Excerpt from the book Scottish Highlands, Caribbean Islands, and more
I was heading to the region called Assynt, a word derived from the Norse for rocky ridge seen from afar. Driving out of Ullapool on the A835 I soon arrived at Ardmair Bay and immediately pulled on to the side of the road to take a picture of the beach, sea, and mountains. I was able to reverse along the main road to get the best picture as no vehicles were coming in either direction. After driving off again I began to see many posters for the ‘Yes’ campaign for Scottish independence attached to lampposts, street lights, and garden gates. I had probably seen many such posters before, but today I seemed to be seeing everything more sharply due to the beauty of the weather and landscape. I stopped many times in the next hour to photograph the mountains Stac Pollaidh and Ben More Coigach, the village of Elphin, and the views of Loch Assynt. Ardveck Castle was a MacLeod stronghold from 1597 until it was destroyed by the Seaforth MacKenzies in 1691. The castle is on the shore of Loch Assynt. The mountain called Quinag can be seen in the distance. The waters of the loch, the jagged remains of the castle, and the elegantly shaped mountain behind made a vivid impression. I saw some independence supporters wearing kilts and sporting t-shirts saying “Aye” flying the Scottish saltire through a ruined castle window as their friends took pictures from below.
On an impulse I decided I had to explore some of this landscape and the best idea was to go to Inverkirkaig via Lochinver and walk to the Falls of Kirkaig. The road from Lochinver to Inverkirkaig was another single track road with passing places, but I met no other cars in either direction. I did some slight re-arranging of items into my rucksack and set off hoping that the path wouldn’t be too wet. I walked along by the river Kirkaig that flows 4km to the sea from Fionn Loch (the white loch) through Lewisian gneiss. On the other side of the river was the Inverpolly National Nature reserve. This river is also significant because it forms the border between the counties of Sutherland, where I was, and Ross-shire. The path gradually rises through purple heather and greeny-brown ferns and Suilven begins to loom in the distance. Holly, aspen, rowan, birch, and multi-stemmed hazel occur at irregular intervals where there’s a little shelter. I met a few walkers having a rest who made conversation for a couple of minutes. A few grey wagtails flitted around and according to the local ornithologists there are a few dippers in the river. Some adders and slow worms live in this habitat but stay out of the visitor’s way. The walk is very quiet and the first time you hear the falls are more or less when you see them as they are out of sight behind a rocky outcrop. I was able to get close-up and take some pictures, but only after leaving my rucksack behind and climbing down a steep decline, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone with dodgy knees or ankles. Overall the distance of the whole walk both ways is around 4.5 miles and will take about 3 hours in total depending on how long is spent admiring the surrounding scenery. The gain in height is 165 metres, but it’s a gentle incline all the way. There are some boggy areas, but almost all of them have stepping stones.