Christmas At Coigach

by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

January 9th, 2012


There’s little point in being a Baron of anywhere unless you can visit, and Coigach has its particular charms in that it is one of the most beautiful places in the entire United Kingdom. Situated in the Western Highlands & Islands, the peninsula reaches out into the North Atlantic; only the Outer Hebrides, and then further out, the barren, now unpopulated rocks of St. Kilda separate us from the eastern Canadian coastline. Not without reason is their coastal province named “Nova Scotia”.

Getting to Coigach requires a flight to Inverness, then a two hour drive west, beyond Ullapool and 40 minutes bouncing along a single track road to Achiltibuie passing numerous lochs and mountains on the way. Then the vista opens up – the Summer Isles, spread out in a panoramic view that extends all the way West to Stornaway, South to the Isle of Skye, and East down Loch Broom. I like to see where my whisky comes from, and the Highlands have it aplenty. Not for nothing did I pack a bottle of Laphroiag’s Quarter Cask

With such a small community – only one General Stores – provisions are required, so a stop over to the beautiful, now restored Victorian Market in Inverness is required prior to setting off. The butcher provided fine haggis, venison sausages, a 6lb wild Goose, in addition to shot Grouse, Pheasant, Partridge and Quail, while the Fishmonger delivered Sea Trout, and Sea Bass. Fresh lobsters, crab and scallops would be provided daily by Pete the Fisherman in Coigach – ocean to plate in 15 minutes.
Staying at Castlehill, a newly renovated, but typical Scottish Crofters cottage, we bedded down well after I’d lit the fire and roasted said bass. Ten days here would be bliss, no mobile phones, and no traffic. So it proved to be, with nothing to do but wander lonely beaches, hike icy mountains and gorge ourselves. Christmas Day saw me attempt a four bird roast – the Goose stuffed with Pheasant, it turn stuffed with Partridge and Quail, and bloody good it was too. Married with roast parsnips, potatoes and Brussels sprouts this is as good as it gets for traditional Christmas fare, and the Inverness butchers had not disappointed. The Goose was superb. Boxing day, with all the cold cuts, is always my favorite, and it was no exception either.


Hogmanay (New Years Eve) saw a tall dark stranger deliver the ubiquitous lump of coal, another excuse for me to pour the Laphroaig (I take mine with Highland water as the bottle recommends, but mighty fine it is) and a Ceilidh (pronounced Kayleigh) in the Community Centre. Cue much playing of Bagpipes, Fiddles, square dancing and singing until the wee hours. One rather unusual event did occur though – at a minute to midnight, with a rising wind, a huge thunderclap burst out with lightening flashing up and illuminating the Isles as far away as Skye. Quite what that predicts as an omen for 2012 I’m not quite sure…

One doesn’t visit the Scottish Highlands in Winter for Summer Sun and warmth. But for a blazing fire, snow, and brisk walks in the fresh sea air without pollution, noise or strife, it can’t be beaten. My goal – to read A. N. Wilson’s Tolstoy biography and savor the entire works of Nikolai Gogol was completed, and I have arrived at 2012 a far happier, relaxed and hopefully better read man than I left 2011.