North Coast 500: Part two

Day Three

Is it the journey or the destination? Always a tricky balance on a road trip, today was no different.

I woke up like a giddy kipper & got a radio shout out on Chris Evans wide awake club. It was then a case of up and at ‘em, down to the dining room for a full Scottish (look at me tattie scones). We checked out, making this the first time I’ve bought two bottles of whisky whilst settling a room bill! We bid farewell, getting a proper send off from the Glenmorangie staff and headed for our first stop at nearby Dunrobin Castle. We arrived too early to take a look around, but that was okay as it was the fairy tale exterior, I had my heart set on. It didn’t disappoint. A few quick snaps and we were back on the road, it’s what a road trip like this demand.

Hugging the coastline, we drove through some of the dreariest weather we have ever seen, the barren landscape exacerbating things. We decided we would stop in Wick, paying a visit to the world’s smallest street. This is exactly the sort of novelty feature we love on our travels. Ebenezer Place features one door and a width of 2.06m. It was given official street status in 1887, entering the Guinness Book of Records some 109 years later. Luckily for us that door led to a hotel who kindly opened up to two drowned rats begging for tea and cake. They did better than that & rustled up a full cream tea with local jam. We could have done more in Wick, but the weather was not on our side. Before leaving the vicinity, we did a small detour to see a castle that you couldn’t see from the road. That’s the up and down nature of our trips – win some, lose some.

We travelled north to John O’Groats, precisely 11 weeks and 2 days since we visited Lands End. Whilst the weather was like chalk and cheese, the two ends of the UK are similarly barren and remote. Except John O’Groats doesn’t rip you off as you can take your photo for free.

We ventured on to Castle of Mey, The Queen Mother’s residence. It was still bucketing it down which made the decision to take a break and go on a tour. If you are ever in the area, I would highly recommend it, it really brought her character to life. I didn’t realise she was so mischievous, with a great sense of fun. The guide also told a great tale of a thuggish Prince Andrew, ages 8 doing damage to her vintage bureau with a screwdriver. She wouldn’t have it fixed as a reminder of his naughtiness. As our tour concluded we were delighted to find some sudden sunshine. It didn’t last long but we appreciated it whilst it was there. Our next stop was the Dunnet Bay Distillery where we stocked up on some Rock Rose goodies.

The remainder of our journey west was overcast, low cloud and general grey-ness. However, it was still beautiful, the scenery changing rapidly, ever majestic. Autumn is really here, we’ve seen some beautiful heather colours and rust in the trees. At one scenic point Hubby tried to get out of the car to take photos only to be blown so hard he nipped straight back into the safety of the car.

Tonight’s abode was Durness at the Mackay’s Rooms. I think you would call Durness a village, but it’s spread far and wide and we are very remote. It feels a million miles away from life, in a good way.  It almost has an Iceland vibe to it.  Whilst it was blowing a hoolie outside we hunkered down in front of the fire with a glass of red.

Happiness today was found in both the journey and the destination. And the WiFi code at our destination was ‘lifeisgood’. How apt.

Day Four

This was a day for contemplative thought ably aided by the elements.

Last night was a tad stormy; we slept with a backdrop of howling rain. I actually slept really well & awoke with a deep sense of peace. There’s something very hygge about the place. It was fairly ironic that the B&B told us breakfast was a relaxed affair only then to confirm it was strictly between 8am to 9am. Putting that to one side, it was a feast which started with granola, berries and yoghurt, then toast with marmalade & finished with the yellowest scrambled eggs I have ever had & kippers for Hubby. Pop the word ‘homemade’ in front of most of the food items I have listed & you will get the idea. We were packed off with homemade honey cake.

Before we left the area we took a drive to Balnakeil beach for which ‘choppy’ would be an understated adjective. It’s a beautiful piece of coastline but very raw. We hit the A838 south, with a stretch of only about an hour ahead of us. This wasn’t bad planning, we were offered some top tips for our adventure & knew this was a dramatic coastline worth savouring. It was the ‘ying’ to yesterday’s ‘yang’. There were plentiful well signed passing points which doubled up as photo opportunities.

We wound around the roads with scenery and weather vying for focus. We didn’t need to rush & when the weather permitted, we would take stops to grab shots. We didn’t completely have the road to ourselves, but other vehicles were few & far between. Before we knew it, we arrived at the Kylesku Hotel. With it being 11am we were far too early to check in, so we took up residence in the restaurant finding a big window with a view & a coffee to go with it. And we sat. And we sat. And we sat. We drank coffee. We ate lunch. We drank wine. And we sat. We took some photos. I wrote in my book. And we sat. We talked. We were silent. We stared out the window. And we sat.

I will say it’s actually hard sometimes to just ‘be’. Well at least I find it hard. Social media is omnipresent, your mind solving unnecessarily for potential boredom. The Gremlins in my mind pass the worst judgement on what I should be doing with my time. If I’m not moving or doing, I’m wasting precious time – that’s my narrative. I made a very conscious decision to stare at this beautiful scenery & to daydream. It was utter bliss. I watched fast moving weather crossing the mountains, sun and rain switching in minutes. Rainbows & cloud shadows on the hillsides. Pockets of mist and rain sneaking across the Loch. It was a tonic.

This hotel is wonderful; visit if you get the chance. We made a new four-legged friend called Flo – this place is dog friendly so a big thumbs up from us. Our dinner in the evening consisted of haggis Bon Bons, followed by local oysters. I had local scallops with my kedgeree and Hubby had local venison. To finish I had the cheese board and Hubby inhaled his Cranachan. Well I say finish; I had a local G&T from ‘bothy gin’ (with gunshot) and Hubby of course chose a whisky.

As this was a day of contemplation, I finish with this quote for you:

“The wise man knows how to run his life so that contemplation is possible”. Gabriel Marcel.