Energy levels being well down just going to post the article I was asked to write for the tourist magazine suggesting a few reasons why you would want to visit Applecross. The quality of writing is far greater than the normal due to it being proof read by Sara. Be interesting to see how much the article is edited. It is impossible to capture Applecross in one photo so I’ve put this one in because I like it so much and it is just about the opposite of today’s weather and sentiment. Ruairidh took this three years ago with his Sony, the one I dropped in the Sound. Nice to have a couple of weeks like this.
Whether you come in for a day or spend a week here you will find a timeless quality about Applecross. Often people forget what time of day it is or even what day of the week. It is a place for de-stressing and finding out what is important in life.
Driving into Applecross over the spectacular Bealach na Ba, an old cattle-droving pass that crosses the mountain, you realise you are somewhere just a little different. If you stay a while you will come to know the meaning of the old Gaelic place name, A’Chomraich, The Sanctuary. In times long gone there was a six-mile circle of stones marking a safe haven for miscreants who needed to escape the unruly world outside. That is not to say that it was peaceful here, going by the mix of Gaelic and Norse place names scattered around the peninsula, there were a fair few visitors, not all of them welcome. The view-point on top of the Bealach – of the Inner Sound through the Blind Sound past the cliffs of Staffin and beyond, where you can see the hills of Harris – is a fine introduction to your stay here. Although Shore Street can be described as the “centre”, the crofting townships are spread over a thirty-mile car journey from Toscaig to Inverbain in little five- to ten-house hamlets.
Once in Applecross, you are welcomed with an array of wildlife, eating establishments, outdoor activities on land and sea that could keep you occupied for a couple of weeks. There are several establishments providing accommodation from camping and cabins to self-catering and ensuite bed-and-breakfast and hotel rooms. Through out your stay you will be struck by the warmth of the community.
The bird life is prolific: resident golden eagles and the visiting sea eagles from Raasay and Shieldaig, divers − black- and red-throated, as well as the rarer northern − cormorants, oystercatchers and curlew on the shore, mute and whooper swans on Milton Loch. The flora and fauna around the lochside and through Carnach Woodland are of particular interest; for example, 140 species of lichen have been documented from the woodland, of which four are nationally scarce. On the way out fishing I often pass twenty to thirty seals on the rocks of Culduie, and there is a healthy sea otter population from Toscaig to the Bay.
Around the Bay, a well-established path network stretches from Clachan round Applecross House, known locally as “the Big House” back to the Coal Shed. These include an archaeological trail, the “Lost Path” and a quiet stroll through Carnach Woodland, one of the oldest hazel woods in Scotland. On these walks red deer, fox, pine marten, and the occasional badger can be spotted. For those who prefer a longer walk, the old coast road to Sand has stunning sea views and the path through the Glen to Kenmore takes you over heather moorland. To the south, the walk to Airigh Drishaig from Upper Toscaig gives brings you to a different view over to the little harbour of Plockton and the Skye Bridge.
The beaches are also a feature of the area. The secluded beach of Cuaig is well worth the walk; the more popular beach of Sand – from where you can see the occasional Trident submarine! – is known for its shifting sand dune; the coral beach at Ardbain, made up of bleached maerl, is known as the “coral beach” because on a sunny day it has a hint of the Caribbean.
The history is present in the landscape, starting at the Mezzolithic midden above Sand beach. You can visit the Broch, an Iron Age fortification at the campsite, which was worked on as part of a Time Team dig. Behind the Broch, a Round House is being constructed by locals using Iron Age building techniques, and the Hebridean Barns are being renovated. Further up the path, there are the ruins of the townships at Torgarve, cleared to make way for the sheep farmers.
The Heritage Centre, just past Applecross Bay, by Clachan Church, covers the history of the peninsula in detail. There is a comprehensive genealogical archive at the Heritage Centre of particular interest to anyone with connections to the area. Next door is Clachan Church, where St Maelrubha, the Irish saint who landed here in 673 AD established a monastery, second only to Iona as an early Christian centre. The remains of a ruined cross stand at the entrance to the graveyard and the ancient chapel ruin is behind the main building. In the burial ground are skull-and-crossbones gravestones; one theory is that these are connected to the Knights Templars of the Wars of Independence.
For those looking for more strenuous activities, kayaking around the islands and mountain guiding in both summer and winter are available as is shore fishing for mackerel and pollock. The area is very popular for both pedal and motor bikes, there being the Bealach Beag and Mor cycle challenges which take place in May and September.
As for food, you are spoilt for choice. Enjoy the stone-baked pizzas at the campsite in the unique Flower Tunnel; or sample the local produce grown at the Walled Garden, a tranquil and idyllic place to wander; or the Applecross Inn, described in the Observer Magazine as “the ultimate wilderness inn in the Highlands”, with its stunning views across the bay. You can sample venison direct from the hill or the best, fresh shellfish from the Inner Sound, including langoustine, crab, scallops, lobster and squat lobsters. The Applecross Inn in particular is famous for its langoustine, known as Applecross Bay Prawns, which are creel-fished daily – I should know, I’m one of the fishermen! – and any “berried” prawns (those with eggs) go back into the sea, so it’s environmentally sustainable. You can finish your meal with a home-made ice cream, flavours ranging from golden syrup or apple & bramble to whisky & honey.
Annual events include the Applecross Games (generally on the third weekend in July), a raft race/barbecue and music night in August, and the new Applestock Festival on the 18th of May 2013. Also a Bardic School and Maelrubha Festival take place in the summer. Information about all these events can be found locally.
Applecross still supports a well-stocked village shop and post office in Camusteel, and a medical service as well as a community-owned filling station – visitors are encouraged to fill up with petrol, because all proceeds go into the community. If you would like to go on a shopping spree, that can be arranged as well – framed photography at the Applecross Inn; soaps and perfumes at the Visitor Centre; locally made jewellery, crafts and textiles at the Coal Shed; and along the coast road, woven goods, yarn and woolcrafts at Croft Wools in Cuaig; stained glass at Arrina; and yarns and knitwear at Angora Ecosse at Doire Aonar.
When you leave you will take a little of Applecross with you and you will want to come back again and again, as many people do.