After an early flight landing in Edinburgh, we were soon in our rental car heading north. Even though this was my first time to Scotland, the landscape seemed familiar and somewhat like home. I don’t dwell on why I feel like this because the familiarity ends when the motorway becomes narrow and sheep graze within stone-walled farmlands. Everything is green with life, a welcome change from the water starved trees and brown grass that I’ve left at home.
The first day on holiday is always a bit overwhelming to me. Excited to explore, my mind is pulled to the places I’d like to learn about, food I want to try, and people I’d like to meet. But, the body cannot keep up. I am happy to arrive at our hotel, not far from Inverness. Sleep comes quickly to those who have just had a restless, overnight flight.
Our dinner that evening is at the new restaurant, Table Manors. We enjoy wild and foraged greens and local meats and cheeses. Sunset is a long way off so we have ample time to explore the grounds and castle after our meal.
In the days to come, we drive further north, slowly making our way up the coast visiting Urquhart Castle, Inverness, Golspie, Dunrobin Castle and Ackergill Tower. The coast is jagged with cliffs and points. Farmland runs right to the edge. Sandy bays can also be seen from the road so we make a pact to go swimming in the North Sea at the first opportunity. The opportunity presents itself when the sun is hidden behind the clouds, the wind is blowing and the most appropriate clothing would be trousers, a jacket and perhaps a toque. We change into our bathing suits anyway and head in for a quick swim. Refreshed and alive we continue towards the Castle of Mey, the residence that Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother restored and would spend her summer holidays. At the Castle Tea Room, I chose the soup and cheese scone to ward the off cold before touring the charming gardens, castle and farm.
Back on the road towards Dunnet Head, "the most northerly point in mainland Britain". Single track roads make us to slow down and enjoy the scenery but also test our driving skills. Small lakes dot the wind -hewn peninsula but there is not place to stop and explore on this narrow road. We arrive and the sun peaks out over the cliffs. Birds cry and circle, a number of people are patiently waiting for puffins to appear with their telephoto lenses and tripods. It is here that we must make a decision. Do we continue along the rugged North Coast 500 route or do we retrace our path? Surely we're up for the challenge but we're also poor at time management. There has been too many stops along the way which leaves us with little time to drive the route. We'll have to return one day. The distance is not far but our time here is short. The decision was made before we arrived.