Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Day 24 - Scotland North Coast - Durness to Thurso - It's a wonderful world up north (when the sun shines!)

The photography gods must have heard my complaining about the rain spoiling my chance of decent pics. Not that they'd care, but the sun's been shining down hard on northern Scotland. After leaving Eddrachilles Hotel near Scourie, I've had nothing but HOT weather. Okay, not 30 degrees hot, but certainly 25 degrees. Which is hot for these parts.

The north coast of Scotland is not given much press. I've done quite a bit of research, and the west coast gets most of the limelight. But what I've seen so far has been fantastic. Okay, the weather does help. And I'm sure every spot on earth is nicer when the sun's shining. But the northern Scottish coast is definitely worth a visit.

Here's why: It's remote. It's largely unpopulated. Distances between towns are long. Villages are very, very small (a few houses at most). And it's beautiful. The highest cliffs in Britain are along the north coast of Scotland, and there are many secluded coves which have turquoise water (when the sun shines). Although the H2O is still quite cold for swimming, the beaches could be in the Mediterranean. But it's all about the weather...So, things to put on your itinerary:

- Durness (click to see on Google map). It's got a nice atmosphere...very holidayish. And a great beach (see the panaromic pic I took).

- Dunnet Head (click to see on Google map), the northern most point on the mainland. It's everything you'd expect of a northern extremity. There are cliffs 100 metres high, wind strong enough to blow the hair out of your head and supreme views out to the islands to the north. Certainly more impressive than I expected. Don't miss it.

- The Castle of Mey, east of Thurso. It was the summer home of the late Queen Mother, and now Charlie spends his summers there. So it's open all of summer, except in August, when the prince comes up to get away from the paparrazi down south.

- Pulteney Distillery, in Wick, to the east of Mey. It's one of the most northerly distilleries, and you can bottle your own wizzos.

On the road from Scourie to Durness...typical highland mountain scenery (click to enlarge)

The beach at Durness...when the sun's shining, it looks tropical (click to enlarge).

Day 23 - Scotland North West Coast - Scourie - The forgotten corner of Scotland...

Richard Flannery from Eddrachilles Hotel told me that only 4 000 people live in the area from Lochinver to Tongue, an area of about 2 500 square kilometres. It's probably the least populated area of mainland Britain. It incorporates the dramatic Cape Wrath (click to see on Google Map), the most north westerly point, which also has the highest cliffs in the UK. There's no road to the point, so you have to take a ferry across the Kyle of Durness, and then there's a minibus service to the point. Find out more about the transport options at this website...

Near Scourie is Handa Island, an important bird sanctuary. It hosts some 200 000 birds, including arctic skuas and puffins. It's managed by Scottish Wildlife Trust, so get in touch with them to organise a trip out to the island.

Also nearby is Eas-coul-Aulin, the highest waterfall in Britain at about 200 metres. It's not really a true waterfall, more of a very high cascade! Check out some photos here.

Don't forget to just drive...the roads around these parts offer mindblowing views. The photo below is of Loch Glencoul. There's a memorial to 39 submariners who during 1943 were trained here to bomb German war frigates.

Typically, two divers in full scuba gear would sit astride a 500 pound bomb, called somewhat euphemistically a "chariot". They guided their propella-powered "chariot" underneath the Nazi ship, and attached the bomb to the hull. Then they swam away, and detonated it soon after. The memorial reads: "The silent hills remember the young men who were trained in these wild and beautiful waters."

Loch Glencoul on the way to Scourie, where submariners were trained during the Second World War.

This is a small bay near Scourie...I walked into a random sheep field, headed for the coast, and twenty minutes later found this pretty place.

The view from the bottom of Eddrachilles Hotel's garden.