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