It was one of those miserable rainy days in September 2006 when most of the autumn work in the garden had been completed and before winter set in that we decided on a quick Autumn break. The Highlands of Scotland sounded a good idea and we found a self-drive six night break in October to the Dornoch Hotel (shown on the right) on a dinner /bed and breakfast basis.
We were blessed with great weather for the whole of the period and only saw a little rain and some winds on the West Coast whilst visiting Wester Ross..
Sunday morning commenced in nice sunshine and continued for the rest of the day as we traveled from North Berwick via the Forth Road Bridge, the M 90 to Perth then the A9 to Inverness and finally Dornoch where we arrived at the Dornoch Hotel mid- afternoon for our six night break.
Situated on the Dornoch Firth, the town of Dornoch is famous for its Cathedral, clean award winning sandy beaches, gray seal population (see them basking on the sandy haven below) and its Royal Dornoch Golf Course. And in more modern times, famous for the wedding of the super star Modonna who was married in Dornoch Cathedral. Though the tune and song ‘Highland Cathedral’ was written I believe by two German song writers, I have always associated the tune with Dornoch Cathedral. Close bye are two famous castles - Skibo Castle formerly the home of Andrew Carnegie and now a famous hotel, and Dunrobin Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland .
The coast road (A9) follows the North sea coast and leads from Dornoch to Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale, Wick, Thurso and John o’ Groats and each town has its own charm and interest. Southwards from Dornoch, of course is Tain, Tarbet Ness, Nigg, Dingwell and the largest city in the Highlands, Inverness. Westwards give one acces to Wester Ross which includes Lochinver, Ullapool, Scourie, and Lairg..
Basking seals on a sandbank near Dornoch
Shin Falls & Loch Shin
Heading westwards from Dornoch to Bonnar Bridge then a short distance thereafter is Shin Falls. With adequate free parking at the Shin Falls Centre, it is a short walk down to the famous Falls where at this time of the year, migrating salmon feverishly jump up the Falls to reach their spawning grounds. It is quite amazing to see those regal fish battling against the rushing peat coloured water tumbling over the falls to reach their goal. But be warned, you must stand and watch for some time to catch a sight of the jumping salmon but be patient and you will be rewarded. We managed to see a couple whilst other guests in the Hotel saw six or seven in a fairly short space of time the next day. After your visit to the Falls you must pay a visit to the most palatial and attractive Shin Falls Centre for refreshment and even the purchase of a Harrods bag and goods. It was here that we learned about Carbisdale Castle (below)) which is located on the other side of the River Shin. This daunting neo-gothic profile of Carbisdale Castle overlooks the Kyle of Sutherland and is in fact one of the most opulent Youth Hostels in the World. It was the last castle to be built in Scotland and became a Youth Hostel in 1945, when it was gifted to the SYHA along with its priceless contents, including the finest collection of Italian marble statues in Europe. It is available for wedding receptions, conference, large school groups or reunion party and costs from £1500 - £2000 per night (but remember it does have accommodation for 189 people). The warden gave us a wonderful personal guided tour.
There are a couple of roads leading to Wester Ross from Shin Falls. The first, and probably the most attractive, is the A838. Although a single track road with passing places, there are many straight stretches and you can keep up a reasonable pace all the way and most Highlanders are very courteous at passing places. This road passes through Lairg which is at the southern end of Loch Shin. Worth a stop here and a browse round the shops before heading in a north-westerly direction following the shore of Loch Shin for about 40 miles. And what wonderful views you will get from this road and keep a look out forGolden Eagles and Buzzards which abound on the adjacent crags and hillsides. Thefollowing photographs are typical of what you will see. Scourie is located at the far end of this road and you pass Loch Merkland, Loch More and Loch Stack on the way. We had hoped to make a stop at the Scourie Hotel which we knew made excellent meals but it was closed for the season as was the Seafood Restaurant at Tarbet by Scourie which was featured in Rick Stein’s Seafood Lovers Guide TV programme.. However, the Kylesku Hotel was open for a most enjoyable lunch..
Is there a pot of gold at
the end of the rainbow?
Tarbet Ness and Tain
Tarbet Ness is located a few miles from Tain at the end of a peninsula and adjoining the small and attractive fishing village of Poertmahonack. At the extreme Ness (point) is located a lighthouse and a little further along the shoreline is an attractive castle and a wonderful location overlooking the North Sea. And no visit to the Tain area is complete without a visit to the Glenmorangie Distillery and a sample of the produce!
Well located castle on Tarbet Ness
Glenmorangie Distillery at Tain