9-11 October: North Scotland

Author: Mr A

Location: Kinlochbervie, Durness and Helmsdale, Highlands, Scotland

Wednesday: We continued our jaunt up the west coast of Scotland, on yet another wild, wet and windy day. Its actually hard to imagine seeing these hills with blue skies, I just don’t think it would it would look right.

Our first treat of the day was having sight of our first large wild mammals in the UK. A trio of deer ran across the road and sloshed their way over the moor, but not before giving us an inquisitive look as if to say “What on earth are you doing voluntarily out in this weather? We have no choice!”.

A beautiful hind crossed in front of us and stopped on top of the hill for a good look
A couple of stags crossing the highlands in hot pursuit
They dashed in front of us and easily leaped this fence

One of the absolute joys of motorhoming is the ability to stop on any levelish piece of ground and produce an amazing lunch in the middle of nowhere. Today was another feast with perfectly poached eggs (you know when the yolk just flows over your toast in an ooze rather than a flood ….or even worse, horror of horrors, won’t flow at all) and locally caught and honey smoked salmon. A freshly brewed Pukka fennel tea rounded it off.

We decided we really should don the rain gear and head out to stretch the legs. Driving around Loch Assynt, we spy a “Catherine-size” dinky castle alongside. We just make it to the ruined pile of rocks as yet another rain squall belts sideways at us. We retreat to Truffy and continue on our way up the west coast.

An old ruin of an 18th century house across Loch Assynt
On Loch Assynt, Ardvreck Castle sits proud, Built 1590 by the Clan MacLeod it has witnessed many battles and important moments in history
The heavy rain transforms the cliffs into dozens of thundering waterfalls
And view after view opens up in front of us as we drive

My co-pilot has identified a stop over at the small fishing village of Kinlochbervie, where the community has put in some motorhome services right on the edge of the harbour. Check out our view for the night!

A million dollar view for the equivalent of $30
Spot Truffy across the bay

It’s interesting how some communities see the potential for bringing a bit more cash into town, and others just put up “no overnight parking” signs. There really isn’t a lot to spend your money on in town though. A Spar corner shop and a pub. It will do us nicely.

The community differentiates their home town as being the most northerly port in Scotland, and apparently was shortlisted by the Oxford Dictionary as a definition of remote. Well by UK standards I would agree, but by Australian standards, it’s practically next door to everything, with a good mobile signal, shop, pub, fishing port, 240 power, sewerage system, surfaced roads…and only 60 miles to the nearest decent supermarket. Call that remote?

A busy fishing port sending their catch all over the UK

Thursday: Kinlochbervie to Durness

We had another wild weather night of howling wind and lashing rain, but were tucked up tight, and in the grey light of morning we were off along the top of Scotland.

Amazing light as the sun breaks through the clouds…
Couldn’t decide which image worked best….! So included both
Truffy showing his mean and moody side
First glimpse of the North Atlantic Ocean in the distance

We needed to get out for a stomp as the forecast was only “light showers and moderate winds” (a good one for Scotland!). We parked up at Durness Golf club, who’s claim to fame is being the most northerly golf course on the UK mainland, and also the furthest north we would be going on our trip this time.

It was a fabulous walk, one of the best so far, along the towering cliffs of this wild and (relatively!) remote coastline. Now I’m colour blind, but could even recognise that we were somewhere quite special. Check out these shots from my camera wielding maestro of the lens.

We were the only hikers on this 12km circuit
Tea break in the dunes
Beautiful colours and patterns in the rocks which are among the oldest in the UK
The crashing surf and white sand beaches contrast with the dark rock
Mrs A setting off along the coast
Some bits of the path were narrow and quite steep
Fabulous beach worthy of Western Australia with some rare sunshine glimmers
Continuing our track around
Ruins of an old school – in its heyday it had 45 pupils but lost most of those during the Highland Clearances (a period between 1750 and 1860 when people were moved off the land when it was deemed more profitable for sheep grazing)
The sun breaks through towards the end of our walk
Ruins of an old church…
Spot Truffy in the distance? 11km (7 miles) is the longest we’ve walked before breakfast in a while! We’re relieved to be back, a bacon and egg sandwich is calling our names…

In the distance we heard a huge boom, and I had remembered reading that there’s an island off shore that has the misfortune to be around the same size as an aircraft carrier, so becomes target practice for our and our Allies’ armed forces. It’s quite funny reading that there’s a “conservation society” formed to “protect” the island’s flora and fauna. Nothing the odd massive bomb can’t put right I hope!

Back at Truffy we (I use that term loosely) knocked up the usual cracking lunch from on board supplies, and headed off to find a park for the night. We thought it was going to be the cutely named Smoo Cave Hotel, but the landlord was having a bad day when I asked if it was OK to park overnight and come and have dinner (or I looked a bit rough round the edges after a few days off the grid) and so we made other plans. The pub cat, meanwhile, was far more welcoming and our first Scottish feline to come and say hi.

This little tortoiseshell girl cannot get enough cuddles

Before we moved on, we checked out the cave the pub was named after. Smoo Cave was a haunt of Vikings, smugglers, murderers, and general nefarious carrying on, it was quite a geological as well as cultural marvel.

The picturesque way down to Smoo Cave
At 50ft (15.24 metres) high, this cave boasts one of the highest sea cave entrances in the UK
Entrance is free, but there are often tours – not on this occasion – cancelled due to heavy rain (ha ha)
A river thunders down through the roof of the cave in a roaring waterfall

Interest assuaged, we left Durness and found another car park with a view. The rain lashed down, a familiar pattern, thank goodness we have a motorhome that doesn’t leak, unlike some we read about on our forums.

Our fabulous view of Ceannabeinne Beach

Friday: Durness to Helmsdale

We had a longish day of driving ahead, as we planned to point Truffy’s nose south and head down for east coast though a wonder-world of massive peat bogs, apparently the thickness of a double decker bus! Now that will keep a few home fires burning for a while.

Weaving around yet another stunning loch, and past some old lime works
Our daily sighting of a stag…

We needed to find a service point to dump waste water, take on fresh, and empty the loo. Unfortunately whilst carrying said toilet cassette, I didn’t notice the gravel slope, my ankle rolled and I fell down in an ungainly heap, but at least with the presence of mind to batt away the rather full toilet which was bouncing around near my head!

We called in to a doctor’s surgery in the village. The doctor had just gone home for the day, but drove back in to see me – it’s not a big village, but even so, pretty good service. He assessed and said there was no need for an x-ray, just tendon damage, strapped me up and off I went, limping like an old crock!

Before long we turned right and off the North Coast 500, heading south-east. I think our windscreen wipers are going to be worn out by the time we leave Scotland, although it sounds like its not much better in England. It was a wet drive, and although we stopped briefly to check out the Forsinard Flows, an RSPB wetland area. I stayed indoors with my foot up, while Catherine headed out. She returned after 20 minutes looking cold and wet having seen no birds, and we pressed on.

Pulling away from Forsinard
A spectacular drive through the River Helmsdale Valley, there was rain, sun and rainbows…

We had an overnight destination in mind, the Bannockburn Inn, featured on one of our apps as being “motorhome friendly” and encouraging free overnight parking in exchange for buying dinner. Well this one actually was friendly, from the moment Catherine walked in and was treated by the landlady like a long lost friend. She was from Brighton mind…and the evening just got better with the best fish and chip supper we’ve had on the trip…and curry sauce and mushy peas, washed down with some local gins. Apparently gin is very good for repairing tendons…

The Bannockburn Inn – recommended for delicious food and a wide selection of Scottish gin

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