Friday, November 6, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 16 The West Coast

Sunrise at Durness Golf Club (and no photoshopping!)
My tee time at Ullapool was 12pm. At 11.57am the heavens opened, dropping all of the rain that I have managed to avoid for the last 10 days.

Fortunately, I was nowhere near Ullapool when the rain arrived. I was driving from Lochinver, 30 miles away, the birthplace of Alister MacKenzie’s father, and a place
where Alister spent much time (thank you Mr Tom Doak, for that choice bit of info). The landscape is said to have influenced his golf design work.
This landscape is called Assynt, which comes from the Viking word
 meaning 'a rocky ridge. Doesn't really do it justice, does it! 
Maybe that’s true, but this is an outrageously violent, hard and unforgiving landscape of Lewisian Gneiss rock. This is c. 3000 million years old and is the oldest rock formation in Britain. And yes, I looked that up. The barren beauty is almost overwhelming as you drive through it. And it just goes on and on and on. You drive over one crest and there are more mountains, valleys and lochs. You wonder if it will ever end.
This is remote. At one stage, across a long, long stretch of road, I saw a farmhouse tucked low under the mountains. I stopped and took a photograph (above). And for those of you looking at the above photo, who might think: well, he’s zoomed in… there’s probably a house just out of frame…

Even more remote
Earlier, I had delayed in Durness, striking out before dawn to catch a sunrise across the golf course. The day before, I had imagined the par five 6th trapped in the golden rays of morning light. It would have been a beautiful photo with the heaving mountains beyond… but the sun never came and I ended up an hour behind schedule.
The par five 6th... minus the sunrise.
The A roads south are narrow, somewhat treacherous and highly distracting.

Just as I had discovered on the drive from Reay to Durness, you can turn off any road and find another track leading to some untold beauty. The council/tourist board has very kindly erected explanatory panels in many of the parking areas, outlining the geology and the flora & fauna, as well as identifying various mountain peaks.
Ardvrech Castle ruin in Loch Assynt.
And, as much as I would have liked to see it all in sunshine – as opposed to full speed windscreen wipers – those grey skies have a beauty all of their own, especially as mist drifts across the mountain sides and the clouds wrap tightly around the peaks. I don’t mind admitting that some of the photos posted here were taken from inside the car.
Ullapool, with golf course in the foreground. 
By 1.30pm, I was in Ullapool. It’s a nine hole course (18 tees) and you will see it as you start your descent into the small town, which sits right out in the water. It squeezes up against the loch, but this is a parkland course and one that struggles with drainage. It’s what you might call a small town affair, but in holes 2/11 and 3/12 they have a couple of very tempting holes. The 2nd (pictured) hits straight out at the water. The 3rd runs along the water and requires two brave shots. My draw… hook… let me down and I watched the ball sail away and splash down. Satisfying… in a peculiar way.
The par three 2nd at Ullapool.
Streaks of gorse separate holes and the flatness of the start is countered by a couple of interesting hollows (the 5th) at the far end of the course. The place was deserted - no great surprise considering the rain.

My destination thereafter was Gairloch, a drive south west of 55 miles, but there are so many stops you can make along the way it’s hard to put a time to the journey. It took me about 2.5 hours, which included a trip to the Corrieshalloch Gorge.
Corrieshalloch Gorge, shot from the suspension bridge.
Corrieshalloch is a slot gorge, formed some 2.6 million years ago by Ice Age glacial meltwater. The River Droma now cascades down the gorge, dropping 100 metres in 1.25 kilometres thanks to a series of waterfalls, most notably the thunderous 45 metre Falls of Measach… over which a viewing suspension bridge hangs.

You try standing on the bridge and not leap for the handrail when the whole bloody thing starts moving.
A fishing vessel heads out to sea as the coastguard helicopter flies overhead.
I arrived in Gairloch to find both hotels closed. Well, not strictly true: the Milford’s bar is still open. I’ve found this a lot on my journey to date. The upside to the off-season is very few tourists and few cars on the roads… the downside is so many places being closed. Two tourist offices I’d hoped to visit today were closed – they only open on weekends. Still, there are plenty of signs to steer you where you need to go and the North Coast 500website is comprehensive.

My dining choices tonight were limited to two establishments… that’s a 100% increase on Durness, I might add. Spiral Bistro, next door to my B&B, or a Chinese Takeaway.

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