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The crossing from Shetland was indeed quite rough last night and I was glad that I had invested in some seasickness tablets before I went on holiday, just in case. They seemed to work really well and I felt absolutely fine (unlike most of the other passengers!) even when the ferry was crashing against waves so strong that it was difficult to stand up. The waves did become a bit less violent after Fair Isle as promised, although it wasn't until we started getting closer to the coast of Orkney that the sea truly became calm. We arrived in Kirkwall shortly before 11pm and promptly drove the couple of miles to the hotel we were staying at in the town centre. At £130 for a night, this hotel was definitely well above my normal holiday budget, but I had chosen it on the basis that it was one out of only two hotels in Kirkwall which said they had a 24-hour reception. Reception was indeed still open when we arrived. We checked in and found that the room was perfectly nice, but I'm not sure it was worth £130! We got up this morning and attempted to get our money's worth out of breakfast, before setting out to drive across to Stromness on the opposite side of Orkney's Mainland. That journey only took 15 minutes or so and so shortly after 10am we were checking in for our boat back to the real Scottish mainland at Stromness ferry terminal. I was rather concerned when, during the check-in process, we were handed the following piece of paper. Personally I had thought that yesterday's crossing was quite rough, but we hadn't been given a piece of paper warning us about it. Did that mean that today's crossing was going to be worse?! I spent the next 45 minutes or so until we were able to board panicking slightly Happily, in the end it turned out not to be too bad. There were definitely some big waves, but I don't think the sea was rougher than it was on the journey from Lerwick last night. It was a bright sunny day as we left Orkney and we got another view of the sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy, in the distance as the boat pulled out. Tim took a video out on deck to try and capture what the big waves were like. We did reach the port of Scrabster, just outside Thurso, about an hour behind schedule in the end, so perhaps that was the reason they'd given us the paper warning about delays in Stromness. Although we were now back on dry land, our journey for the day was only partially complete. We still had a significant amount of driving to do before we reached our ultimate destination of Ullapool for the night. We were driving across the north coast of Scotland as far as the village of Durness, which is essentially as far northwest as you can drive, before turning south towards Ullapool. The views as we did so were fantastic. Although we were technically driving along a main A road, in mainly places the route was only a single track. That meant it was often slow progress, as we had to keep pulling into passing places to allow vehicles coming the other way to get past us. The road felt a lot busier than when we'd driven along here before in 2010 and 2011, and in particular there were a lot more caravans and camper vans. That's because, since we were last here, the road has become part of a tourist attraction called NC500 (North Coast 500), a scenic 500-mile route around the north of Scotland, designed by the tourism authorities to bring more visitors to this remote part of the country. They certainly seem to have succeeded, to the extent that when we ultimately reached Durness we found that there weren't any parking spaces left and we couldn't actually stop. It was still a beautiful drive, well worth doing though And we still managed to get a glimpse of the golden sands on this part of the coast, even if we weren't able to park and walk down to them this time. Once we'd passed Durness and began to drive south towards Ullapool, the weather took a turn for the worse. We still had some great views, but it was clearly becoming cloudier. The weather looked quite threatening over the mountains in the distance. By the time we reached Ullapool it was properly pouring with rain. There appears to be a yellow weather warning for rain over this part of Scotland tomorrow, so I don't think things are going to get any brighter! We found the apartment I'd booked and checked in without any difficulties, although it's a bit of an unusual one. We've got quite a large living area... ...plus two bedrooms like this (and a bathroom), but no kitchen; there's just a microwave and a fridge in the corner of the living room. It's fine for one night though and accommodation is so difficult to come by in Ullapool that at the point I booked it was a choice between this or two single rooms in a hotel! The apartment is on the edge of town and once we'd settled in we decided to walk towards the centre in search of somewhere to get dinner. Rather than walk along the main road, we followed a sign for a riverside path. There was certainly a lot of water in the river! Within 10 minutes or so we were in the town centre. We remembered from the previous times we've visited that Ullapool is in a really pretty location It doesn't have much in the way of eating establishments though and I think the fact that it was a Saturday night, combined with the facts that capacity is reduced due to social distancing and some places weren't fully open, meant that we failed to get into a restaurant. Never mind, we had passed a Tesco on the walk in so we adopted plan B of picking up some ready meals to microwave in the living room Not a very glamorous end to what has otherwise been a fun day!
The weather forecast for today had predicted prolonged heavy rain across the entire Scottish Highlands, and sure enough when we woke up in Ullapool this morning that did indeed seem to be the case. It was the sort of morning where you really felt like staying indoors, but we needed to check out of our accommodation by 10am and we also had a fair bit of ground to cover today, so we had no choice but to venture out into the rain. We were driving south from Ullapool, through a very remote and sparsely populated part of Scotland, on a route which ought to have had amazing views. Sadly, it was so misty and cloudy that it felt like we were probably going to miss most of them. I had also hoped that we would be able to stop at some beautiful National Trust gardens near Poolewe, which we'd visited last time we were in this part of the country in June 2011, but this was most definitely not the sort of weather that you wanted to be walking around a garden in. We decided to change our plans and visit a National Trust waterfall at a place called Corrieshalloch Gorge instead. Corrieshalloch Gorge is only about 12 miles away from Ullapool and it was in the direction that we wanted to drive in anyway, so off we went. We hadn't been driving for very long when to our surprise, we caught sight of a completely different waterfall by the side of the road. It looked dramatic enough that it was worth making a u-turn and finding somewhere to park and take a closer look. After that diversion, it was only a few miles until we got to the car park for Corrieshalloch Gorge. A path led down from the car park towards the waterfall. The path took us down to a gorge, with a narrow bridge across it. From the bridge we could look down the gorge and see two separate waterfalls pouring down into it. The gorge itself was impressive and the water beneath us was flowing very fast. I was a bit underwhelmed by the waterfalls, which seemed a bit on the thin side. I noticed that there was a viewing platform sticking out from the side of the gorge though, so we decided to walk towards that. Once we got to the viewing platform, all became clear! The bridge we'd been standing on was across the top of the main waterfall This view was a lot more impressive (even if a bit damp). We walked back up to the bridge and I realised we could see the water rushing down from the top of the waterfall. Once we'd finished admiring the waterfall, we got back in the car and continued on our route, through some beautiful countryside towards Poolewe. It was definitely too wet to stop in the gardens there but we were starting to feel hungry after last night's microwave meals, so we decided to stop in the nearby village of Gairloch in the hope of getting an early lunch. Gairloch was a pretty small place, but we followed a sign towards a hotel which looked like it was open and serving food. Luckily it was indeed open and we ordered two big meals. Tim had a the roast beef... ...while I went for the steak. We finished it off with cheesecake; mine was Baileys and chocolate, while Tim's was raspberry ripple. Gairloch looked like it would be a pretty little place if it wasn't pouring with rain. Unfortunately, it was still extremely wet though! After Gairloch, the drive continued to be extremely scenic. We drove past lochs... ...and mountains too. Everywhere was very atmospheric in the mist, but it would have been amazing in the sunshine. The rain didn't let up at any point and as the day wore on there were more and more instances where we just saw water pouring off the mountainsides on the road. Eventually we reached a small place called Kyle of Lochalsh, from where there is a bridge across to the Isle of Skye. Islands with bridges might be the best sort of islands We then had to drive a fair way across Skye to the small place called Harlosh where we are staying for the next few nights. The accommodation here is really nice. We've got a comfy bedroom... ...a spacious living room... ...and most importantly, a proper kitchen Now all we have to do is hope that at some point it stops raining!