Day 4, 29th July 2013
Today, 29th July, aka my 40th birthday, was the whole reason I planned this whole trip to the UK, and I have to say it’s been one of the best birthdays I’ve had. The plan for today’s part of the tour involved us making our way from Orkney and heading back to the mainland, our final destination of the day was going to be Ullapool, as we crossed over the north coast of Scotland. After the soaking wet day of yesterday, we had a gloriously sunny day to start. We were picked up from our accommodations and headed up to the highpoint of the Orkney mainland to the Orkneying Saga Trail on Wideford Hill. From here, you could pretty much see the surrounding area to all sides. This is one of my favourite views.
It was a lovely day to cross the North Sea back to the mainland, and although it was breezy the ferry ride was actually fairly a smooth run. When we got into the dock, alongside the docking port, there was an outcropping of rocks on the right hand side where a couple of seals were relaxing.
We travelled along the A836 along the north coast, around various ports and bays with gorgeous scenery before stopping in Thurso to pick up a picnic lunch at the Tesco’s and then headed further west to Melvich Bay (I think) to have lunch on the beach. Such soft sand and lovely to walk on barefoot.
After our break, we continued along the A836 and A838 on the north and west coast, headed towards Ullapool. One of the places we stopped off to see was the ceramic artist, Lotte Glob’s Studio Croft. There we saw some some really neat sculptures and tiles of many different colours.
There was some absolutely stunning scenery coming down this area – though if I had to keep saying that, we’d be here all day. We stopped at a couple of places for photo opportunities before continuing on to the Cocoa Mountain at the Balnakeil Craft Village in Durness for some lovely hot chocolate, and where I picked up some chocolate presents for friends.
After this, we briefly doubled back a short distance to Smoo Cave, at the end of a 600m tidal gorge set into limestone cliffs, the waterfall inside drops in from a sinkhole. This is quite an interesting cave in that the initial part – further out into the gorge which collapsed due to erosion over the years – by the sea. The inner chambers of the cave, are formed by freshwater passages. There are three chambers to the cave – the first entrance into the cave is the outer chamber and a covered path leads towards the second chamber, where the waterfall empties into, and the furthest, the third chamber, is accessible by boat. The waterfall drops from an 25-metre (82ft) high point where the Allt Smoo falls through the sinkhole. I can still hardly believe that I got as good a shot of the waterfall as I did as it was quite dark in the cave. So what I did, since I didn’t have a tripod with me, was set the aperture and focus point with a long exposure, and the ISO level down to 100, and then put it on a 10-second timer and took the shot. I have to say, I’m extremely happy with how it turned out (fourth photo down, below).
Just we we were leaving the cave behind and Durness, it started to rain again, where it continued periodically through the area, and through the evening, as we pulled into our accommodations. I was actually staying on here two nights as I was leaving the the Orkney & The North Highlands Tour and picking up the Outer Hebrides Tour on the 31st. There were three others from the tour that were also continuing on with me while the rest of the group were returning to Edinburgh the next day (30th). Once I got settled with my things in the hostel, I headed over to the Seaforth Bar Restaurant Takeaway to join my travel companions for supper. Some of us ate inside and some outside under the canopy, and lots of laughter was shared…and then they brought me out a slice of birthday cake with a lit candle. More laughter to be shared. It was a good night, and then I headed back to the hostel to head to get ready for bed, do a bit of web searching, and then head to bed for the night.