They say time passes faster as you get older. It sure seems like less than 12 months since I wrote about the highlights of our tours around Scotland in 2021.
For us, it’s been a year of big changes. The most significant of these was the passing of my Mum & Dad. If you tried to contact us in 2022, and we didn’t reply, this is why.
I’ve really missed not being able to tell them about our adventures and new finds after each trip.
But this Blog is not about the sad times, it’s about the great experiences we had in 2022 and the new discoveries that have been or will be going into the guides.
Fortunately, 2022 saw some respite and recovery for the tourism trade after the challenges of Covid. But “Lockdown” had a huge impact and we lost more B&B partners in 2022 than we’ve been able to find replacements for.
We will be back out on the road a lot this year and will be looking for good accommodation to recommend in Arran, Ayrshire, Stirling area, Royal Deeside, St Andrews area, Durness, Thurso, and Orkney. Please send us an email if you have any suggestions for B&Bs or small hotels in these areas.
Anyhow… let's get back on track with our list of the Best Bits of 2022.
There are always a few contenders for this. But this year the clear winner, thanks to the brilliant weather, was Cul na Croise in Moidart.
We’ve visited this area a few times before and have always been blessed with great weather. Our love of this beach is very much influenced by the good luck we've had with the sunshine. In saying that, this is a beach that requires a 2-hour walk to get to so you don't set off to this beach unless you know you’re going to get a good day.
The thing that makes this beach special is the way the tree line runs down to the shore. It’s like being on some deserted tropical island where you step out of the jungle onto the beach. It just needs some coconut trees and the scene would be complete.
The other beaches that get a mention as worthy runner-ups are Sanna Bay on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, and Rhu Beach near Arisaig.
We visited Sanna Bay on an overcast day but the dark skies and breakers rolling in from the Atlantic gave this beach a wonderfully romantic air.
And talking of romantic, what could be a better place for a couple’s retreat than this little cottage that we passed when we took the coastal path from Portuairk to Sanna.
We later found out that the cottage is actually available to rent. If it takes your fancy, here’s the website: www.rudhdubh.com, but take note that there is no road to the cottage and the nearest pub is a long hike.
The other runner-up, Rhu beach is much smaller than Sanna Bay, but its waters are tropical blue. The only downside of Rhu beach is that it isn’t really big enough to share. And this is a beach that you will want to keep all to yourselves so don’t go telling too many people about it.
2022 was a busy year so we didn’t get away on short breaks as much as we usually do and our Munro bagging goals took a back seat. Aury set off to do the West Highland Way but was crippled by an injury on Day 3. Plans are in place for a second attempt to complete the WHW in 2023.
Junior and I had better luck and bagged 3 Munros when we did the Beinn Eighe ridge in July. So I’m going to choose this as my best hike of the year.
Beinn Eighe is a mountain that I’ve always had a great affection for. It was one of the first really hard climbs that I did as a teenager and, as a conservation volunteer, I later helped with maintaining the footpaths on it. So this is a hill that I feel connected to, and I really wanted to share it with my son.
The other good reason for nominating this as my best hike of the year was the way Junior handled this mountain. On the way up, we passed an English lad who had decided to abandon the ascent as the climb up the scree slope to the ridge was too daunting.
I thought this might spook Junior, so I gave him the final say on whether the climb was a “Go” or a “No”. He didn’t flinch, and led the way to the top with several stops to check that Dad was coping. I doubt if many kids of his generation would be as cool or committed.
We’re now at the stage where we’ve visited pretty much every castle that is run by Historic Scotland or the National Trust for Scotland. So, any new castles we visit are, more often than not, in out-of-the-way places and are in ruins.
Last year, I nominated Findlater castle as my favourite visit of the year. This year, I’ve chosen Pitsligo castle which is just a few miles further east along the Banff Coast.
Pitsligo, like most castles, was extended over the years and evolved from a defensive 15th-century keep into a more comfortable residence with a courtyard, a large kitchen block, and a walled garden.
The original keep is in a precarious state with internal scaffolding and hefty buttresses propping up the southern walls. The interesting aspect of the keeps current state is that it gives you a “cut-away” view of the castle's construction, and you can appreciate the thickness of the walls.
Clan Forbes held the castle for most of its habitable life. But Alexander Forbes, “Lord of Pitsligo”, backed the wrong side at Culloden and lost the castle as a result. Alexander then spent the rest of his days hiding in a cave on the coast just a couple of miles from his former home. It must have been a depressing existence to see his grand castle ransacked and destroyed by his enemies.
This could also have made an entry in the “Best Hike” category or “best experience”. For this award, I have to pick the isolated settlement of Tarbet on Loch Nevis which we reached after hiking 12+ miles along the shores of Loch Morar.
We’ve been to Loch Morar before but we’ve never ventured further along its shores than the end of the road. So this was a journey of discovery and it felt like a walk into the wild as our destination was a place that can only be accessed by foot, boat, or helicopter… if you’re silly rich.
I wrote about this hike in our Blog about how to spend a week in Mallaig, so I’ll not go over it other than to say “Wow… what fantastic scenery”. And all the better for the almost complete absence of anyone else. Quite something in the middle of August. Proper Secret Scotland Stuff.
A clear winner for this is the Pine Martens that were prolific all around the Ardnamurchan Bunkhouse where we stayed in early July.
I’d only ever seen Pine Martens twice before this, and on those occasions, it was just fleeting glimpses as these are normally quite wary creatures. At the Ardnamurchan Bunkhouse, it was a nightly spectacle.
At dusk each evening, a whole family came out to enjoy a nut buffet that was laid out for them on a table that you can watch from the comfort of the Bunkhouse lounge. This is my kind of wildlife spotting. None of that sitting in a damp midge-infested hide for several hours.
For the second year in a row, our favourite wild swimming spot was the Black River near Garve Bridge. But we did go for a dip here on the hottest day of 2022, and the Air-Con in the car wasn’t working, so almost anywhere with cold water would have been welcome.
We also pick this spot as we found a natural rock feature that makes a great “flume” for entering the river.
Strangely, the most expensive place we ate at this year was also the one that was most disappointing. I’m not going to name it as we maybe just had an off day and the owner was in a bad mood. But this place fell way short of our expectations after reading so many food critics raving about the cuisine.
I suspect the difference between our opinion and the professional food critics is that they don’t have to pay for the meal, whereas we want value for our money. And when I pay £30 for a main course (which I very seldom do), I don’t expect to leave the restaurant looking for a chip shop to satiate my hunger.
So the winner this year is an unexpected victory for the modest Glenforsa Hotel on Mull. The hotel sits right beside the island’s airport. Well, when I say "the airport", what I really mean is a big flat grass field with a windsock. But you can watch the arrival of the occasional light plane from the bar/restaurant windows.
The menu isn’t fancy. Just simple, home-style cooking that is good for families and there are some interesting options for vegetarians. The prices are very fair too. Junior had the Inverlussa Mussels and rated them as the best he’s had. I went for the Steak Pie with Twice Cooked chips. I reckon you can benchmark the quality of a chef by the quality of their steak pie. The Glenforsa didn’t disappoint and, If we weren’t in company, we would have licked the plates clean.
October saw us exploring the coastal path from Pennan (where they filmed the village scenes for “Local Hero”) along to Gardenstown.
It was one of those Autumnal days when the sun is out, but it really doesn’t make much difference to the temperature as the wind steals away any of its warmth. After walking the coastal path from Crovie to Gardenstown we were in need of something hot and Eli’s Cake shop looked very inviting with its wood-burning stove glowing away.
Eli’s cake shop is not much bigger than a static caravan so the heat from the stove soon had us stripped down to our T-shirts. It’s a great wee place with soup that’s made the proper way using a thick stock. My Mum would have approved. It’s also great value. Three of us had a filling lunch with cake for dessert and the bill came to just £23.50.
Fully refueled, we were ready to step back into the bracing North Sea breeze to go and explore our next destination, the once glamorous outdoor swimming pool at Tarlair. But I’ll cover that, and the other attractions of the Banff coast in my next Blog.