It is with immense sadness that I write this foreword to this post. Since writing this piece Ali Macleod tragically lost his life whilst working at sea. He was a kind, thoughtful and altruistic man, and it is no exaggeration to say that his loss will reverberate not just within the Applecross community but also throughout the Highlands and Islands and even farther afield. Ali had a true passion for the sea; he believed in sustainability and environmental protection. He was a man at the very heart of the Applecross community and he will be much missed by many.
It is with some hesitation that I write about my favourite pub in Scotland as it’s a place that doesn’t need advertising. The peaceful village of Applecross is home to one of the busiest and most popular destinations on the West Coast, the Applecross Inn.
Applecross can feel like a gentle oasis in the midst of the dramatic, tree-less Wester Ross hills. It nestles at the end of a long mountainous drive, beckoning with coral beaches, sandy bays and delicious food. This special remoteness is also my biggest grievance with Applecross. Although long drives are an everyday part of Highland life, the three and a half hour drivefrom Skye is a long way to go for a Sunday lunch.
The journey is spectacular in itself, passing the Cuillins, soaring over Skye bridge, meandering through Lochcarron and then turning left towards the Bealach Na Ba Pass where we often stop for a quick coffee and cake at Sharon’s lovely Beaclach cafe and gallery before tackling the windy road ahead.
The Bealach Na Ba is one of the UK’s most famous roads, with hairpin bends, precipitous verges and the steepest ascent of any road climb in Britain. It’s also one of the most beautiful as the 2,054ft climb has spectacular views over Wester Ross, Skye and the Outer Hebrides. It’s not for the faint-hearted and the signs at either end warn new drivers, large vehicles and caravans to take an alternative route with good reason.
I first visited in 2013 when I spent a month meandering around Scotland, discovering good food spots. At the time it was already a popular stop on the biker route and you’d often see rows of shiny motorbikes lined up outside. The invention of the, somewhat controversial, North Coast 500 route has meant that the motorbikes are now squeezed in alongside all manner of hire cars, work vehicles and camper vans. Whilst the increased numbers have undoubtedly put a strain on the place, the Inn has lost none of it’s charm.
The pub’s owner and landlady, Judith Fish, provides a warm welcome for locals and visitors alike. You get a smile first and a table soon after. At the Highland Games she organised the thronging crowds with as much skill as an orchestra conductor, making sure that no one skipped the queue and that everyone was served in turn. The ‘Landlady Of The Year’ certificates on the wall are well-earned.
Another familiar face is front-of-house, Ali Macleod, a creel fisherman who is known throughout the area for his community work which he documents in his blog, ApplecrossLife. I first met Ali when I asked whether the Applecross Bay ‘prawns’ (langoustines) on the menu were dredged or creel caught. “I catch them in the creels myself!” he replied.
We begun chatting about sustainability in seafood and few hours later and we were out on his boat with Ali pointing out the local wildlife and showing me how he brings in the catch for the evening’s dinner service. From sea to plate in under an hour. He describes using creels as ‘passive fishing’ and is a staunch champion of Marine Protected Areas, having seen the damage caused by trawling and dredging for shellfish. A founding member of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, Ali has a wide understanding of the marine environment and it’s refreshing to hear someone putting future sustainability above profit. Ali provides a rare and valuable link between conservationists and fishermen.
The Applecross Inn is famous for it’s local shellfish, but it’s not the only destination for good food on this picture-perfect peninsula. Tucked away on the Applecross House estate and a short walk down the road is the lovely Walled Garden. I’ve been lucky to visit in glorious weather, but the garden is a little microclimate sheltered from the wind and buzzing with insects. On a summer’s day the flowers in full bloom are a riot of colour. In the middle of this leafy oasis sits the café, which uses the garden-grown produce as inspiration for tasting menus and sweet treats.
The wonderful thing about living in the Highlands and Islands is that adventures are everywhere. There’s plenty to do right outside the front door, but on the weekends it’s fun to explore farther afield and a quick hop to the mainland often feels like a holiday. Despite the distance, Applecross and its wonderful Inn will keep drawing me back.
In memory of Applecross fisherman Ali Macleod
Ali’s blog is now run by his wife and can be viewed here
Main image: Applecross Peninsula on the West Coast, Highlands of Scotland. Extremely isolated, it was only accessible by boat until the early 20th century, and for many years after that the only road access was over one of Scotland’s most notoriously treacherous roads/Credit: Getty