North Coast 500

After I returned from my trip to Cologne with my friend Jim Lewars, I decided to travel alone to the North of Scotland, something Jean and I had talked about for years but never got round to.

Thursday 24th May

I left home early this morning and set off for Perth, arriving there about 10 o’clock. Had a chat with Erin and a few of the staff and residents, it was nice to meet them all again, I must admit that I had a lump in my throat when I was speaking with William. On leaving Perth I stopped for petrol before heading for Tain on the A9. I stopped in Newtonmore for lunch then set off and arrived at my destination about 3 o’clock, I parked the car and went for a wander around the town and visited the local museum before checking in to the guest house. I went for a pint in the early evening and had another walk around town before dinner in the local hotel. My first night was spent in the Dunbius guest house on Morangie Road, Tain, it was very clean and comfortable. It was a really good day set off by some glorious weather.

Friday 25th May

After a very good breakfast I left Tain heading north, it was a beautiful sunny morning and the landscape was spectacular with all the yellow gorse in bloom. I stopped for a bit in Wick then set off for John O’ Groats to take the obligatory photographs at the signpost. The trip to Thurso and Scrabster was another nice run and I got to the ferry terminal in plenty of time. The trip across the Pentland Firth was an easy crossing and the ship, the Hamnavoe was modern and well run.

Arriving in Stromness I set off for Kirkwall and the BnB which was easily found, again I seemed to have the place to myself and it was clean and presentable with a pleasant host. I took a walk around the corner to visit Johnny and Betty Laughton and spent a really nice time with them catching up and reminiscing as it had been almost 50 years since I seen them last. Before heading home I took a wander around the harbour area and stopped off for a pint before heading home for a well-earned rest after a busy pleasant day in nice sunshine and good company.

Saturday 26th May

After breakfast I made my way to Saara Brae, this was a little bit difficult as my SatNav decided to play up by not working, using my phones map facility I eventually got there and enjoyed my trip around the ancient excavations and the nearby Skaill house. I decided to tour the Island in a clockwise fashion leading back to Kirkwall, my first stop being the Orkney Brewery, which was a bit disappointing as there was a tour party in and the place was virtually shut down because of them. I did, however, manage to get the SatNav working again whilst in the car park. Fully mapped up, I set off for Birsay where the ruins of the Earl’s Palace provided a nice break, heading along the coast took me to the Borough of Birsay lighthouse which was reached by crossing a causeway, a walk over the hill took you to the lighthouse and the cliffs at the most westerly point on the Orkney mainland, the views were spectacular. Continuing my journey eastwards took me to the villages of Swannay, Costa and Tingwall before reaching Finstown then Kirkwall.

I dropped the car off at the BnB then walked into town for a stroll around and a visit to St Magnus Cathedral and a much needed coffee break.
In the evening I went for a nice meal in the Ayre Hotel in Kirkwall with Johnny and Betty before going back to theirs for a blether and a beer, another nice day all told.

Sunday 27th May

As it was a glorious morning weather-wise, I decided to get out of town before the cruise passengers descended, I headed South on the west coast travelling down through the Churchill Barriers.  My first stop was the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm, it was an impressive place and it was amazing to see what the POW’s did with basic materials.
I continued South and stopped off for a stroll around St Margarets Hope, a quaint little fishing village. My next stop was at the Tomb of Eagle, the site of a Neolithic burial ground, the display in the visitor centre was informative and set the scene for the visit to the actual site, again in Holmes tradition this entailed a 2-mile round trip to walk there, it was worth it though. There was another Tomb nearby, this time I stopped only to have lunch in the Bistro, which was recommended and very good.

Trying to keep out of the way of the cruise passengers I entered the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre into the SatNav and headed off this took me to the village of Houton, which turned out to be the ferry port for the island of Hoy, I looked at the ticket office for the ferry to discover that the visitor centre was shut for refurbishment and would open in 2020! Leaving Houton I meandered back to Kirkwall and parked at the harbour area and went for a coffee in town and sat and watched the tourists wander around.
I went to the Shore Hotel for dinner, which was very nice although a tad expensive. A pint and an Orkney rum in Helgi’s bar finished off the night.

Monday 28th May

After breakfast and a chat we the host, I went round to say goodbye to Johnny and Betty.
I then headed back to the Orkney Brewery where I had lunch and bought Jim Lewars a glass. With nothing much to do, I then made my way to Stromness where I had a stroll around the harbour and town then sat in the glorious sunshine with a coffee waiting for the ferry. The trip across was a bit late in leaving but was pleasant enough, made a bit more interesting with a group of musicians returning from the Orkney folk festival who started playing. It was a ten minute run to the BnB in Thurso and after being shown round by Robbie the host, I set off into town for a meal, after dinner I stoked down to the beach and was quite surprised to see people in the sea at 9 o’clock at night, I then went back to the accommodation for an early night as I wanted to get away early in the morning.

Tuesday 29th May

After filling up with diesel, I headed off into the sunshine in the direction of Durness and Cape Wrath, the trip along the coast was stunning, every bend of cresting a hill presented another spectacular view, it was just as well that I had no deadline to make as I stopped regularly to take even more photographs. I stopped off for lunch at the Rock Stop in Kylesku and got a chance to stretch my legs. The only black spot of the trip so far happened as I was turning off the A835 onto the A832, the road to Gairloch, I indicated and slowed down for the turn and just as I started turning a large van tried to overtake me, fortunately, no one was injured and the end result was a bit of scratched paintwork, they said that the sun blinded them and did not see my signal. Arriving in Gairloch I checked into my accommodation, which has been the most basic of my trip so far, a small room on a landing with 3 others and a shared bathroom, it was certainly clean and comfortable enough. A stroll along the bay led me to the village hippie for my evening meal, the back along the bay to the hotel next door for a pint before bed. Another great day, that wasn’t spoiled by the bump.

Wednesday 30th May

The sun was shining as I left Gairloch heading for Spean Bridge, on the way south I stopped at the Beinn Eighe nature reserve on the shores of Loch Maree, and took in the Woodland Trail there, this was an interesting 1 mile walk through the woodland and some way up the mountain (100m), the walk was relatively good with only some rocky bits, but there were plenty of benches along the way to rest my weary bones. For some weird reason I decided to visit Applecross and Plockton on the way South, my SatNav decided to send me down every B road in the area, with single track roads winding their way up and down the mountain, there were so shocking moments but the scenery made it all worthwhile. There was on time we all got out to help push a guy back on the road after he slipped off. I was quite surprised how the landscape changes in each region, Wester Ross was so different to Lochaber and the North coast of Ross and Cromarty, and Sutherland, each area has its unique sights. Once I got onto the A87 the journey South was made a lot easier. I arrived in Spean Bridge at tea time and had the usual wander around and a pint before deciding what to have for tea. As the local restaurant was fully booked I had a nice meal and a Guinness in the hotel at the end of the road. On returning to the BnB I had a chat with the hostess and the other couple staying there and tried to find them accommodation for the rest of their trip.

Thursday 31st May

The end of my trip! I stopped at the Commando Memorial, then made an impromptu stop at the Nevis Range chairlift and headed up the mountain watching all the preparations for the forthcoming Mountain Bike World Cup, the views from the top of the ride and from the viewpoint were spectacular. I then stopped briefly in Fort William for lunch. It was time then to make my way home after what has been a memorable week away, it seemed like so much longer. I had seen so many nice places, met some really nice characters, discovered the history of parts of Scotland I never knew and rekindled old friendships, all in all, a wonderful trip away and one I would do again in a heartbeat. I have added 1000 miles, a 1000 memories and loads of photographs to remind me of this trip.

After I returned from this trip in May 2018, I created a PowerPoint presentation to show the route I took and some of the photographs I had taken during the trip.  The presentation can be seen below.

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