North Coast 500: Part One

Day One

We’ve crossed the Scottish border, having had a beautiful journey north, the M6 certainly redeems itself past Lancaster. Gretna Green seemed a quirky place for a rest stop but geez it’s nearly as cheesy as Lands End (I stress nearly). 11am on a Monday and there’s a wedding with a bloke clearly punching above his weight – bet there’s a backstory there. I think we spent all of 20 minutes there, just enough time to browse through the overpriced tat. Onwards!

We arrived in Stirling with ease, heading straight to the castle. It’s not too tricky to locate as you can see it from miles around. Stirling is an austere looking town, exacerbated by the overcast nature of the weather. What can I say – it’s drab. We were well educated by our previous Route66 trip, skilled at doing quick pit stops. We took that castle down in two hours flat. I’m sure you could have lingered over parts of it but we enjoyed flowing from the great hall, to the palace, to our spiritual home in the castle kitchens. It’s a bit strange if I’m honest; you can feel the castle is incredibly old but because it’s had a recent refurb it feels a bit too shiny. I enjoyed the sweeping vistas and the low cloud cover heightened the sense of the imperial. Every day’s a school day. Do you know the origins of the saying ‘push the boat out’? I do!!! It’s thought to date back to the 1500s & a rather swish christening at the castle where a full-sized boat delivered the fish course to Stirling’s great hall.

Next, we visited the Wallace Monument. Being too late to visit inside failed to put us off taking the steep ascent. It stands on Abbey Craig at the place they say William Wallace stood and looked out over the approaching English army. There wasn’t a single Australian with a dodgy Scottish accent in sight!

Day Two 

Dorothy got it wrong; she must have meant ‘there’s no better place than right here.’

Back in the car & up the A9 we journeyed. This was such a lovely drive, up, up we climbed around the Cairngorms. We were heading towards Inverness Castle which marks both the start and finish of the NC500. What we found most surprising was the sudden change of scenery. One minute you are driving through Alpine style vistas, the next you are abruptly upon the vast urban sprawl of Inverness. We found the castle fairly easily, zeroed the clock & off we officially set.

We knew we needed to flow without detours as we had a Glenmorangie distillery tour scheduled for 3pm in Tain. The most remarkable point of this very short stretch of about an hour was crossing the Cromarty Firth which someone creatively named ‘Cromarty Bridge’. It’s the way you sweep down to it before crossing that really gets you.

We reached the distillery in perfect time, feeling rather pleased with ourselves until we realised that Glenmorangie House, our stop for the night, was not actually at the distillery, but ten minutes back down the coast. The house (they wont call it a hotel) can be found up a scenic tree lined lane and has just a small handful of rooms. Glenmorangie own all the surrounding fields for their barley production. Upon arrival we had the warmest of Scottish greetings from a German & a Geordie. One tour of the house later, we were shown our bedroom, for which we had no key as you don’t lock rooms in a house. Novel!

Bags quickly dumped, off we went to the distillery, driven by the House Manager so we could ‘enjoy a wee dram’. That’s literally what he said. The tour was absorbing, sweeping by in a flash. I now know everything there is to know about making whisky, well almost, & their vast copper coloured stills which have an association with giraffes because of their tall necks. We did some whisky tasting, understandably, and whilst I’m not a fan I have to admit it was a rather pleasant experience. Hubby was like a pig in poop. Before we knew it we were back to the house for afternoon tea and then a walk down to the coastline. This was particularly welcome as it had been pouring all day, heavily overcast but by this time the sun had got its hat on. I had a moment on that coast looking out at the North Sea, sun on my face, waves crashing.

We met for pre-dinner drinks with the other guests and joy of all joys the House Manager had arranged a piper. We had renditions of all kinds of tunes I can’t remember the names of as we drank whisky cocktails and watched him march up and down the patio. He piped us into dinner, he piped the haggis around the room, finishing with an entertaining rendition of ‘address to the Haggis’. This was much to the delight of our internationally balanced table: 4 Russians, 4 Brits, 4 Americans. We even got a short Russian rendition of the poem from one of the guests. Great food followed along with interesting chit chat with fellow travellers.

What a day. You can keep your ruby slippers Dorothy.