After a very welcome rest day at Gairloch, arguably the most impressive part of the trip lay ahead – namely Applecross and the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle)
Up to this point, many of the roads had been single-track with passing places but still functioned as main roads with all manner of traffic passing along them. In places, the road widened to two whole widths (not a dual carriageway, just a “normal” road!) Such was the case leaving Gairloch where the road meandered alongside Loch Maree to Kinlochewe before shrinking back once again to minimalist proportions.
It was at Shieldaig where things became interesting. From here you could choose to uphold the status quo and follow the road along to Lochcarron or take your life (and the lives of whichever passengers you’d locked in the vehicle) in your hands and head to Applecross.
A large sign suggesting that caravans, learner-drivers and HGV’s should opt for the former route was prominently displayed at the turn and it wasn’t long before we could see why.
Initially, despite being a bit narrower and slightly more twisty-turny, the going wasn’t too bad, but things got really interesting at Applecross. Just in case a caravan/learner-driver/HGV had miraculously survived up to this point, another sign at the start of the climb out of the village warned them that impending doom would be imminent if they set tyre over this point.
Built in 1822 as a cattle drovers’ pass through the mountains, the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle in Gaelic) starts at Applecross, which is at sea-level, then rises – very steeply – to 2054ft at the summit before plunging, even more steeply down again towards Tornapress and Lochcarron, both of which are back at sea level. All this in about 7 miles!
We were promised spectacular views and buttock-clenching moments and wow, here they were! This was, without doubt THE MOST SPECTACULAR ROAD WHICH I HAVE EVER DRIVEN! Superlatives abounded at every turn although I think poor Annie held her breath for the entire duration!
Wilma is 6m (20ft) long and weighs 3.5 tonnes and although she performed superbly both climbing and descending the 1-in-5 gradients (20% in new money) I certainly wouldn’t have relished driving anything bigger over that pass!
I also have a new-found respect for cattle.