There’s something I would not miss on my next trip to Scotland, but I just can’t do it this time, and that’s drive the entire North Coast 500. There is nothing new about this 500 mile circumnavigation of the Highlands other than marketing, but having driven the portion of the route that we can reach from our base in Invergordon (marked in green), I wish we could make it all the way around. We will have been up and down the eastern section twice, once to visit Wick and the Old Pulteney Distillery, and again to get to the Orkney Ferry from Gills, by John O’Groats. We will be driving the southern portion on our way to Skye the day after tomorrow. We visited Lairg very early in our stay here and have been back to that area for the Highland Games. This week, we pushed on to the far northwest coast. When we emerged onto the coast road at Laxford Bridge there was a great sign:We made our way to Kinlochbervie (north coast), and had a picnic by the water. There aren’t cafes overlooking the ocean here, though you can see the Atlantic across the bay and around the nearby islands. The day of our visit, it was absolutely gorgeous weather, sunny all day. Why not put houses right out there on the water? I think it’s because that’s the OCEAN out there, the serious roaring-gale ocean during much of the year. It is sensible to put your houses and town in the folds of the land where wind and waves can’t get at them directly. We were there on a one in 100 day: mild temperature, calm water, bright sun. The coast is full of islands and inlets. I wanted to follow the coast all along the route. Once we were in Kinlochbervie, I wanted to go further north to Oldshoremore and then Durness. I also wanted to turn at that tempting sign “West Coast” and visit Scourie, Drumbeg and Lochinver. It would be easy to spend a couple or three weeks visiting all the great-sounding places on the map. Maybe even take a boat ride to the island of Handa. All too soon, we had to head back. The landscape changed back from rocky outcrops, heather, bracken and gorse, to green fields and sheep. The only down side to our wonderful excursion was the road that crosses Scotland NW-SE. It’s just under 50 miles from Lairg to Laxford Bridge and this major road looks like:
Yes, it’s a single lane. There are lots of pullouts, true, but it’s a one-lane road. We followed a deer in one place. The good news is that the actual North Coast 500 is all at least one lane each way–much easier, once you adjust to driving on the left, that is.
Not only did we have a beautiful drive and a picnic on the water, but we pulled in by a sign for a bird hide to have a look. The chirping of birds was so loud I thought it sounded like a recording….It was! We met a group catching birds and checking their band numbers or putting a band on them if they were unmarked. They had three redpolls and we saw two more in their mist nets. After checking their legs for bands, they pop each bird in a cloth bag for weighing, then let them all go at the same time because they are a flock and would be disoriented to be let go individually. It was fascinating to see, and the data on birds that is collected goes to the British Trust for Ornithology that coordinates all the collected information and uses it to study the survival of species in Britain and Ireland, as well as collaborating with EU-wide studies. (Banding birds is called “ringing” in the UK.)
Here’s a close-up photo of a redpoll from the web. It’s an LBJ (little brown job) with a dark red spot on the head.
It was another great day.