The ultimative Scotland Experience
We are always on the lookout for unusual and lonely places to spend the night. Lonely, that becomes gradually clear, is not possible in Scotland. But our next stop is unusual in any case. After about an hour's drive northward from Inverness, we turn onto a "single track" out onto the semi-island to Tarbat Ness. Here a geological fold divides Scotland into two parts and exactly here stands the second highest lighthouse of the Scottish mainland. At the time of the Romans there was a fortress, later this was the place of a coven. Tarbat Lighthouse, like the vast majority of its 200 Scottish lighthouse counterparts, was built almost 200 years ago. They have all, without exception, survived all storms and nastiness unscathed. The architect and builder, Robert Stevenson, is to be congratulated. For each of these towers there were two houses, so that the lighthouse keeper and his assistant with their families could live on site. The tower, or rather the searchlights, had to be constantly monitored every night to ensure the safety of the ships near the shore. In Tarbat, no less than sixteen ships had capsized before this tower was finally built. Whether there have been no more accidents since then is beyond our knowledge. Since the eighties Scotland's lighthouses are automated, the profession of the lighthouse keeper is probably extinct. Since then, the sometimes very beautiful houses have been sold to the highest bidders. Apart from the many tourists who keep running into your garden, I imagine life on a lighthouse cliff to be quite exciting. You have to love the wind and of course you better sleep with tape on your eyes. For us, the light is not a problem on these nights. Honestly, we didn't even notice it, because the operating time of the towers at the height of summer is limited to a few hours due to the very short nights. Besides, we have the best KCT light protection blinds installed, so you almost sleep as if in a coffin.
Not dead, but well-rested, we carry on today. Always further north. The NC500, Scotland's North Coast Route, is a very well built and marked country road with impressive panoramas every now and then. Today's stage remains under a hundred kilometers and can be done in just over two hours. We head for the port of Latheronwheel. A small insignificant port with a beautiful view of the sea. And, what is very important, spending the night there is not yet forbidden. Unfortunately, we find a prohibition sign at all too many, actually very beautiful places. I am always of the opinion, if one only can eliminate a problem with prohibitions, then one has not really solved the issue. The fact is that numerous tourists would like to drive this scenic road and also have to stay overnight. Fortunately, in some places you can find an honesty box instead of a prohibition sign to leave a donation for the maintenance of the infrastructure. Of course, one happily does this at such great places. But it also requires a basic infrastructure to be in place. Actually, a trash can is enough. With the British sense of obedience, this should work. There are actually 90% Brits on the road at the moment, the rest are Germans. And yes, we have also sighted ONE Dutchman.
The cliffs on the northeast coast of Scotland
The port of Latheronwheel had us for two days, it is so quiet and relaxing there. Of course, we are never alone here. Some cuddle up quite close to us. It's just good that we are a bit higher than they are. So our view is always undisturbed. During the day we watch, among other things, the seagulls as they feed their young in the nests on the cliffs. How the guys turn in the wind and sometimes seem to stand completely still is simply astonishing.
It's raining this morning and we decide to tackle the northernmost point of our Scotland trip. Sounds almost like: "Today we climb Mount Everest", but it will probably not be quite so dramatic. Up to now we have been really lucky with the weather and we never had to drive in bad weather. In the meantime we prefer to drive when it rains and enjoy the nice weather to explore. Thankfully, it never really rains for long in Scotland. It is a bit like in the Swiss mountains. The weather changes quickly and soon after it rains, the sun shines again. So also today on our way to the far north of Scotland.
We pass Wick, the last small town in the extreme northeast of the country. We search in vain for the beautiful red-blond Scottish Highland cattle here. Besides the thousands of sheep, we also see herds of cows. Accordingly, the road often leads over a cattle grid (cattle barrier), which the sheep manage to cross with a giant jump.
For now, we drive to Duncansby Head. It is here where at high tide the Atlantic pours into the North Sea. At low tide it is the other way round. The currents at this northwestern tip are correspondingly strong and dangerous, so that it sometimes happens that between the British and the Orkney Islands the water flows with ten or more knots (18km/h). Of course, this is not without danger for the ships and therefore the lighthouse at Duncansby Head has an extremely important warning function. But for today we stay on dry land, walk over the cliffs between the flocks of sheep and enjoy the sight of the bizarre rock formations. Especially the "Geo of Sclaites" stands out. This is a bird cliff where thousands of seabirds cavort, from gannets, fulmars, skuas, razorbills to crow shags. Yes, we have learned something yet again ;-). The screeching of these bird colonies in the narrow sixty meter deep gorge is indescribable. We have never seen anything like it in our lives. At most in the cinema: Hitchkcock, the birds. Once again we feel at ease with nature. Image and sound fit together totally well. Therefore it will be difficult to reproduce this atmosphere correctly with photography. In general, no reproduction can replace a visit to such places. Only one's own experience can do justice to such an impressive natural spectacle.
above: Duncansby Head
below: Geo of Sclaites
But it is not yet the end of the journey for today. Once again, we want to make it to a place of extremes tonight. As far north in Scotland and thus the British main island as it is possible with a vehicle. We are heading for Dunnet Head and are already quite excited whether we will find a suitable place to spend the night here at all. We leave the North Coast Route and meander between small lakes all the way out to the cliff. Shortly before the lighthouse parking lot and thus the official end of the drive to the north we see an off-road possibility past deep furrows filled with water. Here, others seem to have gotten stuck. With our XXL tires this will not happen to us. We cross the key place backwards so that we can easily get out again tomorrow in case of renewed precipitation during the night. Finally once again a place to spend the night all for ourselves and in FRAME style, "beyond borders", where normal vehicles can't get to. In addition, this is now really a few yards further north than the official northernmost waypoint in Scotland. We should report to the Guinness Book of Records ;-).
The peninsula under our feet is called Dunnet Head, the cliff on which we just enjoy the beautiful view to the Orkney Islands is called Easter Head. It goes without saying that this exposed place played an important role in the 2nd World War. Currently, however, it is primarily for the birdwatchers of really great importance.
So from today on we can only go south. We gave up the plan to ship to the Shettland Islands a long time ago. The ferry connections are not only much too long for our taste, but at this time of year they are also only feasible with one to two weeks advance reservation. This restricts us too much in our freedom of travel and would exclude a plannable fair weather crossing. Alternatively and as of today we are considering the Outer Hebrides. The decision will be made in Ullapool or at the latest in Uig on Isle of Skye, from where a two-hour ferry crossing is possible.
Instead of taking the ferry, we drive ourselves. The route leads us further on the well developed NC500. After Thurso people become rarer and sheep more frequent. The vegetation reminds strongly of alpine mountains. Similar to the Swiss high alpine passes, just hilly instead of mountainous, but just as treeless and shrubless. The Scots have done a thorough job here. Where there seemed to be trees just a few years ago, almost everything has been cleared today. When we see such rigorous clear-cutting, our hearts bleed. Less than 1% of the original forest is left, I guess we don't need to say more ;-((
After a good two hours we turn right onto one of the many single tracks. Finally we reach Skerray Bay, where we find a great place to spend the night, similar to the scenery of Latheronwheel, at a small harbor protected by offshore cliffs. Skerray Bay can probably be called an insider tip, but in July you are never alone even in this remote corner. Again and again we make nice acquaintances with Scots, Englishmen or some Germans and we enjoy exchanging information about such places or supply stations.
The weather forecast for the weekend predicts an incredible 27°C. Considering the prevailing 15° to 17°C, this is promising. On such a heat day we of course want to rest and preferably on one of the now more frequent sandy beaches somewhere on the northwest coast. For this we have found the Oldshoremore Beach and therefore continue our journey early.
Green cliffs alternate with beige sandy beaches and behind them is always the dark blue sea. If the route leads away from the sea, you will find a new loch behind every hill. There is hardly a bend where you don't have a view of the water somewhere. In the meantime we enjoy the single tracks as much as the offroad driving. It feels like being on a roller coaster. Once left, once right and always up and down. The sparse oncoming traffic scurries quickly to the side and there's always a friendly greeting. We round Loch Eriboll and soon reach the most northwestern corner of Scotland. Only now we continue fully south, along the supposedly even more beautiful west coast. Whether a coast is perceived more or less beautiful is of course subjective and probably also depends strongly on the light and thus on the weather. But the west coast is certainly wilder, more rugged and less populated. However, it is also known for the fact that the mosquito plague is supposed to be more pronounced here. The midges are - fortunately - completely unknown to us Swiss. They are probably the mini version of our gnats and sometimes not bigger than a speck of dust. Bloodthirsty are, as always, only the females and despite their small size their bites are very unpleasant. Of course, we have taken precautions for this in the Unimog. The rooftop hatch and the "bedroom" window are equipped with extra fine so-called blackfly screens, because midges get through even the normal mosquito screens. Thus we can enjoy fresh Scottish sea air in our quarters without worries and at any time.
In Rhiconich we leave the NC Route once more to drive along Loch Inchard to Oldshoremore. By the way, the name Loch applies to a freshwater loch as well as to a fjord open to the sea. The Inchard belongs to the latter and surprises us at its mouth with a kilometer long empty sandy beach on turquoise blue water. Only the palm trees are missing here and we would feel like in the Caribbean on this hot Saturday in July.
below: Impressions of Oldshoremore Beach
bottom: YouTube Video covering that northernmost part of the adventure
Next blog: 3.6. Whisky, Games & Fascinating Islands