Highland fling: hiking in north-west Scotland

Highland fling: hiking in north-west Scotland

As a McCulloch I’ve always been drawn to Scotland. I’ve periodically tramped across the bogs and rocks of the Highlands since I was seven, from the isles of Mull (en famille), Iona and Skye to the peaks of Kintail and Assynt-Coidach further north (en mates). I’ve dabbled, in short. My Glaswegian friend Gav knows every square inch, however, and for a few mindblowing days in mid-May led us to the UK’s highest waterfall, an amazing glacier-scraped plateau, a needle-sharp ridge with views to the Summer Isles and bizarrely shaped mountains from the dawn of time, and an island (Handa) where great skuas reign supreme. Based in the wonderful village of Ullapool on beautiful Loch Broom we tootled up and down the notorious NC500 road marvelling at the scenery and the occasional boy racer. Among the hiking lessons I’d somehow forgotten was that in this wild terrain any distance takes twice the amount of time it would take on a Kent Walk Near London and walking poles do indeed take a lot of strain away from your knees. Gav also advises that some of the best walks aren’t over Munros (peaks over 3,000ft) but over lower hills and ridges because you can cover more distance and still not miss out on views. Oh, and if you need to come down a near vertical heather-strewn slope, you might as well do it on your bottom; it worked for me. Read more on my Travels page by scrolling down. (Pictured: climbing the ridge of Ben Mor Coidach with views of the Summer Isles and isolated Assynt peaks; the road back from Ben Mor Coidach; Handa Island; Little Loch Broom and the waterfall opposite the UK’s highest, Eas a’ Chual Aluinn.)

Dungeness dallying

Not that near London…

That weird peninsula in ultra south-east Kent has a particular allure for many. Strange but wonderful light, mystical buildings from down the ages – all clashing; the delightful miniature railway that goes for miles, a lovely pub and interesting flora and fauna – particularly birdlife.

Fishermen often land cod, plaice, bass and mackerel off the shingle close to the power station and twitchers delight in the migrant species that drop by. Historic structures abound and very trendy modern architecture peppers the shoreline among the fishing hulks, converted old railway wagons, coast guard and lifeboat buildings, nuclear power station and two-and-a-bit lighthouses. Local residents probably get a bit hacked off at the sightseers trampling noisily in the shingle around their homes (especially whoever lives in Derek Jarman’s old gaff these days) but that’s the price of living in a nice place.

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Well, ‘nice’ isn’t really the right word. It’s ‘different’, not nice.

We went hoping for some sun but got little last Thursday. We were really taken by the fish’n’chips at The Britannia pub though, and the cool nautical decor (best pub loos ever). The Brexit Phonebox installation was quite striking too. I forgot my binoculars so relied only on mk1 eyeball to spot marsh harrier, a curlew, a hobby (I think) and a few wheatears. Probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway; my binox are rubbish. We popped in at the RSPB reserve later where there was a plethora of digging bees; an apparently rare sub species (More on Dungeness at North Downs and Beyond.)

One thing, if driving down (not the only way; you could get a train/bus/Dymchurch Railway combination from London) I’d avoid the M20… because of well publicised reasons (too depressing/boring to go into here), but also the lorry-up-your-arse thing. Instead, leave early take a leisurely and really scenic drive down the A21, turn off to Hawkhurst, Northiam then past Rye and Camber.

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