Explore the West Highlands of Scotland Creaky Traveler style.
Driving holidays in Scotland, Warren Rovetch, Scottish Highlands with the Creaky Traveler.
Explore the Scottish Highlands on a driving holiday of Scotland.
G has shared Warren's adventurous explorations for 50 years.

What happens to the backpacking crowd when their backs grow too weak with age to shoulder the burden, when the lure of the open road is still strong, but the feet are better suited to loafers than hiking boots? Do nights of camaraderie in student-packed hostels turn to breakfasts in bed at bed-and-breakfasts? Does hitchhiking give way to most car rentals? Well traveled, 70-something adventurers Warren Rovetch, and his wife Gerda [known affectionately as G], answer these questions and many more in a charming yet practical new book, The Creaky Traveler in the North West Highlands of Scotland: A Journey for the Mobile but not Agile.

Sheep herding in the Scottish  Highlands.
Shepherd and sheep dogs at the end
of a hard day's work.

Our journey took us north along the stark, rugged, and mysteriously beautiful coast of Wester Ross and North West Sutherland as far north as it is possible to go. We traveled remote, winding, single track (one lane) roads, driving carefully and slowly to avoid sheep and newborn lambs that claim the right of way. A succession of deep sea lochs reach in from the Atlantic to define the crenellated coast. This is sit-and-stare country. It has a quality that empties the mind, touches the soul, and lets the good stuff in.

When it comes to where to stay, some people like to take potluck - go there and depend on serendipity. If you barrel along on a bunch of one-night stands and aren't too picky, that might work just fine. We like to stay in most places for three nights and have high expectations, so we aim for certainty. We try to apply eight criteria for our choices: 1. small, not more than six rooms; 2. distinctive personality, run by an onsite owner, not a hired hand; 3. beautifully situated; 4. en suite room with toilet and bath or shower; 5. opportunity to mix with other guests; 6. reputation for good food; 7. affordable price; and 8. a place where we wouldn't mind being rained in for a day.

[We timed our arrival in Ullapool knowing that a special event was in order.] On a quiet evening, G and I headed for The Ceilidh Place hotel and walked into a storm of traditional music. Ceilidh is Gaelic for "visit". There were informal groups making music at full blast all over the place - four fiddlers fiddling in one corner of the pub bar, three young beauties tootling on tin whistles in another corner, a guitar duo center stage, Gaelic singing in the parlor, and upstairs a wire harp trio producing the music of angels. It was Feis Rois weekend and the place was rocking.

Scottish culture includes traditional music.
A musical session at The Ceilidh Place.

Until recently Coigach was one of the last peasant, preindustrial enclaves in Scotland. Of the 105 homes in Coigach, locals occupy 54 and incomers occupy the other 51. There are another 82 classified as "holiday homes," many of which are occupied only a few weeks a year. They contribute little to Coigach economic and social life. We found these homes easy enough to identify by signs of gentrification and a convertible Jaguar sitting out front. These people, we were told, are not "ordinary folk" but (pause for sneer) "white settlers".

There at the road was a sign: WARNING - TOAD CROSSING. We stopped to admire the water lilies and contemplate the warning sign, wondering if the toad had already been kissed, but there was neither prince nor toad in sight. Well, [earlier] we saw a WARNING - ELDERLY CROSSING sign and never saw a single elderly and now here was a toad crossing and no toads. Was this a Highland kind of thing?

Inverness is the trade center of the Scottish Highlands.
Inverness, a picturesque town of 50,900, has architecture dating back to its origins as a medieval trade town.

The regular ferry to Handa Island, a world class sanctuary for seabirds administered by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, lets you off for a two- or three-hour walkabout. First of all, this Creaky Traveler and creaky G are in no way equipped for a four-mile jaunt where "the terrain is rough, the cliffs are steep, and the weather can change quickly, so take care." {So we recruited} Ken Nash, a burly boatman to run us out to the cliffs in his "cruiser", slow, low to the water, given to the odd spray of salt water, and in tune with its surroundings.

Nature and bird pictures are popular in wildlife parks and sanctuaries.
Razorbills take center stage on Handa Island.

Guidebook: The Creaky Traveler in the North West Highlands of Scotland.

This 170-page paperback is available in bookstores [ISBN:0-9710786-7-X] for US$24.95 or through Sentient Publications, www.sentientpublications.com.

In 2006, the author published his second in this series, The Creaky Traveler in Ireland. Check out the entertaining article about the new book in our magazine's Travel Article Library.

Warren Rovetch has been an economist, a regional and campus planner, a textbook publisher, and creator of an environmental and education and conference center on the Columbia River. He and his wife, Gerda, live in Boulder, Colorado, and have traveled extensively around the world. Email: warrenrovetch@msn.com.

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