Fort William

The weather forecast for today predicted rain and it delivered overnight and through the day. We were back on the road again so not often at risk of getting wet, but the covering of low clouds and occasional showers did obscure the views at time. Despite that we managed another interesting day. Projected driving time was a bit less than 3 hours but we expected to double that with stops and sightseeing.

We woke a bit before 7:00 am, dressed and went downstairs to eat breakfast. There was only one other person there finishing his breakfast so we had it to ourselves. We were done with that, had checked Facebook and messages, packed, and were on the road by 8:00 am.

I drove first to the card operated filling station in the village. We had close to half a tank of fuel but no idea what to expect along the way so it was best to fill up while we could. That done we headed out of town and immediately up a steep hill with a switchback bend.

DSC_5831The road continued like that, upward toward Bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle). The pass is not very high. At just over 600 metres the crest is at a similar altitude to Toowoomba and much lower than the Grand Saint Bernard pass (2469 m) that we drove with Emily in 2006. Nevertheless it presents challenges. The road is narrow single lane with a sprinkling of passing places. The western approach is reasonably straight in parts and has few tight turns. We paused at the top for a view to the mountains of Skye. Fortunately for us the threatened rain had not done more than sprinkle up to that point, making the driving and sightseeing easier.

DSC_5833On the eastern side of the pass the ground drops away more steeply and the road snakes down with several tight turns and some stretches with long gaps between passing places. At one point I had to reverse up a few metres when a vehicle coming up appeared after I had passed one widening and there was not another in sight. We made it down intact, stopping just once at a parking space toward the bottom for a view back up where we had come. From there down the driving was simpler. Our trip over the pass was less than 20 km but it had taken us more than 30 minutes with stops.

Last night over dinner we discussed plans and decided that we would pass so close to the Skye bridge that it was worth the detour to visit the island. I had set the navigation for Portree, some way up the eastern side of the island, but we had decided to let the weather determine how far we went. The drive to the bridge and up the island was on good roads with 2 full lanes most of the way so it was relatively quick and easy though still winding.

As we approached Broadford, the first real town on the road up the island, around 10:00 am, we spotted Deli Gasta, a relatively new café in a disused mill building by a stream. The rain had become a bit more serious by then so we dashed inside where we had coffees with cheese scones. Both were good but when we stepped out again the rain had not eased and the clouds were hanging low all round. We drove to the far end of town and then decided to turn back to the mainland.

DSC_5846Our other target for the morning was Eilean Donan castle. It was just a few kilometres beyond the junction where we had turned toward Skye so we arrived there around 11:00 am. The rain had eased but was still sprinkling. The parking lots were close to full but we found a spot and surprisingly the queue to buy tickets was short. We spent about an hour there, enjoying the audiovisual presentations about the history of the castle and a tour of the building. It was destroyed by the English at the time of the Spanish Armada but was rebuilt in the 1920s and 30s by John Macrae-Gilstrap, a descendant of the MacRaes who had a long association with the castle, and is is still owned by the family.

DSC_5863From there our path ran east to the Great Glen, which is the valley along the fault line that runs south-west from Inverness to Fort William and includes Loch Ness, Loch Oich, and Loch Lochy, and south-west to Fort William. As we drove down the valley the clouds thinned a little and we were able to see some sunlight on the distant hills. Our approach to Fort William passed near Ben Nevis (1345 m), the highest mountain in the British Isles, lower even than our own Australian peaks. It was shrouded in cloud and, despite some signs of clearing skies, is still covered this evening.

We found our Airbnb accommodation just outside the city on the road to the west without difficulty and have settled in. It has bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, sitting/dining room with TV, and laundry. Its location makes it convenient for our next couple of days, both of which involve driving to the western side of town. We drove back into town later for some shopping and managed to eat in with some salad and home-cooked Angus beef burgers.

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