Here's the thing. We turn off the A894 onto the B869. For those unfamiliar, the later the letter and the higher the number, the closer to sheep track driving one might expect. You may surmise, therefore, that we moved from a 'major' road (i.e. one which had, at least nominally, two-way traffic) to a 'minor' road.
The Drumbeg road is one of the most daunting tracks in the Bonny Land! We had already traversed several single-track roads, but all of them with reasonably clear view of oncoming traffic. This one not only has many blind corners, but also frequent blind summits, very steep climbs and very sudden downturns. It's a fabulous, extreme, adrenaline-pumping ride!!! It required all driver focus, hence no photos actually got taken of this amazing track, and I have a small regret about that. Then again, nothing could really convey the sense of breath-holding, heart-thumping, outstanding beauty. You'll just have to take my word for it. What is amazing is that this forms part of the recently formed NC500, Scotland's answer to Route 66, without the straight bits and the speed.
It has occurred to me that there will be others who are into dash and helmet cams who may have this on show... and sure enough... yet even this doesn't really convey the incredible topography.
Anyway, Kay had been saying that she thought the roads had been okay... then I turned onto the B869. The change was dramatic. From an average 35mph we were down to 25mph and third gear. Plenty locals would yell out 'wimp', but to be frank, it was as much as Li'l Ren could manage. In fact, on several of the real upright parts, she was down to second and, on one occasion, first gear! Her horn was a-blowing too. I needed anyone coming close to know we were round the corner and over the hill. Then I also had to give my passenger adjustment time. If you're not used to them - even when you are - these roads can be downright scary.
Now, earlier in the trip, Kay had been tickled to see the following sign on several occasions;
It is seen around all areas of town where there are a prevalence of elderly folk. To add to the fun collection of different road signs, as we came down into Ardvar crofts, we were met with this one;
It was accompanied by a hand-written board..."Also ducks, chickens, sheep, goats!" We had a giggle, but absorbed the warning. It took till we are at Drumbeg, however, before we met one of these;
Indeed, the 'actual' was guarding the public toilet. I found that the ladies was locked. Then a car appeared from
There was even a flush and soap on the sink.
Getting back in the car, Kay went to drop her window, but for some reason, it refused to open. This was new behaviour and it wouldn't budge even from the driver control panel. Oh well, not important for the moment. Being auld biddies, we both forgot this inconvenience when she later opened the window for a photo. Must just have been a momentary glitch. Right?
Barely half an hour later, I needed to drop my own window. That photo of Suilven was worth the stop. Now, however, the window would not rise. Not more than one inch at least. After a few minutes of confustication and blustering at electrics and 'why did they ever take away the winding handle?!!', we decided we just had to keep driving anyway. The ice-force gale did not bother me and there was the big fluffy blanket for Kay to wrap in.
About five minutes later, I tried again and it rose another inch. No more. No less. Okay. Another five minutes and the same again. On the third rise of one inch, Kay began giggling and that set me off. She wondered if I was kidding her on. I was not. It took no less than 18 goes of one inch lifts to get that window closed. At least it provided a bit of light relief and I am certain all those wonderful negative ions which were acing through the gap did us an immense amount of good. Neither was our giggling over and done with.
Very shortly after passing Drumbeg, we met
We had gone barely another ten minutes when I spotted a sign which said 'Culkein Stoer'.
This road was much longer and, I realised, the one I had originally intended we travel. The map had not shown up that there were two Culkeins in such close proximity. We got to the end of this road and found our goal. This felt much more like it - though why we should feel that, we could not say. Then I spotted the sign for the shop. We drove up... only to find a sign saying it was closed till Oct 31st. ..aaaaarrrggghhhhhhhhhhhh. All hope of a postcard or souvenir craft piece was dashed for the MacKenzie descendant. Such a shame. I took this shot though, to prove we were there.
As we left and contined back along the B869, we met another, less seen sign.
Well, it does get boggy round those regions. We headed for Lochinver for lunch. Which we both thoroughly enjoyed - Kay having Summer Isles hand-gathered scallops and me the baked goats cheese salad. This place also offered prize-winning pies and we bought a couple (sweet potato, butternut squash and goats cheese with curry spices) to take back for our meal that night. I added some instant potatoes and fresh snowpeas and we dined well. It meant we didn't have to traverse that awful stair at the FBI anymore than we needed to.
I did a bit of research on the Culkeins, having decided that it must mean something akin to the French 'cul-de-sac'; my father happened to phone right then and he said the same thing. Well, it turned out that there is a third Culkein - Achnacarnin, which we did not spot. All were the last settlements on their respective roads. In the Gaelic, 'cul' means 'back' and 'cinn' means 'heads a place behind several'. Pretty much a cul-de-sac right enough then. Or, as I giggled to Kay, given how much it took to find the place, it could be interpreted as 'the back of beyond'!!! Time for bed.
Did I mention the plumbing? There had been hints of trouble the first night, but nothing too much to bear. The noises outside the room were more invasive; doors banging and shaking the whole building, loud music from somewhere, the exhaust pipe of the kitchen giving a hum and vibe to our gable-end wall... on this second night, later in the evening after we had lights out, Kay went to use the toilet and added to the cacophony. Not intentionally. The flush set up a rattle and roar to equal - as Kay put it - a jet engine. The home-handler in me knew full well it was an airlock in the pipes, but oh my goodness, it went on and on and on and on...... and of course the YAMster started giggling and then snorting. Kay emerged, glad that the place was in darkness, but couldn't resist the giggles either, once she'd overcome the shock. We were like two kids in boarding school after that, both fully awake and needing to chitter chatter. I had not gone to sleep because each time I closed my eyes all I could see was single track sheep roads with blind summits, then thinking how proud I was of Ren for coping, even if she did throw an electrical wobbly or two. Kay talked about her first car, then I remembered mine and so it went on. Then sleep came and we both got a good rest.
Then came our last road trip day.