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In my last post, I wrote about places to finish the TGO Challenge between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. In this post, I planned to write about places between Stonehaven and Montrose but there’s a lot of places and a bit to say so I’ve decided to restrict this post to the northernmost bit of this section around Stonehaven.

Stonehaven is a small town south of Aberdeen that is a popular finishing point for Challengers. You can get there without too much tarmac pounding by going through the Fetteresso forest, which gets you to 2-3 km from the town. Unfortunately, there’s a big wind farm there now  (33 turbines) which should be fully operational by 2015 (it may be by now, I haven’t been there this year) but you still might prefer this to road walking.

Stonehaven Bay

Stonehaven Bay

Stonehaven proudly boasts that it is the home of the inventor of the pneumatic tyre (Robert Thomson) but keeps quiet about a more recent invention of a famous Scottish delicacy – the deep-fried Mars Bar.  If you come into the town from Kirktown of Fetteresso through the back streets, you come out near the Carron Fish Bar – birthplace of the deep fried Mars Bar.

The Carron Fish Bar

The Carron Fish Bar

I have only tried this delicacy once. They don’t look too appetising (a deep-fried turd comes to mind) but actually they don’t taste too bad. Soft and chocolately with a crispy coating. I’m not sure I’d want to eat a whole one but if there’s a few of you, you may like to experiment.  Profits from DFMBs are donated to charity.

Mars tried to bully them to take it off the menu. Thankfully, they didn’t succeed.

A deep-fried Mars Bar from the Carron in Stonehaven

A deep-fried Mars Bar from the Carron in Stonehaven

If you want fish and chips, however, best to go to The Bay fish bar at the other end of the promenade. It has won several awards for the quality and sustainability of its fish suppers.

Beer lovers and those with more refined culinary tastes should head for the harbour where there are two excellent restaurants – the Ship (good for Cullen Skink) and the Marine Hotel. The Marine has more unusual food, a great atmosphere and a superb range of beer – both real ale and bottled. They have their own brewery (6 North) so it is worth timing your arrival for a pint.

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

There are good transport links from Stonehaven to Montrose – there’s an hourly bus service (timetable here) and a couple of trains per hour although taking the train means a walk up the hill for about a mile and you may have done enough walking by the time you get there.

Just to the south of Stonehaven is Dunnotar Castle, another popular Challenge finishing point. I think this is maybe the most dramatic place to end your walk with the ruined castle on a headland with cliffs plunging into the sea. There’s lots about Dunnotar on Wikipedia so I won’t say more here.

Evening sunshine on Dunnotar Castle

Evening sunshine on Dunnotar Castle

As you approach the castle, you can get down to the beach on either side. Ignore the Danger – No Access notices – it isn’t dangerous at all for people who have walked across Scotland.  You can also get down to the beach at the adjacent bay.

Dunnotar Bay

Dunnotar Bay

There’s no cafe at the Castle – there is an ice cream van in summer but I don’t think it’ll be there on a weekday in May. You need to walk back to the main road to catch the bus.

Part 3  to follow soon.

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The TGO Challenge is a cross-Scotland walk, starting on the west coast between Ardrishaig and Torridon and ending on the East, between Arbroath and Fraserburgh. I’ve done it twice starting at Mallaig and Strathcarron and ending at Girdle Ness and St Cyrus.

Roger Smith wrote a useful guide on places to finish the Challenge but a short 1 paragraph write-up does not really get over the fabulous scenery in some of the Challenge finishing places. As an east-coast dweller, I’ve been to many of the places on Roger’s list so I thought I’d go through my photos and create a more pictorial guide on possible end-points (click on pics for a better view).

I’ll mostly focus on places between Aberdeen and Montrose as that’s where most people finish and where I’ve mostly visited. But I’ll try and do a post later on places further north and south – it’s a good excuse to make a trip there.

As there’s too many places between Aberdeen and Montrose to include in a single post, I’ve split it into two. The next one will have to wait though until I’ve been to Tangle Ha’.

Aberdeen

Not many challengers seem to finish in Aberdeen – perhaps because Roger’s notes suggest a lot of road walking is involved. In fact, if you use the Deeside Way, you can get from Ballater right into the heart of the city with hardly any road walking. The Deeside Way finishes at Duthie Park, one of Aberdeen’s main parks, and from there it’s less than an hour’s walk to the sea.  Two end-points are easily reached from Duthie Park – Fittie and Girdle Ness.

Aberdeen beach. Fittie on the left, Girdle Ness lighthouse on the right.

Aberdeen beach. Fittie on the left, Girdle Ness lighthouse on the right.

 

Fittie (Footdee)

Fittie is an old fishing settlement right by the beach in Aberdeen. You get there by following the Dee then walking around the harbour, which isn’t exactly a scenic walk. Aberdeen has a great beach and Fittie is a quirky community where the original sheds for nets are separate from the houses. Now these are often interestingly decorated. More pics of Fittie sheds here.

A Fittie shed

On the map, you won’t find Fittie but Footdee. But if you ask anyone in Aberdeen how to get to Footdee, they will have no idea what you are talking about. It’s always Fittie (Foot = Fit; Dee = ti).

Girdle Ness

Girdle Ness is, I think, a better place to finish the Challenge than Fittie. From Duthie Park, you follow the Dee to the 2nd bridge, cross the bridge, take 2nd on left and keep walking. You pass the harbour with a pervasive smell of fish from fish processing factories then suddenly you are out of the city, walking above the river estuary, with great views back to the harbour (see this post). There’s a great wee cove below the lighthouse where I finished my first Challenge.

Cove at Girdle Ness

Cove at Girdle Ness

 

Portlethan

The coast from Aberdeen to Montrose is punctuated by what were fishing villages – Findon is the first of these (see this post) but the first on Roger’s list is Portlethan. Portlethan is a modern, bland suburb of Aberdeen which you have to walk through to get to  the fishing village of Old Portlethan.

Portlethen harbour

Portlethen harbour

Old Portlethan is about a mile from Portlethan and has a lot more character. There’s a nice wee harbour where you can reach the sea and a pub to have a drink or coffee afterwards. There’s a village shop and supermarkets in Portlethan. However, don’t try to take the train to Montrose as Roger suggests, many trains don’t stop at Portlethan. Better to get the coastal bus.

Downies

Downies is the next village to Old Portlethan and you have to walk through Portlethan to get there.  No shop or pub. Nice coastal scenery but comparatively, there are better places. Probably only worth going there if you are collecting Challenge finish places. No pub or shop.

Beach at Downies

Newtonhill

Newtonhill is another old fishing village that has become an Aberdeen suburb, although its not as big as Portlethan.  This means that there isn’t the same urban walk as at Portlethan or Downies and it’s a pleasant stroll through the filed down to the old village. A pleasant enough beach that you reach by an easy path down the cliffs.

Newtonhill

Newtonhill

There’s a shop and pub – I haven’t been in either.

Muchalls

Muchalls is magnificent!

Muchalls looking south to Grim Brigs

Muchalls looking south to Grim Brigs

The village is on the edge of Aberdeen’s creeping sprawl which means there’s some gentrification but, as yet, no large new housing estates. You walk through the village to the road end then follow the path under the railway to the sea.

At this stage, you have no idea what is going to hit you. When you reach the sea, it’s a fantastic surprise. The views north and south are superb. Certainly, for cliff scenery, this is the best place south of Aberdeen (the Bullers of Buchan to the north are pretty good but that’ll be in a different post).

Good lunches in the Muchalls Bistro. I haven’t been there for a while and I can’t remember if it’s open for drinks and coffee or not.  Buses to Aberdeen and Stonehaven.

Muchalls looking north

Muchalls looking north

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see how to get to Muchalls without a fair bit of tarmac pounding so that’s always going to limit its popularity.

Cowie

Cowie is a hamlet at the north end of Stonehaven. Its principal claim to fame (if you are a geo-geek) is that it’s where the Highland Boundary Fault meets the North Sea. The Highland Boundary fault, which starts in Helensburgh, is the geological boundary between the Lowlands and the Highlands.

The Highland Fault (in the background) at Cowie

The Highland Fault (in the background) at Cowie

It’s a pleasant enough we place but it doesn’t have any grand cliff scenery like the places further north. It’s a short walk to Stonehaven cafes on the promenade – Molly’s is quite good and fish and chips from the Bay are excellent. Quite easy to get to from the Feteresso forest.

I’ve had an occasional blog about food – mostly restaurant reviews for many years. I haven’t posted for a while but I’ve now decided to broaden the scope and start a new food blog. I won’t be deleting my reviews blog but new reviews etc. will be on the new blog.

So – welcome to Bistros and Beetroot.

This blog will have restaurant reviews (mostly in Edinburgh) but also other foodie stuff – recipes and ingredients, commentary, food politics and so on. I also hope to be able to post a bit more regularly than I do here.

My first real posts on Bistros and Beetroots are about courgettes – and what to do with too many of them.

I wrote before the recent referendum about my views as an undecided voter and suggested that I was tending to ‘no’. Like the majority of Scots, I voted ‘no’. As an ex-SNP voter and an instinctive independence sympathiser, I want to reflect here why the ‘yes’ campaign failed to convince me and the majority of Scots of their message.

Simplistically, perhaps, voters in the referendum could be classified into three groups. Nationalists, who would always vote for independence, unionists who would always vote for the union and a group in the middle who will listen to and be influenced by arguments. I suspect this middle group is the biggest group – clearly it is the group who need to be convinced when such a major political change is proposed.

To convince people, like myself, there needs to be both an emotional argument for independence and pragmatic arguments to back this up. These have to demonstrate that, for the majority of citizens, independence will improve their lives or, at the very least, not make them worse. What ‘improvement’ means – depends on the individual – for many it means material improvement; for some it means a more ‘civic’ society; for others it means a society that focuses more on environmental issues.

The ‘yes’ campaign had a fantastic emotional appeal – as Salmond said, who would not want to have control of their own country?  I completely support the notion of local democracy and I hope that a consequence of more devolution for Scotland is that the legitimate demands of English voters for a say is recognised. But, on the 2nd point, the ‘yes’ campaign utterly failed. The believed that the emotional appeal would carry the day but ignored our history of Scottish pragmatism – the canny Scot is not just an invention of the Sunday Post.

Where did the ‘yes’ campaign go wrong?

Firstly, it adopted fixed but fundamentally indefensible positions. Its position on the currency is an example of this. Instead of saying that there will be a currency union and therefore prompting a negative response, a far better position would have been to say that we believe that keeping the pound is in the best interests of both Scotland and the other countries in the UK and we will enter into negotiations about the best way to do this. Telling the EU that Scotland will be a member instead of saying that we want to negotiate interim membership until membership formalities have been completed is another example of unwise intransigence.

Secondly, whilst optimism is a very positive characteristic, when it comes to economics, it is better to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Instead of producing figures and data of how the Scottish economy could thrive at a lower level of oil production than assumed, the tactic of the ‘yes’ campaign was simply to deny the problem. Instead of ignoring the fact that the currency policy would have problems for financial institutions, this should have been recognised and positive incentives proposed to keep operations in Scotland even although headquarters were moved elsewhere.

Thirdly, there was never any acknowledgement that independence in a globalised world has to be limited. We may dislike the fact that the international financial markets can make or break a country (I do) but there is no point in denying that it’s true. Few countries, apart perhaps from North Korea, are truly independent and a failure to acknowledge this is, I believe, simply insulting to Scottish citizens.

There were many other, perhaps less significant mistakes. Although controlling a lunatic fringe is very difficult (and from the events in Glasgow, it is clear there is a lunatic fringe on both sides), the condemnation of the cybernats from the ‘yes’ campaign was half-hearted; equating a ‘no’ vote with a lack of confidence was again insulting.

Had the ‘yes’ campaign thought through its economic policies and showed some evidence that they understood the fundamentals of negotiation, then I believe it would have had a much more convincing case. People like myself would have been far more willing to accept independence if there had been any evidence that the people who would be in charge of negotiations had any idea of what they were doing.

I believe that the blame here must fall squarely on Alex Salmond’s shoulders. His personality drove the campaign and, from all reports, opposition to his views was simply not tolerated. He is an excellent speaker, is, I think, devoted to Scotland and has a big personality. He believed that this would be enough to carry the day but failed to understand that his case lacked the essential foundations to make it convincing. He didn’t do his homework and consequently deserved to fail.

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The Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail stretches for about 160 miles from Cullen in the north to Montrose in the south. I have walked bits and pieces of it on days out but never in any kind of systematic way.  As a national trail, it is not well documented – there are (not very good) maps available from the Aberdeenshire Council website  and Gil Campbell has written briefly about it on his blog of walking around the Scottish Coast. But there isn’t much freely available information on blogs and the web about the good and not so good bits.

So, I thought maybe I should walk the path and write a guide. Living in NE Scotland, I can get to most sections easily and it seemed a reasonable objective to do a series of day walks along the trail. Then I looked at the maps. Not good. Far too much of it doesn’t actually follow the coast but is on minor and sometimes not so minor roads. So, walking the whole trail is not for me. Instead, I decided to do a series of posts over the next year or so on the off-road bits of the trail and on some of the places along the way.

I started by taking the bus to Aberdeen, Scotland’s oil capital, and walking from the Union Square bus station. After walking through the busy harbour and the fish processing factories at Torry, you suddenly leave the city and the coast opens out in front of you. As you go up the hill towards the lighthouse, you can see an old wharf and windlass on the left which is where I joined the coastal path. You get a good view here back into the harbour.

From the start of the coastal path in Torry, looking back to Aberdeen harbour

From the start of the coastal path in Torry, looking back to Aberdeen harbour

The path follows the coast with the Girdle Ness lighthouse on your right. I stayed on the beach past a wee cove where I finished my first TGO Challenge and the giant foghorn to Nigg Bay. The official path is on the road up the hill but I stayed low and made my way around the grassy cliffs. The path is a bit tenuous here and if you don’t like steep grass, it’s best to avoid this bit. I then made my way up the the top of the cliffs and joined the marked path to Cove.

Girdle Ness. I walked from Inverie in Knoydart to here in 2013

Girdle Ness. I walked from Inverie in Knoydart to here in 2013

Foghorn at Girdle Ness light

Foghorn at Girdle Ness light

Nigg Bay, looking back to Girdle Ness light

Nigg Bay, looking back to Girdle Ness light

This is an absolutely delightful section along the cliff tops. The coastal scenery is fabulous  – it was like a school geography lesson come to life with all kinds of coastal features – stacks, geos and caves. It’s easy walking and there are places you can get off the path for a break.

Sea stack

Sea stack

 

A geo - a narrow cleft in the cliffs

A geo – a narrow cleft in the cliffs

Sea cave near Doonies Farm

Sea cave near Doonies Farm

I stopped for lunch on the cliff tops about a mile outside the village of Cove.

Looking south from the cliff path. My lunchtime view.

Looking south from the cliff path. My lunchtime view.

Instead of following the marked path to Cove, I stayed on the coastal path to Cove harbour. Then it’s up quite a steep hill into the village, where there’s a shop and a pub. I met a coastal backpacker here, walking from Stonehaven to Portsoy to complete his last section of his east coast walk and we chatted for a while.

The path leaves the coast here and you walk through the village, past the school to a minor road on the left where the trail continues. After you pass the quarry, this road is pretty quiet and I followed it to the village of Findon. A random food fact about Findon is that it’s the home of ‘Finnan Haddie’, a type of smoked haddock that used to be very popular. It has now been eclipsed by the better known Arbroath smoke and you rarely see them nowadays. There’s no smokers left in Findon.

At Findon, you can get back onto the coast by turning left where the road takes a sharp right turn. This takes you down the hill to Survival Craft Inspections, a company that checks out oil rig lifeboats. The orange boats give it a rather surreal feel, like something out of a science fiction film.

Survival craft

Survival craft at Findon

It’s quite hard to find the path here – I was directed to it by a couple of workers. It basically goes round the company’s yard then down some overgrown steps and across a bridge back to the cliffs. It was good to get back to the fabulous coastal scenery.

From here, it’s only a short walk to Old Portlethen. Remarkably, this was a fishing village at one time, with a tiny harbour in a rocky cove.

Portlethen harbour

Portlethen harbour

From here, it’s about a mile up the hill to Portlethen, a modern Aberdeen suburb. After passing the station, I caught a number 7 bus back into Aberdeen and then home.

Aberdeen to Portlethen: About 19km

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Probably unwisely, I have recently been involved in a number of Twitter debates about independence and have seen comments like ‘what’s the benefits of the Union’.  What I find particularly irritating about many people who are pro and anti independence is that neither will acknowledge that there are advantages and disadvantages to both positions and we must personally decide on how we trade these off.

1.     Economically, there is no question there will be short-term disruption. Business and the markets don’t like risk and they will take the lower risk option of favouring rUK rather than Scotland. If a Scottish Govt demonstrates economic competence, this will sort itself out. In the longer term, it is completely impossible to judge which option is better and both sides are dishonest in this respect in claiming that they can make such a prediction. Issues such as the EU etc. will also sort themselves out in time.

2.     The principal benefit of independence is that democracy is localised. A Scottish Govt can make decisions that are legitimised by the people of Scotland.  I don’t much like the fact that the current campaign is confusing the issue with all sorts of other policy issues, such as the removal of the Trident base from the Clyde. This is a decision to be taken by the elected Scottish Govt. at the time of independence which will NOT be the current govt.

3.     There are two important benefits of maintaining the Union. One is increased resilience – the ability to deal with emergencies be these financial, medical, weather-related, etc. Larger entities always have more resources to do this. Iceland and Ireland are examples of small countries that could not deal with a financial emergency. Denying that emergencies such as financial emergencies won’t happen in future is simply naive.

The other benefit of maintaining the union is that it maintains what is a truly open market rather than the EU’s formally open market but which is no such thing. Each country quite naturally has a tendency to prefer its own goods and services and Scottish providers will lose out. A very obvious example of this is in shipbuilding. Political pressure in England will mean that contracts for navy vessels will not come to Scottish shipyards.

To my mind, these are the key national issues and individuals have to make up their own mind about which they prefer. My preference is for local democracy but (having some professional interest in the area) I am seriously concerned about resilience, in an increasingly uncertain world.

Of course, they are not the only factors that affect voting as individuals in particular situations may vote according to their circumstances. My guess is that very few shipyard workers will vote ‘yes’ because of fears for their jobs.

The other factor that influences voting decisions is a human one – do you trust the people who are representing you?  In this respect, I am less torn – I don’t trust the current lot one bit. The truth is that independence will have short-term negative consequences and costs and their inability to acknowledge these and their apparent ignorance of how to negotiate (you NEVER make threats before starting a negotiation as it simply antagonises the other party) is shocking.

Had the Scottish Govt. declared that they would immediately call a general election after a yes vote and that parties could put forward their own positions on independence priorities, I would have had no hesitation in voting ‘yes’. What we are being denied by the current government is local democracy as we are not just voting ‘yes’ to self-government but also to a raft of other policies that we may or may not agree with.

Consequently, I’m tending to ‘no’ but in the unlikely event of an outbreak of honesty from our politicians, I’d be happy to change my mind.

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Tartan Tories

As the Scottish Referendum approaches, I find myself increasingly irritated by the political spin presented by both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns. This is an example of something I think is particularly dishonest.

 

A persuasive argument put forward by the SNP is that independence means that Scotland will get the government it votes for. The point is continually made that Conservative governments have been imposed on Scotland for many years although Scottish voters have not elected a majority of Tory MPs since the 1950s. To my mind, this argument is the most compelling reason for voting ‘yes’ in the forthcoming referendum.

Alongside the argument for independence is the spin that independence will mean that Scotland can create a ‘fairer society’, with the implication that this will benefit poorer members of society, although those making the argument are very careful to avoid making any hard commitments here.  There is also the implication that current politicians are the best people to deliver this ‘fairer society’ after independence and policies such as the abolition of university fees and prescription charges are contributors to this.

The SNP’s PR have done a good job here in convincing people of their ‘fairness’ credentials but if we look a bit deeper, what we see are policies that benefit the salaried middle classes rather than poorer members of our society. The SNP have their roots in areas that were previously Tory and the epithet ‘Tartan Tories’ is, I believe still valid. Here are some examples of middle-class policies:

1.     Freezing of council tax. The more expensive your home, the more you save. Funded by cutting council services many of which are predominantly used by the old, sick and disabled. Benefit claimants did not pay council tax anyway so they gain nothing from this. This policy has been copied in England by the current coalition government.

2.     Abolition of university fees. Universities are dominated by middle class students so the savings accrue mostly to them and their parents. Funded by cutting college places that are mostly taken up by students from poorer backgrounds. In England there has been some (not enough) targeting of funding to poorer students.

3.     Abolition of prescription charges. Only 10% of people paid prescription charges and most of them could afford to do so. Loss of revenue to the health service that could be used to improve healthcare in general.

4.     Reducing corporation tax (a stated SNP policy in an independent Scotland). Predominantly will benefit business owners, many of whom may not even live in Scotland.

You may or may not be in favour of these policies but it is dishonest to suggest that these policies are contributors to a fairer society. The current SNP government has penalised the poor and those on benefits to try to preserve the incomes of the salaried middle classes.  This may be a good political strategy but it certainly isn’t fair.

Of course, independence is not about re-electing the current Government although I imagine they will reinvent themselves as an alternative political party in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. Perhaps they will be the new ‘Scottish Conservatives’?

Disclaimer: I am a home owner and require regular medication, which I no longer pay for, so I have benefited from the current Scottish government policies.

A new windfarm is proposed between Loch Rannoch and Loch Ericht. This will have profound effects on the local landscape and my objection to this development is here.  Please join me in objecting to this inappropriate industrial development – feel free to reuse and amend any text from here.

More information on the MCS website.

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you to object to the proposals by Talladh a Bheithe Wind Farm Ltd to erect 24 wind turbines on moorland between Loch Rannoch and Loch Ericht. The basis of my objection is the negative visual impact of these turbines, the damage to wild land that will ensue and the effects on tourism in the local communities.

Scotland’s wild landscape is a unique asset and I am disappointed that the Government’s encouragement of wind farms in remote and beautiful areas does not seem to recognise this. This area has a particular resonance for me as it was in 1967, aged 16, where I climbed Schiehallion, my first Munro. The visual impact of a major industrial site from this summit and the neighbouring hills will irrevocably ruin the landscape for generations to come. It is not just the local hills that will be affected – the outlooks from the Ben Alder hills, the Glencoe hills and the Glen Lyon hills will all be affected.

We have seen, since I started going to the hills, a very welcome and significant increase in people exercising in and enjoying the Scottish Landscape. Not only is this beneficial for the individuals themselves, it has also led to a major expansion of tourism in the Highlands. We have, without doubt, a health crisis in Scotland and anything that can be done to encourage exercise should be done. Hill walking will be rather less attractive to future generations when the view is blighted by these wind turbines. And this, of course, is likely to have serious effects on our developing tourist industry.

Of course, the problem with wind farms is not simply the turbines themselves. The access roads in fact do far more damage to the land and, given the climate, the ensuing scars take tens or even hundreds of years to repair. Furthermore, because of the damage to peatland caused by road construction and the excavations for the turbines themselves, the study by Aberdeen University showed that the carbon saved by the use of wind energy rather than fossil fuels is often negative because of the loss of the peat’s carbon sink.

Finally, I note that there is considerable local opposition to this development by local tourist businesses. Small businesses are far more effective than multinationals in creating local employment and, critically, retaining and using the profits of that employment in the local community. A loss of even a small proportion of the tourists in this area as a result of the landscape destructions may make a significant proportion of existing businesses unviable. I believe that the Government have a greater responsibility to those living in Scotland than they do to multinational power companies and that everything possible should be done to ensure that local initiative is not stifled by inappropriate industrial development.

Yours sincerely

Professor Ian Sommerville

Eating the Highlands

Just after I finished this year’s TGO Challenge, my wife had a knee operation and, as part of her recuperation, we planned a short holiday in the Highlands. After a rather unfortunate post-pub nocturnal experience with midges in Mull, Anne insists on indoor plumbing rather than a tent so we planned this around places that had a reputation for good food. It was a pottering and eating rather than a walking holiday as Anne’s knee was still pretty fragile.

You might think that good food in the Highlands is hard to come by and 20 years ago, you would have been right. But things have now completely changed and lots of places now offer great food based on local ingredients – fish and shellfish, lamb and venison.

We started in Arisaig at the Old Library and Lodge in Arisaig where our room had a view of Eigg.

Eigg from OL-1

Eigg from the Old Library, Arisaig

We stayed here for two nights – highlights were the smoked mackerel cheesecake and perfectly cooked lamb. Highly recommended – good food, comfortable rooms and friendly people.

Smoked mackeral cheesecake (OL)-1

Smoked mackerel cheesecake

Lamb Cutlets-1

Lamb cutlets

We had a day trip to Moidart as I fancied checking out Acharacle as a starting point for a future TGO Challenge (It didn’t really appeal). We stopped at the Glenuig Inn for an excellent Cullen Skink and were intimidated by this monster on the way to Kentra Bay.

The Monster Midge

The Monster Midge

On our last day, when we planned to take the ferry to Skye from Mallaig, we came down to breakfast and, amazingly, met a couple of Challengers, last seen in Mar Lodge. Graham and Marion  were also heading to Skye to take the ferry to the Outer Isles. Unfortunately, CalMac cancelled all ferries from Mallaig so instead of pottering around Skye with plenty time, we had a long drive round to Kyle to cross the bridge.

In Skye, we were heading for the Three Chimneys restaurant in Colbost but stopped to take an obligatory picture at Sligachan.

Glen Sligachan

Glen Sligachan

We also stopped at Mor Books at Struan for excellent coffee and cake – if you like older mountaineering books this is place to go – they have a great selection and I bought a couple of classics that I hadn’t seen for 30 years. They are also just opposite Cioch Clothing who make made to measure outdoor clothing. I have one of their jackets which is generally excellent although it has the general problem of Analogy fabric of leaking in driving rain.

The Three Chimneys was supposed to be the highlight of our trip. It has a great reputation for its food and offers luxurious (and ridiculously expensive) accommodation.  But we decided to push the boat out and booked for dinner, bed and breakfast. I must say that the accommodation was really first-class but, to put it mildly, we were disappointed in the quality of the food.

Dinner started well – my starter of West Coast Fruits de Mer was fabulous. Langoustine, crab, prawns and oysters. One of the oysters had a dressing that looked a bit like green slime but which was minty and wonderful.

West Coast Fruits de Mer

West Coast Fruits de Mer

Sadly, however, it was downhill from then on. My main course of ‘River Esk Sea Trout’ was cooked on a griddle and, frankly, burnt. The taste of charred skin overwhelmed the delicate taste of the sea trout. Anne, who is not vegetarian, didn’t really fancy either the fish or the meat on the menu so decided on open lasagne of seasonal vegetables. This was underwhelming, to say the least. It was simply a few vegetables with a couple of sheets of pasta – a classic example of an unimaginative vegetarian dish.

One of the Three Chimney’s signature dishes is its marmalade pudding. Anne ordered this and I had a variant – marmalade pudding soufflé. Mine was dreadful – soggy and claggy and Anne wasn’t really impressed with hers either. Not quite a school dinner puddling but not far off.

To be fair, when we complained about the food, they knocked off the price of a bottle of wine but that’s not really the point. We wanted and were willing to pay for outstanding food. What we got was the poorest food of our trip.

We had a trip around Skye in clearing weather where the Quirang looked very dramatic. Then back across the Skye Bridge to Plockton, where we stayed in the Plockton Hotel.

The Quirang, Skye

The Quirang, Skye

From the Skye Bridge-1

Eilean Ban and the narrows of Skye

Again, we had a great room with a view over the bay. Dinner was simple and fishy – queen scallops with bacon followed by herring in oatmeal. The best of Highland ingredients cooked simply really is better than more elaborate creations.

Plockton view-1

Our view from the Plockton Hotel

Queen scallops and bacon

Queen scallops and bacon

Herring in oatmeal

Herring in oatmeal

From Plockton, we had a short trip to Applecross. Another day where early mist cleared in the sunshine at Loch Kishorn.

Loch Kishorn

Loch Kishorn

We arrived in Applecross in time for lunch at the Potting Shed. Lots of people have heard of the Applecross Inn but the Potting Shed is an unknown gem – their dressed crab salad was probably the best I’ve ever had.  Well worth a visit and we’d have been happy to eat here in the evening.

Dressed crab (Potting Shed)-1

Dressed crab salad – the Potting Shed, Applecross

We were staying in the Applecross Inn, where we met old friends Peter and Alison. The Applecross Inn is a great pub which has been central to the revival of the community in Applecross. Judy Fish (very appropriate name) took over the Inn 25 years ago and has created a wonderful pub and restaurant. Rooms are neither large nor luxurious but are very comfortable and the overall atmosphere and welcome is fabulous. Fish (of course) is their speciality and Jon who served our meal, also caught some some it earlier that day. My squat lobster and sole was superb.

Squat lobster and sole, Applecross Inn

Squat lobster and sole, Applecross Inn

Our week in the Highlands passed all too quickly – lots of sunshine and , remarkably, neither rain nor midges. We drove home over the wonderful Bealach na Ba – the highest road in Britain.

The Bealach na Ba, Applecross

The Bealach na Ba, Applecross

 

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TGOC-14. A list of blogs

I’ve started putting together a list of blogs from 2014 Challengers. These vary from long and detailed accounts to more impressionistic presentations. Some of very factual, others perhaps embellish the truth for effect.

This list is in no particular order except my blog (which isn’t a diary) is first.

If you have a blog that isn’t on this list, please send me the address and I’ll add it.

Daunerin’ Aboot 

Over the Hills and Far Away

Fellbound

Around the Hills

Al’s Outdoor World

Blogpackinglight

Alan Sloman’s Big Walk

Doodlecat.com

Fast Track to Nowhere in Particular

Lady on a Rock

Two Routes Across Scotland

A Blog on the Landscape

Whiteburn’s Wanderings

JJ’s Stuff 

A Trundle in the Hills

Gordon’s Off

Louise’s Big Adventure

Steve Smith

Must Explore 

Chris Townsend Outdoors

Ness64: Hillwalking and Backpacking Trips in the Scottish Highlands

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