Following a night out in Inverness, we arose the next morning, packed our bags, said goodbye to our friends who had put us up for the night and were on our way. The weather was overcast and threatened to rain, but the forecast for the rest of the week was glorious. Here’s what to do on the first part of the drive, from Inverness to Tonge
It seems like a strange thing to start with to tell you about the fantastic North Coast 500 route and then to tell you to ignore it, but trust me, it’s worth it. Instead of continuing on the A9 towards Duncanston, we joined the A832 at Tore and headed out to Chanonry Point, which is regarded as one of the best places in Scotland for a spot of dolphin watching. The drive meant that we got to drive through the Black Isle, which is known for it’s beauty. The isle is not actually an island, but a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides (the Cromarty Firth, the Beauly Firth and the Moray Firth)
At Chanonry Point we parked next to the lighthouse and walked down to the beach where we immediately saw a seal playing in the water. After waiting for about 20 minutes we were called over to a group of people gathered a bit further down, who pointed out the dolphins playing across the bay. Unfortunately they were quite a distance from us, but speaking to some of the people there they informed us that it’s not uncommon to see the dolphins chasing the fish in after low tide, coming within metres of the shore where we were.
Dolphin watching appitite satisfied, we continued our journey, rejoining the A9 at Cromarty bridge. (Shortly after the bridge there is a wonderful farm shop and cafe, the Storehouse of Foulis, which focuses on local produce and crafts. If you’re feeling peckish or fancy a drink you should definitely make a stop off here!) We slowly made our way up to Golspie, a cute seaside village before moving on to Dunrobin castle. This impressive castle has a museum, beautiful gardens and daily falconry shows (currently 11:30 and 14:00) which are included in the entrance price.
The drive then continues through Brora, which some of you may know from the high end cashmere goods of the same name, and then onto Lybster. Just after Lybster there is a historical landmark known and “Hill O’Many Stanes”, or the Hill of Many Stones which really is a blink or you’ll miss it kind of place. I must admit, it wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be, but there is a bit of mystery about the site as there are over 200 stones laid out in 22 lines, but no-one knows why.
Moving onwards, our next stop was John o’Groats, the most northerly town in mainland Britain. The site itself is pretty uninspiring; we pulled into a car park with a few touristy shops, and cafes and hopped out to have our picture takes at the famous sign.
We stopped for lunch in one of the cafes where I ordered a Haggis and Whiskey pizza in some kind of “I’m in Scotland, why not” fit. Turns out, there were quite a few reasons why not, not least that the pizza was dry as a bone, with a shop bought base.
Lunch over, we meandered up to Dunnets Head, which is the actual most northerly point of British Mainland. A couple of miles out of John o’Groats we hit a pothole, a really bad pothole, a bursting your tyre kind of pothole. An hour later we’d managed to change the spare wheel and were on our way again. We had intended to stop of the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s former castle, and where Prince Charles still spends his summers, but the flat tyre situation meant we arrived just after the last entrance time at 16:00. Ah well.
Dunnets Head itself is pretty bleak. There’s a pretty lighthouse (where you can get married), and is apparently a good bird watching site, but there are also left over watch stations from WWII dotted around, giving the place an ominous feel (OK, so the misty, drizzly rain at the time didn’t help either). Add to that the fact you’re surrounded by moors and quite a way down a very winding, single track road and the creepy picture is complete.
What not to do now is get a flat tyre, have your car jack break on you and have to explain to the AA where abouts you are. Yep, that happened. Fortunately we finally managed to explain where we were and a nice local mechanic came to our rescue. My husband was a bit embarrassed at having to call a rescue truck to change our tyre but what else can you do?
Finally back on the road again, we headed to the Youth Hostel at Tonge, probably one of the loveliest Youth Hostel building’s I’ve stayed in and we were lucky enough to get a room with a view.