Bealach na Bà pass

When we were in Kingussie, our hosts told us about the Bealach na Bà pass in the Applecross peninsula. I’d not heard of it. It’s the steepest road in the UK, eventually reaching 626 metres.

We mentioned this to Cath, when we met up, and it turned out that she, with some friends, had attempted to drive up the pass but was thwarted by the snow and blizzard conditions. Despite a desire by some of her companions to continue, sanity prevailed and they drove back down. The pass would have to wait for another day.

It was not the best day for walking and with Helene recovering from her broken ankle, we decided to drive to Shieldaig and then attempt to drive up the pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula. We approached the pass from the Loch Kishorn side, driving northwest to Applecross.

It was a misty day. At the beginning of the drive, there is a warning that the road is not “for learner drivers, very large vehicles or caravans after the first mile”. As we started to ascend, it was clear why. There were many tight hairpin bends (“switchbacks” in the US) on a single track road. I read later that the gradient is sometimes 20%.

Despite the road looking frightening, the drive was less stressful than it might have been because of the many passing places. I had previously noticed on our earlier drives how common this was, much more so than England or Wales. It was very rare you had to reverse your car on a narrow road in the Scottish Highlands because the passing places were regularly spaced. Cath is a good driver but the views are stunning and I was occasionally concerned that enjoying them as a driver was not compatible with getting us to the top safely! That should be added as a warning when beginning the ascent!

As we made our way up, the mist thickened. It was increasingly clear that the views from the top would be hazy. Nonetheless, when we reached the top we got out of the car and stood in the drizzle with others, wondering what we would have seen. I was impressed with a cyclist who’d got to the top until he told me his bike was motorised. He added, whilst patting his slightly protruding belly, that he was no longer in condition to make the ascent unaided. However, his girlfriend (on motorised bike) was just behind with a friend of theirs who was cycling on a normal bike. As we drove off, we spotted them and we all waved to each other like long-lost friends. The human-powered cyclist didn’t look as if she’d cycled all the way up the mountain. She wasn’t sweating. We decided that her level of fitness merited “professional amateur” status.

Just descending a few metres resulted in much better views. The clouds thinned out as we drove to Applecross. We regularly stopped and admired the views. Perhaps our most delightful encounter was with the Highland cattle. These beautiful shaggy giants were lounging by the side of the road. They were unfazed as we cooed over them. I desperately wanted to stroke them.

Years ago, I used to walk regularly (near Cambridge) with someone. In one place, somewhat incongruously, there were some Highland cattle. Each time we went, we took some carrots and fed the cattle. And whilst they ate the carrots, we stroked them. It seemed a fair exchange: food for affection. The cattle, however, seemed oblivious of the damage their horns could do as they moved their heads! We had to be very careful. Those Cambridge Highland cattle were behind a fence, unlike the ones we saw on the way to Applecross. With that in mind, we restricted ourselves to taking photos of the Highland cattle sitting by the road.

When we got to Applecross, we did a short walk. The bay is beautiful, as is the drive along the coast (next to Inner Sound) to Fearnmore, Kenmore and back to Shieldaig.

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