Last month I ticked off another item from my Bucket List: ‘stay in a lighthouse’.
In May 2012 Mark and I spent a week camping at Rosemarkie, getting to know the Black Isle and working out if this is where we wanted to live after leaving Edinburgh. My holiday reading was ‘The Lighthouse Stevensons’ by Bella Bathurst. I’ve always had a penchant for lighthouses, being naturally drawn to the coast, and so I was captivated by this book. Over the course of 150 years, four generations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ancestors designed and built lighthouses around Scotland’s coastline from the southernmost point, the Mull of Galloway, to the northernmost point, Muckle Flugga. The family was responsible for a raft of inventions in optics and construction and achieved feats of engineering in conditions that would be considered challenging today. Bella Bathurst’s fascinating account of the Lighthouse Stevensons undoubtedly inspired the eleventh item on my Bucket List.
Early 2014 was a time of positive change for me. I had come to terms with starting a new chapter in my life and I was starting to look into the future instead of dwelling on the past. Mark and I, along with the guinea pigs, were confined to the upstairs floor of our house for a few weeks in February and March as our old kitchen was ripped out and a new one was installed. I was writing my Bucket List with gusto and wasted no time in beginning my research into cruises to see the northern lights; long distance footpaths; and lighthouse accommodation. I booked a room in Rua Reidh lighthouse in Wester Ross for a weekend in late September. It’s good to have things to look forward to once summer is over and the nights are drawing in.
Time flies. Spring and summer came and went. 26th September arrived and I was in the car and on my way to Rua Reidh, a David Alan Stevenson lighthouse, first lit in 1912. I was flying solo as Mark had started a new job and had to work the weekend. I left the Black Isle behind, joined the A835 at Contin, followed by the A832 at Garve. I had a good run west and took a right at the Achnasheen roundabout. My favourite song on my Celtic Connections album burst into life and I passed a road sign bearing the names of much-loved places: Kinlochewe, Gairloch, Aultbea and Ullapool. The Torridonian giants of Liathach and Beinn Eighe appeared on the horizon. I let out a whoop of delight! I free-wheeled into Glen Docherty; Loch Maree and Slioch before me. God only knows how many times I’ve travelled through this glen but I couldn’t stop a “wow…” escaping from my lips.
I had a quick comfort break at Kinlochewe. It was Friday evening and I’d been working from home just over an hour ago, yet I was now on summer holiday territory. I thought back to the days when I travelled up here from Edinburgh – the drive across the city, the M90 to Perth, followed by the long slog up the A9 just to get to Inverness. I’ve just about grasped the fact that I live on the Black Isle. I’m still struggling to comprehend that Wester Ross is an hour’s drive from my house. I so enjoy my life on the Black Isle but I paused in Kinlochewe and reminded myself why we moved there – its proximity to Inverness and its proximity to the west coast. I fired off a text to Mark. “Just stopped in Kinlochewe. Can’t believe this is only an hour from our house! We need to come here much more often.”
I arrived in Gairloch in heavy rain and took the turn off for Strath – lots of happy memories in this neck of the woods. I passed Big Sands and switched over from Radio 4 to Two Lochs; from air strikes in Iraq to ‘Teenage Kicks’. Time to switch off from the real world. The public road comes to an abrupt end at Melvaig and the fun starts on the private road to Rua Reidh. First and second gear for the next few miles! The narrow, bumpy single track road twists over the moorland with a couple of steep drops and sharp bends to negotiate some watercourses. The light was fading and the wind battered the car but the rain was off for now. A smile spread across my face as I rounded a bend and caught sight of the lighthouse winking at me in the twilight.
Rua Reidh lighthouse was automated in 1986 meaning the keepers were no longer needed. The tower itself is still owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board but the old keepers’ accommodation was sold off. For many years Rua Reidh was run as a hostel and outdoor centre but it was taken over in 2012 and is now a cosy, comfortable guest house. I enjoyed a home-cooked dinner in the conservatory when I arrived, then I retired to my room. I looked out of the window and caught sight of the beam of light from the tower cutting into the darkness. Time for a closer look. I pulled on my jacket and head torch and ventured outside. I pushed uphill a short distance to get a view looking down on the lighthouse. It was too windy to think about setting up my camera and tripod, and my compact camera was out of its depth. There’s always another time. I stood and admired the spectacle until the wind forced me to re-trace my steps. I made my way back downhill, wandered around the lighthouse buildings and stood outside the door of the tower with David Alan Stevenson’s name inscribed above it. The rain came on and I decided it was time to head indoors but I was looking forward to exploring in daylight the following morning.
I stretched my legs before breakfast and checked out the jetty which was the only land access to the lighthouse (other than taking a pony over the hill) until the road from Melvaig was built in 1962. It’s only ten miles from Gairloch but there must have been times when Rua Reidh would have felt as remote as any island location. I headed out with my camera after breakfast. It was still very windy and the light was flat but I was determined to capture a decent image of the lighthouse. I scrambled through the heather, set up my gear and waited for the light to change.
My bandana blew off my head and the wind gave me a runny nose. The rain came on and I shoved my camera back into my rucksack. I was about to give up when I looked behind me and saw that the sun might break through the clouds. The tripod went up again and the camera and filters came back out the bag. All the faffing around was worthwhile when the sun finally broke through for a couple of minutes. There really is no substitute for great light.
I decided it was time for a walk and I set off in the direction of Camas Mor beach. The wind was relentless yet the guest house owners described it as a ‘light breeze’ compared with the winter storms. I picked out the Assynt mountains on the horizon and admired sea stacks and natural arches from the cliff tops.
I got as far as the burn. I could see there was a long, fairly steep descent to access the first beach. I started descending over some rocks, a waterfall to my left and the wind gusting at my back. I did a quick mental risk assessment and decided not to go any further. I would have liked to have made it to the beach but the return journey would have been hard work, particularly with the weight of my camera gear on my back, and probably not worth the effort. I’m not invincible. One wrong move and it might have been the end of the Bucket List. I ate my packed lunch by the side of the burn and reminded myself of my objectives for the weekend: stay in a lighthouse, enjoy the accommodation and chill out. Falling off a cliff wasn’t part of the plan. I re-traced my steps and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon back at Rua Reidh, drinking hot chocolate, chatting to other guests and having an afternoon kip!
Do you like lighthouses? Have you been to Wester Ross? Please leave a comment below or share on social media if you enjoyed this post!