The Highlands of Scotland Road Trip

Hello my little demons,

As most of you know, I moved to the Highlands of Scotland at the beginning of 2020 and was super excited to explore and share my travels with you guys. But then Covid-19 hit and I was pretty much confined to a single room with a very lovely family for about eight months and wasn’t able to get very far (I wrote two blog posts about this, I’ll leave the links at the end). The whole country; United Kingdom, went into lockdown in March 2020 and it eased for a few months before the majority of the country (at least England) going into lockdown again (and now we’re in another nationwide lockdown – including Scotland!). During those few months lockdown lifted, a friend of mine booked some time off work and decided to drive all the way up to Scotland to see me, and of course, see the Highlands of Scotland!

I firstly want to say, keep safe and don’t do any unnecessary trips, especially if you are in lockdown! If we all do our part, we can get out of this pandemic quicker.

On that note, I also want to say that this trip was done pre-lockdown. We also made a lot of precautions, including having hand sanitizer in the car, which we used very frequently, wore masks when going inside public buildings and kept 2 meters apart from other people. Luckily, the Highlands wasn’t very busy and the majority of it is wild and people-free. My friend also booked a hotel in Inverness for the whole week, we didn’t book any other hotels in the Highlands so as to avoid spreading the virus, so we explored the Highlands one day at time.

Now, I hope you enjoy the rest of this blog!

Day One – Packing and checking into the Hotel

The first day wasn’t that eventful, as my friend was driving over 500 miles from South West England to the Highlands. But, as I had finally found my own place, moving out of the single bedroom in a lovely family’s house into my own very first flat in the Highlands, I was packing my things – not that I had much to pack – and cleaning the room before he arrived.

As I mentioned in the little ‘disclaimer’ in the beginning of the blog post, my friend booked a hotel in Inverness city centre for the week, and had booked a twin room just in case I decided to stay so we could wake up early and set off straight away on adventures. I decided it would be best to just stay there, so I could clean the room before the adventure starts. Not having to go back to the house, clean, move my stuff into my flat half way through the adventure – no time was wasted!

When my mate did arrive, we bundled everything into the car, and because I am a massive motor-head, I have to mention he has a Mark 2 Ford Focus ST, which has been, err… ‘slightly’ modified. I won’t post any photos of it, as it is a little too easily distinguished. Once packed, we just went straight to the hotel, ordered a pizza, bought some beers/cider and chilled in front of the TV.

Day Two – The long way to the Isle of Skye

On day two, this is when the fun starts. We got up with the sole intention of driving to Bealach na Bà or also known as Applecross Path. The actual town of Applecross, at the end of the path, wasn’t the main attraction here, but the road to it, and it’s absolutely stunning!

But, of course, Applecross is a lovely little fishing village too, which deserves a mention. But as they say, it’s the journey, not the destination.

After a quick stop, having cold pizza left over from last night, a quick loo break, we then headed south to a little village called Plockton. I only really wanted to go because I thought the name was funny (and yes, I kept calling it Plonkton because I’m a child), and I quickly found it on a website of places to visit in the area… but I had no idea it was this pretty!

After a small walk about, and a stop in the local gift shop to get my obligatory postcards (it’s one of the things I collect), we got back into the car and decided Eilean Donan Castle wasn’t that far away and deserves at least a quick stop.

Now, this castle I have heard about and drove past at least twice before, once on the way to the Isle of Skye back in the summer of 2018 and back again only a month later – I had worked on the Isle of Skye for a few weeks, not being able to hack the job so ended up returning to my parents – I remember driving past the Castle and wishing I could stop to see it. The below photo shows you why.

Unfortunatley, it was a little busier than I had expected. We did visit in a Scottish school holiday, so there were a few people about, and it’s a popular tourist destination – well, it is on the way to the Isle of Skye!

Which brings me onto the end of the day, a quick trip over to the Isle of Skye!

Of course, there isn’t much in terms of photos, as we didn’t spend long there. We did, however, drive most of the Island, but the majority of it we were searching for a toilet! Word of warning, if you’re planning on touring about – make sure you empty your bladder as soon as you can! You don’t know when the next toilet will be!

By the time we did a loop and got back to Portree, the light started to fade not long after, so we stopped for a few minutes, enjoying the view of the harbor before heading back to the mainland.

Of course, we stopped by Eilean Donan Castle to see it lit up at night. We did, apparently, drive past Loch Ness on the way back, I did see it a little, but it was too dark to get any decent photos of it – plus, that was planned for another day!

Day Three – Oil Rigs, Lighthouses, Castles and Beaches

Day three and this one started off a little different. My mate told me about this area which holds a graveyard of oil rigs in Invergordon. Okay, so it’s not technically a graveyard, as they’re there to either be repaired or taken apart. But, in a weird way, I was impressed. Not your usual tourist stop.

This was our main point of call when we set off that morning. But as we knew it wouldn’t take all day to look at some oil rigs, we also had a bit of a wander about. We headed north after finding there was a lighthouse not that far away called Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

We also had to stop off at this strange church and graveyard that we drove past to get to it – and had to drive past on the way back (on Google Maps it’s labeled as Tarbat Discovery Centre).

We then headed up the coast a bit more, to a castle that I had come across while researching places to visit; Dunrobin Castle. And I am glad we decided to stop, because it is absolutely beautiful! I actually had a couple of my photos printed and waiting to be framed!

Lastly, for the day, we also stopped at a beach a little further up as the sun was slowly setting, called Brora. Here we walked along the sand just soaking in the coastline for a bit, before getting a little cold – and worrying about getting stuck in the dark – and decided to head back to Inverness for an early night – we had a long day ahead the next day!

Day four – driving (part) of the NC500

Day four was the big one, the one we both were looking forward to doing: the NC500, or North Coast 500, if you didn’t know what that is, it Scotland’s “Route 66”. As the official website (northcoast500.com) says:

“Embark on one of the world’s most iconic coastal touring routes,
and discover the breath-taking beauty of the North Highlands;
a place where you’ll find white sand beaches, rugged mountains,
hidden gems and a wealth of unforgettable experiences.”

The route pretty much does the whole rim of the Highlands (see image below), although we didn’t do ALL of it – but we did most, in just one day. Most people go anti-clockwise, going north up to Wick first then round to the West coast, but as we were trying to do it all in one day (I don’t recommend this, but it goes to show that it is doable if you want to see if and are strapped for time) we went straight across to Ullapool to do the West coast in the daylight getting to John O’ Groats as the sun was just setting.

But, of course, we saw a lot of other stretches on other days, such as Applewood which you can see on South West of the map and Dunrobin Castle is close to Glospie on the A9 north of Inverness.

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Coast_500

We began our day being woken up pretty early (I think it was about 4 in the morning), because the fire alarm had gone off. We intended to get up early, hoping to hit our first stop just as the sun was rising but 4 in the morning was a little too early.

So, we had to rush outside in our PJs, the dark, damp, cold to wait for the fire engines to come and be allowed back into the building. I can’t remember what the issue was, but it was a false alarm, but luckily I managed to get back to sleep for a few more hours, finally waking up at 6ish.

We already had bought a few things from the shops the previous day, so we didn’t even stop for breakfast. We set off nearly right away (give me time to wake up and put makeup on!) and our first stop was Corrieshalloch Gorge.

Looking at the pictures of this bridge, and it looks harmless, but you get on it and wow, does it make your legs go to jelly! The bridge didn’t just wobble up and down like a typical suspension bridge would, but it also wobbled side to side! My mate even refused to get on it!

We only spent about 15-20 minutes there (feeling as if buying a parking ticket was pointless), but it is possible to walk around it a little, which I wish I did, but we were on a tight schedule to get to the top before sunset!

So, onwards to Ullapool.

I’m sure Ullapool has a lot more going for it than what we saw, but we only really stopped at Tesco’s to stock up on food/snacks, sit along the harbor front to have brunch (it wasn’t quite breakfast, but wasn’t quite lunch) and then set off again on our day trip.

We did stop quickly at Scourie Jetty, which we were extremely impressed to see the water was so clear! But, had to move on as yours truly needed to find a toilet again!

Our next stop was a little bit more north to Balnakeil Beach (Close to Durness on the map above). The one thing that I was hoping to see… and this might sound odd, but sod it… I honestly thought I might see some cows on the beach! I remember looking it up thinking it looks absolutely beautiful and then saw photos of these lovely black cows walking on the sand. Needless to say, I didn’t see cows on the beach, but I am glad I got to see such a beautiful beach… even if it was a little cold!

Before I tell you the next stop, I just want to throw in some photos of the view we had along the way, both between Ullapool and Balnakeil Beach but also after it.

Next was Smoo Cave (yes, you read that right!) and this was one I was really looking forward to! (Also close to Durness). Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones who had the great idea to see it, as there were a few other people about – probably not as many as if it was peak season and no pandemic, but there was at least one that was a little loud, but I just ignored that one little annoyance and was impressed nonetheless. Although, I had hoped the cave went a little deeper, but that’s just me and my (weird) interest in caves!

The cave entrance is 50ft high, and is apparently the largest sea cave entrance in Britain (source link). One story I read is that it was believed to be the residence of the Devil, which I found pretty fascinating, but couldn’t find much about it online. If you’d like to read more about Smoo Cave, here are a few interesting and insightful links I did find: https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/durness/smoocave/index.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoo_Cave

The next stop was an unplanned stop, but as we were approaching it we saw how beautiful it was and had to stop – plus, the sun came out for us for a little bit which made it even more beautiful – and actually warmed up a little.

This is Ceannabeinne Beach…

And yes, if it wasn’t cold and it was open, I would totally have done that zip wire!

Our next stop was Melvich Beach, this one was at the request of my mate, and again, you can see why the west coast of Scotland is renown for it’s beaches! Unfortunately, as soon as we got there, it started to cloud over and most of my pictures are dark, and doesn’t do it any justice compared to the previous ones.

After Melvich Beach, the next stop was the most northern part of mainland Britain – No, not John O’ Groats! Dunnet Head! John O’ Groats isn’t the most northern part of Britain, it’s actually the end of the longest distance between two inhabited British points (Land’s End, Cornwall being the most southernly).

Dunnet Head is in fact the most northerly point of Scotland and Britain. Actually, if you want to be exact, Dunnet Head is the area, the tip is ‘known’ as Easter Head (or at least Wikipedia says it is, so it might be true?)

And NOW…. we have John O’ Groats…

As you can see, the sun was starting to fade and it was actually really pretty!

Now, we just had to drive back to Inverness to complete our very long day of driving almost the NC500.

Of course, we had to stop for some fish and chips in Brora (I recommend The Bear Den if you’re ever going that way!) and we had to stop to see the oil rigs lit up at night.

Day five – The last day around Loch Ness

The last day of my little Highland adventure, and we saved the monster hunting for last; Loch Ness Monster!

This might not seem as spectacular as the trip all the way around (almost) the NC500, but there are still some lovely surprises that I wasn’t expecting and just like the NC500, I would love to go back again!

Our first stop was around about Lochend, this was our first real view of Loch Ness.

We then stopped (well, I demanded we stop!) at a shop near Drumnadrochit, close to where Urquhart Castle was located as there was a shop on the side that I had to go in to get my obligitory postcards, and I… might have… got a few. We couldn’t see the castle unfortunately, as due to the virus (I think), they were operating on an appointment only basis. We couldn’t even get a sneak peak of it from somewhere, but our next stop kinda made up for it.

Above is Invermoriston Falls, and we caught it at probably the most beautiful time of the year, one of my favourites; Autumn. Okay, so I love Summer more because it’s warmer and I hate being cold, but Autumn is close second as it’s so pretty!

Next stop was Fort Augustus, we had a wander up the lochs and down to the view point (we did look out for Nessy, but couldn’t see her!)

We then drove back up Loch Ness on the other side, and I’m so glad we did! Although, for about half of it we weren’t driving next to the loch, hell, we couldn’t even see the loch from where we were, but it was absolutely stunning!

We then stopped at the Falls of Foyers. Hoods up… it’s a little wet!

We did manage to get back towards the loch and got some lovely shots before heading back to my flat for a well deserved take-away!

A big shoutout to my mate for driving all the way up to Inverness and putting up with my craziness! (Yes, that is a shell, she’s call Michelle).

Thanks for reading this rather longer post today! I’m hoping to go do the full NC500 in the summer this year (2021), fingers crossed the pandemic eases by then, and I will getting my motorbike licence (CBT first, then going straight to Direct Access for my big-boy licence). And then next year, I am planning to do the American version – the Route 66! (see below for a blog post on that!)

Here are the other Highland blog posts:

Moving to the Highlands
Six Months in the Highlands – Thanks, Covid-19!

Here are a few other travel posts:

Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas
Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem
A small trip to Reading – Wokefield Mansion
Living in Australia – Part 2: My first Christmas away from my parents (Christmas Special!)
Travelling Route 66 for Charity – Update

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6 Months in the Highlands – Thanks, COVID-19!

In one of my previous posts (here’s the link), I talk about moving to the Highlands. It was just a small ‘travel’ post really, with a few pictures, intended to be a precursor to future travel posts.

But it didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

And… I *might* be moving again!

Pre-Covid-19

On Feburary 24th, I had my first day at my new job – but it was in London. I travelled down to London from the southern part of Scotland where I had been temporarily living. I got to the hotel, realised it was the wrong one, so ordered a taxi to the correct one, and the next day was my induction training.

My induction training lasted two days; Monday and Tuesday, although I didn’t see much of London in that time, so no cool photos to show you guys (sorry!). By Tuesday evening, I was on a flight to Inverness.

Wednesday morning, I started my first day in the office.

I took with me, one medium/large suitcase, my laptop bag and a work laptop bag (which I collected from the induction day).

I have been living out of that suitcase for 6 months!

For the first few weeks, I had planned to get settled at work and get a feel for the area. Once I knew the best area to live, public transport routes (currently car/bike-less, don’t judge!) and how much I could possible afford, I was going to find a nice place to rent.

A few weeks in, I started looking at places, I viewed two flats, and contacted a lot more for other potentials…

Then Covid-19 hit.

Post-Covid-19

For the first few weeks before the UK was put into official lockdown, I was given the option to work from home, the last week before lockdown, I did. I found it cool and novel – I’ve always wanted a remotely working job!

Then lockdown officially started 23rd March. Shops started to shut (except for essential shops). People weren’t allowed out except for 1 hour exercise (this wasn’t set in stone, apparently, but it was ‘advised’ to limit to an hour). We had to have letters to say we were keyworkers if we got stopped by police.

I was classed as a keyworker, but was lucky that I had a company laptop so I could work from ‘home’. And, I was equally lucky that the host of the Airbnb I had booked was more than happy for me to stay with her until lockdown lifted. I pay her a small fee a month, instead of booking continuously through Airbnb – and it works out a lot cheaper.

The novelty of working from home wore off quickly. Especially since I couldn’t go anywhere! I was inside for work. I was inside on days off. Summer came, and I was inside for that too. The only time I could go out was for walks/exercise or shopping. That was the only time I could see bits of Inverness; the area I was really looking forward to exploring! When lockdown restrictions eased a little, I started to go a little further afield. Which is the next section…

University of the Highlands and Islands

This is something that is pretty close to where I have been living for the past six months. When I first moved, pre-Covid-19, I would walk through the grounds to get to the office. Post-Covid-19, I would either walk through to get to Tesco to do my shopping, or just go for a walk to get my hourly exercise.

Although it’s not exactly a destination to pack your bags to go see (unless you’re starting a course there!), it certainly is a lovely place to walk around when the sun is shining!

Culloden Woods and Battlefield

I went to Culloden Woods/Forest a few times, it was suggested to me by a colleague from work. I had no idea what to expect, I couldn’t find any information on it. But, to do something different to my usual walk around the University grounds, I went here on a day off instead.

First time I went, I was happily exploring; following the path, taking in the sights, smells and sounds, and I came across a sign that said ‘Culloden Battlefield Trail’. It didn’t tell me how far it was to the Culloden Battlefield, but I at least figured the walk might be intersting, even if I didn’t walk all the way there. But, I did end up walking all the way to the battlefield!

And, I was glad I went, as although I was only there for a little bit, it was a really interesting site. It’s the site where the Jacobite Rising came to and end in 1745. There is a visitor centre (which was closed due to the lockdown) which holds a cafe, museum and shop, there is an old cottage (Leanach Cottage), clan gravestones and memorial cairn (be careful not to walk on the grass on this bit, there are real remains there – I found that out afterwards and felt really guilty!) and then there is the battlefield itself with the different flags to represent the two sides of the battle, and there are markers dotted around with more information.

Second time I went, I visited more of the woods and forest, this time around it was really foggy and I got some really interesting shots in the fog.

Long walk to North Kessock

I add emphasis on the ‘long walk’ here, because I was out for six hours! I walked all the way from Cradlehall/Westhill, through Inverness City Centre, over the Kessock Bridge and into North Kessock and Craigton… then back again. I was sore for a few days afterwards.

Again, I got some really interesting shots. North Kessock is a lovely little place, right on the edge of Beauly Firth, I found a lovely little swing seat on the edge by some woods, there was a fog coming in which hid part of the Kessock Bridge. I saw a few sights walking through Inverness too.

Inverness Castle and the Islands

When lockdown started to ease, and the shops started to open, I decided to go back into Inverness to do some shopping. But the main part of my walk into Inverness was to see Inverness Castle! No trip to Inverness is complete without at least seeing the Castle!

Unfortunately, the Castle was closed, but not because of Covid, but because it’s undergoing some renovations, so I wasn’t able to go inside. When I get back to the UK after my contract abroad, and if I get my old job back in Inverness, I am looking forward to seeing it again, hopefully go inside this time!

As well as Inverness Castle, I also had a wander along the River Ness. A little further down is what’s called ‘The Islands’ or ‘Ness Islands’, which, as the name suggests, is a colletion of islands on the River Ness. There are a few bridges across them so you can walk along them, and they have a few trees and lights up along them (which I can only imagine look nice in the evening).

Motorbike Ride to Nairnshire

One day, I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend from college. He was coming up for a tour of Scotland on his motorbike and decided to pop in to see me. He brought his spare motorbike helmet and we took a trip out to see Nairn, an area I had hoped to see when I first moved up, pre-Covid-19. And yes, I am aware there is still a Covid risk, but luckily he had already had Covid and had the anti-bodies. There was no risk of spreading.

We went to Fort George to begin with, it was closed, but we were still able to walk on the pebble beach and around the old Fort. We then got back on the bike and headed to Nairn Beach, where we wandered about, sat and caught up, had lunch and then headed back. We stopped at Sueno’s Stone – a 9th Century Picto-Scottish standing stone, Clava cairns and the viaduct close by.

My next adventure

I can’t talk too much about my next adventure. I have mentioned it a few times, so it’s not exactly a secret. But I don’t want to dedicate a whole blog post to it just yet, as it hasn’t been officially confirmed.

However, I will say; I was recently given the opportunity to go to anther country, with the company I work for!

At the moment there are a few issues with Covid-19; the borders being closed and, I have a few issues with my visa. But when things have been sorted, if I am still able to go, I will give you more updates!

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Drumlanrig Castle – Photography

I have posted a lot about my writing, giving you a few chapters, even given the new improved updated version, I have posted about my struggles with WordPress and the issues of being an author. But there is two other things I am interested in that I have not yet blogged about here and that it; travel and photography.

I love travelling and photography. I don’t always get to go to exciting and exotic places, but I do try to get out to new places in and around the area in which I live; Scotland.

Here is an idea of where I have been recently; Drumlanrig Castle (the “Pink Palace”).

It’s a beautiful Castle located in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. It is/was the home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry. The castle has 120 rooms, 17 turrets and four towers. Constructed between 1679 and 1689 from distinctive pink sandstone.

I haven’t been inside, as it was winter and it wasn’t open, but it is certainly somewhere I want to go back.

Here is a great page for it, if you’re interested in knowing more: https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/thornhill/drumlanrigcastle/index.html

Even the grounds are great to have a walk around and maybe take some snaps with a camera (I have a Nikon D3200).

By the way, that tree, in full-frame second photo in, is a 300+ years old Sycamore Tree and the largest in Britain!