On the last weekend of October, my partner and I planned an impromptu trip to the very north of Scotland. We’ve been making a conscious effort recently to explore the islands we call home, and this was the perfect opportunity to witness some of the astounding beauty our homeland has to offer, whilst escaping the fast-paced London life we desperately needed a break from.
Words & Photography by Katherine Heath | @wildgreyskies
We were determined to live as simply and slowly as possible whilst we were up there so we assigned ourselves a rough route, following mostly single-track roads, around the northern Scottish Highlands.
Although it was still fairly mild down in the city, Autumn was drawing to a close up in Scotland, the temperature was beginning to drop and the driving conditions deteriorating. This made finding a van to hire a little difficult. But, to our relief, we stumbled across a small, family-run business that was happy to rent us one of its four VW campers for the last few days of October, just before they closed. They kindly picked us up from the airport upon our arrival and offered us a lift back at the end too, it was heart-warming to be met with such generosity – the trip started well and only got better.
We began and ended our journey in a town called Strathpeffer, just outside of Inverness. It was dark by the time we had collected our camper so, after stocking up on a few necessities, we headed west towards the famous Bealach na Ba pass. After just 10 minutes of driving, we found ourselves in complete darkness that was only broken by the occasional passing car. I think I’d forgotten what real darkness is, when there are no street lights or road signs and the moon is tucked behind clouds. It’s so black it’s almost surreal. It can feel quite disorientating but peaceful too, and a much-needed reminder that this is what night time is supposed to be like. We were told that most campsites had closed for the season already so we knew our chances of coming across one were slim. It was also getting late so we decided to cut our losses and park up in the next spot we came across. From studying our map, we had guessed we were overlooking a loch but it was impossible to tell.
The next morning, we drove up to Bealach na Ba pass. The ascent was remarkable, we were met with ineffable scenery around every corner and there was not another car in sight. Unfortunately, once we reached the top there was thick fog everywhere, we could barely see the front of our van. Our expectations of glorious valley photographs were far from met but that’s just nature’s way of reminding us to accept that we can’t control everything. The descent out of the mist was a beautiful drive, storm clouds billowed behind us and blue skies stretching out ahead, it seemed mother nature had more unusual views in mind for us that day.
Our winding route took us to the marshy edges of vast lochs, along rough and rocky coastlines, into small fishing villages and wound its way through wooded tunnels. Each day we felt more immersed in our natural surroundings, sometimes it felt like we were the only people on the planet.
When we reached the coast, there were 60pmh winds and the cliff top roads offered no protection – keeping our little van in a straight line was near enough impossible. It was a huge relief to get back inland after a few days of howling winds and as we made our way down through the centre of the Scottish Highlands it was fair to say we were both silently contemplating why we didn’t live like this all the time.
It’s easy to be silent in such remoteness, there is no need to be heard.
On the last night, we parked in a small clearing just outside of Lairg. It was the first night there was a significant drop in temperature and we woke up to frost on the inside of our van.
Getting out of bed was tough in the cold and dark but we rose in time to see the sunrise over the hills in the distance as a thick mist filled the valley opposite. A delicate layer of frost covered everything in sight and we sat and watched the early morning sun turn the world around us a golden pink.
The trip was short but inspiring. Neither of us had known what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised every step of the way. Everyone we met was friendly, offered advice and helped make our journey what it was and the landscape was surreal, untouched, even unforgiving at times - but always beautiful.