To Applecross via the Pass of the Cattle

We met Jo’s parents earlier in the year at Applecross, on the west coast of mainland Scotland. The remote hamlet is a very popular destination for bikers and car enthusiasts, given that the main route to get there takes the driver over a pretty impressive 2000-foot mountain pass: Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle). The video linked in this blog post – by YouTube user OddBobCC – shows the enthralling experience of the drive from the eastern side.

From sea level at Loch Carron, the road rises quickly after the warning sign that the road is unsuitable for learner drivers, caravans and long vehicles. After the first couple of miles, it quickly becomes clear why: the single-track road ahead is exceptionally winding and precipitous, with few crash protection barriers and a distinctly weather-beaten surface on the upper reaches.

Passing the towering cliff face of Meall Gorm, the road reminds me strongly of the more remote mountain pass routes here in Switzerland, with hairpins and gear-changes aplenty. The main difference was that the road was presumably planned for much less traffic than it receives, and is, in most places, insufficiently wide for two vehicles to pass one another. That led to a couple of emergency stops and a little cursing after blind hairpins, before arriving on the bleak summit.

Heading down the opposite side of the pass to Applecross itself, the landscape was typically Scottish: expansive bleak moorland with a ribbon of cracked grey tarmac winding into the distance. Descending the pass road was more adrenaline-inducing than a similar descent in the Alps thanks to the worse condition of the road; the undulating and weather-damaged surface requires a lot more attention and care from the driver than better-maintained roads. Once we’d experienced the bumpiness of the road for ourselves, we were exceptionally grateful not to have arrived in a low-slung Lotus Elise, like the one being driven in the linked video.

Once over the pass road, the excellent service and delicious food at the Applecross Inn was a highlight of the day and is one of the best reasons to make the trip. Just don’t go on a sunny weekend lunchtime, as you’ll probably be beaten to a table by the many dozens of other visitors.

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