Applecross – over Pass of the Cattle

Raasay and Skye from the coral beach on the Applecross peninsula.
Raasay and Skye from the coral beach on the Applecross peninsula.

The Applecross Peninsula is roughly triangular in shape and lies on the coast of Wester Ross opposite the islands of Raasay and Skye.

One of its greatest charms is its relative isolation from the rest of the Highlands, due to the need to cross one of the highest passes in Scotland, the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle) which rises to over 2,000 feet in a series of very steep hairpin bends – a truly breathtaking journey from Kishorn, from the pass revealing a magnificent panorama of the peninsula and views to the Inner Hebrides.

Until a new coastroad was opened in 1975 from Torridon, the pass was the only way in to Applecross, but it still retains its aura of secrecy and isolation.

We visited Applecross recently for a weekend, staying in the excellent recently renovated hostel – Hartfield House, which stands close to the old Applecross House with its excellent Potting Shed restaurant in the nearby walled garden.

Informative leaflets have been produced by the estate and we used these to choose walks along the coast and in the native woodlands. The description of a coral beach was too tempting to miss so we followed part of the south-west coast near Colliegillie and while eating our lunch enjoyed good views of wintering Black-throated and Great Northern Divers close to the shore. Quite soon they would be setting off to their breeding grounds.

The coral beach was deserted in early April except for a few Rock Pipits and Wheatears, these newly-arrived after their long journey from Africa in spite of the snow on the Black Cuillins across the water reminding us it was still winter.

Our woodland walk that day was in the Atlantic Hazel Wood at Carnach where excellent trails have been laid out and a re-creation of a thatched Iron-age Roundhouse along with restoration of two traditional Hebridean barns provided shelter from occasional showers.

The woodland is a magical miniature forest with trees and boulders (Carnach means rocky) densely clothed in luxuriant mosses and lichens.

Such woodlands are described as ‘Atlantic Rain Forest’ and can be truly ancient, although the Hazels remain small in stature and have in the past been coppiced for local use.

This is not encouraged now and the perimeter deer fence keeps out hungry Red Deer helping to ensure regeneration of the woodland. And, very importantly, another blessing of visiting Applecross in early spring is that the West Highland midges have not yet emerged.