Hiking here is spectacular. If you have more time, you can hike directly from John O'Groats to take in the entire spectacular view. We had limited time, so we started our hike from the lighthouse and made our way to the awe-inspiring stacks. After marvelling that views here, we moved on to the stacks of Duncansby Head. There's a path right along the coast overlooking the stacks so you can view them from all directions.
Be sure to keep an eye out for seabirds. Different are constantly migrating through the area at all times of the year. Including puffins! Scotland may be known for its Scotch, but Gin is making a huge mark in the country. Ackergill Tower was the perfect base for exploring the northernmost point of Scotland. And this is a must! We stayed in the large Nun's room, which even has an old prayer nook in the corner where the inhabitants used to pray.
This 16th-century tower has a lot of history, and you can sit by the fire reading about its checkered past as you enjoy a dram of whiskey. Dining in the great hall, we ate a delicious three-course menu before retiring to the various sitting rooms for an after-dinner drink. As we sat by the fire we read about the history of the castle and wondered what life might have been like back in time. We love road trips! This stretch of the nc takes you across the top of Scotland. It was surprising to look at our map and see just how much farther north we were than where we live in Canada.
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It was also really surprising to find out that this area is a popular surfing destination. World surfing events are held here. We didn't brave the water, but while driving through the likes of Amadale Bay and Melvich, we did see surfers in the water taking on the swells. We were a bit too early in the season for kayaking and when we go back to Scotland we will definitely give it a go.
But we did see a few experienced kayakers in the water. Looking at the rough seas, we decided it was best left to the professionals at this time of year.
We'll brave the North Sea when the weather is a little more inviting. Hopefully, by the time you go, the ruins of Castle Varrich will be open. It was under scaffolding when we arrived as we were told that they had just discovered a bone and it was being excavated. The hotel staff told us it should be open by summer.
You can hike from the Tongue Hotel. It is believed that the castle was built in the 14th century upon an old Norse fort. So you can be sure there is a lot of history just waiting to be discovered here. Instead of driving directly along the A to cross the Kyle of Tongue, take the scenic route around the tip of the loch for extraordinary scenic views. We had the single track road all to ourselves.
We'd spy a lake, park the car and hike to extraordinary views. We made sure to cross the bridge for a full view of the highlands before turning around again to continue our journey.
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I remember an episode where the Crawley family visited relatives in the Scottish Highlands to hunt for bucks, and this could have been that lodge. It has a cozy atmosphere with large rooms, and there's always someone offering a drop of sherry when you arrive. There is a dining room and in town there is a store close by to stock up on supplies for the rest of your road trip.
This is another fabulous stretch filled with long deserted beaches, more coastal hike and one incredible cave. One of our favorite things on our trips was to explore the Smoo Caves. Stopping in the town of Durness, the Smoo Caves are beautiful to see inside and out.
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There are boardwalks leading down to the caves on either side giving you views of the steep path. A bridge lets you cross the river leading in from the sea while looking into the giant cavern. Many people just go into the caves and take a quick look, but we highly recommend taking the tour led by Colin. He has been excavating these caves for years making discoveries and digging during the offseason. Donning our hard hats and cameras, we floated inside the cave getting so close to the waterfall it splashed on our faces.
We then walked along narrow paths as he explained the geology of the cave and his theories on how deep the cave goes and how it might be connected.
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Bring some cash with you and be sure to take this trip! It's a fascinating read and you'll find yourself getting lost in the facts. A beautiful stretch of sandy beach can be found just out of town and it is definitely worth visiting. Not only is it very picturesque, you'll experience the unique feeling of walking on a beach while military vehicles drive by with great purpose.
The Royal Naval gunnery ranges are located out here and military personnel comes to this area to train. You constantly hear guns and bangs in the distance making you wonder "what on earth is going on out there? There is a scenic cemetery located on the site by the beach housing an old church and tombstones.
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It's very photogenic and John Lennon's aunt is buried here. John Lennon visited the area many times to see his aunt and there is a memorial in the town of Durness. He revisited it again with Yoko Ono and it is said that some of his happiest memories took place here.
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It's an interesting little garden to visit with a little path weaving through the garden leading to the John Lennon memorial. It's a place for quiet contemplation and surprisingly very serene even though its located on the side of the road. This is a cool spot where locals are starting to build a craft community converting an old military camp into an artists compound.
The most famous attraction here is the Cocoa Mountain coffee shop. We stopped here to load up on chocolate and pick up a takeaway cappuccino for our drive out of town. We didn't try the hot chocolate, but we heard two different customers give glowing recommendations on our way out. Don't worry though, we definitely had our fill of handmade chocolate and an oh so smooth cappuccino. Be prepared to give your wallet a workout. When you walk in, you'll want to sample all the truffles and handmade local chocolate in the store.
One of our favorite spots along the North Coast was the village of Smoo, where we explored the Smoo Caves and Balnakeil Bay and its beautiful beach.
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We didn't stay in this town, but if we did, we would have chosen the Smoo Cave Hotel. It's a basic hotel, but the location is a perfect stop after driving from Tongue, giving you the chance to spend a day or two in Smoo. There's a good bar and they have some of the best Haggis around.
The drive from Clachtol to Lochinver is another stunning drive along a single track with views to die for.
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