We’d been hoping that the fine weather would last but it was another wet start. We left at 09:20 and turned off onto the B869, known to locals as the “breakdown zone” as its hills are a test for vehicles. The Dutch owner of the backpackers had related how he’d been stuck behind a tourist in a camper van who’d failed on the first hill – he’d brought all the food and beer for his holiday from Germany and had to unload it all, drive the van to the top of the hill, park the van and then walk down and back several times to retrieve his load. The Dutchman said he hadn’t told him there were plenty more hills like that on the road. Cyclists are better news for the local economy as we eat a lot and have to buy it in local shops… anyway lets see how we fare on this infamous road.

Well it was certainly very hilly and twisty but we’ve been along worse and we didn’t have to push as much as I’d expected. The scenery was lovely, with misty views of inlets and islets. Two hours later we stopped for soup and ginger cake at the hotel in Drumbeg and chatted with a couple of feisty lady walkers from Dundee who arrived to be welcomed by “Ye cannae book in ’til two o’clock”. “I remember this place” muttered one, with a wry smile. They were staying the night there as the next place offering accommodation was too far away, a problem when walking in this remote area.

Then on along the B869, less hilly by now but still very scenic. Maddeningly we had to pass the turning for the SYHA hostel in order to shop in Lochinver, where we briefly enjoyed warm sunshine before the clouds again conspired to block the source of heat. We loaded up and dragged ourselves back and then off to the hostel, beautifully situated on the sandy beach at Achmelvich. This was the most basic accommodation of the trip – no showers! Despite this, the hostel was very busy and we were lucky to get in. The man in charge was a conservation officer with the SYHA who’d volunteered to work as a warden during the summer to help alleviate staff shortages – he was clearly enjoying himself socialising with the hostellers and there was a lovely atmosphere around the place despite the spartan facilities. The rain returned at 20:30 as we went out for an evening stroll.

The male dorm was full and I was below Rowan’s astonishingly creaky bunk and next to a heavy snorer! Luckily the racket abated eventually and I enjoyed a good night’s sleep. The more genteel of our readership may wonder why we chose hostels rather than hotels… well beside the fact that three people eating out and staying in hotels for three weeks would make a very expensive holiday, we’ve found from experience that it’s easier to cook for ourselves than to find a restaurant offering decent vegetarian food in the middle of nowhere. Plus hostels are great places for meeting others on similar holidays and swapping experiences. Most are very comfortable and the odd spartan hostel is usually redeemed by other qualities.