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davidx Polbain - A travel report by David
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Polbain,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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davidx's travel reports

Coigach and the Summer Isles

  9 votes
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Apart from city reports, this will be the smallest area I’ve ever tried to cover. It may overlap to an extent with a previous report on Achiltibuie but will be more detailed on the smaller area.

The Summer Isles
The Summer Isles
Coigach is a region of Scotland in the far north-west between Ullapool and Locherbie. The western part of the area contains a great bay stretching from south of Achiltibuie, through this metropolis itself [100 or so population] and the lesser villages of Polbain and finally Reiff – beyond a sheltered anchorage at Dornie. The Summer Isles lie off Polbain but can be seen in many marvellous seascapes from different angles from all round the bay. Coigach will be covered in later sections. There are over 20 islands in the Summer Isles, the precise number depending on definition of an island. All are uninhabited except the largest, Tanera Mor. Even here there is hardly any year long accommodation and the few who ever try rarely stay as much as two years. This makes it surprising that the island has its own stamps, sold at the Post Office there and valid throughout the UK. There are regular trips from Ullapool in a boat that can accommodate well over 100. I spoke to the man who was looking after the post office for the first fortnight of September. In several years of covering this period he told me that at least once or twice between 70 and 90 people had come. This year, because of the terrible weather, the maximum was 30. The other means of access is by a local boat from Badentarbet Pier in Polbain, which allows an hour in Tanera Mor as well as a wonderful scenic trip round the islands. The islands provide a great quantity of wildlife but of course September is not the best time for seabirds. We were able to see both common and grey seals, the latter reasonably close. I meet any number of people in the UK who don’t know of these islands’ existence but the visitors’ book at the Post Office/snack bar shows that people find them from many countries. The island of Tanera Beg contains wonderful cliff scenery of Torridonian sandstone.

Favourite spots:
Old Dornie Harbour
Old Dornie Harbour
There is nothing metropolitan about the west side of Coigach. By far the largest population is that of Achiltibuie, which exceeds 100 but not by much! Often the whole sweep round a number of tiny villages is collectively known as Achiltibuie Bay. Two very favourite places for views in a whole area of outstanding sea and mountainscapes are the harbour at Old Dornie [not to be confused with the slightly bigger Dornie near to Kyle of Lochalsh] and a place between Altandhu and Achnahaird beach, which is labelled as a viewpoint and were there is a direction indicator. The idyllic harbour is used mainly by local Prawn catchers’ boats but some outsiders have discovered it for recreational use. It lies opposite to Isle Ristol and provides an excellent anchorage for small boats, even during the tempestuous winters. Skye and the main Torridonian Mountains are among the places visible from the viewpoint.

What's really great:
Achnahaird Beach
Achnahaird Beach
Altnahaird Beach must surely be much esteemed by anybody who takes the short walk to it. Even in poor weather people with children were drawn there as if by a magnet and it’s a Mecca for canoeists as well. It’s an extensive beach of hard sand and provides terrific views over Suilven, a mountain that might be derided by some because of its low height but which is one of Scotland’s most shapely. This is near to the spectacular road to Lochinver described in my Achiltibuie report. We went on this again for our only trip outside the title area in the week and had coffee at the bookshop at Achininver.

Stac Pollaidh [Stack Polly if you must]
Stac Pollaidh [Stack Polly if you must]
Even at the expense of some repetition of my Achiltibuie report I can’t leave this area without mentioning the mountains. I know some of you may consider them small lumps but people from countries with really high mountains go away delighted with what they see here.
All the nearest mountains, like the sea cliffs, are formed from Torridonian sandstone. Whereas the mountains around Torridon itself are composed of great ranges, here they are small and separate but give very recognisable and impressive shapes.
Stac Pollaidh, Cul Beag and Cul Mor are all near the main Ullapool road. The larger y-shaped Quinag can be seen behind Suilven, mentioned above and Canisp is near.

The Bothan [Tanera Mor behind]
The Bothan [Tanera Mor behind]
We took a self-catering cottage for a week. Bothan na’ Tilleadh once provided accommodation for animals but has been converted into a well equipped one storey building with kitchen, one bedroom [sofabed in sitting room enables more to stay and a cot can be provided] shower room and a sitting room with a close view of Tanera Mor. The only snag, a very minor one for most people, consists of a number of steps down to the bothan from the gate. As against this, it’s bang opposite to the Polbain Stores, one of only two general stores in the whole west Coigach peninsula. If we stay in the area again, we should have no hesitation about a second visit.
Nought to do with the accommodation but I was both interested and surprised to discover that the owner’s children are educated in Gallic [Gaellic,] the old Celtic language of the area, except for some science subjects and, of course, English itself. This is in Ullapool – the local school at Achiltibuie doing all teaching in English.

Fish farm - Tanera Mor
Fish farm - Tanera Mor
There are two licensed premises on the peninsula, the Summer Isles Hotel at Achiltibuie and Am Fuaran at Altandhu. The former has a restaurant open for 5 course dinners in the summer – said to be of very high quality and there are bar meals in the small bar. This tends to be mainly used by tourists. We only went to Am Fuaran, where excellent meals are also provided. This is a restored ‘old’ Scottish bar, largely frequented by ‘natives.’ The meals are not cheap but give very good value.

the Summer Isles boat
'Patricia' the Summer Isles boat
The Summer Isles Post Office and snack room is almost a compulsory hang-out. People like me, not particularly thirsty, would go in if only to escape from the curse of the Highlands, Scottish midges. They don’t spread malaria and they are very small but they devour like tigers and a bush telegraph operates between them to bring a swarm once one finds you.

At the viewpoint
At the viewpoint
Having dealt with restaurants under night-life I can keep to the subject of food here. The Smokehouse at Altandhu is perhaps the best known place around. It uses old whisky barrels for the smoking and does smoked venison, Lamb, beef, eel and haddock as well as its main lines of four different smokings of salmon - and sea trout. It also sells numerous Scottish sauces and pates, among which is what they call vegetarian caviar, made from seaweed ad quite delicious.
They do postal sales and can easily be found in a search engine.

Other recommendations:
In the Hydroponicum
In the Hydroponicum
The Hydroponicum at Achiltibuie claims a worldwide reputation but I should be interested to know if any member outside the UK has ever heard of it. I suspect not. It was faced with bankruptcy this year but an Ullapool firm bought it and let it to some of the previous employees. They have apparently closed some upstair viewing areas but even so it’s fascinating to find pears, apples, figs and grapes growing without soil as well as numerous vegetables in Coigach, where the soil is of dire quality.
A turning off the road between Polbain and Altandhu will take you to the little hamlet of Reiff with a good beach and beyond it are cliffs frequented by climbers and a walk I’d fancy one day to the impressive headland of Rubha ne Coigich.

Published on Thursday September 20th, 2007

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Wed, Sep 26 2007 - 03:13 PM rating by bineba

Great report that shows that there is still so much to discover right on you doorstep. Beautiful scenery!

Sat, Sep 22 2007 - 04:41 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hi dav,this is great report from you ,place seems to be dry but you have presented in excellent way

Fri, Sep 21 2007 - 04:53 AM rating by mistybleu

David, an interesting read - the Summer Isle Post office seems to offer the perfect 'rest bite'.

Thu, Sep 20 2007 - 11:52 AM rating by rangutan

Another comprehensive and colourful report [4.6].
Never heard of it before, the hydroponics at Achitibuie is an interesting science, NASA should use it for for space travel?
(Also, that mention of "Smoked venison" really got my appetite going! :-)

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