The Bealach na Ba and Applecross
- some extracts from classic guide books -

Great British Bike Rides by Dave Barter 2013
…the Bealach na Ba – reputedly the hardest climb on the mainland, soaring from sea level to a giddy 2,000 feet and climbing continuously for five and a half miles. This is the ultimate British climbing experience. The road gently teases and then brutally savages the legs before handing out utter destruction in the 25% hairpin bends at the top…
However, the Bealach na Ba hides a secret: the sublime coastal roads that lie beyond its fearsome slopes. Leading away from Applecross Bay, they offer an undulating odyssey of eye candy, their stretching sea views interspersed with sandy bays and stark moorland. Rich reward for the cyclist who conquers the Bealach!

Greatest Cycling Climbs - a Road Cyclists Guide to Britain’s Hills
by Simon Warren 2010

This is it: the Holy Grail, the toughest and wildest climb in Britain. Anything you have been told or read about this amazing road is likely to be true. For once you can believe the hype… RATING 11/10

The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands & Islands 3rd edition 2004
… the infamous Bealach na Ba… Crossing the forbidding hills behind Kishorn and rising to 2,053ft, with a gradient and switchback bends worthy of the Alps, this route – a popular cycling piste – is hair-raising in places, but the panoramic views across the Minch to Raasay and Skye more than compensate….


North-West Highlands Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers Guide 2004
The name Aplecross is a corruption of Aber Crossan (estuary of the river Crossan) and refers to the small bay, the village and the entire peninsula… on either side, long fingers of sea reach deep into the mainland hills…
Using a slight break in the mountain barrier, the famous road across the bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle) was one of the last of the Parliamentary roads, completed in 1822. One of the highest roads in Britain, it reaches 625m after climbing steeply up from sea level at Tornapress, at the head of Loch Kishorn. The notorious hairpin bends near the top have been improved over the years but winter snow can block the road for long periods… continue the long gradual descent to Applecross village… From the head of Loch Shieldaig, the road around the north coast of the peninsula was finally completed in 1975...


Touring Scotland – Wester Ross by Ross Finlay 1971
After crossing the low-lying farm land at the head of Loch Kishorn, the Applecross road turns sharp left over the river Kishorn, and begins the gentle introductory assault on one of the most spectacular mountain roads in Britain, which rises to 2,053 feet only six miles or so after leaving the shore of the sea loch. Straight ahead from the approach to the river is the south west side of Beinn Bhan, steep-rising slopes of bare rock, boulders and heather that sum up the appearance of the giant Applecross peninsula.

Beyond… the road climbs to the right over the shoulder of the hill… and suddenly comes to a most impressive view of the towering summits that guard the entrance to the stiffest part of the Pass of the Cattle… The road hugs a ledge on the north side, and the gradient becomes much stiffer… the road is single-track although there are enough passing places… if there are ten cars every thirty minutes during the holiday season, the traffic is said to be very heavy.

…The series of hairpins by which the road reaches the steep sided saddle that leads to the invisible summit of the pass, can be seen for a mile or two along the approach.

The top of the road is marked on some maps as the Bealch nam Bo, and on others as the Bealach na Ba; both mean the Pass of the Cattle, and the second is said to be the more accurate Gaelic… the pronunciation is roughly
byaallach, with accent on the drawled first syllable and the l sounded further forward than in English.

…In fact, the final assault on the highest part of the pass, with the road twisting and turning through the series of hairpins, is one of the most exhilarating moments… the view backwards is most impressive.

Near the top of the pass are some stone cairns… built haphazardly by modern travellers and have no special significance… The outlook from this high viewpoint is mostly of bare rock and boulders… Out to sea there’s a splendid view over Raasay and the mountains of Skye, and the smaller islands of the Inner Sound.


Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland by W H Murray 1968
The road up the
Bealach na Ba climbs… at first high above the sea with views across Loch Alsh to Glenelg and Skye, and then burrowing deeply into the corrie between the cliffs of Meall Gorm ( Blue Mountain) on the left and the vast screes of Sgurr a Chaorachain, on which the road becomes a slender ledge above a drop of several hundred feet. At the back of the corrie it zig-zags in hairpins with a maximum gradient of one in four, and at last breaks out on to the plateau. Thus far the cliff scenery…. the sudden dropping away of the ground… the wide vistas… have given the Bealach na Ba close resemblance to an Alpine pass. The plateau is a dersrt of stone, moon-like in its desolation… There is found here a kind of beauty utterly different from that of lake and woodland, and worth experiencing – a beauty of desert, wide skies, strong rock. It is harsh and stern, yet enchanting…

The road descends much more gently to Applecross village… No motor road continues north, but an excellent track, passable for motor-bikes, goes all the way round the west coast to Shieldaig…

The sense of isolation in Applecross is in large part an effect of the Bealach na Ba. But much more than that is implied in the old names for the peninsula, which was Comeraich, a Sanctuary – the only name known in the language of the people themselves. It was first made a sanctuary by the arrival here in 673 of St. Maelrubha, and continued under the church as a recognised sanctuary for all manner of fugitives in succeeding centuries till the Reformation. The bounds of the sanctuary lands, centred on the river’s estuary, were marked by a six mile arc of stones. All these have gone. The most southerly stone was a cross eight feet high, which used to stand on a promontory at Camusterach. This was deliberately smashed by a mason repairing the Free Church.

The name Applecross is from Apor-crossan, first mentioned in Tighernac’s Latin Annals. His Crossan is the Applecross river, which is still locally known as the Crossan. Apor is from the Gaelic Aber meaning Estuary. Tales have gained currency, principally through an error of the Third Statistical Account of 1845, that the name Applecross arose on the break-up of the clan territory, when the new proprietor of the estate re-named Applecross after planting five apple-trees crosswise in his garden. When examined in 1854, all but one of these trees were found to be chestnuts. The modern name Applecross first appears in papal documents of 1275 – clearly a written corruption of the an ill-heard “Abercrossan’.


The Scottish Peaks by W A Poucher 1964
… In a distance of only six miles this L branch rises from sea level to a height of 2,053 feetat the Bealach na Ba, ascending
en route the wild glen of the Allt a’Chumaing and ending in aseries of zig-zags at a gradient of 1 in 3.On a clear day its cairn littered crest reveals a splendid distant prospect of the peaks of Rhum and the Coolins and Red Hills of Skye, with on their right, a glimpse of the Storr and on their left the ranges that extend southwards to Loch Duich. Some two miles north of Tornapress the four great corries of Beinn Bhan come into view… their mural precipices fall vertically for well over 1,000 feet; each corrie is separated by a castellated spur and the whole provides a picture of mountain grandeur…


The Drove Roads of Scotland by A R B Haldane 1952
…The Statistical Account records that in 1794 the parish of Applecross in Wester Ross-shire contained about 3,000 cattle, the annual sales of cattle being the chief means of support for the people. For these the natural route would be by Strathcarron and Strath Bran to the East Coast…


Beyond the Great Glen by F Reid Corson 1934
…Two miles beyond Courthill, the Applecross road diverges to the left, crosses the Kishorn River at Tornapress Bridge, and begins its long climb to the Bealach nam Bo (Cattle Pass), curving round the lower slopes of Beinn Bhan.

…the road swings away southwards to round the base of Sgurr a’Chaorachain and climbs along its side towards the pass. Between this mountain and the opposing height of Meall Gorm is a deep hollow, walled by black crags, below which, on a ledge of rock, runs the road, making for the high saddle at the head of the glen. It climbs up to the summit by a series of zigzags and hair-pin-bends, with a mile of straight road to reach the highest point at 2054 ft. The finest views are obtained from top of the zig-zags, looking back down the glen. Below one’s feet is the winding road, wavering downwards along the slopes between frowning bastions of black rock.High in the sky, beyond the shining waters of Loch Kishorn, tower the great peaks of Central Ross …

…continuing in a north-westerly direction the road begins to fall, curls round the flanks of Meall gorm down a steep and twisting hill, and opens up an extensive view to the north and west. The brown moors of Applecross roll northwards to Loch Torridon, with Longa and the low lands of Gairloch beyond in the blue distance: Rassay, Rona and Skye lie west across the sea. A long rough descent to the bridge over the Allt Beag is followed by a short rise, then with a west ward sweep of 3 miles the road swings down to Applecross village, on the south side of Applecross Bay.


The Sunset Shore by Iain F Anderson 1934
(This guy didn’t actually go but had heard some interesting tales nevertheless!….or perhaps he was using Black’s guide - see below)

It is with regret we have to pass by the roadway leading to Applecross… and climb that famous hill through the Pass of the Cattle to its summit on a roadway two thousand feet above the sea. Here we would have seen the magnificence of the Sound of Raasay, the hills of northern Skye, with the dark Quirang, their overlord, and on a clear day the Outer Isles.

The village of Applecross is interesting for its legends and traditions. The district of Applecross from its gaelic name means “the Place of Safety”… possibly derived from its old time ecclesiastical establishment in which the hunted and criminal found sanctuary… The interest in the name of Applecross itself occasions my asking one who knows this district well if he could offer a suggestion as to its origin. His explanation was that the proprietor of the district was said to have planted five apple trees in the form of a cross to commemorate an event of sacred character… another traditionary
(sic) origin of the name is attributable to Saint Meal Rubha who founded a monastery there about 673 AD and that every apple growing in the orchard of this monastery bore on its skin the mark of a cross giving the place the name of Applecross.

Black’s Guide to Scotland – North 1928
…The road itself actually attains a height of 2000 feet, and though it is engineered by a series of zigzags, is both precipitous and dangerous, falling with as much abruptness as it rises, some of the gradients being 1 in 2 ...

Black’s Guide to Scotland 1889
…and opposite us as we approach Courthill, are the precipitous mountains of Applecross, across which the road to the Milton of Applecross (inn) proceeds west from the head of Loch Kishorn by the wild high pass called Bealach-nam-Bo (the pass of the cattle).

…The road attains its summit-level of 2054 ft. by a series of corkscrew traverses, and displays along its course the wildest description of scenery… It commands a magnificent view from the top, comprehending (
sic) the island of Skye and the whole chain of the Hebrides. The green and wooded plain of Applecross, to which it ultimately conducts, is a valley encompassed by high mountains, which completely isolate it from the rest of the world.

…the modern name of Applecross refers to a monkish tradition, that every apple that grew in the old orchard bore the mark of the cross.

Boats can be hired at Milton to Skye, Loch Carron…
... Loch Shieldaig may be approached by a path which goes up the pretty glen of Aplecross Water, and hence almost due north over the rough hills to Inverban – about 8miles from Milton and 4 west of Shieldaig

MAP of Dingwall and Skye Railway in Blacks guide to Scotland.