Apart from stunning scenery and wildlife Assynt features Scotland’s smallest castle (seen below being invaded by Scotland’s smallest resident). Known locally as Hermit’s Castle, it was built in the 1950s by English architect David Scott, who only stayed there for one weekend having spent months building it. One can only speculate as to why he would build it for one weekends use, or what drove him away…
Try as I might I failed to see any Golden Eagles. I could see that the area is perfect for them and I had a sense of them belonging there, but they declined to make an appearance. I’ll just have to keep looking.
On my way from Assynt to Gruinard Bay I decided to visit Inchnadamph. I’ve been to the West Coast of Scotland a number of times. I’m a bit of an addict (or a glutton for punishment depending on the weather). Last time I passed through Inchnadamph and walked out along the valley 4km to the south of it to the Bone Caves. These are named for the large variety of animal bones that were discovered within them over a hundred years ago. There are three main caves, named Badger, Reindeer and Bone, and what they lack in scale they more than make up for in mystique. The bones of animals that once roamed this part of the country have all been discovered here: bear, reindeer, lynx, arctic fox and wolves. Even the skull of a polar bear has been identified.
On this visit I stopped at Inchnadamph itself and walked up the Traligill river valley to the Traligill caves. These caves are large deep flooded entrances to the largest cave system in Scotland. They are suitable only for equipped and experienced cavers, so I only went in a short distance where I could.
Both the Traligill and Bone Caves have a sense of something ancient, like a giant made of moss and stone sleeps beneath the hills, his earthy breath so gentle you can only just catch the sound of it if you listen closely. The sight and sound of water dripping and rushing deep into the dark is enchanting and on both my visit to the Bone Caves and Traligill I could only wonder at how people lived in these places in ancient times, what it would have been like back then and what beliefs and stories such places would have inspired.
My favourite part of Gruinard Bay was at Mellon Udrigle. The beach there is gorgeous, purely on scenery alone, but added to that were wonderful pieces of art that had been made from stones and shells that were dotted about along the coast. I had a fabulous time wildlife watching and hunting for art.
Gruinard Bay features the infamous ‘Anthrax Island’ (Gruinard Island), where biological warfare testing of anthrax took place in 1942. The island was deemed safe in 1990 but people are still pretty loathe to go there because of this, making it a haven for wildlife, including a pair of breeding White Tailed Eagles known to nest there. I caught a brief and wonderful glimpse of one at quite a distance flying near some cliffs over the sea. It turned in the air, exposing the full view of its talons, tail and outstretched wings, dwarfing the gulls trying to mob it. Then with another twist of its body it was gone. Absolutely beautiful.
Other places worth a mention:
If you’re ever near Lochinver go to the pie shop. In fact, go to Loch Inver, just for the pie shop. I have never eaten such tasty pies!
The Clearance trail and scenery around Strathnaver are well worth seeing if you’re in that part of the world. The scenery is stunning. The trail is heartbreaking.
Balnakeil Craft Village just outside of Durness is fabulous. If you like art, crafts, chocolate and coffee it is heavenly.