As the sun sets late up here in the very north of Scotland, it also rises early. I woke up at 4am and it was already light, but thankfully was able to roll over and get a few more hours before we packed up the tent and got back on the road. Today was all about the north coast, and I was very excited to have a full day of sea views through the window.
3507 miles to the North Pole.
DAY FOUR | DURNESS TO WICK
Just a few minutes down the road from Durness is Smoo Cave, a sea cave set into the limestone cliffs that boasts one of the largest entrances to any sea cave in Britain. We parked at the top (next to the worst smelling public toilets of the trip…), and walked down the steps to the cave entrance. You can walk into the cave for free, but if you want to explore properly you have to go on one of the paid tours which involve a boat trip.
Looking in and towards Smoo Cave.
Instead we decided to walk back up the other side of the cliff and along the coastal path for a short distance to make the most of the views into the cave from the top and, of course, out to sea. Apparently it’s just 3507 miles from here to the North Pole – a challenge for another day perhaps?!
Inside Smoo Cave.
From Smoo Cave.
Looking north from Smoo Cave.
Kyle of Tongue
The road from Smoo Cave along the north coast of Scotland was simply beautiful driving and we could have stopped a hundred times in laybys to take in the views even more. One that we couldn’t miss was just before the bridge over the Kyle of Tongue; we knew it was coming thanks to the OS Map but it also announced its presence as we got near it, too. We stopped in a gravel parking area and wandered down to the edge of the water. The view of Ben Loyal from here was one of my favourites of the whole trip.
The Kyle of Tongue.
Ben Loyal from the Kyle of Tongue.
The best lunch of the week, in my opinion, was at the Weaver’s Café on the main road just outside Tongue. We arrived just in time; we walked in to a nearly empty café, got a table by the window and ordered our soup and sandwiches just as there was a bit of a rush and the owners quickly got behind and had to start telling people there was a delay on food. I can see why it was busy – the soup was simply divine and the view from the garden was just wonderful. I can’t imagine how they’d manage if a coach turned up; we are glad we found it just before the rush!
Weaver’s Cafe, Tongue.
After quick stop at Dounreay Nuclear Power Station, which is unfortunately closed to visitors these days, and Castleton Beach, because it looked too good to miss out, we took a bit of a detour off the traditional NC500 route at Thurso to visit Dunnet Head.
Those of you in the know will already understand that while a lot of people think that John O’Groats is the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain, it actually isn’t – that accolade is reserved for Dunnet Head. An RSPB nature reserve thanks to the numbers of seabirds here (apparently geese flying overhead are probably travelling to/from Iceland and Greenland), there is a working lighthouse and a number of old military buildings dating back to the second World War.
Trig bagging at Dunnet Head.
We have visited once before, on our Great British compass points road trip, and both times have been blessed with bright sunshine, clear views, and what felt like gale force winds! The most northerly point of mainland Great Britain is definitely worth a visit on your NC500 road trip, it would be a shame to miss it out.
I know it’s touristy, but you really can’t come all the way up here, visit the northern most point on mainland Great Britain, and not visit the north eastern most point, can you?! We headed to John O’Groats just to say we’d been, had a wander to the famous signpost, and a mooch around the tat shops. There’s a walk to Duncansby Head Lighthouse from the car park which I would have liked to do, but I think we’d have been blown into the sea so we decided to give it a miss this time – next time, definitely next time.
The famous signpost at John O’Groats.
Oh and the ice cream from Flavours was excellent; it might have been blowing a gale and freezing cold, but I’d been waiting for ice cream since I was disappointed at Gairloch a few days previous, and so this was an opportunity I wasn’t about to pass on!
Bagpipes and Drums in Wick
Arriving in Wick is something of a culture shock after four days in very quiet and rural north Scotland; the traffic and noise of a large town was a bit of a shock to the system. We booked Wick Camping ahead of time as we knew that now we were on the east coast things would be a bit busier, and it was like a little bit of oasis in the middle of the town. We had such a warm welcome here; the owner gave us some recommendations for dinner and where to walk before allowing us to choose our pitch on the camping field. The portacabin style ablutions block didn’t look like much but it was actually very good, plenty of space and hot water, and never a queue.
Pipes and Drums in Wick.
Always preferring to leave the car alone once we’ve arrived in our chosen spot for the evening, we walked along the river into town to find food. Once the traffic of rush hour had gone, Wick is actually a quiet town that is a little run down, but there were a few choices for dinner. We liked the sound of the menu at DeVita’s pizzeria and it got good reviews on TripAdvisor, so we grabbed the last table in the restaurant and ordered pizza. It turned out to be an excellent choice, and not just because it turned out the owner had connections with a member of our party! Small world. The food was excellent and great value, the welcome friendly, and we had a lovely evening. While we were waiting for our food to arrive the local Pipe and Drum band performed in the square outside the restaurant as part of the local Pip Festival, so we headed out to watch – you can’t get any more Scottish than that!
Ceannabeinne Beach – who knew this was Scotland?!