Saturday, November 7, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 17 Gairloch to Applecross

Just a slice of the beauty of Loch Maree.
Travelling around the Scottish Highlands at the beginning of November has its upsides and its downsides… the downsides are that the weather will probably bring rain and that a lot of places are going to be closed for the season: hotels, restaurants, museums, tourist offices and tourist attractions – they’re hardly going to stay open for the one or two people who might trickle through. Many of my stops have proved
fruitless, but there is so much to do on this North Coast 500 route that something else is always around the corner.

The upsides are that the single track roads are very quiet and you have the tourist attractions (which are open) all to yourself.

And, regarding my earlier ‘downside’ comment about the weather, not only have I been exceptionally fortunate on this three week journey, but rain brings its own rewards… streams and rivers bustling between the banks, waterfalls cascading in white fury and, of course, the striking rainbows that spill across the sky.
Rainbow over the village of Ardheslaig (on route to Applecross)
And another one over Loch Torridon
Today’s golf was at Gairloch Golf Club. Of all the clubs I have contacted for this trip, Gairloch was the most enthusiastic.

View back up the 8th to the sharp ridge/dune.
I was met by Peter and Brian, the Captain and Vice Captain, and invited to play in their Medal competition. The car park is shared by the golfers and those who want to walk on the big beach with views across to Gairloch, itself. The golf course promises those same views and a couple of tees sit right above the beach with views to Skye, the Harris Mountains (Hebrides) and so many others it’s a long list.
The par three 6th, with views stretching way beyond.
Gairloch Golf Club is a chaotic adventure. Nine holes have been routed across a wonderfully bumpy, twisting landscape… and several holes cross, so caution will be required on a busy day. Add in a couple of blind par threes and it’s that kind of adventure that you’ll want to play again... and you can, with several tees on the second nine presenting very different holes: the 5th is 317 yards; the 14th is 423 yards.
The 4th/13th is called Blind Piper. It's a 233 yard par three on the front
nine and a 244 yard par four next time around. The green is directly
behind those trees.
Peter and the third member of our group, Bruce, showed me the way around… and it was a huge help. The back of the scorecard shows the directions and lines of holes, but there’s so much more to it than that. You won’t believe the par five 8th when you play it. You drive up a gentle ridge (do NOT go left) alongside the beach and if you’re far enough, then you can belt one over this enormous ridge onto the fairway far below.

“This is when you’ll see testosterone get the better of me,” Peter quipped as he took on his second shot, trying to get over that ridge. 

You only live once, right!

He didn’t make it… but one day he will. And, like all golfers, he will remember that moment… for… ever.
The par three 9th, with the green up on a ledge.
The course is short (par 63) and tight. It’s not going to draw golfers from all corners, but it is a lot of fun and, in the 91 yard 7th, you could find the toughest par three imaginable. It’s one of the blind par threes, hitting out of woods and over shoulders of heather.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable round and the company was exceptional. That’s the joy of courses/small clubs such as this.

Reflections on Loch Maree

The Road to Applecross

From Gairloch I drove probably the most beautiful route I’ve ever imagined. If Reay to Durness was spectacular, and Durness to Gairloch was glorious, then the drive to Lochcarron (where I am tonight) was simply magnificent. I won’t try to do it justice with words. I hope that the photos in this blog show just a morsel of that beauty.

Don’t expect to whizz around. Not only would that be to miss the point but it is a tough driving road. The single lane track with ‘Passing Places’ means you have to be cautious, be prepared to stop and pull-over quickly, and let faster drivers behind you overtake… locals have to use these roads to get to work.
Applecross Inn. Very good food and the place was buzzing.
And one other thing… when the tourist bodies/magazines/awards tell you that a route is one of the ‘best driving routes’ in the world… it probably isn’t! It’s probably the best ‘passenger driving route’ in the world. As the driver, your eyes need to be on the road.

The final leg of my journey today was over the Bealach na Ba (Applecross Pass), which peaks at 2056 feet, and ascends/descends sharply on either side with views towards Loch Kishorn and towards the islands of Skye and Raasay (depending on the direction you’re travelling). It’s hair-raising stuff and when I say the driver has to pay attention… believe me. Forget the road and the severe drops… you may also get one of these lads standing in the road.
Stag on the Bealach na Ba
On the upside that now means I have achieved two of my three non-golfing wishlist objectives. (Doubt there will be many dolphins this far inland!)
Slicoh, on Loch Maree... a shadow of its former self.
And today’s lesson is this: the mountain in the above photograph is Slioch, on Loch Maree. It is one kilometre high. At its highest, about 800 million years ago, it was five times that.

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