Located on the Sutherland coastline in the most north westerly region of Scotland is Durness, a neat Scottish village, in a superb highland setting. This area is best known for its fabulous scenery and landscapes, being some of the wildest and most rugged in Scotland. Inland, the moorlands and mountains are fantastic for hill walkers, and mountain bikers, with many routes and trails to discover. The coastline is mostly rocky cliffs with some beautiful sandy beaches; Balnakeil Beach and Sango Sands are just a couple to explore. Nearby, Smoo Cave is one of the main visitor attractions. The unique geological feature has been formed by the sea and river water, and is one of the largest caves in the UK. Tours operate during the summer for the best experience of the feature. A trip this far north would not be complete without a visit to Cape Wrath. This area is so diverse there is no direct road access, but ferries and mini buses run to deliver visitors to the furthest north westerly point in the UK! A Site of Special Scientific Interest, the vast wilderness is home to a diversity of wildlife and dramatic scenery.
As you travel further north in Scotland, the scenery becomes more and more dramatic, and Sutherland boast some of the best. With the Atlantic coast to the north and west, and the North Sea to the south east, this county is as sparse and rugged as you will find in the UK.
The population resides in coastal towns; to the west, Lochinver, a small fishing port sits nestled under the distinctive Suilven Mountain range and to the east you will find a number of towns and villages, the fishing port of Helmsdale, the sandy beaches and Jurassic rocks of Brora, and the seaside resort of Golspie, home to the fairy-tale Dunrobin Castle.
The thriving town at Dornoch offers beautiful sandy beaches, its own SSSI, the Royal Dornoch championship golf course, and a spectacular Cathedral. The most attractive aspect of this county is its landscapes, perfect for explorers, Ben More Assynt, the highest mountain in the county offers a formidable challenge to keen hikers, and Loch Shin has much to show wildlife enthusiasts. Golden Eagles and Sea Eagles are also known to inhabit this county.
About the Area
The northern section of Scotland provides some of the most dramatic scenery that the country has to offer with stunning natural beauty. The options include travelling up the east coast, through the central region or via the western section. Choosing the east coast, from Inverness to John o’ Groats, is a distance of 120 miles. This takes in the “Black Isle” which has the Moray Firth and the Cromarty Firth on either side. Continuing on the A9 through Easter Ross, and the scenery starts to get more dramatic with the peak Ben Wyvis dominating the area. The towns that you pass through include Dornoch, Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale, with the historic cathedral at Dornoch a highlight. Beyond and you enter the sparsely populated region of Sutherland, where there are vast open spaces of moorland and heather, which meets the high cliffs to the east. There are two main towns in the northern section and they are Thurso and Wick. The north east section is the county of Caithness, and there are a lot of Norse influence in this area, having been the closest point of contact to Norway and Viking invasions. It is a favourite for tourists who like to go to John o’Groats, and it is historically known as the “start of Great Britain”, being one end of the longest distance between two inhabited points in the UK, Land's End being the other. John o' Groats is 876 miles (1409.78 km) away from Land's End in Cornwall. At the north coast is the Pentland Firth, which looks out to Orkney and a car ferry can be caught from Scrabster to Stromness. Both Orkney and Shetland have amazing historical sites and are well worth visiting. Travelling along the north coast takes you to Tongue, and it is here that the central route can be taken using the A836. This follows Loch Loyal, past Ben Loyal, Loch Naver and through Strath Vagastie and Strath Tiffy before reaching Lairg. The road is a single track road with passing places and as it is so scenic, there is no hurry. Travelling from the west coast, from the great glen of Scotland and the magnificence of Loch Ness, along the A87, this is a route that is well trodden by tourists, as this is the “road to the isles”. Along the way, it is lochs and glens, with Loch Lochy, Loch Garry, Loch Cluanie, the Five Sisters mountain range, before reaching Loch Duich and one of the most photographed and iconic castles in Scotland, Eilean Donan Castle. From here, the road leads to the Isle of Skye and access onto many of the other islands, or north. Travelling north, takes in a perennial favourite, Plockton, and continuing on you travel through Lochcarron, Kinlochewe, Ullapool and Scourie, with harbour villages of Lochinver and Kinlochbervie, well worth visiting. Once you get to the top of Scotland, you reach Durness and the most north westerly region which is Cape Wrath, and this section of Scotland is covered.
In the North Highlands and Skye, there are many attractions, but it is the geography that is the most appreciated. The line of the well known verse states “speed bonny boat, over the sea to Skye”; but nowadays, there is a bridge for the main west coast route onto the island. However, the West Highland Line links Mallaig railway station by rail to Fort William, Oban and Glasgow. This rail line, which is in use through the summer only, has been frequently voted the top rail journey in the world. Once on Skye, it is dominated by the range of mountains through the spine of the island which are the Cuillins, which is a haven for walkers. To the north near Uig, is Dunvegan Castle, the clan seat of the Macleods, which is open to the public. Whilst Skye can easily occupy a visitor for weeks, there is also access to many of the other islands, including Raasay, Uist and Harris. Back on the mainland, it continues to be all about lochs and glens. From the great glen and Loch Ness, travelling north, it a series of straths, glens, mountains and vast open spaces. In fact 40% of all the Munro’s, mountains that are above 3,000 feet in height, are in this region. Some of the more prominent ones include Ben Wyvis, Ben Hope and Ben More Assynt. The clan history of this area is fascinating and includes well known clans such as Mackay, Sinclair, Sutherland, Munro, Urquhart, Mackenzie, Fraser, Mackinnon and Macleod. On Skye, Dunvegan Castle is the clan seat and nearby can be found Macleod's Tables, which are two curious flat-topped hills that are prominent from many parts of Skye. The ascent to the top is a straightforward but rough moorland walk. Apart from travelling the region and enjoying its natural beauty, there are many castles to visit. The iconic Eilean Donan Castle is the most visited castle in this region and definitely worth seeing, even if you see nothing else in Scotland. Castle Urquhart at Loch Ness, Dunrobin Castle, Castle of Mey, Dornoch Cathedral and Dunvegan Castle and Castle Armadale on Skye are all worth visiting, along with the many historical sites on Orkney. Many signposts are written in both English and Gaelic, the Scottish language, and it is in this region where the language is kept alive. Shinty is the local sport, which to an outsider is the equivalent of hockey without rules, and if you have a chance to see a game, then it is an exciting fast paced game, which comes with crunching tackles. With regard to weather, it can be a mixed bag. Traditionally, in general the west is wetter than the east, but there are pockets that have micro climates. In the west, the gulf stream keeps the climate milder and there are a number of well known gardens, like Inverewe Gardens in the North West, which are world class. All-in-all, there are plenty of interesting attractions to visit in this region.
Things To Do
Once you have seen the scenery and visited the castles, there are many interesting activities in this region. The food, especially the seafood is world renowned and if you can find a local restaurant or hotel that offers the seafood dish of the day, then it will be a worthwhile experience. The Kinloch Hotel and The Three chimneys, both on the Isle of Skye have excellent reputations, whilst the following 3 restaurants are also well known; 1, Fishmarket restaurant, Mallaig; 2, Captains Galley, Scrabster; 3, Plockton Shores, Plockton. Whilst this area is not the heartland of the whisky industry, there are a number of distilleries, which are well worth visiting. On the mainland they include Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Loch Ewe, Clynelish, Glen Ord and Pulteney. On Orkney there is Highland Park and on the Isle of Skye there is the Talkisker distillery. Visitor Centres, include the Falls of Shin, Assynt, Bright Water, Glengarry and Torridon. Of sporting interests, there are many rivers to fish for salmon, including the rivers Naver, Lochy, Helmsdale, Carron, Glass, Oykel and many more, not forgetting the numerous hill lochs for wild brown trout. Deep sea diving is a popular past-time, particularly off the west coast and places like Ullapool offer charter trips, where sea-fishing is readily available too. In this area, the golf courses are not as many, but the stand out golf courses are at Royal Dornoch and Skibo, though the 9-hole golf course at Durness, is a wonderful challenge and is the most north westerly golf course on mainland Scotland. Interestingly enough a young John Lennon used to holiday in the north west of Scotland and there is a memorial garden in his memory at Durness. Wildlife abounds in these more remote areas and there are opportunities to see otters, golden eagles and red deer in the wild. To see red kites and sea birds in more detail, the RSPB have a number of centres, including Tollie, Fairy Glen and Dunnet Head. For marine life, there is a dolphin and seal visitor centre at North Kessock or you can go on one of the many dolphin watch boats that monitor the Cromarty and Moray Firths. Chanonry Point being one of the most popular locations to spot the dolphins. For even more active activities, there are a number of outdoor centres and water specialists, to cater for any thrill seeking need, whether it be white water rafting or canyoning. For the surfer, the beach at Thurso East is regarded as Scotland’s prime surfing venue in the north of Scotland and has held major championships. For children, the beaches can be sandy and private havens, and there are excellent ones at Nigg, Whiteness, Dornoch, Dunnet Bay, Torrisdale Bay, Balnakiel Bay, Glenelg Bay and Barrisdale Bay. From the mountain biker to bird watcher, the Munro bagger to the garden enthusiast, there are many activities in the North of Scotland. The natural beauty is outstanding and those that make the time and effort to travel are well rewarded.
This region takes in Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Sutherland, Caithness and the islands include the Inner and Outer Hebrides as well as Orkney and the Shetland islands. For spectacular scenery the Highlands of Scotland provides some of the best, with a huge expanse of area full of mountains, lochs and glens full of romance, wildlife and scenic beauty. The heritage of this area includes Culloden, taking the ferry to the Isle of Skye or just taking in one of the many castles like Eilean Donan. There is also an immense range of wildlife to be found.