Applecross peninsula - the most scenic drive in Britain?Posted: 2011-10-31
I've just returned from three glorious weeks exploring Sutherland and Wester Ross. There's lots to share with Britain Express readers - sheesh, I took over 6,000 photos! But one thing I couldn't wait to share is my vote for the most scenic drive in Britain. I've had the pleasure of visiting almost every corner of the country over the past few years, but the circular route around the Applecross peninsula of Wester Ross is arguably the most beautiful drive I've ever had the fun of exploring.
Starting at Shieldaig, a picture-postcard village on a neck of land jutting into Loch Shieldaig (an arm of Loch Torridon), you have two choices. You can take the northern end of the minor road to Applecross, or you can travel south through Glen Shieldaig to the southern end of the same road where it rejoins the A896 north of Kishorn. I strongly recommend the latter, for reasons I'll explain in a moment.
On the way through Glen Shieldaig, the road passes Rassal Ashwood, a small nature reserve protecting one of the last - and most northerly - remnants of ancient ashwood in the country.
North of Kishorn the minor road to Applecross branches west, to begin its ascent of Beallach na Ba; the Pass of the Cattle. This incredible road is the closest thing in Britain to an alpine pass. The road twists and winds up the pass, with the bulk of Meall Gorm on the left. There are several stopping places where you can pull over to enjoy the fabulous views.
From the summit, the road plunges down sharply towards Applecross, one of the most beautiful villages in the Highlands. There is a historic walled garden and a heritage museum by the shore, where the sand is a glorious reddish tint. The old kirk stands on the site of one of the earliest monasteries established in Britain.
North of Applecross the road clings to the coast, offering fabulous views across to Raasay and the Isle of Skye. You can just about make out the Old Man of Storr on Skye if the weather is clear. At Fearnmore, in the northwesternmost part of the peninsula, the road turns and starts heading east towards Shieldaig once more.
This last section, from Fearnmore to Shieldaig, is the drive that matches anything in Britain for sheer beauty. The views north and east across Loch Torridon to the peaks of Beinn Alligin and Leathach are absolutely stunning. Every corner you turn a new vista is laid out in front of you. Words can't do it justice; you really, really have to take the drive for yourself.
Ah, I said I'd explain why you should take this section of road in a clockwise direction; it's because of the fabulous views across Loch Torridon - if you go counter-clockwise your view will be out towards the sea; still fabulous, but not quite as stunning.
So there you have my vote as the most scenic drive in Britain. At least, that's my vote until my next trip!