Category Archives: North Coast 500

Day 9: Portgower to Hatton

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Day 9  Portgower to Delnies Woods  77 Miles    Total  542 Miles

Portgower

Portgower

By morning the weather had improved a bit:  the rain had mostly stopped and there were blinks of sun.  Time for a short walk with the dogs in Portgower before we set off, homeward bound.

Portgower

Portgower

This part of the route is more familiar to us and the A9 road is much improved.  Gone were the single track roads, now we were in a race track with cars and vans and lorries. Past Golspie with Dunrobin Castle and the infamous hilltop monument of the Duke of Sutherland on Ben Bhraggie, over the Dornoch Bridge and past Invergordon and Alness.   We stopped but twice:  once to let Mary vist a delightful wool shop, Kincraig Fabrics,  in Brora which Ina had recommended, and then for a sumptuous lunch at the Storehouse Restaurant (a regular stopping place for us on previous visits to the area. It is located on the shores of the Cromarty Firth, very near to the long Cromarty Bridge.

Looking towards the Cromarty Bridge from the Storehouse

Looking towards the Cromarty Bridge from the Storehouse

Lunch at the Storehouse of Foulis

Lunch at the Storehouse of Foulis

We noted our milage as we passed Delnies Woods, our starting place: 542 miles.  The round trip from here to Inverness Castle (the “official” starting point of the NC 500) is 15 miles, so our journey on the NC 500 was a grand total of 527 miles.

Then it was homeward on well kent roads, reflecting on our experiences as we drove round  the North Coast.

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If you would like to see more pictures of our road trip round the NC 500 you can see them on my Flickr page:   CLICK HERE

Day 8: Loch Naver to Portgower

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Day 8 Loch Naver to Portgower  124 miles   Total  465 miles

Where to now?  We could drive south from here, through Lairg and head for home.  Although the wind had dropped, the weather was far from fair!  In the end we decided to head north again through Strath Naver to Bettyhill and resume the NC500 route.  We would decide later where we would stop for the night.

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There are several marked stopping places on what is called the Strath Naver Trail, mostly drawing attention to the clearances and the devastation wrecked on the area.  This part of the drive and later as we passed Dunrobin Castle at Gospie, the seat of the Sutherland family, we were very much aware of this terrible period of Highland history.

The road was narrow but in good condition and quiet, so we made good time, enjoying the very different scenery to the rugged coastal route.  At one point a herd of hinds popped their heads over the high ground, just a few yards from the road.  Getting ready for the rut, perhaps.  I did not have time to get my camera;  all I have to record the encounter is a fuzzy picture taken with my phone through the driver’s window.

Deer in Strath Naver

Deer in Strath Naver

We joined the coast road again at Bettyhill and headed east, taking note of the various caravan sites which we might use for another trip along the NC500.   The countryside became less interesting though,, not so picturesque as we had encountered up to now, and the rain came on again quite heavily.

Past the nuclear power station at Dounray, through Thurso (a much bigger town than I remembered from a previous visit) and on towards John o’ Groats.  There are more wind turbines in evidence here, signs of the new focus on renewable energy.  We spied the Castle of May on a headland at Dunnet Bay, and stopped for lunch in a car park on the shore.   It would have been a great place to enjoy in fine weather, but pouring rain took the edge off the pleasure, and the dogs were reluctant to stay out when I went for a little walk with them on the beach in the rain.  “Let us back to our van, now!”

Dunnet Bay

Dunnet Bay

John O’Groats is highly developed, and a bit tatty.  We stopped only long enough to take the obligatory photograph beside the sign post, then headed south, with no inclination to hang around in the wet weather.   We decided we would head for the caravan site at Brora, then return home the next day, a couple of days earlier than we had originally planned.

Rainy John o' Groats

Rainy John o’ Groats

The drive through Caithness was a bit boring, but by the time we were past Wick and entered the county of Sutherland again, the scenery became more interesting with views over the sea, steep climbs at places like the Berrydale Braes near Helmsdale and memories of Lindsay and Kelly’s wedding at Dunbeath Castle which stood dramatically on the cliff top, easily seen from the road.

With the rain still pouring down, we called in to Portgower, a tiny village just south of Helmsdale to visit Adam and Ina. In the end we accepted their offer of hospitality and spent a lovely time with them,  our van parked outside their door and us tucked up cosy in their guest room bed after an impromptu but magnificent meal.  Ina is a wonderful cook!

Portgower

Portgower “Caravan Site”

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There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.

CLICK HERE

Day 7: Sango Sands to Loch Naver

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Day 7 Sango Sands to Loch Naver  55 miles   Total 341 miles

It was a terrifying night of rain and gales.  The van rocked on the cliff top and we dreaded damage…….and the weather forecast was more of the same.

Durness

A break in the clouds, Durness

Our original plan had been to stay two nights at Sango Sands at Durness, but we did not think it wise to sit there, exposed on the cliff top, to be battered by the wind.  Mary consulted the map and in the end we decided we would run before the storm and head inland.  There was a campsite at Altnaharra, so that is where we would head.  A bit off the route of the NC500, perhaps, but we might get away from the worst of the weather.

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But first we thought we would pay a quick visit to the Craft Village which Mary had seen a sign to, on the road to Balnakeil.  What a wonderful find it was! This collection of flat roofed concrete buildings was built in the mid 1950s as an MOD early warning station in the event of nuclear attack. However, it was never commissioned, and in 1964, the camp born of Cold War fear in the 50s, began its rebirth as a 1960s cradle of creativity.   We were able to drink the best hot chocolate ever at the Cocoa Mountain, admire the crafts in various places, and to buy glass artwork from Balnakeil Glass.

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A glass jellyfish from Balnakeil Glass now in our summerhouse.

Best hot chocolate ever!

Best hot chocolate ever!

We planned then to go on for a quick visit to Balnakeil beach, but the wind was still blowing, the rain came on again, so we thought better of it and headed west along the north coast, round Loch Eriboll, on to Tongue with stunning views of Ben Loyal appearing through the mist as we crossed the causeway, and then up into the hills towards Altnaharra.

heading for Loch Eriboll

Heading for Loch Eriboll

Ben Loyall from the Tongue causeway

Ben Loyal from the Tongue causeway

leaving Tongue

leaving Tongue

Rainbow on the road from Tongue

Rainbow on the road from Tongue

We found Alnaharra, but the caravan site was a little more tricky to locate.  In the end we were directed up the road through Strath Naver, and there it was, huddled on the shores of Loch Naver, a gem of a site, operated by the Caravan Club:  no showers or toilets, the nearest shop some 20 miles away, but what a gorgeous place.   We parked beside the loch, with our back to the ruins of an old broch.  This is where we would sit out the storm.

Loch Naver

Parked by the broch on the shores of Loch Naver

Windy walk

Loch Naver

Loch Naver

Waves on Loch Naver

The broch is called Grummore.  Dating back to the first century AD, Its walls are 10 feet thick, and the whole construction about 30 feet wide.  This was our second broch of the trip, and there are plenty more of these round tower houses about, if you know where to look for them.

Grummore Broch

Grummore Broch

Poppy the broch-hopper dog

Poppy, the broch-hopper dog

We also found out that we were camped beside the ruins of one of the clearance villages.  The 16 houses of the Grummore township were burned in 1819 in what has become known as the Highland Clearances to “improve” the land and create grazing for sheep.  The infamous Patrick Sellar, the factor to the Duke of Sutherland was involved in this case.  Strath Naver was the focus of much of his clearance work, including the case for which he was tried for arson and culpable homicide: Margaret Mackay was burned to death in her house when she refused to leave.  Sellar was acquitted because of lack of evidence.   A beautiful place but with echoes of past horrors.

Loch Naver

Loch Naver

But it was stormy here too;  the wind was howling up the strath, the loch was whipped up into white waves, but we felt secure and despite the rocking of the van over night and the battering of the rain.  We rested well.

In the morning, the wind and dropped and the the sun was out, so we decided to head back to the coast.

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There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.

CLICK HERE

 

Day 6: Scourie to Durness

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Day 6: Scourie to Durness   35 miles   Total  286 miles

Scourie

Scourie

I enjoyed an early morning walk down to the jetty with the dogs, and discovered that we had a Wi-Fi signal from a router in the houses beside the road!  I was able to post a Facebook update from here.  The other joy was being watched by a robin down by the jetty.

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Scourie

Scourie

When we arrived the day before we had spied a little sandy beach from the campsite.  We followed a path towards it, but it was really too rough and wet, so we gave up.  This morning we drove down to the beach as we were leaving Scourie in glorious sunshine.  The dogs enjoyed the run on the sand;  Mary enjoyed stalking her favourite shore birds, ringed plovers; and I enjoyed taking photographs.  A lovely hour or so.

Scourie Bay

Scourie Bay

Ringed plover, Scourie

Ringed plover, Scourie

Scourie

Scourie

Then it was off, still heading north towards Durness. With not a long drive before us we had plenty time to make a detour to Kinlochbervie and were surprised to see the size of the fish market and the signs of industrial style fishing here in such a remote area.  We stopped for lunch in the old School at Inshegra,  and I was delighted with the little burn and rowan tree beside where we parked.

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Kinlochbervie

Kinlochbervie

As we approached the north coast the countryside changed quite a bit.  We drove down a broad smooth valley with obvious signs of sheep farming.  Every so often there would be an old tyre with a painted warning to watch out for lambs.  Quite different to the craggy mountainous countryside we had encountered much of the way from Inverness.

Sango Bay

Sango Bay

Sango Bay campsite was a joy – big and not at all claustrophobic.  We found ourselves a cliff-top pitch and admired the sandy beach below, with beautiful blue sea;  we could even make out two Orkney Isalnds on the horizon.

Cliff top pitch, Sango Bay

Cliff top pitch, Sango Bay

Then came the excitement as we spotted dolphins in the bay.  They were too far away to photograph well, but it was a joy to watch them in the clear blue water.

Dolphin in Sango Bay

Dolphin in Sango Bay

In the evening we managed a walk on the sand, even though Poppy took off with a Collie and we found her waiting for us at the top of the cliff!

In the night the rain came and the gales blew.  I had left my trainers under the van;  the sideways rain filled them with water.

The wind blew even harder and the rain battered the van, and we shook and shook and shook.  Quite frightening on the cliff top.

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The are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.

CLICK HERE

 

 

Day 5: Ardmair Point to Scourie

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Day 5: Ardmair Point to Scourie  39 miles   Total 251 miles

It was a beautiful morning when we set off to drive north to Scourie.  Sandy Smith had told us to make sure to visit Knockan Crag and it was well worth the stop with interpretation of continental drift and the discoveries of the Victorian geologists, Peach and Horne made on the cliffs here, which allowed them to explain the reasons for the positions of the different rocks – a mystery to previous geologists.

Poppy was not impressed with the life-sized statues of the pair and she barked her head off at them.  What she did love though,  was rock climbing, even managing to nearly scale the ball shaped monument.

Fred Coutts, Ben Peach and John Horne

Fred Coutts, Ben Peach and John Horne

img_8131From here there are great views towards Stac Pollaidh, but then the rain came.

Looking towards Stac Pollaidh

Looking towards Stac Pollaidh

Rain on its way

Rain on its way

And after the rain a rainbow as we ate lunch in a carpark at Inchnadamph.

Inchnadamph

Inchnadamph

Kylesku

Kylesku

Then it was through Assynt and over the Kylesku bridge,  recalling the miniature submarine serice which trained in the waters here  during the war.  Then on to Scourie where we found ourselves a beautiful clifftop pitch overlooking Scourie Bay.

Scourie

Scourie

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There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page.

CLICK HERE

Day 4: North Coast 500

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Applecross to Ardmair Point   122 Miles    Total:  212 Miles

It was still raining a little when Poppy and I were out for our early morning constitutional, but the wind had dropped, the clouds seemed to be lifting and things looked a bit more positive.

The burn beside the campsite was in spate, little wonder after the rain there had been over night.

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What would we do today?  In the end we decided to go on and to tackle the coastal road,  It was only constructed in the 1970s.  Before that the only land route to Applecross was over the Bealach na Ba.  No wonder the area was described as the most remote parish in Scotland.  As it turned out,  the coastal road, though much longer, is a fine road, with a good surface and plenty of passing places.

The old church at Clanach

The old church at Clanach

Before we finally said farewell to Applecross we paid a quick visit to the old church and graveyard at Clachan.  This was the site of the original settlement by the Irish monk, Maelrubha in 671AD.  He declared that his monastery and the area round it was a place of sanctuary. The Gaelic name for Applecross is A’ Chomraich which means ‘The Sanctuary’.  Corruptions of Maelrubha’s name can be found in Loch Maree further north and strangely, in St Rufus in Keith in Banffshire.    It is said that St Maelruhba is buried here in the graveyard at Carnach.  Sadly the nearby Heritage Centre did not open until the afternoon so a visit here will have to await another visit.

Applecross from Carnach

Applecross from Carnach

It was a pleasant drive along the coast, with improving weather and fine views of Raasay emerging from the mist.

Loch Torridonb

Loch Torridon

The next stop on the way north was Torridon, our first visit here, a dramatic and spectacular area with the high mountains erupting from the loch.  Just time for a quick lunch at the shop/post office/café and a short dog walk along the shore of Loch Torridon before we pointed our noses north again.

Torridon

Torridon

It seemed wrong to just keep driving through all this beautiful countryside but our eyes were set further north and we had visited this area before:  Loch Maree, Gairloch, Poolewe and Ullapool.

Loch Maree taken in 2003

Loch Maree taken in 2003

It was while fuelling up at Ullapool that I heard how bad the weather had been here the previous day with the Stornoway ferry cancelled.  But the weather was fair now, with just some occasional showers.  So on we went the few miles to our overnight stopping place, Ardmair Point.  This was a quiet, friendly place and we parked our van pointing out to the view over Loch Broom.

~Armair Point

Ardmair Point

The sun came out and gave us a spectacular sunset.  All the campers seemed to be out on the beach, clutching cameras, phones, iPads, recording the orange colours.

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Earlier we had watched the Lewis Ferry making its way to Ullapool – a day late perhaps?

Capturing the Lewis Ferry

Capturing the Lewis Ferry

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There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page

CLICK HERE

Day 3: North Coast 500

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Applecross Campsite

There was heavy rain overnight, making quite a noise in the van, but when Poppy decided it was time to get up (6.45 am) the sky was clear with the promise of some fine weather.

As we explored a track beside the old farm buildings we had an exciting encounter – two red deer stags, just a few yards away.  Poppy did not know what to make of them, and the two young gentlemen trotted down the edge of the deer fence, not much concerned.  Again, no camera with me, and the quick snaps I took with my phone in the half dark produced only fuzzy pictures.

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2016-09-23-06-58-23Mary and I decided to make an early start and explored two restored Hebridean barns, an excavated broch and a thatched round house – not bad going within a couple of hundred yards of the campsite.

The campsite with the excavated broch on the left

The campsite with the excavated broch on the left

After that we had a lovely walk along a marked path through old hazel woods at Carnach.  (Carnach means a stony place, or one bounded by cairns, and there certainly were lots of moss covered stones about.)  The path eventually led us down to the shore road.  The dogs loved the wood, exploring and running free.  They certainly needed that after two long days in the van.

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2016-09-23-09-43-50Across the water we could see the island of Raasay which we had visited many years before. The flat topped hill called Dun Caan stood out distinctly.  On that visit to Raasay I had copied James Boswsell who had climbed it during his tour of the Highlands with Dr Johnston in 1773 and “danced a jig” on the top.   We had looked across the same stretch of water, and eventually decided we were looking at Applecross in the bright sunlight.   Now here we were looking back the other way, though hardly in sunshine.

Looking over to Raasay

Looking over to Raasay

Sadly that was the only outing.  We had hoped to visit the Heritage Centre, but after lunch the rain came on and the wind blew up and we were confined to the van.  But at least we had that wonderful morning.
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As the rain poured down and the gales shook the van we wondered if we would have to abandon our road trip. The weather forecast predicted more storms to come.  I did not fancy tackling the Bealach again in such bad weather and we had no idea what the coast road was like.

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Day 2: North Coast 500

Day 2:  Delnies Woods to Applecross   90 Miles   Total  90 Miles

500 miles to go! Our route will take us across the country to Applecross, then up the west coast until we hit the Pentland Firth at Durness, turning east to John o’ Groats, then back south through Caithness, Sutherland, Easter Ross,  back to our starting point at Delnies Woods.

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After a quick visit to Tescos at Inverness to top up with fuel and a few bits and pieces from the shop, our road trip proper began.

Kessock Bridge

Kessock Bridge

The Kessock Bridge looked lovely in the sunshine as we drove along the A96.  When we crossed the bridge ourselves, we admired the Inverness Caley Thistle football stadium and thought of Lochlann and his interest in football.  He would have loved to see this.

It was hard not to turn right off the A9 to the Black Isle as we have done so often before, but our noses were pointing to the west on the Wester Ross Coastal Route, so the road signs informed us.

Loch a' Chuilinn

Loch a’ Chuilinn

With the weather fair and sunny we saw the Highlands at their glorious best as we followed the railway line making its way to Kyle of Lochalsh.

“Are you taking the van over the Bealachg na Ba?” so texted Donald, our son.

“What’s the Bealach na Ba?”  we texted back.

On the Bealach na Ba

On the Bealach na Ba

Admiring Loch Kishorn

Admiring Loch Kishorn

 

We soon found out!   I must admit to not having looked carefully at a map before we set off.  I had focussed on where the campsites were located.  Donald sent us a picture of the narrow twisty road making its way over the mountains to Applecross.   Gulp!   There was even a road sign at the turn off, warning that this road was not suitable for inexperienced drivers.

Motorists beware

Motorists beware

But we made it, even managing to find a wide enough spot to stop and admire the view over Loch Kishorn far below.  The van seemed to relish the hairpins and the steep gradient.  I have since read that this road, whose name translates from the Gaelic, as the Pass of the Cattle was originally a drove road, and atg one time the only land access to Applecross.  It is one of the highest roads in the UK and is the longest ascent – 2,054 feet.   We definitely need the teeshirt!

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At first sight the campsite was a bit of a disappointment – not much of a view – it is on high ground just above the Applecross Inn.  it was busy too, with a line of motorhomes making good use of the limited hard standing.  The rest of the field was grass, some of it showing sings of cars having been stuck in the mud.

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But we settled in, and by the evening of day three we came to quite like it.  Very different to the usual caravan sites we have visited before.  It’s not a place where caravans venture.  Here there were tents a plenty and motorcyclists who clearly were keen to experience the drive over the mountains.

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There are more pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page

CLICK HERE

 

Day 1: North Coast 500

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Day 1:  Home to Delnies Woods 93 Miles

The North Coast 500 route round the north of Scotland has been getting a lot of attention world wide, Travel Now magazine has placed it in fifth in a list of ‘six of the best’ coast road trips on the planet.  Top was Cape Overberg in South Africa, followed by the Amalfi Coast in Italy and The Atlantic Road in Norway. The Pacific Coast Highway in America and the Coral Coast in Australia made up the list.

Over the years we have driven parts of the route, and loved it.  Now it was time to take our courage in both hands and set off in the motorhome to do the NC500.

Day One doesn’t really count;  the NC500 officially starts and ends in Inverness.  But we decided to make our starting point the Delnies Woods Caravan Site near Nairn.  So off we set to what is a favourite site for us, with its tall trees and wonderful woodland walks for the dogs.

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Although it was just an overnight stop at the beginning of our adventure, I have come away with a couple of memories:  owls hooting in the trees during the night, and encountering a red squirrel in the early morning as I went out with Poppy.  He was in the vacant pitch just opposite us, after the seed in the bird feeders, I think, and enjoying scampering up till he was out of sight in the tall conifers.  Needless to say, no camera with me in the half dark early morning!

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There are pictures of our road trip along the NC 500 on my Flickr page

CLICK HERE