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.

IMG_8269.JPG

IMG_8275.JPG

IMG_8317.JPG

IMG_8318.JPG

I started to get somewhat anxious at this point.

IMG_8294.JPG

IMG_8324.JPG

IMG_8336.JPG

IMG_8353.JPG

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:

IMG_8371.JPG

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.

IMG_8366.JPG

IMG_8397.JPG

IMG_8401.JPG

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

IMG_8429.JPG

IMG_8428.JPG

IMG_8435.jpg

Ben’s obligatory “I hate snow” photo.

IMG_8441.JPG

IMG_8448.JPG

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

IMG_8472.jpg

IMG_8504.jpg

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:

IMG_8528.JPG

IMG_8539.JPG

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:

IMG_8559.JPG

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.

IMG_8570.JPG

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.

IMG_8578.jpg

IMG_8585.JPG

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

16 thoughts on “The Bealach na Bà

  1. i haven’t been round the Applecross peninsula for years but we did it in the summer. I recall the scary drive mind you. And the excellent cakes. How far north are you going? Up to Inverewe? Gruinard?

    1. I bet the scary road is busy in the summer. I thought there were lots of cars there today and it’s only April. We’re staying in the area of Applecross so I don’t think we’ll make it as far north as Inverewe. We’re just making day trips from here. We may go up to Loch Maree is the weather is good but that’s as far north as we’ll go this time.

  2. Years ago we had a tiny Fiat camper van which let us stay overnight at the top. It was absolutely still, the deer roaming around us and the midges trying to get into any available crevice. I’ve also cycled over it on the Beach More Sportive. It was funny as all the youngsters swept past me at the bottom, I carried on slowly but surely. By half way I was catching them up and by the top had overtaken quite a few. I found the coast harder though with the constant up & down and changes in ascent. Also canoe surfed at sunset in the Applecross bay – stunning!!

    1. I am not at all surprised to read that you cycled over that. Well done! I bet your legs were aching by the time you reached the top. I think it would be a nice walk too and am surprised people don’t walk up.

    1. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. Maybe one day they’ll build a chair lift for people like us who’d rather not drive it. You could walk over too. I think it’s about 4 hours on foot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s