LOVE TO WANDER
Our trip ends today with aa 5 hour drive south from Dunblane home.. It has been an interesting trip to this remote, far flung land where there is a marvellous amount of nothing to do. If you are looking for solitude, room to wander and reflect and allow yourself to " just be", then you will find plenty of it in the Scottish Highlands.
The North Coast 500 is certainly a spectacular road trip - equal or better than the Garden Route, the Big Sur. the Beartooth Highway, the Badlands Loop the Canadian Iceway or the Coromandel Peninsula NZ that we have experienced previously. Although only established in 2015 (with support from Prince Charles), its reputation is growing quickly with world's best road trips ratings: of CNN Travel No. 2, Wanderlust No. 11, Hello Magazine No. 8, The Telegraph No.4.
You can obviously do this trip either way round, but I think East to West is best because the scenery on the West coast is much more stunning than the East, so you can get the history and a feel for the place on the East and save the best until last on the West coast.
It would have been quite possible to do this trip in three or four fewer days, though this would have given much less opportunity to explore on foot, especially making allowances for the rain and windy weather. It would be possible to complete it in just a week, but to do it all in the car would be missing a huge amount. We walked a total of 135kms in two weeks and the walks were the highlights of the trip for us.
The trip would probably have been better in May, when the maquis would have been in flower and the seabirds would have been around (April to July, but before the onslaught of beastly midges. The roads would probably be pretty challenging in the height of Summer given the volume of traffic still on them at the tail end of the season.
Perfection on this trip would have been a combination of the best bits of all the hotels we stopped in:
Views, welcome and fireside - Kyleskue Hotel, Kyleskue
Breakfast, bed and bath - Mackay's Rooms, Durness
Restaurant - Aultbea Hotel, Altbea
Beach and view from the room - Bettyhill Hotel, Bettyhill
Whisky Selection - Dunblane Hilton Hydro, Dunblane
After dinner coffee, chocolates and liqueurs - Mackay's Hotel, Wick
Recommended reading: The North Coast 500 Guidebook by Charles Tait. A comprehensive guide to all the region has to offer.
Useful website: www.walkhighlands.co.uk
Wish I had seen: A Highland Fling; Castle Mey (ran out of time!)
Wish I had packed: More Kleenex tissues, wellies
It took us the best part of 6 hours to drive from Shieldag to Dunblane where we decided to break the long return journey home with an overnight stay. En route, we made a small detour to visit the Kelpies at Falkirk.
They are an amazing piece of sculpture designed by Andy Scott, built to commemorate the horses that towed the canal barges. He built large scale replicas of two of the horses named Baron (the taller with head up) and Duke (the smaller with head down). The cleverly crafted steel structures are illuminated at night and their scale means they tower impressively over the road as you approach the site. Well worth the detour!
A nightcap of Bunnahanhain 12 year old whisky made for a smooth finish to the evening. Described as: "fresh and fragrant with hats of seaweed and malt on the nose. Soft and supple on the palate with sherry, a hint of sweetness, malt and juicy sultanas. A sherries, herbal finish with a balanced, salty tang." Very memorable.