I’m not gonna lie, I had my doubts about how this trip was going to go when my kid locked himself in the rental car at the airport and NOBODY HAD A KEY. After about half an hour, he got bored of playing “driving” and opened the door. Hertz gave us a different car. I think they were just happy they didn’t have to break a window or something to get him out. But that’s traveling with kids… the trip went better after that, thank goodness!
We started out in Aviemore, a small town in the Cairngorm Mountains. There was an old-fashioned steam train that did a loop that lasted about an hour. The train and the three stations it stopped at had been restored to how they were 100 years ago (or so). We got to see them scooping coal into the fire to heat the water. Noah was pretty excited because the engine looked a little like Thomas the Train. One of the stops was at the station used for the Glenbogle station in the Scottish tv show Monarch of the Glen. (If you haven’t seen it, you should! It’s fun!)
After Aviemore, we made our way north, stopping in Inverness to buy Noah some warmer pajamas (it was so cold!). The route we took is called the North Coast 500, a 500-mile loop that follows the coast in the northern part of Scotland. We stopped at Dunrobin Castle, walked through the gardens, and watched a birds of prey demonstration.
We didn’t go all the way to John O’Groats in the far northeastern tip of Scotland, but took an inland shortcut to Thurso. That was a really long day of driving and we didn’t want to make it longer. It rained a lot as we were driving, so I didn’t get many pictures, but it was beautiful. Shortly after Thurso, we saw some people who had pulled off in a small parking lot and were walking out towards the sea. We decided that was a great idea! It was really beautiful and wild and empty and our shoes got soaked. Unfortunately, Noah hadn’t taken a good nap and was cranky, so we only walked a few minutes before going back to the car.
The northern coast of the North Coast 500 was so beautiful! The clouds were dramatic and they seemed to accentuate the empty spaces. It is slow going, because the road is mostly a single lane wide, with periodic passing places. But it was empty enough that we could just stop in the middle of the road to get a picture if we wanted. Every now and then, there would be a small village with just a handful of houses, a bunch of sheep, and gorgeous views.
And sometimes there were the Highland cows, lovingly referred to as “hairy coos”. Aren’t they cute?
We stayed in the village of Durness for 2 nights. It was larger than most villages on the north coast, but still very small. About 40 minutes away is a walk out to Sandwood Bay. The walk is about 4.5 miles each way and we attempted it. However, after a couple miles in strong winds and driving rain, we gave up and went back. See how Noah’s head is all flopped to the side? He was asleep like that. It couldn’t have been comfortable, but that’s how tired he was.
Two things Durness has going for it is the Smoo Cave and a spectacular beach (that doesn’t require hiking in the driving rain). The cave was originally a hideout for smugglers. It has a beautiful waterfall just inside, and on calm days, you can take a boat tour.
When you come back up the other side (where that picture was taken), you can continue walking out through a field, past grazing sheep, to the edge of the cliff for beautiful views of the coastline.
Durness Beach, also is spectacular. The sand is so soft, the water is an amazing color, and the cliffs helped protect it from the wind (a little).
And that’s it for today. Stay tuned for more of the wild beauty of Scotland!