Friday, 3 September 2010

Loch Laxford and its world famous mussels

As the afternoon brightened, I decided to explore the outer area of the loch a bit further, but this time by car. I saw from the OS map that a single track road wound its way over the hills in a loop to places called Foindle, Fanagmore and Tarbet. Most of the eastern end of the loch with the tide out, and surrounding hills looked very similar to this photograph. It was indeed a wilderness.

Views of the loch opened up again as I approached the village of Foindle. There was some evidence of human activity here as there were a few sheep munching some green grass. In the sheltered bays I could see more signs of the Laxford Shellfish Company. They are famed over the world for their Scottish mussels.

Next stop was Fanagmore where the village turned out to be no more than a couple of houses and a small slipway for launching boats.

I took a walk onto the shore and discovered there were plenty of "free range" mussels growing on the rocks. I collected a pot full thinking they would make a decent dinner. On the way back to the car I met a local man and asked if the mussels would be good to eat as it was still August and there was no “r” in the month. I was under the impression that mussels absorbed poisonous toxins from the algae that breed in the warmer water of summer.

The local fellow just laughed and mentioned they exported mussels from the loch, world wide, every day of the year and no one had complained yet. I put my free range stash in the car for later.

I headed over the hill to the next stop which was Tarbet. Again the village consisted of nothing more than a couple of houses, plus a pier and a restaurant which boasted fresh Loch Laxford seafood. I guess they didn’t get any mackerel today either as it was closed. I climbed to the top of the hill behind the car park to get my photo of the restaurant.

The sea view also looked great from the hill. A few rocky islands to explore and the pier which is the ferry terminal for Handa Island, once populated and even had its own Queen but now deserted and a bird sanctuary.

The large car park indicated Tarbet was a popular place at one time but there was only a small handfull of people to be seen when I was there.

Everything was closed including the ferry ticket office. I asked the only likely looking local if he thought anyone would mind me going to the island on my own boat. He said thought it would not go down too well as someone owned the franchaise for the ferry and made their living taking tourists across. I thanked him for the information and said "No worries..I wont go to Handa as there are plenty of free islands in the area". He gave me a funny look before he disappeared into the closed ticket office.

I looked at the menu in the restaurant and saw a starter dish of “Fresh Laxford Mussels in a sizzling garlic butter sauce” I thought of my stash in the car and felt hungry. I filled my pot with seawater and set it on my little gaz stove.

When it was boiling, I dropped a handful of mussels into the pot until the shells opened. I then cleaned the pot, added some butter and sizzled the scooped out mussels for a few seconds. I doubt if the restaurant’s dish could have been any fresher or tastier.

Just as I started eating the mussels, the likely looking local came out the ticket office and headed for the still closed restraunt. I resisted the temptation to ask him if he had any spare garlic.

I now felt that I had savoured enough flavour of the area to boast that I had survived my ordeal in the wilderness of the far north west coast of Scotland and even enjoyed the experience. As I headed for Ullapool I stopped for one more photo.

A shot of my car dwarfed by the mighty triple buttress of Sail Gharbh. I didn’t realise it at that time, but the following week I was to stand on its very summit.. but that’s another chapter for my inflatable journey blog.

1 comment:

Tony said...

Just came across your Blog. We did the same drive today, and the restaurant was closed and the ferries had stopped for the year. Patches of sunshine though which made for some good photos. Heading to the mussel farm tomorrow to try to buy a few KGs of the farmed ones. Nice blog.