The Bealach na Bà

I summoned the courage to drive the Bealach na Bà today and it was a hair-raising and buttock-clenching experience. The road rises to 626m in just 5 miles with an almost 20% gradient in parts and is the steepest ascent of any road in the UK. It’s a two-way, single-track road with several hair-pin bends. If you’re afraid of heights then avoid this road, otherwise don’t look down.

The start of the road is fairly tame.

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I started to get somewhat anxious at this point.

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If you see a car approaching from the opposite direction then one of you needs to pull into a passing place. If there isn’t one then one of you needs to reverse back into one. Fortunately that didn’t happen to me and we were always able to get to a passing place, when needed.  Here’s one of the hair-pin bends:

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The view back down the valley towards Loch Kishorn is spectacular at this point but be warned: if you’re the driver you cannot look because you will need to concentrate on the road.

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At the top is a car park where you can stop and enjoy the views and let your heart rate return to resting.

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Ben’s obligatory “I hate snow” photo.

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I got some great jumping photos (credit to Ben the photographer).

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Some tourists saw my jumping photos and wanted us to take one of them jumping but they were really crap at jumping and it’s also hard to time a shot so that both jumpers are in the air at the same time. It’s much easier if there’s only one jumper. After several failed attempts I suggested they photoshop together two photos with each of them separately in the air.

At this point I was desperate to shit. I’m not sure if it was my nervousness or the natural movement caused by breakfast and so we promptly left for the downward trip on the other side, during which I could think of just one thing: finding a toilet. This part of the drive was truly buttock-clenching.

The drive over the other side to Applecross was pretty tame although I did have to pull over at one point to let a lorry past. How on earth the lorry navigated the hair-pin bends on the way up I have no idea.

Just a bit of snow:

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We passed some roadworks on the way down and the speed limit sign said 30 miles/hour which I found amusing given that I didn’t drive faster than 20 at any point.

The roadworks:

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The Bealach na Bà means “pass of the cattle” in Scottish Gaelic. The mountain pass was built in 1822 for drovers to take their cattle to markets in the central belt. Apparently they would swim the cattle from the western isles which you can see in this next photo and then take them over the Bealach na Bà and to market. What an epic journey! I can’t believe the cattle swam all that way in freezing water let alone made the trek over the Applecross Mountains only to be sold and slaughtered at the end.

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We made it to the toilet in Applecross just in time and I can report that they were excellent public toilets. Very clean, free, and right on the bay. There’s also a wonderful café which we visited for coffee and cake. I had some delicious vegan shortbread – the best I’ve ever had.

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Then we drove back the long way around the peninsula but perhaps I’ll save that for a separate post.