsh or Plockton, and follow the roads north-east to junction with A890. Turn left onto it, until Strathcarron, turn left onto A896, passing Lochcarron.

To reach Applecross itself, turn left onto road marked ‘Applecross’. Afterwards return to the A896,and turn left, north along it to Shieldaig. Follow the road to Torridon and then to Kinlochewe, at the south-east end of Loch Maree. At first, you can turn right along A832 to Achnasheen for the spectacular views over the valley – although this is a steep extra journey you may wish to avoid. If done, from there return to Kinlochewe, and drive along A832 west along Loch Maree, entering the park. 

Follow road to Gairloch and then to Poolewe and Inverewe. Follow to junction with A835, turning left and going to Ullapool.

By Public Transport

More complexly, you can follow the driving/cycling route, but the buses and trains are very irregular, making this an unreliable route. Take the irregular train from Lochalsh to Strathcarron, then from there the DMK bus no. 702 to Torridon and its tourist information centre. From there, walk to Kinlochewe, where you can take the Westerbus 700 to Gairloch and/or Poolewe (departs twice a day). From either of these places, go to Garve on the 700, then take the Stagecoach 61 to Ullapool.

To check times go to Traveline Scotland and click on Plan your Journey on left side of page.

By land this journey has to begin at Lochalsh or perhaps Plockton, which just goes to show that Applecross was a place reached by sea. In compensation we can take the hill road Bealach nam Bó- Pass of the Cattle- beyond Lochcarron at the head of Loch Kishorn. This rises from sea level to a height of 2,100 feet and then descends again to sea level. The views are spectacular out over Rona and Raasay to the Cuillins of Skye, and to the mainland hills in every direction. This route should not be attempted in snowy or foggy weather.

Applecross itself should be high on the pilgrim destination list. It is a place of peace and beauty, established by Maelrubha as a sanctuary- A’ Chomraich. This stretched for six miles and was marked by standing stones inscribed with crosses. In the old burial ground at the beach the saint himself is at rest. Having died in his labours in Easter Ross his last wish was to be carried here, but the locals decided he was too prestigious a relic to lose. However on trying to raise his coffin for burial they found it impossible to life, until four men came from Applecross, lifted the coffin with ease and bore it back to this final refuge. The grave is traditionally marked by two large stones running east/west, though a standing stone of red granite sent by a princess of Norway in Maelrubha’s honour no longer exists. There is a holy well in the trees above, and an old stoup well on the shore. Offshore is the Holy Isle, Eilean na Naomh. The little church, much later than Maelrubha, nonetheless retains the spirit of this special place, so complete despite the passage of centuries.

The route follows Maelrubha north to Shieldaig and Loch Torridon. There is a good landlord story here which is worth recalling as an exception rather than the rule. After one McBarnett had progressively shut down the traditional means of life and livlihood here, Duncan Darroch from Gourock on the Firth of Clyde bought the Torridon estate, and combined deer management with restoration of traditional cattle rearing on the lower slopes of the hills. Everyone thrived in consequence, and when Darroch died in old age at Torridon House, local men carried his body all the way to Gourock for burial. Such is Highland respect. There is a memorial plaque to this event on the road past Torridon, gratefully erected by the widowed Mrs Darroch.

We now follow the River Torridon up towards Loch Maree- Maelrubha’s Loch. It is one of Scotland’s most beautiful inland lochs. Much of the area is deservedly in the Ben Eighe National Nature Reserve, including the islands. Eilean Ma-Ruibhe is one of the smallest islands but an important place of pilgrimage into recent times. There was a cell or retreat there in the later burial ground; a well of Maelrubha now blocked; and a wishing tree which still stands studded with coins, though it is a lifeless trunk. After the Protestant Reformation, pilgrimage continued here, along with other ancient pagan customs such as bull sacrifice. Stern efforts were made to suppress these remains of the saint’s cult. Access to Isle Maree can only be by special arrangement with the Nature Reserve Wardens. There is an excellent visitor centre at Aultry, a mile west of Kinlochewe, which has all the information on the geology, and the rare flora and fauna, along with latest sightings of peregrine falcons, eagles, and pine martens. In the other direction, a short steep drive up Glen Dochert towards Achnasheen gives a spectacular panorama of the loch and surrounding mountains.

Continuing north by the lochside, the road swings west to Gairloch, and then northeast to Poolewe. The beauty of these sea lochs lies not only in their outlook to the west, but in the gentleness of their beaches and lochside settlements, where in contrast to the mountains, people could find shelter and win a living from land and sea. The most famous example of this is the Garden at Inverewe, created by the gardening passion of Osgood Mackenzie, who despite the hard Torridon sandstone, used the equable climate of the lochsides to make a horticultural paradise. Maelrubha established churches in both places, but these have been succeeded by a variety of denominational buildings. If you have time to spend here, minor roads and tracks lead off to the points and headlands, each of which offers fine outlooks seaward to the islands. The beauty then continues north into Gruinard Bay, where the first church at Laide was dedicated to Columba, and then the Loch Brooms. In historic times this was all a clan battleground between Macleods and Mackenzies. We must negotiate majestic An Teallach high above us before we can pass on to Ullapool, having absorbed the exceptional land and seascape that is Wester Ross- Maelrubha’s home parish.

My heart is steady, O God, my heart is steady,
I will sing and give praise-
Awake, my glory, awake harp and lyre,
I will awaken the dawn
And praise you among the nations
And sing of you among the tribes,
Because your love is like the heavens
And your truth is like clouds in the sky.
Be high, O God, above the heavens
And let your glory cover the earth.
( from Psalm 57 )

Pilgrim Journeys

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