The region of Assynt, in the highlands of Scotland, is pretty much a long way from anywhere - the perfect place for anyone in search of peace and perspective
Over-zealous sat-nav systems aside, no one drives to Drumbeg by accident. Lying 14 miles up a single-track road in Scotland’s far northwest, when the mist rolls in from the sea, Drumbeg is as near a modern-day Brigadoon as you’re ever likely to come across. Most visitors go there to walk or fish, but the 23 miles of tortuous single-track from Kylesku to Lochinver is an adventure in itself and probably one of the most scenic and compelling roads in Scotland.
Assynt is a wild, remote place. Many value its solitude, and so they should, but back in the early 19th century that solitude came at a high price. During the Highland Clearances, tens of thousands were evicted from their homes to make way for sheep, the evictions in Sutherland being particularly violent. Forcibly relocated to poor land near the coast, many of the inhabitants found these plots, or ‘crofts’ as they became known, failed to produce a living, forcing them to move south or emigrate to the colonies. Their ruined homes still haunt the shoreline, some in secluded coves, others scattered incongruously among more recent settlements. There are ghosts here. Sit for a while amongst their ruins; you may not find an answer to the meaning of life but you might just better understand the question.
In the centre of the village, the Drumbeg Hotel is all you would expect from a small, family run Highland inn. Its six guest bedrooms are clean and comfortable; meals are well-prepared, using predominantly local produce; and in the evening its friendly bar burbles with laughter and interesting conversation. There can be few better ways to end a day walking the hills or fishing the lochs than watching the sun set across Loch Drumbeg over a plate of venison and a glass of wine.
The Tolkienesque image of Suilven features throughout the hotel in photographs, paintings and even the dining room menu. Although not particularly high as Scottish mountains go, iconic status has long been conferred by its remoteness and forbidding stature. From the west the mountain seems impenetrable, a huge pillar or rock rising from a boggy, lochan-strewn wilderness. The key to its ascent, however, lies in a steep eroded gully leading to a rocky ridge. It’s a 15-mile round trip, and be warned: despite its rather modest 731 metres of elevation, the ascent is a long, lonely day in anyone’s book. Although the climbing is never technical, the consequences of a slip could be serious.
If the call of civilisation becomes too strong, the fleshpots – or is it lobster pots? – of Ullapool are within easy driving distance. Situated on the shores of Loch Broom, Ullapool was founded in the late 18th century as a fishing port, and fishing still plays an important role in the local economy, as does the ferry terminal, which provides access to Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides. It's an important tourist destination, and many believe the real Highlands don’t start until you get to Ullapool. The town also enjoys a reputation as a centre for the arts – particularly traditional music - and the local pubs are well worth investigating of an evening.
Assynt is pretty much a long drive from anywhere. From southern England it’s a two-day trip. Some would argue you could fly to America in less time, and so you could. But if you’re seeking peace and perspective on a workaday routine, then you could do worse than head north. Turn your mobile off at Inverness and take the road tae Drumbeg.