Tales from the Travel Zeitgeist: Days 3 & 4 (Skye to Ullapool to Tongue, along the North Coast 500)

It’s a beautiful photograph, isn’t it? Much of my time over the next couple days was spent looking out at a landscape like that one. I’m not usually here when the heather is in bloom. It’s spectacular. But before I wax on about the landscape along Scotland’s far northwest coast, I’ll start you off with a bit of tedium.

Testing.

According to our instructions from the government website, we were supposed to take a Covid test within 48 hours of arriving in the country, on pain of being levied a several hundred dollar fine. No problem. Heather had ordered our tests from the National Health Service and had them delivered to our Hotel on Skye. Simple, right?

In theory, yes.

Our first morning on Skye, we met in her room to unpack, register online and self-administer the tests. Packages open? Check. All parts and pieces present? Check. Sign in online and register for test? Check. Wait, wait… after 17 questions, there was one that had us scratching our heads.

Q: What country are you from in the UK? Please choose one.

Available answers: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland.

Ummmm… how exactly are we supposed to answer that one? You couldn’t proceed forward in the screens without selecting one. Consulting our test instruction booklet, we found a help line. Heather calls, explains the situation.

Yes, we’ve traveled to your country and are engaged in the mandatory testing for visitors to the UK but there is no way to complete the requested registration form if you are from outside the UK. What’s that? You need to record some information? Okay. Radl, R-A-D-L. Heather, H-e-a-t… and with that, she spent ten minutes providing all the information on the phone that we’d just entered by typing online. And then repeated the situation once again to the very polite lady on the phone, who then reregistered us (again!) online and asked if we’d checked on where the nearest registered postal box was wherein we could mail our tests.

Well that’s another matter, because we’re on Skye and the closest registered post is in Lochinver, about two hours away.

More conversation back and forth with the polite English lady.

Oh, great. You can send a courier to pick it up? Fantastic! But not until tomorrow? And we have to do the test the day the courier picks it up? But isn’t that after the required 48 hours?

More conversation.

Okay, so don’t do the tests now. Wait until tomorrow morning. Then hand the packaged tests to the courier who will be here between 8am and 4 pm? Do we have to actually hand it to him in person? Because we’re supposed to be in Ullapool by tomorrow afternoon.

Okay. Thank you. We will take the tests after breakfast tomorrow, leave them with the front desk staff for the courier.

All that took a couple hours to sort through. Combined with the need to get a bit of “desk work” done, we only had the afternoon for adventuring around Skye. On our second morning there, we were determined to get breakfast, do the testing, pack up the car and be out the door before 9 am.

We were successful, but not without some effort. Did you notice that earlier part about the courier arriving possibly by 8am? Well, we forgot about it. As we were finishing breakfast, Heather checked her phone and jumped up saying, “Oh no! The courier sent a text about five minutes ago saying he’s ten minutes away!” We fled to her room, stuck swabs halfway down our necks (you’re supposed to swab your tonsils) and then nostrils, bagged and boxed everything and ran them out to the front desk. Just in time!

I do want to say, in case this is ever your experience, that you should only stick something down your throat BEFORE you’ve eaten a full Scottish breakfast and definitely NOT after.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

And then we were free to load up Herbie, set out once more and see what we could see!

We sped over hill and dale… okay, over bog and machair (that’s the vegetation growing in the zone between the beach or rocks at the sea and the high ground along the coast, pronounced MAH-ker) to reach… well, a traffic jam caused by some of the local residents.

It wasn’t too long before the cows and cars came to an understanding regarding who should be on the tarmac and who should be on the grass. And THEN we sped over bog and machair to go visit this lovely lady:

Yes, Heather is a lovely lady . But I mean the other lovely lady, Sally.

That’s Sally, the proprietor of On the Croft. From her home and tiny studio/shop on Skye, Sally knits, sews, spins and offers up all kinds of goodies. You can see for yourself below. She also keeps a small flock of Jacob sheep. Sally was gracious enough to let us have a good look around. We chatted. We pet her dog. We bought stuff – because how could we not?!? And we were reassured that Sally is just the kind of artisan that we love to visit during our trips. We’ll be seeing her again, I’m sure. It doesn’t hurt that she loves just a mile or so up the road from Talisker Distillery!

And with yarn and goodies in our hands, we headed off Skye to begin our journey to parts even farther north in Scotland. There are two parts of Scotland which I’ve not yet explored: the far northwest coast and the far northeast. This part, the northwest, has a loop road that starts and ends in Inverness. It hugs the coast, undulating in and out alongside the many peninsulas, plus skirts some of the highest mountains on the island that houses England and Scotland. The road has been dubbed “The North Coast 500”. Part hype, part communal effort to bring more visitors to the area and shore up the economy, the North Coast 500 has been a big hit. The road, and its associated hospitality venues, from coffee kiosks to community artisans, campsites to swanky B& Bs, is very popular. Perhaps to much so, as it can be problematic to traverse its many single-track sections of road. Nonetheless, after about 10 hours of drive time on it so far, I can honestly say it equals California’s Pacific Coast Highway for dramatic scenery, constantly changing views, light, geology and vegetation, and offers wonderful places to stop along the journey.

For those of you who have traveled Highway 1, the PCH, you know that’s a high standard.

Zowie. It’s beautiful.

I find it impossible to capture the vast spaces here. My phone is better with details or with mid-range compositions. You’d need a wide angle lens and, well… Ansel Adams to do it justice. Sorry for that shortcoming on my part.

We had some fantastic stops between Skye and our landing spot this evening, Tongue. (Check out where we are on Google maps. You’ll be amazed!) Some highlights:

A stop at Inverewe Gardens. It’s a rambling, Victorian-era estate on the north coast, near Poolewe. Acres and acres of wonderful woodlands, cultivated gardens, ponds, promenades and views out toward the sea. I have no idea why this thing is located here. Haven’t even had time to read up on its history. I can tell you though, it was sheer delight to walk its grounds.

An overnight in the town of Ullapool. We stayed in a crap hotel, but found a really great one for next year’s tour.

A visit with Helen and Steven at Ripplescraft. Helen is an amazing dyer. She and her husband have a fantastic, off-grid house in a truly stunning area called Assynt. I don’t know how they get any work done. I’d just sit around looking at the landscape all day.

A stop at Smoo Cave.

A cuppa and chat at the home of Laurence and Clive, natural dyers at Gongcrafts Studio in Skerray.

Whoops, got so caught up in our conversation that I forgot to take pictures! I did love their colors though. So gentle and beautiful. Many of their dyes are sourced from plants right around them. Take a look at their goodies over on their website https://www.gongcrafts.scot/ or on Instagram @gongcrafts

There’s more to tell you… about thoughts along the way, all during the twists and turns of the road. I was quite near a place I never thought to see again: Scoraig, a small town on the shores of Little Loch Broom. I stood across the loch and waived to that wonderful place. We drove and drove and drove and drove and played obnoxious bagpipe music since no one was around to stop us from doing so. It rained. The sun broke through. There were clouds intermittently shrouding the peaks. There was peat-tinted water falling down the mountainsides, into ribbons of water that trailed to the eventual shore.

I leave you with a few of my favorite signs from the day’s journey and one truly satisfying selfie.

Don’t throw rocks at the nice people below, please.
In case you’re wondering, you’re in Scotland, where sheep can appear on or near the road at any time. (Even though our earlier incident was caused by cows.)
Me, wearing my North Country Flowers hat in the actual north country for which it was named.
A sign (no pun intended) that the entire world has been affected by the pandemic. Be kind. Always.

3 comments

  1. Well, I am darn near speechless. Beautiful scenery, art inspired by it and lovely people. What a glorious two days! ( testing aside- at least someone answered the phone) Just sign me up now.
    Both of you look so relaxed and happy! Suzie, you look positively radiant – proof positive good time can be had safely during the Zeitgeist!

    Like

  2. As a non-knitter, I mostly skim through your yarn-related posts (although the skeins stacked in their cubbies like spun rainbows are fun to look at), but the scenery… the SCENERY is so beautiful.
    The desert rat in me loves open spaces that are unspoiled, under-populated and rustic. So in spite of being very un-desert-like, the landscape of rural Scotland calls to me in a similar soul language.
    And in a time when so much of the world is in crisis, it seems like you have journeyed to an alternate universe, but IT’S REAL.
    I’m a little envious.
    Thank you for sharing. It will likely be as close as I get to being there.

    Like

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