From the Visitor Book

We had a family from the USA to visit Sula recently and when I looked at the visitor book today I found the most wonderful account of their stay. I have transcribed it here as it has so much great information about things to do in the area (and much further afield – Americans must be used to long journeys as it wouldn’t have crossed my mind that Culloden would be a day-tip from Sula – but it turns out it is!)

 

– by Maureen Minard.

(The Vegetarian Salmon on Facebook)

 

We dragged a 7 year-old and a 4.5 year-old from the US for a week in the Highlands and could not have chosen a more perfect house for our home base. The kids loved the shared bedroom, the yard with the patio and wild-flowers, the sheep and the beach. The parents loved the view and the wood burning stove and the fire pit, the convenience of the kitchen, the view, and the location of Sula on Cuil Bay for day-trips.

 

Sunday we arrived later than expected, after a slow morning at the Edinburgh Hertz and some distracted driving on the way here – so much to see it’s hard not to stop here and there and why not stop for an early dinner at Oban Fish and Chips? But it was “Good Scottish Weather” the entire afternoon anyways, with grey skies and intermittent rain.

 

We were rewarded with a clear and sunny Monday, to explore Glencoe Village and ease the kids into hiking with a stroll round Glencoe lochan (the 4.5 year old shared his snack with the ducks, against the parental advice, and the entire pack of ducks soon knew of his generosity and stalked him around the entire lake).

 

Tuesday we ventured up to the Highland Folk Museum, which was a gorgeous drive and a wonderful reward for the kids to explore Scottish life at different points in time through experience rather than just seeing objects behind glass. Building the framing for a cottage and having a teacher grade cursive handwriting in a one-room schoolhouse were the biggest hits with the kids. We stayed later than expected so the kids had a late snack/early dinner from the museum café on the ride home and the parents had another lovely dinner at Sula after kids’ bedtime followed by a sit by the fire pit and a visit from one of the neighbour’s sheepdogs.

 

Wednesday we were blessed again with clear blue skies and we took advantage. You’re never going to get to a summit with small children, so instead we took a gondola ride up and then a short hike to a peak below Ben Nevis. Stunning views from the mountaintop of the surrounding area and we could see the top of Ben Nevis. There’s mountaineering and ropes courses for those with older children. In the afternoon, a trip back down to Oban for a distillery tour (highly recommended) and a few bottles of their excellent whisky. [not sure how you got back to Sula after a few bottles of whisky …Ed (!!)]

 

Thursday, poor planning on the part of the parents meant no available tickets on the Jacobite Stream train and one extremely disappointed 7 year old Harry Potter fan. So instead it was a drive out to Glenfinnan to at least see the viaduct and the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie coming ashore for the ’45 (useful for the following day’s planned trip to Culloden). Then a long drive out to the abandoned castle of the seat of MacDonald Clanranald – Castle Tiorum on Loch Moidart. Well worth the trip, in spite of all the single-track road driving to get there. And we timed low tide perfectly so we were able to walk out to the island and explore. On the way back, with some luck and quick-thinking by the parents, we were rewarded with standing on a bridge west of Glenfinnan as the afternoon Jacobite train steamed by underneath – partial parental redemption.

 

Friday morning we packed up the car early – a pair of binoculars for each child – for the trip to Loch Ness and the search for Nessie, followed by a walk of Culloden battlefield. Stopped for lunch at a nice café in Drumnadrochit. Just past the ruins of Urquart Castle (car park was so full, so visit cancelled). Nessie remains unseen, despite the kids’ best efforts.  We got to discuss many mature topics about war, politics, religion, and the Highland charge, at least with the 7 year-old. The little one just wanted to be carried around the battlefield. A long drive back with naps by all but the driver and an unplanned dinner at the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe that was so good, plans were made for a return on Saturday.

 

Saturday included a deeper drive into Glencoe – to the end of the single–track road to Glen Etive made famous by its beauty and its appearance in “Skyfall” (four miles in at the bridge). We also dug up where Hagrid’s cottage had been built, by a tiny loch neat the Glencoe cottages as further penance to the 7 year-old Harry Potter fan. Lunch down in Oban with old friends who were also visiting Scotland this week. And then back to the Clachaig Inn for dinner. A post-dinner impromptu scramble up some rocks outside the Inn prompted the kids to announce they love climbing (after several complaints about “hiking” and even “walking”) So we’ll be passing through Glencoe again on our way out Sunday, weather permitting. Of course it’s not until the last day of being surrounded by some of the best hiking/climbing in the world that they finally break through.

 

Scattered throughout the week there were also trips to the beach (rocks and jellyfish and crab-shells) dramatic presentations by kings and queens from the pallet ‘thrones’ at the firepit, and communing with the nearby farm animals (games of guessing which field the cows would be grazing in, and chatting with the sheep each day as we left and returned – those with ‘spectacles’   (horns curling round their eyes) being the most popular, followed by any young lamb.

 

The kids loved the house and the parents did too. With only a week, and even with each day chock-full of activities, there is still so much to do and to explore. You have a wonderful location, a gorgeous house, and a design of the house that mould make anyone jealous.

 

We cant wait to be back to the area, and to Sula if possible Kat, you’ve built a wonderful home. We were extremely lucky with the weather this week, but we also juggled the activities each day to accommodate. There are some comfortable sofas, a nice fire, and a glass of whisky each night [writer’s own …Ed] to review the next day’s plans after the kids are asleep. Stocking up on food at the Ballachulish co-op saved us from eating out too much (we packed a lunch most days).

 

We had a life changing/life –fulfilling visit to Glencoe and the Highlands, and throughout it all Sula was our anchor. We hope everyone who stays here can have a similar experience.

 

July 2017

 

 

 

 

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Ten reasons why we love holidaying in the West Highlands (even when it rains)

20140409-110902.jpg1. Weather.

You might have heard that the weather in the West Highlands isn’t always balmy, sunny and dry. The weather forecast prior to our current Easter at a rented house suggested that we were due for more than our fair share of rain. But did this put us off?

Of course not. Because this is part of the attraction: you never know what the day will hold. No matter what the weather forecast says, you will get some sun, some showers, some wind to dry you off and you will get some picturesque clouds and stunning light.

The quality of the light is special in the west Highlands: bright sunshine slanting in from under clouds to flood the golden mountainsides with light. Weather is a spectator sport. Find a window seat, look out at the mountains reflected in the loch, and wait for the weather to start the show.

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It might be pouring with rain, but the light is like a Landseer oil painting: Eileen Donan Castle from Letterfern (spot the rainbow)

2. Waterfalls

Due to the West Highland weather, particularly, it seems, on this holiday, there is always water aplenty rushing down the mountains. White ribbons of water flow down every hillside, braiding around rocks and heather. Almost everywhere are waterfalls, from the small, to the mighty. Gorges with rowans clinging to the side and leaning into the spray are where you will find a miniature forest of incredible lichens, mosses and ferns. Smoothed rocks for basking on during a dry summer day, transform into torrents of wild water after a night of rain.

3. Watersports

We used the rain to advantage the last couple of days to explore the burns flowing down the hill behind the house. An ordinary burn is made extraordinary once you step into it and start to follow the course of the water, scrambling over mossy boulders, balancing along dead trees washed down and wedged across the stream and ducking under tree branches growing over the vertiginous bank. Mosses and lichens cover everything and it felt like we were the first people to discover this lost world.

We were out with six children aged between 6 and 11, and it became a real adventure for all of us, helping the children up little waterfalls and bigger waterfalls, until we were halted by a 10m long chute of water. It’s not usually the children begging to go on while the adults suggest a retreat to the house for tea, but this time the kids dragged us onto the bank and around the obstacle to continue the adventure.

They returned today to conquer the waterfall, with ropes and harnesses, and every child climbed through the rushing torrent, made it to the top and declared themselves victorious.

4. Wetsuits with Wellies (and waterproofs)

Wetsuits, wellies and waterproofs are the essential outfit for kids on holiday in the west highlands. They were all dressed like that for the 20140408-233403.jpggorge ascent. A friend introduced us to this stylish and functional holiday wear on another Easter holiday: wetsuits to keep warm, waterproofs to keep off the wind, and wellies. Children will be happy on the beach all day dressed like this. As the maxim says ‘there is no such thing as inclement weather, only inappropriate clothing’.

5. Wildlife

There are a few species that everyone wants to see: I am always looking out for eagles. I know there should be white tailed eagles around and I am hoping to see a golden eagle. It wasn’t too far from here, when climbing a ridge, a golden eagle appeared just below me, rising on the up-draft.  For a few moments, it was only a few wing-spans from me and then suddenly banked, soaring out of sight over the ridge.

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unfortunately in a glass case in the house, haven’t seen the real thing yet this holiday.

6. Walks

Isn’t north west Scotland just the very best place for walking? I love low level coast and loch-side walks, but I especially love the mountains, I never get bored in the mountains. Not least because weather and conditions make every walk one-of-a-kind.

While the children were ascending the waterfall, I took the chance to get into the mountains. We were rained on (a bit) we were blown on (which dried us out) and we had a constantly changing vista as clouds passed, drew in, and then parted.

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Cloud and light on our walk up Sgurr a’ Bhac Chaolais in Kintail

7. Wilderness

We climbed up over a bealloch (coll) along a path that was once used by soldiers and those droving their cattle. It was high, around 700m at the top, but we were surrounded by higher mountains. We met no-one all day, and we looked over into a glen, completely remote. If we had carried on walking down the glen and southwards we would have reached Knoydart, the largest area of uninhabited land, wild land, in Britain.

On the second day of the trip,  we visited Sandaig, the site where Gavin Maxwell wrote Ring of Bight Water. It is a deserted place, the house is gone and two monuments, one to Maxwell and one to Edal the otter, bear testament to the lives that were lived in that place. It certainly felt wild, with a derelict cottage and an expanse of rock, sand, shingle and sea. 20140409-105021.jpgThe poignant air of the place brought to life in the book, now deserted, reminded me that most of the wild glens, and coasts of the West Highlands, places that we now call wilderness, were once filled with dwellings. Thousands of people living off the land, with homes by lochs and in the glens, and sheilings where, in the summer, women and children stayed with the cattle at the high pastures.

The house we are staying in has a few ancient browning photographs of blackhouse settlements on the walls. The houses are made of woven hurdles and stone and thatched with heather.  In one photo a group of children, barefoot  and dirty, stand with their mother at the door to the house. I think I recognise the place as just around the cost from here. There is nothing left there now but stones.

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A photo on the wall of the house we are staying in shows some of the communities in areas of the coastline now deserted.

8. White-Water crossings.

Because the West 20140408-233205.jpgHighlands are wild, and untamed there isn’t always a bridge to hand, even on marked paths. This isn’t strictly something that I love about the West Highlands, but I crossed a freezing and rocky mountain burn today, in bare feet to keep my boots and socks dry.  It was very sore and there were patches of snow on the ground, and I am proud of it, so I thought I’d put it in….

9. Warming up

Part of the joy of the wild, the wet and the windy is the warming up at the end. After the day at Sandaig we clustered wet-suited and wet children round a driftwood fire and they toasted themselves and their marshmallows.blog warming up west highlands

10. Whisky

Obviously, good for warming you up, especially in front of a wood-burning stove. And also, as I have found out, good for cooling down. On our second night I was tasked with the communal meal and made whisky and honey ice cream. Having forgotten the key ingredient I borrowed some from the bottles brought by my friends and so discovered my two favourite flavours of ice-cream: Talisker and Highland Park.

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Monument to Edal, the otter of Ring of Bright Water at Sandaig. ‘Whatever joy she gave to you, give back to nature’

 

 

 

 

Things to do near Arrochar

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photo from trekkingbritain

I happen to be arranging a get-together in Arrochar and so here’s my I’ve list of things I’d like to do if I had a bit of free time in the area. I hope you like them too.

1. Hill Walking
The Arrochar Alps offer superb walking with the Cobbler, Ben Ime and Ben Narnain all accessible from the village itself. A drive up to the aptly named Rest and be Thankful, the pass at the head of Glen Croe, gives access to further spectacular mountains.
Ben Donich is only a 90 minute walk to the top and has unparelled views to the Clyde and beyond. And there’s a fabulous ridge walk on Beinn an Lochain

2. Boat Trips and a walk on the wild side
Cruise Loch Lomond have a number of boat trips around the loch. From Tarbert you can take a boat to Inversnaid and walk through the wild and beautiful atlantic oak forests of the RSPB reserve, or take the boat to Rowardenan and walk one of the loveliest sections of the West Highland way north to Inversnaid for the return boat. There are numerous other options on the boat-trip including an RSPB cruise and guided walk every Tuesday April-Oct (which I can personally recommend!) 20131018-001430.jpg

3. Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, Fyne Ales and Ardkinglas forest garden
A drive over the Rest and be Thankful and down the other side takes you to the small community of Cairndow and the beautiful Ardkinglas woodland garden There lies the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, which has the dubious claim to fame of being the site of the notorious agreement between Blair and Brown, but also does a fabulously good value ‘Bradan Rost trimmings’ along with a lot of expensive goodies. The brewery is open seven days a week and does tours and tastings. On the same site there is also a tree nursery run by Ardkinglas woodland garden with a tea-room.

4. A visit to Inveraray
Too picturesque for words with a castle, historic jail, a tall ship with the fabulous name ‘ArcticPenguin’ (no longer open to the public unfortunately) and rows of whitewashed Georgian houses. We love fish and chips on the pier and watching children catching crabs with bits of bacon rind. But there’s also a good cafe ‘Brambles’ and there’s always the George Hotel for a salubrious evening meal. The best thing of all, though, is the fabulous Inverary Jail. Especially if you go there on a day when they have actors all dressed up as jailers. The castle, though interesting, is expensive and small, but I would recommend the beautiful and steep walk up to the folly, no one will charge you for that and the views are priceless. 20131018-000215.jpg

5. Cycling
There are quite a few off road cycle paths around. You can
cycle all the way to Balloch (16 miles) along Loch Lomond side, or you can take the Three Lochs Way to Helensburgh and Gareloch head (where you can return by train if you time it expertly). In the woods between Arrochar and Ardgarten there are marked cycle routes: five and seven mile loops and a 20 mile circuit of the peninsular.