The last few years have been very busy for Mr B and I, after moving to London we bought our first flat (which needed a total renovation), introduced Flo to our lives and got married, so it’s fair to say that holidays have been low on the priority list. Yes, there have been short breaks but until our honeymoon we hadn’t taken longer a week off work since 2012. Upon our return in early January we decided that the only way to avoid the combined wedding / holiday blues was to plan another holiday. We both found leaving Flo in kennels difficult so we opted to stay in the UK so that Flo could join us on our next adventure and we debated locations until we read an article about Scotland and the North Coast 500 (https://www.northcoast500.com), immediately we knew that was where we wanted to go. Dates were chosen to coincide with our kitchen refit and a campervan was booked through (http://www.bongoholidays.co.uk/). With the route chosen we were ready to go.
Leg 1 – The journey north to Durness
Travel Day – Excited we set off from Clapham with the car filled to the roof, there was no room for Flo on the backseat so she curled up at my feet for the journey to Peterborough. We made decent progress through London and arrived to collect the campervan in good time where after carefully stowing our luggage we finally set off on our long journey north. Sometime later after passing what seemed like endless signs for ‘THE NORTH’ we passed the Angel of the North and then stopped for photos on the Scottish border before finally arriving at the first campsite around 9pm. We’d been driving for 9 hours by this point so weary we headed into Eyemouth for a fish & chip supper before taking a very excited Flo to the beach where she run around like a lunatic. Back in the van I had a slight panic attack about the sleeping arrangements, would the bunk take the weight of two adults? Would the wind topple us? Flo paced the floor also unable to settle…. we were in for a long night!
Day 1 – One of the black out covers fell off a window overnight so the day started at sunrise, it was going to be a long day ahead! Mr B took Flo for a walk whilst I headed to the shower block. Disaster…. The lock was broken on the shower block and due to our late arrival we hadn’t yet filled our water tank, the delay was annoying but it gave us chance to walk Flo along the coastal path enjoy and the tranquillity of the morning. After finally gaining entry to the shower block the day started again in a more relaxed manner and we headed north towards Tantallon castle and Bass Rock where we stopped for a walk. The views were spectacular in the morning sunshine and we had a lovely time exploring the ruins. After another hour or so of driving we decided to stop for lunch in The Boathouse, Queensferry (http://www.theboathouse-sq.co.uk/) where we shared a delicious Eyemouth crab starter and just about managed to finish our tasty main of seafood curry before the rain started. The rain dulled the mood and we headed straight back to the car park ready for the next stage of our journey. The combination of the large glass of wine and early morning made me sleepy for the afternoon journey and I just about managed to stop myself nodding off whilst Mr B drove through the beautiful Cairngorms. We arrived at Glenmore and set up camp for the night before setting off to walk around the wonderful Loch Mairloch when it started raining again, hoping it was only a shower we continued only to arrive two long wet hours later at the Glenmore Lodge for supper. I was unimpressed with the wine option (just one variety and off a tap) so I opted for a bottle of Brewdog beer instead but Mr B was impressed with the local cask ale. The food options were basic but well executed and we both enjoyed our selections. After spending a few hours drying off we were ready to head back to camp for the evening.
Day 2 – Not so happy campers! The smell of fried bacon filled the air of the campsite and we were eager to join in but unfortunately the gas connection wouldn’t work. Frustrated we headed for the road. The drive through Aviemore provided us with lots of options to grab breakfast but parking was an issue so we decided to plough on eventually stumbling across the lovely Dairy at Daviot (http://www.dairyatdaviot.co.uk/). Thankfully the early clouds had lifted and the sun was warm on our faces as we shared a BLT and a pot of tea. A short drive north brought us to the Black Isle brewery, sheep bleated in the background as we shared a bottle of the delicious honey beer before buying a selection to take away before continuing the drive across the Moray Firth, where we stopped in North Kesseck briefly to take some snaps of the magnificent views. The Storehouse of Foulis came recommended for lunch and Mr B was very happy with a simple old school lunch of neeps, tatties & mince whilst I was slightly underwhelmed by my overcooked quiche but the views once again were amazing and left us craving more. We arrived in Dornoch later that afternoon and were were greeted by the very friendly staff at the campsite (http://www.dornochcaravans.co.uk/) who tried to help us with the gas issues we’d been having. The sun was still shining which gave us the opportunity to enjoy a few hours reading in the sun before setting off on an evening beach walk. Our intention was to have dinner in the one of the town centre pubs but the locals in the Dornoch Inn weren’t the most friendly bunch so we left after one swift drink and headed to the Eagle Hotel only to discover (in a very rude manner) that it wasn’t dog friendly. To me this seemed like an odd given that the bar area was very casual bar with many walkers still had their day gear. Thankfully there was a takeaway opposite that was still open so we headed back to the campervan with a Chinese.
Day 3 – Once again we woke to moody grey skies but there was no sign of rain from the previous evening so Mr B and Flo enjoyed an early morning walk along the beach whilst I packed up. We still didn’t have gas so we headed into the town centre to grab some breakfast, one cafe didn’t open until 10.00 am and the other only had instant coffee so we aborted and ended up with yoghurt and fruit from the local Co-Op. The first stop of the day was Dunrobin castle (http://www.dunrobincastle.co.uk/), where we walked along the woodland path down to the beach. Looking back toward the castle the views were amazing and we bumped into some locals who told us about a bluebell wood further along the coastal path. We followed them eagerly and true to their word the bluebells were indeed in full bloom. The next stop was Brora with it’s beautiful wild beach and large sand dunes. There were nesting Arctic birds in the dunes so we were careful to keep an eye on Flo but we didn’t see another soul for over an hour as we walked, it was very peaceful indeed. The sea air was making us hungry and thankfully it wasn’t long before we came across the Bay Owl Inn (http://www.thebayowl.net/), the owner was friendly and offered us a seat in the bar but the view from the garden was spectacular so despite the biting wind we were happy to remain. We both enjoyed the local beef pie but once again we were disappointed with the drink options and shandies were ordered. We drove through Lybster where the working harbour is now very small and enjoyed an Orkney an ice cream whilst reading about the interesting heritage of the port and the demise of the fishing industry which left us in a reflective mood. The journey to Wick seemed quick as we both debated the demise of industry in the UK. In Wick we took the opportunity to stock up with supplies, it was great knowing that we could at last make a cup of tea in the morning! The campsite (http://www.wickcaravansite.co.uk/) proved difficult to find as the first entrance wasn’t suitable for camper vans, however when we eventually found it the pretty riverside setting proved worthwhile. In the evening we walked via the river into the town centre which was very quiet but once again there were no dog friendly pubs so we were forced to sit outside Wetherspoon’s to try and get some WIFI in order to research our route for the next day. Unfortunately we had arrived too late for Mr B to visit the Pultney distillery, we did however walk around the conservation area before returning to feast on cheese and cold meats back in the campervan.
Day 4 – It had been very chilly overnight and we woke to very blustery conditions so we quickly packed up and headed north once again where the first stop of the day was John o Groat’s. The roads were still better than expected and as a result the journey was a lot quicker than I had predicted. It was very bleak as we walked around John o Groats harbour posing for photos and it was sad to see that the tourist craft village was closed (hopefully a seasonal closure). The Storehouse was busy with tourists like ourselves and it provided us with a drinkable coffee at last. Heading west we then stopped in Scrabster where we hoped to find somewhere for a local seafood lunch but to our shock everything was closed up. Back on the road we stopped to take some pictures overlooking Dunnet Bay and I paid a visit to the Dunnet Bay distillery (http://www.dunnetbaydistillers.co.uk/) to pick a bottle of Rock Rose gin. By this time we were both peckish for lunch and the options were few and far between so we were very happy when we stumbled across the Borgie Lodge Hotel (http://www.borgielodgehotel.com/) where I enjoyed a chicken tagine whilst Mr B raved about his beef bourgignon. After lunch the roads became narrow and hair pin bends started to appear but the beautiful Skerray harbour was worth me losing a nail or two during the drive. It was a very quiet and the sea was as clear as crystal, the sound of bleating lambs in the backdrop complemented the scenery beautifully and the stop provided some much needed post lunch fresh air. Arriving in Durness around 5pm we headed out for a walk across the white sandy beach where Flo liked exploring the rock pools but it was slightly too cold for us to paddle. The campsite (http://sangosands.com/) had a pub on site however, this again wasn’t supposed to be dog friendly.Thankfully after fluttering my eyelids and promising that Flo would just sleep under the table we were allowed in. The low level windows provided great views of the stormy sea and the comfortable sofas were lovely to relax on after a day of walking and driving. I was happy to taste the first drinkable wine of the tour and Mr B enjoyed the range of Orkney beers on offer. After a big lunch we I only needed a small snack for dinner and the delicious smoked salmon starter was ample for me. We enjoyed a few hours in the bar before returning to the windy campsite where once again I was slightly nervous, especially given the cliff top location!
We had enjoyed the sights during our first few days however our first impressions of Scotland were mixed, on one hand the scenery was amazing but the amenities had so far been slightly disappointing. As we went to bed that night we wondered what lie ahead, could the scenery continue to amaze at every corner? Could the roads get any worse?
to be continued…….