Today’s focus was the breath-taking scenery of the northwestern Highlands from Dunnet Hill, the northernmost point of the British/Scottish mainland, to Ullapool on Lochbroom on the west coast. We covered about 170 miles of Scotland’s “North 500” today, in about 9 hours of driving with plenty of stops along the way to marvel at the beauty of the changing landscape.
Most of the drive was along single lane roads with steep hills and blind turns that I would be hard pressed to drive in a car, let alone a 42 foot long coach, but once again Colin made it look easy. He was somehow able to keep up the full colour commentary while negotiating the turns, pulling aside into the tiny pullovers (or not!) when oncoming vehicles approached, and hilariously deriding the less skilled drivers who got in our way.
Here are some of my favourite places and facts from today’s tour. Pictures really do NOT do justice to the way the sunshine sparkles on the lochs and rivers, or the many variations of colour in the heather blanketing the hills, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was incredible.
We passed Dounreay Nuclear Station, in the process of being decommissioned. As always, Colin was a fount of information (HOW does he do it?) He told us that by 2030 Scotland aims to have all electric vehicles, and the nuclear and fossil fuel energy sources will be replaced by wind and wave power, both abundant here. Scotland is well on the road to clean energy efficiency, despite the fact that in the far north there are still some people who heat their homes with peat they cut from one of the many peat bogs.
We stopped at Weavers’ Café in Tongue for ice cream and pictures before crossing the causeway over the Kyle (narrows) of Tongue.
Loch Eriboll is Scotland’s second most westerly sea (salt water) lake, and the deepest in the British Isles. The loch is also home to salmon and mussel farms, with most of the production going to Europe.
In Durness Village Garden is a memorial garden dedicated to John Lennon, who used to visit his cousins here with his grandmother, as well as in 1969 with Yoko Ono and their son. The engraving on the stones is “There are places I’ll remember all my life/ All these places had their moments with lovers and friends / In my life I’ve loved them all”. It’s the perfect sentiment for this trip.
The Durness Millenium cairn shows our location at 58 degrees 34 minutes North and 4 degrees 43 minutes West.
Our group visited Smoo Caves, the largest limestone caves in the U.K. we were able to walk into the mouth of the caves via a set of fairly steep stairs and a pathway that led as far as a gorgeous waterfall.
Tours into the interior cave involve a hardhat, dinghy, and more time than we had…. and are not possible at all during high tide when the caves flood, but we got more great views from above Smoo Caves.
Scotland’s west coast is incredibly rugged, with 1000’s of inlets, hundreds of “bens” (mountains) with slopes smoothed during the Ice Age, and drumlin hills made up of rock mounds left behind as glaciers retreated.
Our tour bus stopped where we can see a portion of the road we’ve just travelled. A few members of our incredibly friendly, flexible, adventurous and punctual (important on a guided tour!) group got out to capture the scenery on camera.
Tonight’s stopover is at the Royal Hotel in Ullapool, overlooking Lochbroom. It’s such a lovely hotel overlooking the water, and we’ve been travelling at such a pace, that people at dinner were wishing that we were staying longer….. but there’s still so much of Scotland to see!