“I was born on a storm-swept rock and hate the soft growth of sun-baked lands where there is no frost in men’s bones.” ~Liam O Flaithearta
Since the aftermath of Tropical Storm Aileen was pummeling the Isle of Skye and the rest of the Hebrides, I headed to the northeast corner of Scotland where sunnier skies and less rain was in the forecast. The drive to the North Coast from the Isle of Skye was memorable counting 17 rainbows alone the way. I could drive all day in Scotland, driving on the left actually felt more natural and the BBC has like 10 radio channels and I couldn’t get enough BBC Gaelic!
Driving the North Coast of Scotland has become a thing called the North Coast 500. The route starts in Inverness and then weaves along the west coast and then follows the entire north coast before heading south again back to Inverness. It is 500 miles of never-ending backcountry roads through Scotland’s finest coastal scenery.
I would definitely love to return to Scotland and drive the entire North Coast 500, but I only had time for the Northeast Coast 150 or so. I stayed in the tiny coastal town of Casteltown where the entire town was built from gray stones that seemed to match the dreary-colored sky. The Castletown Hotel was delightful and my dinner at the hotel restaurant and only restaurant in town for that matter consisted of FOUR CARBS – veggie curry with rice, pita bread, potatoes, and beer!
In the morning I headed out to Dunnet Head, the northernmost point of all of mainland Britain and gazed across the sea to the Orkney Islands. I then headed to John O’Groats which was rated the most dismal place in all of Scotland so naturally I loved it!
I was told the only thing to do in John O’Groats was to take a selfie next to the landmark “Journey’s End” signpost, which you used to have to pay a fee to photograph, but a redevelopment initiative hoping to revitalize the area and erase the “most dismal town” reputation bought the sign and surrounding land and now selfie taking is free.
Then it was on to the Duncansby Stacks, which are towering, pillar-like stacks created by the eroding shoreline. I followed a trail down through the cliffs and to the shoreline where I wiped out on a slippery rock landing perfectly on top my camera smashing the lens and rendering it useless the rest of my trip. Bummed out about my camera and my aching butt I heard laughing and then hooting and hollering thinking someone was making fun of me, but it was a literal party of sunbathing seals. I’ve never seen seals! I watched them for an hour or so totally forgetting about the smashed lens.
The it was back to John O’ Groats for coffee at the Roads End Coffee Shop where I picked up a history book of Scotland and enjoyed the following quote, “Scots have long been the world’s vagabonds, ‘the tattered outcasts of the Earth and our very natures have dictated at least a few lines of the story of every other country on the planet.” ~Neil Oliver in A History of Scotland. I like to think I am one of those vagabonds and someday I will have a good story.
On the way back to Casteltown, I stopped off at the Castle of Mey, which was the holiday home for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother whom was an absolute riot. I opted for the full tour of the castle and was the youngest one on the tour by about 40 years. The castle was just as Queen Mother left it with evidence of her hilarity everywhere. There were multiple stuffed animals like the stuffed Lock Ness Monster perched on top of a 16th century tapestry and her stuffed stag’s head. Apparently every Scottish house needs a good stag’s head, but Queen Mother “prefers it be furry.” And geeze she drank like 15 cocktails a day, always bubbles with dinner. Always.
I toured the Castle of Mey gardens before heading back to the Castletown Hotel, where I ordered the fish and chips for dinner which I have still not recovered from. Since I was in the UK for the first time I had to at least try the fish and chips once, but seriously how can anyone eat this? It was a dinner plate sized piece of white fish, heavily battered and dripping in grease. I ate about an eighth of it along with fries and bread and couldn’t even finish my beer. I felt ill the rest of the night.
I had an absolute blast during a quick overnight in Inverness. I went on a short run in the hills of Loch Ness and sampled the incredibly tasty brews at the Black Isle Brewery where I met Scott from Scotland and family who was shocked that I had never seen Braveheart and then even more shocked that I did not have Netflix. I had to promise to watch as soon as I got home and then they would share their pizza with me. Then it was on to the Hootananny where I danced all night to traditional folk tunes. I loved Inverness! Before hopping on the plane back to the US, I was able to spend a few hours in Edinburgh sampling Scotch, which I disappointingly cannot make myself like although I tried very hard.