After dropping off the barren expanse of Loch Buidhe plateau, briefly rejoin the A9 opposite Loch Fleet nature reserve and next to the OTTERS CROSSING sign. Head north for 800 metres and take a left turn to Rogart. Book ahead for a berth at the magical Sleeperzzz independent hostel run by Kate and Frank.
On day 2, Doc, Big Mig and The Wattmeister headed west up the valley to Lairg, nestled at the southern end of Loch Shin. From a distance the village looks both fragile and majestic, seemingly threatened and protected by the surrounding landscape. Four roads meet eachother at Lairg, but on this occasion we headed north on the A836 towards the lonely Crask Inn and the tiny hamlet of Altnaharra.
What a crackerjack of a road this is….. especially with a tailwind. It climbs gradually into the wilderness. The northernmost monroe, Ben Klibreck, surveys the road from on high, massive and immovable. To the west the snowy flanks of capricious Ben More Assynt rules local weather patterns, exacting climatic tithes on the under prepared traveller.
On the horizon, mercurial Suilven stands proud of surrounding bogs and moorland, overlooking the village of Lochinver. Once seen never forgotten.
Stop at The Crask Inn… please. Under the auspices of Mike and Kai it offered sanctuary in a sometimes hostile environment. It still does, but under new ownership.
The 10kms drop from just north of Crask to Altnaharra is like a psychedelic trip on a Megaslide, a tumble through browns and yellows, twisting burns filled with dark liquid, solid hard rock and soft peat bogs, and a quality of light filled with the clarity of truth.
It has to end, but in the oscillating thread of road adjacent to Loch Naver we have the perfect serum to combat that heady endorphin kick. After 18 kms turn right at Syre towards distant Kinbrace. Climb up to a place that can have changed little in the past 10,000 years. An oasis in the desert offers water and shade from overwhelming heat….this plateau offers uncluttered simplicity to the neurotic urban traveller. Another gem of a road, we are on a roll.
In Helmsdale we refuel….bear in mind it is more than 60 kms from Altnaharra, so stock up on food and drink. The Wattmeister was so hungry he ate a packet of crisps….. including the packaging. Doc demolished a haggis (it happened so quickly it may not have been a haggis) and Big Mig crumbled under the influence of a packet of Hobnobs.
On to Brora, 15 kms along the A9, take a right turn just before the bridge on the northern bank of river Brora and enjoy the wonderful sinewy climb up to Knockarthur Cross before descending swiftly back to the accommodation in Rogart.
This mesmerising Highland ride was 170kms in total and includes a succession of fantastic roads any one of which would be memorable in its own right.