The Summer Isles from Achiltibuie
Being a Baron of somewhere means taking responsibility – and having been assigned the Barony of Coigach it seemed only right to spend much of August there. The Coigach Pensinsula lies to the north and west of Ullapool in the North-West Highlands of Scotland, extends to the south of Lochinver and takes in everything inbetween. That includes most of the Summer Isles, which is probably one of the most beautiful spots in the United Kingdom. I stay at the Polbain end of a small village called Achiltibuie, which goes back as a settlement for centuries and overlooks much of the Isles. In days gone it was mainly crofting, sheep rearing, with some fishing on the side. In fact local pirates used the Isles as a base from which to attack occasional merchant ships, and there used to be a herring fishery on the main island of Tamera Mor.
From Achiltibuie one can see most of the Summer Isles (some nestle out of sight behind Tamara Mor, and on a clear day all the way south to the Isle of Skye, and West to the Outer Hebrides and the Islands of Lewis and Harris. A daily ferry now connects these to the mainland at Ullapool, however the road to Ullapool from Achiltibuie is one track, and just the 20 odd miles it covers takes about an hour to travel by car. These are rugged lands, coated with heather, and dotted with lochs of various sizes.
The Road To Ullapool
The coast though remains the attraction, and the waters around Achiltibuie are some of the cleanest in Europe. Fresh lobsters, crabs, and the best scallops I’ve ever tasted are all available here. But as Achiltibuie is a small community, there’s no shop. Instead, one just phones up the local fisherman and places an order. The catch is delivered to your door by 6pm. This far north of course means long summer evenings – the sun didn’t set until 9:30pm and the sky remained light until well after ten. While about 300 people live on the Coigach Pensinsula, the local fishing easily supports them. However, Spanish trawlers also know these waters, and dredge the bottom of the sea near here to sell “Achiltibuie Scallops” at the main market in Barcelona at a premium. In doing do they wreck the seabed. I’ll be looking at ways to prevent that, difficult within EU regulations I know, but I may be able to have the Spanish at least pay royalties on the Achiltibuie name if it signifies such a premium quality product. I’ll be working on that with the local village.
Otherwise, the area is just full of natural beauty – seals lazing on beds of kelp on the islands, while Minke whales and porpoises can be seen along with Sea Eagles, Black Guillemot and Skuas. Despite the fishing, the waters here remain relatively rich, and fresh haddock, cod, halibut and mackerel are all easily found. The herring is often smoked – and Achiltibuie Kippers are sent from here down to the finest restaurants in Edinburgh and London. The village also makes great cheese – making Coigach and the Summer Isles a great location to possess a barony. For those interested, the barony website can be visited here: www.baronyofcoigach.com.
Atlantic Seals Laze Upon The Rocks and Seaweed Beds
The Summer Isles, with Skye In The Distance.