Caithness and Sutherland
The Far North of Scotland
The two areas of Caithness and Sutherland form Scotland's northern wilderness. Their scenery varies from wild cliffs and tiny islands to lonely moorland and remote sandy beaches with superb panoramic mountain views, plus tree-lined twisting roads and foaming rivers. Here you'll find dozens of ruined castles and ancient monuments, particularly in the east. There are also lots of golf courses and places where you can fish for salmon and trout.
The boggy half of Caithness and Sutherland is known as the Flow Country (from the Old Norse word Floi meaning marshy ground). If you were to dig down about 7 metres you would touch peat that is 7000 years old. It might not look that interesting, but in fact there are lots of birds here and many types of plant life, so really it is very rich in that respect.
The mountains emerge from the clouds (around Ben Klibreck, north of Altnaharra)
The main Citylink coach route is from Inverness up the A9 and then west to Thurso/Scrabster for the Orkney ferry. It takes just over 2 hours to drive the 120 miles. See the Scottish Citylink website with timetables.
Stagecoach Buses also operate buses on this route and many others in the area (north and west).
If you want to get from Inverness to John O'Groats, then take the Orkney Express which runs direct every day 1 May - 2 September. The coach from Inverness connects with the ferry at John O' Groats and you can travel on to Kirkwall (Orkney).
travelinescotland.com is the official public transport guide with online timetables and a journey planner.
Various local companies in Wick and Thurso - click here for list
Taxi between John O' Groats and Inverness - tel: 01862 842260 / 07734700319. Ideal for start or end of sponsored cycle rides, etc.
The railway line runs from Inverness up through Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale and Wick to Thurso. Buses connect from Thurso station to John O'Groats.
For all local transport connections (rail, ferry, air, bus), visit travelinescotland.com
The Cape Wrath Trail web site provides info on the trek from Fort William to Cape Wrath (almost 200 miles).
The Moray Firth Trail is an interesting network of footpaths and trails which includes walks near John o'Groats, Wick, Helmsdale, Brora, Golspie, Dornoch, Tain and many other places.
The Cape Wrath Challenge takes place in May.
Visit www.walknorthscotland.com for information about walking in the area.
- Caithness Seacoast - based at Wick harbour marina. Tours of the east Caithness coast onboard a twin engine RIB. Disabled access to the boat and toilets available. Open all year. See castles, harbours, lighthouses, wildlife, sea caves and stacks. Rides can be 30 minutes or longer. Tel: 01955 609200 / Mobile: 07747 404128.
- Highlands Unbridled (based near Brora in Sutherland) offers pony trekking (1 hour to 1 day), beach rides and coast-to-coast trail riding holidays. All ages and abilities. Friendly qualified staff. Accommodation can be arranged. Tel: 01408 622789.
- The Assynt-based Highland School of Fly-Fishing offers salmon and trout fishing (holidays, excursions and/or tuition). Red deer stalking can also be arranged on the Caplich estate.
- NorWest Sea Kayaking offers full day, half day, evening, and multi-day trips in the area of Lochinver, Ullapool and Achiltibuie - including the Summer Isles, Handa Island, Old Man of Stoer and Glencoul. No experience is necessary. Introductory courses available, and camping trips. Contact Julie-Ann Macleod. Tel: 01571 844281 / 07900 641860.
- Based in Ullapool, North-West Frontiers organises guided walking holidays in Caithness and Sutherland.
Many people take up the challenge of travelling between Land's End and John o'Groats (LEJOG). If you are cycling, you might like to use the services of A Ticket to Ride which is a bike hire company which also has a bike taxi service. Tel: 01463 419160 or 07902 242301 out of hours.
The places listed on this page take you on a tour up the east coast along the A9 main road from Dornoch (which is some 45 to 50 miles north of Inverness) to John O'Groats and then westwards along the very top of northern Scotland to Cape Wrath which is the most north-westerly point on the British mainland. From there, this tour continues down through Sutherland and Assynt towards Ullapool and Wester Ross. You can also cover this route in the opposite direction - I don't think it really matters which way you go! The views are spectacular especially the further north you are. You could easily spend a week here and still not want to go home. Don't forget you can also go over to Orkney which is well worth it if you have time.
It is also worth also heading inwards away from the coast by taking the road from Lairg, across the moors and forest, up through Altnaharra to Tongue (single-track road in many places). There's a hotel at Altnaharra and the Crask Inn is in between there and Lairg. The mountain scenery is spectacular - this is something of a remote wilderness.
Along this route, Lairg is the main centre of population with shops, accommodation, garage, railway station, etc. Pay a visit the Ferrycroft Countryside Centre and if you are interested in archaeology, follow the trail up Ord Hill to see burial mounds, chambered cairns and hut circles. Visit www.lairghighlands.org.uk for local info.
Held in mid-June, the Lairg Music Festival is open to local competitors. Lairg Gala Week usually starts on the second Saturday in July. The Lairg Crofters Show is held on the third Saturday in August. For Scottish tweeds, visit the Sutherland Sporting Company.
From Lairg you can see the vast expanse of Loch Shin. Southwards, follow the road and river down to The Falls of Shin where the salmon leap between June and September. Unfortunately the visitor centre with gift shop and restaurant was destroyed by fire in May 2013 and it is not known if it will re-open. Tel: 01862 843601.
On the A9 north of Inverness, this old county town is where the last witch was burned in Scotland (in 1722).
Madonna made the town famous in December 2000 when she stayed at at nearby Skibo Castle for her wedding with Guy Ritchie. They christened their son Rocco in Dornoch Cathedral, which dates from the 13th century and is open daily during daylight hours.
The town is home to the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, the most northerly first-class course in the world I believe. Local facilities include shops, chemist, hairdresser, banks, filling station, tennis courts, bowling green, sandy beach.
Visit Historylinks at The Meadows for an exhibition of Dornoch past and present (open May to September, Monday - Saturday, 10am - 4pm).
A craft centre and art gallery is located in the old town jail.
The Dornoch Castle Hotel can be booked for accommodation and weddings.
Local accommodation includes Fairways at Dornoch
Annual events in town include the Dornoch Highland Gathering in early August. For detailed info about the town consult visitdornoch.com.
Several nice walks can be started here. The town has a swimming pool, golf course, sandy beach, railway station, banks. Detailed info about the town on golspie.org.uk
An excellent place to visit is the Orcadian Stone Company in Main Street (Tel: 01408 633483). It has a wonderful display of rocks, crystals and fossils of all shapes and sizes (some in their natural form, some made into jewellery). The exhibition and shop are open from Easter to October (Monday to Saturday), and also in the 3 weeks before Christmas. Small admission charge to the exhibition for adults. Children, university and school parties are free. The exhibition is not suitable for children under 8 years.
DUNROBIN CASTLE (a mile north of Golspie)
Photo copyright Joanne Mackenzie-Winters
The castle is open every day from 1 April to 15 October. Admission charge. Limited disabled access to the house. Tel: +44 (0)1408 633177. There is a gift shop and tea room offering light meals & snacks.
For details of private tours, facilities for functions and opening hours, see the official web site: www.dunrobincastle.co.uk.
Highland Games are held at the castle usually in August each year and other events are hosted there from time to time. The Vintage Car Rally takes place in August.
Sandy beach, golf course, railway station, chemist, filling stations, bank, and visitor centre at Clynelish Distillery (open Monday - Friday from Easter - October, rest of year by appointment only).
Pandora's Emporium is an usual shop on the edge of Brora. It is full of vintage, retro and classic clothing, shoes and accessories, as well as local pottery, photos, etc. Tel: 01408 622562.
The local river is famous for its salmon. Near Strathsteven south of Brora is a well preserved Iron Age broch called Carn Liath.
Nearby Highlands Unbridled offers horse trail riding. Tel: 01408 622789.
Once a busy herring port, now the site of the Timespan Heritage Centre (open daily Easter to October) which has life-size displays, an audio-visual presentation and nice garden with a cafe. From here the railway line turns inland and returns to the coast at Wick. Shops, bank and hostel.
Strath Ullie Crafts is the Visitor Information centre located on the harbour next to the riverside car park. Closed Sundays.
The Helmsdale Tackle Company Ltd shop in Dunrobin Street has all you could possibly need to go fishing. Tel: 01431 821372.
Also in Dunrobin Street, La Mirage is an unusual cafe/restaurant with great food and a style of decor which has to be seen to be believed. Included in Clarissa Dixon Wright's list of the best fish and chip restaurants in the UK. Well worth a visit. Tel: 01431 821615
'The Emigrants' statue in Couper Park was commissioned by Clearances Centre Ltd to commemorate the Highland Clearances.
The Helmsdale Highland Games take place in August in Couper Park (tel: 01431 821666).
Visit Helmsdale.org for local info, accommodation photos, news, etc.
Nine miles west of Helmsdale is Kildonan Burn, the site of the Great Sutherland Gold Rush of 1869. Today you have more chance of finding fossils and gemstones on the shoreline than gold in the hills - but you can always try your luck! Gold panning on the Suisgill Estate is free but you must adhere to their rules. Equipment is available from the Strath Ullie Crafts & Visitor Information in Helmsdale. Click here for gold panning info.
Pretty village sitting in a valley. Puffins can be seen here in early summer.
Birthplace of Highland author Neil M. Gunn - memorial and nearby picnic area. Heritage centre in the former school where Gunn began his education. Open daily 10am - 5pm from April to October. Small admission charge. Tel/fax: 01593 731233. Visit the Dunbeath Heritage Centre and Trust web site for more info.
The local harbour was a busy place in the olden days when as many as 150 fishing boats went out searching for herring. Dunbeath Castle (privately owned and not open to the public) is about a mile south of the village.
Nearby attractions include the Laidhay Croft Museum (tel: 07563 702321), several brochs and walks. Highland Games in August (phone 01847 821763 for exact date).
LATHERON (3.5 miles north east of Dunbeath)
|The Clan Gunn Heritage Centre and Museum is in the old 18th century village church. Open 11am-4pm Monday - Saturday (closed for lunch 1-2pm). There are 77 septs associated with clan Gunn (e.g. Georgeson, Henderson, Jamieson, Johnson, Nelson, Manson, Robison, Robson, Sandison, Swanson, Williamson, Wilson) - so visit and see if your family name is one of them. Tel: 01593 741700.||
Photo courtesy of Albavision
From here you can cut across country on the new section of the A9 to Thurso/Scrabster (see further down this page) for the Orkney ferry, or continue northwards up the coast to Lybster, Wick and John o'Groats.
Harbour, golf course, Celtic cross. Bank.
Visit Waterlines at the harbour - the exhibition centre run by Lybster Heritage Trust. Heritage and wildlife displays, video to watch and a CCTV console with remote control through which you can watch birds on the cliffs. Coffee shop. Open daily May to September 11am - 5pm. Telephone 01593 721520.
Take the little road inland just north of the village and after 5 miles you will reach the Grey Cairns of Camster. You will have to crawl if you want to get inside these chambers which are 5000 years old.
North of the village on the main A9 road you can visit the Kyleburn Confectionery factory. Near here is the Hill O' Many Stanes which features rows of early Bronze Age stones (link to photo by Diego Meozzi).
Further up the A9 road at Ulbster is the Cairn of Get which is 24m long and 14m wide. Not far from here is the road to the Whaligoe Steps which lead down the cliff to a small harbour. These 365 steps are very steep and dangerous even in good weather, so take care. A local lady used to look after them because she was convinced that God, being a fisherman, would come here one day. The steps are not well signposted, so at the telephone box on the A9 (map reference ND320405) take the minor road to the left. Drive past the houses, park at the end of the road, take the path round the big house, then descend the steps and prepare to be impressed.
Old herring port where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his childhood.
Wick Heritage Museum is open Monday - Saturday from Easter to end October.
The town includes shops, filling station, railway station, airport, hospital, banks, golf club, Tourist Information Centre.
For a list of shops & restaurants in the main shopping streets of Wick, visit www.high.st/wick/
More on Wick.
Wick Pipe Band.
Castle of Old Wick or Castle Oliphant: these 14th century ruins are 1.5 miles south of Wick.
Photo copyright Highland Photographic
Castles Sinclair and Girnigoe (3 miles north of Wick) both built on the edge of the cliff are now in ruins. The Clan Sinclair Trust has all the info.
On the way to John o'Groats you can visit the Caithness Broch Centre in the old school at Auckengill (open April - September). Admission free. Telephone: 01955 631377 / 01955 607034.
Although situated at the end of the road heading northwards, it is not quite the most northerly point on the British mainland as many people believe. That honour goes to Dunnet Head, some 15 miles to the west, not that it stops all the tourist hype. There are several souvenir shops here, one of which boasts to be the "First and Last Shop in Scotland". You can have your photo taken by the signposts which indicate that Land's End is 876 miles away and London a mere 690.
Tourist information centre. Toilets. Hotel. Museum (open Easter - October). visitjohnogroats.com has full details of local facilities.
You can walk to Duncansby Head and see stone pinnacles rising out of the sea. There's lots of birdlife in the cliffs and also a lighthouse.
You can go on a wildlife cruise every day from 20 June to 31 August in the afternoon for 90 minutes to see the local birds and seals. Organised by John O'Groats Ferries, Ferry Office, John O'Groats, Caithness KW1 4YR. Tel: 01955 611353 / Fax: 01955 611301. This costs £14 for adults and £7 for children (or you can buy a family ticket for £35). Trips over the Pentland Firth are also available to Orkney. Two tours around the main sights on Orkney are made each day. Take a look at the John O'Groats Ferries website for full details.
NorthCoast Marine Adventures operate from Easter until early October. The NorthCoast Explorer runs 1 hour wildlife cruises every 2 hours (approx.) from 9am onwards. Subject to demand. 12 passengers only. They also have a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) if you want a really splashing adventure! Contact them at: Sunfield, Skarfskerry, by Thurso, Caithness KW14 8XD. Tel: 01847 851241 / Fax: 01847 851841. Web site.
The Medieval church of St. Drostan contains a tombstone commemorating the Groot family which gave its name to John O' Groats.
Photo copyright 2011 The Internet Guide to Scotland
CASTLE OF MEY
For 2014, the Castle and Gardens will be open to visitors from 7 May to 30 September (but closed during the last week in July and first week in August). To double check times and dates, visit the official web site.
Opening times are from 10.20am until 4pm (last admission). Several of the guides in the castle will tell you personal stories of their time with the Queen Mother.
Visitor centre with tearoom, toilets and gift shop.
Check out the Royal Gallery at the Castle Arms Hotel in Mey and see their collection of photos of the royal family.
Highland Games are held in the village at Queen's Park in August.
Photo copyright 2011 The Internet Guide to Scotland
Mary Ann's Cottage, just by Dunnet, has been virtually untouched in the last 150 years. Worth a visit to step back in time to see how people lived in those days. Nowadays, Mrs. Mary-Ann Calder's former home is in the care of the Caithness Heritage Trust. Open from 2pm to 4.30pm Tuesday - Sunday, June - September. Tel: 01955 603385 to confirm.
The Castletown Heritage Society web site has details of local history and the heritage centre.
For lunch, dinner or snacks, try The Highlander Restaurant at Castletown (Tel 01847 821018).
This old Norse settlement became an important trading place and is still the most northerly town on the Scottish mainland.
Harald's Tower just outside the town is the 18th century burial place of the Sinclair family of Ulbster.
Leisure centre, cinema, golf course, restaurants & take-aways, supermarkets, banks, pharmacy, hospital, filling stations, churches, beach. Car and cycle hire.
Caithness Horizons can be found in the old Town Hall and library in High Street - this is a great museum with exhibitions on archaeology, wildlife, local history, plus a gallery, cafe, gift shop and audio-visual room. Tel: 01847 896508. Open 10am – 6pm Monday – Saturday (also Sundays 11am – 4pm from April to September).
For a list of shops & restaurants in the main shopping streets of Thurso, visit www.high.st/thurso/
Thurso Pipe Band are the most northerly band in mainland Britain.
Great waves for surfing can be experienced at Thurso reef.
The Caithness County Show takes place in July at Scrabster Farm, Thurso (tel: 01847 851654).
SCRABSTER (about a mile north of Thurso)
This fishing port is the vehicle ferry terminal for Orkney. You can walk along the cliffs of Holburn Head. The Caithness Agricultural Show takes place here in July I believe.
There are several places to eat and drink including the Captain's Galley which is a highly recommended, award-winning seafood restaurant (tel 01847 894999).
The local Scrabster web site includes a webcam, live weather station, ferry updates, news, photos, etc.
DOUNREAY NUCLEAR POWER STATION
Now being decommissioned. There is a visitor centre which you can visit for free daily 10am-4pm from May to September. Telephone: 01847 802 233 to check exact dates and times for this year.
Wonderful beaches. When the crofters were forced off the land in the nearby glen and told to live by the sea, they founded what is now the village of Bettyhill. The Strathnaver Museum is housed in the old parish church and tells the story of the Highland Clearances, local history and clan Mackay (open April - October). Toilets and coffee shop.
Mackay Country web site has lots of useful information about all the villages and places to visit around here.
Filling station, bank, youth hostel, hotel. Lovely views from the causeway out to sea and the so-called Rabbit Islands.
Approaching Tongue from the south, you can see the ruins of Castle Varrich or Caisteal Bharraich. Sitting on a promontory, this is an old two-storey tower-house owned by the Bishops of Caithness.
Looking inland from Tongue you have spectacular views of Ben Loyal and the surrounding mountains.
Heading west from Tongue you take the long trip around Loch Eriboll, the deepest sea loch in the country, nicknamed Loch 'Orrible by Navy personnel during World War 2.
There are several spectacular sandy beaches all around here.
Outside the Durness Tourist Information Office you will see an arrangement of large local rocks. These are huge specimens showing the variety which can be found in the local area. Inside the building have info on the local wildlife and some of the guided walks to Faraid Head.
The village also has a youth hostel, campsite, filling station, grocery, gift shop, bookshop, post office, etc. The Durness Highland Gathering take place in late July.
The village hall garden is the site of the John Lennon Memorial (the ex-Beatle spent many childhood holidays here).
Nearby is Balnakeil which is the site of a former Ministry of Defence Early Warning Station, now used as a craft village which includes the Loch Croispol Bookshop & Restaurant (open daily from Easter to the end of September, and Monday - Friday the rest of the year).
Also check out the Cocoa Mountain coffee shop which sells hand-made chocolates (open daily in summer, and Friday, Saturday, Sunday in winter).
Continue to the end of the road and you will come to the ruins of Balnakeil Church which contains the carved tomb of local murderer/robber Donald Macleod who paid for his tomb to be inside the church to protect his remains from his enemies. You will also find the tomb of Rob Donn MacKay, one of the great 18th century Gaelic poets. The church is thought to have been founded by Saint Maelrubha in the 8th century. Opposite the church is Balnakeil House (click for article by Am Bratach).
Around the corner you will see the golf course which is the most northerly one on the British mainland. Park your car by the church and take a walk from here along the lovely beach. You can continue through the dunes and along the headland to see puffins on the cliffs during the summer. Head towards the cairn on top of the small hill before you reach the MOD establishment and you will find that the views looking back inland are spectacular. On a clear day you can see right along the northern coastline of Scotland, almost right across the country to the east coast.
Visit the Durness community web site for more information about all the things to do and see around this beautiful part of the world.
There's a heritage walking trail to the old township of Ceannabeinne which was cleared in 1840s but the ruins remain.
Smoo Cave is located 1 mile east of Durness.
There are steps leading down the cliffs and then you can walk across the pebbles to the entrance of the cave which is often wet and muddy inside. Not recommended for anyone with mobility problems. Boat trips can be made into the limestone cave which is 200 feet long, 50 feet high and over 100 feet wide. These trips take just 15 minutes in an inflatable dingy - hard hats are provided. No need to book - just pay the man in the boat.
For more details contact the local tourist office: 01971 511259.
View from the entrance to the cave
The most north-westerly point on the British mainland. To reach it you need to take the passenger ferry at Keodale (near Durness) run by Mr. Morrison (tel: 01971 511376). Crossing time: 10 minutes. It only operates from May to September. Then you go on the minibus which takes 40 minutes to drive 11 miles (telephone Mrs Mackay on 01971 511287 or 01971 511343 or mobile: 07751789048). Bicycles can be carried on the ferry if you prefer not to take the bus. Please contact the respective owners to arrange times with them as the services are run on demand. They can be subject to delays when the military range is in use. Minimum number of passengers for the ferry is 4. If you are energetic and want to camp in the wilderness, you can trek into and/or out of the Cape Wrath area, but you will certainly need hillwalking experience and proper equipment as this is rough and remote terrain. Also make sure that you check with the local tourist office that there is no military activity planned on the range.
To the east of the Cape Wrath lighthouse built in 1827 by Robert Stevenson is the pretty bay of Kearvaig and the highest sea cliffs in mainland Britain.
John & Kay Ure opened the Ozone Cafe in the lighthouse in June 2009 (tel: 01971 511314).
Looking back at Keodale where the ferry leaves
Driving south from Durness and Keodale, you will pass the towering mountains of Cranstackie and Foinaven. At Rhiconich you can detour down a small road to Kinlochbervie, a fishing port and fish market with craft shop, post office, grocery store, petrol station, hotel and art gallery. MV Nimrod is a charter boat which sails out of Kinlochbervie (tel: 01971 521359 / 07736 157326). The Free Spirit Trekking Centre offers pony trekking - tel: 01971 521320.
From Kinlochbervie, continue along the scenic road to the beach at Oldshoremore. Shortly after that the road ends and a track begins to Sandwood Bay - very remote and scenic, only for fit walkers (10 mile return trip).
Once you are back on the main road (A838) heading south from Rhiconich, you will reach Scourie with its craft shops, general store, filling station, post office, public toilets, caravan park, etc. Also look out for the herd of Highland Cattle on your way into the village. You may also spot a palm tree or two!
Visit the Scourie community site: www.scourie.co.uk
Photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2008
Photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2011
Continuing south on the A838, you will see the many islands dotted in Eddrachillis Bay and then pass through the Duartmore Forest. Towered over by the mountains, the new bridge at Kylesku replaces an old ferry at this point. Boat trips on the 'Statesman' (tel: 01971 502345) usually leave at 11am and 2pm during the summer (not Saturdays) to take you up Loch Glencoul to see Eas a'Chual Aluinn, the highest waterfall in Britain (nearly 200 metres). Alternatively you can hike to see it - but at 2 hours' walk over rough terrain to get there, this is really only for the experienced hiker. Even if you have missed the boat, it is still worth following the signs from the main road to go down to the pier where you'll see the Kylesku Hotel and public toilets. You can get a nice view up Loch Glendhu.
The Kylesku Hotel offers good food (restaurant and bar meals) and accommodation. Recommended in the Michelin Guide to Eating out in Pubs. Open from March to mid October. Tel: 01971 502 231.
On the north side of the Kylesku bridge is a memorial cairn to the men of the XIIth Submarine Flotilla who trained in local lochs during World War II. These midget submarines (X-craft) played a vital part in the war.
Half a mile south of Kylesku you will find the Maryck Memories of Childhood Museum with a large selection of dolls and dolls houses, plus a tea room at Unapool (tel: 01971 502009 or 01971 502341). Open daily from Easter to October.
Just after Unapool, the road branches in two. You can either continue down the main road towards Ardvreck Castle and Elphin (see below) or you can detour via Lochinver, then drive past Quinag to join up with the main road by Ardvreck Castle - or then again you could continue along the coastal road heading down via Inverkirkaig to explore Achiltibuie and return via Stac Pollaidh to the main road. If you want to do justice to this area, I would advise at least 2 days - or more if you intend climbing any of the many glorious mountains! The coastal road between Kylesku & Lochinver is rated as one of the 10 best most picturesque drives in Scotland in Peter Irvine's Scotland the Best guide book.
Also in Main Street is The Caberfeidh Bar and Restaurant which offers good food and drink, and is popular with locals and visitors alike. Open daily (tel: 01571 844 321).
The Tourist Information Centre is very nice and houses the Assynt Visitor Centre which has a free exhibition about the local area, complete with upstairs reading room, nature info and computer with a CD-ROM tour.
If you are looking for accommodation here, then Veyatie is a 4 Star B&B just outside Lochinver at the end of the Baddidarrach road. It has superb views of the bay and Suilven. The lady also works as an artist for Highland Stoneware.
At nearby Inverkirkaig, Linga Holiday Chalet offers self catering accommodation for 4 people.
ASSYNT COASTAL ROAD
As mentioned earlier, you can detour along the coastal roads both north and south of Lochinver. Along the road heading north out of Lochinver, there are many interesting stops including the detour to the beach at Achmelvich - this offshoot of the road is a little hair-raising (best if there is no oncoming traffic!) but well worth it as you can see from the picture below. There is a ranger hut, open during the summer, plus public toilets, and a caravan/camping site all set back from the beach so as not to be intrusive.
Shortly after rejoining the B686 and not far from Pollan, you will come to a lovely viewpoint (assuming it is a clear day!). Displayed before your very eyes you will see across the horizon mountains from Conival and Canisp, to Suilven, Cul Mor and Cul Beag. Maybe more if you look closely!
Further north there are more beaches around Clachtoll which boasts an usual Split Rock formation in the sea and an Iron Age broch towards Stoer. You can drive to the Stoer lighthouse which has views right across to the Hebrides. From here there is a walk across open moorland and cliff tops to the Old Man of Stoer, another rock stack formation in the sea.
More bays at Culkein and Clachnessie, followed by another interesting viewpoint at Drumbeg (also more public toilets for those of you with weak bladders). From here you can look northwards to Handa Island and also Ben Strome.
Drumbeg Stores has local arts & crafts, as well as Highland products and its own label Drumbeg whisky. They are winners of the Best Village Shop in Scotland award. Tel: 01571 833235. You can sit outside and enjoy the view over Loch Drumbeg.
At the east end of the village, Drumbeg Designs is a gift shop selling crafts and gifts with a local or Celtic theme made and sold exclusively from here. Refreshments and home-baking are served.
This is also the start of the Peat Road walk (a 4 - 5 mile circular walk around Loch Drumbeg).
The Assynt Foundation was established following the community buy-out of the Glencanisp and Drunrunie Estates in 2005.
Photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2008
Photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2008
Just south of Ledmore Junction where the road branches towards Lairg, you reach Elphin, home to the Highland Rare Breeds Farm, not to be confused with the other farm attraction right next to it! Tea room in the centre of the village. Also check out the Swallow Studio.
FALLS OF KIRKAIG
The road heading south out of Lochinver towards Achiltibuie is certainly worth the detour if you have the time and are not put off by driving on narrow, twisting lanes. This birch-lined road passing by gushing rivers is quite an experience and you will also have a couple of sea views (if you dare take your eyes off the road ahead). Signs at either end of this road warn that it is unsuitable for caravans and coaches, so that will give you some idea of what it is like!
Along this road and not far from Lochinver is Inverkirkaig which is home to Achins book shop (probably the most remote one in the country!). It includes a coffee shop (tel 01571 844262).
The path to the waterfall leads from the side of their drive. Be warned - it isn't a gentle stroll - it may take you around 2 hours to get there. This is also the path which later leads up Suilven. Click here for walk directions.
You can reach Achnahaird either by continuing south from Inverkirkaig along the road I describe above, or you can branch off the main north-south road (now the A835) between Elphin and Ullapool and take the unclassified road past Stac Pollaidh (click for my photos) which is another popular hike.
Once at Achnahaird, follow the signs to the beach and park at the end of the road. Take the path heading right and you can easily walk to the sands. There's also a caravan and camping site here. On the approach road to Achnahaird from the east you will have grand views of the mountains to the north (weather permitting!). There is also a viewpoint on the road from Achnahaird to Reiff - you will see the marker on the hilly headland. Continue along the road heading down to Achiltibuie and the Summer Isles will come into view, and, depending on visibility Wester Ross and possibly Skye, as well as Harris and Lewis.
The Achiltibuie Garden (previously known as the Hydroponicum) is open daily in the summer months (tel: 01854 622202). A new visitor centre is being planned.
Achiltibuie is also home to the Summer Isles Foods (fish/meat/game smokehouse), hotel, Coigach craft & gift shop (tel: (01854 622346), Achiltibuie stores.
Visit Coigach.com and Achiltibuie.com for more local info, accommodation, etc.
Achiltibuie seen from Tanera Mor - photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2011
Visit the Summer Isles web site for more info about Tanera Mòr and its famous private post office (with cafe). The island offers facilities for art courses and watersports (sailing school and power boating). There are numerous self catering properties.
This photo (right) shows the wooden building (post office/cafe) overlooking the bay.
Photo copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland 2008
You can leave Achiltibuie on the road alongside Loch Vatachan to get back to Achnahaird and then continue on your merry way. Driving south down the main road you will shortly reach Ullapool and Wester Ross.
Royal Marine Hotel
Self catering apartments and cottages also available.
Royal Marine Hotel
Scottish Tourist Board 4 Star Hotel. AA 4 Stars.
Edwardian country house built by Sir Robert Lorimer.
Antique furniture and log fires.
Overlooking the River Brora. 100 metres from golf course.
Ideal for golf, fishing, mountain biking, walking.
Visit Dunrobin Castle & Clynelish Distillery.
1 hour from Inverness (daily train service).
Commended in the Scottish Country House category
Leisure Club: heated indoor swimming pool,
22 ensuite bedrooms with TV, toiletries, tea/coffee, mineral water.
Dornoch Castle Hotel
Dornoch Castle Hotel
Historic 15th century castle.
Situated in the centre of Dornoch
opposite the Cathedral where Madonna was married.
Close to the Royal Dornoch golf course.
1 hour's drive north of Inverness.
Garden Restaurant with AA Red Rosette for excellent food.
Choice of 24 ensuite bedrooms
Kincraig Castle Hotel
Kincraig Castle Hotel
Scottish Tourist Board 4 Star Country House Hotel
Choice of 15 indivually styled ensuite bedrooms.
15th century castle right by the sea.
20 minutes from John o' Groats
Free collection from Wick Airport (2 miles).
17 individually designed bedrooms in the tower.
Additional accommodation in cottages in the grounds.
Bedrooms have sea views, TV, hairdryer, bathrobes,
slippers, toiletries, etc.
Free Wifi, spa treatments, billiards room,
croquet lawn, fishing lake, shooting, archery, etc.
Click here for online booking
Bed and Breakfast Accommodation
Olly and Brian Rawsthorne
Olly and Brian Rawsthorne
Friendly B&B set in an acre of beautiful, landscaped gardens.
Tain 12 miles. Dingwall 13 miles. Dornoch 19 miles.
2 spacious bedrooms with double and single beds,
Pet care package from £5 per day
Crafts available including paintings, wall hangings, photos.
Dawn & Mel Chapman
Scottish Tourist Board 4 Star B&B.
Located just outside the village of Lochinver.
Superb views from the house and bedrooms
2 ensuite bedrooms: 1 double and 1 twin.
B&B prices from £43 per person per night
Scotland's Best B&Bs is an organisation
Self Catering Accommodation
Ronald & Sheina MacKenzie
Ronald & Sheina MacKenzie
Linga Holiday Chalet
Timber-built chalet in a secluded position overlooking Inverkirkaig Bay.
Accommodation for 4 people:
Rental prices from £315 per week
Located at Embo, by Dornoch
4 star holiday park on a beautiful beach with views of Ben Bhraggie and the Dornoch Firth.
On site facilities include:
Accommodation is in a choice of caravans
Booking Hotline: 0845 268 1383
Cottages in Caithness & Sutherland
Wide choice of self catering properties ranging from 2 to 5 bedrooms.
Locations include Brora, Golspie, Lairg, Kinlochbervie,
Web site with virtual tours and instant online booking.
Scottish Tourist Board 4 Star Hostel.
Miscellaneous accommodation listings:
- The Kylesku Hotel (3 stars) is on the shores of Loch Glendhu and Glencoul on the west coast. 8 bedrooms (double, twin, family). Restaurant and bar meals (recommended in the AA Pub Guide and the Michelin Guide to Eating out in Pubs). Open from March to mid October. Tel: 01971 502 231.
- Mackays Rooms & Restaurant at Durness provides luxury accommodation and traditional Highland cuisine. 6 en-suite bedrooms (single, double, twin, family). 4 Star Small Hotel. Open from March to October. Tel: 01971 511202.
B&Bs / Guest Houses:
- 1 Janet Street B&B in Thurso is only 5 minutes' walk from the train station and has 2 bedrooms (double, twin, family). Contact Andrew and Catriona Tait. Tel: 01847 895906.
- Auld Post Office Bed & Breakfast at Spittal-by-Mybster, near Halkirk in Caithness, has 2 luxury double bedrooms with French doors leading to a private patio. Contact Lynne Read. Tel: 01847 841391.
- Bank Guest House in Wick town centre with ensuite bedrooms. 3 stars. Tel: 01955 604001.
- B&B in Brora with 1 family/twin room. Friendly, comfortable stone built house, a few minutes walk from the railway station. Contact Lesley Graham & Andrew Bridges. Tel: 01408 622562.
- Blar na Leisg is a small hotel near the village of Drumbeg in Assynt on the west coast of Sutherland. Accommodation in 4 ensuite bedrooms. Scottish Tourist Board 5 Star Restaurant with Rooms. Cooking classes available. Self catering in the lochside studio chalet. Contact Anne Strachan. Tel: 01571 833325.
- Canisp House is a 3 star B&B with 1 ensuite double bedroom. Situated 3 miles from Lybster and 15 miles from Wick. Contact Caroline Dollemore-Hunt. Tel: 01593 721758.
- Dunnet Head B&B offers 2 double bedrooms and 1 twin room overlooking the Pentland Firth. Tel: 01847 851774.
- Fourpenny B&B is situated near Loch Fleet Nature Reserve, just outside Dornoch. Self catering also available. Contact Julie Board - tel: 01862 810159.
- Pentland Lodge House is a 4 star guest house with 9 spacious bedrooms in Thurso. Disabled access. Well recommended. Tel: 01847 895103.
- Ruddyglow Park Country House offers 5 star B&B accommodation by Loch Assynt. Approx. 6 miles from Lochinver and 30 miles from Ullapool. Member of Scotland's Best B&Bs. Sporting packages can be arranged (walking, fishing, stalking). Luxury log cabin for 2 also available. Evening meals - advance booking required. Credit cards accepted. Online booking. Contact Patricia Filmer-Sankey. Tel: 01571 822216
- Suilnamara (Gaelic for 'Sea View') is a family run B&B providing friendly accommodation with 1 twin room and 1 family room (both en-suite). Stunning views over Lochinver harbour. Contact: Rhona Mackenzie, Suilnamara, Lochinver, Sutherland IV27 4LJ. Tel: 01571 844535.
- Tigh Na Sith Guest House overlooking Lochinver Bay has 3 ensuite bedrooms (double/twin). Contact Patrycja and Nick Matthews. Tel: 01571 844352 / Mobile: 07771 934733.
- Valleyview House at Murkle, 2 miles from Thurso, is 5 minutes from the Orkney ferry at Scrabster. 3 bedrooms (2 double, 1 twin). Views across the bay to Dunnet Head. Contact Antoinette and Stephen Robertson-Carswell. Tel: 01847 895546.
- Caisteal Liath offers a variety of self catering accommodation overlooking Lochinver Bay and the mountains. Choice of luxury 1-bedroom chalet with whirlpool bath or 4 star quality 2-bedroom chalet. All facilities including dishwasher, washing machine, TV, VCR, etc. Or you can rent Caisteal Liath House which has 2 bedrooms (1 double, 1 twin), plus all facilities. Contact Sue & John Macleod, Caisteal Liath, Baddidarrach, Lochinver, Sutherland IV27 4LP. Tel/Fax: +44 (0) 1571 844457. Mobile: 07855 555109. B&B also available.
- Caravan at Embo with 2 bedrooms & sofa bed, bathroom, open plan kitchen, dining & living area.
- Cathair Dhubh: 4-star luxury cottages overlooking Achmelvich Bay just north of Lochinver. Choice of 5 fully equipped cottages (sleeping 4 - 6) on an 80-acre estate. Tel: 01571 855 277.
- Craiglea at Latheronwheel is a hideaway offering privacy and seclusion in 4 star self catering accommodation for up to 15-20 guests. The accommodation options can be let separately or as a whole: 2 guest houses (each sleeping 5 - 8), a cottage (sleeping 4 - 6) and an indoor leisure area with heated swimming pool. Situated on the coast, 30 miles south of John O’Groats.
- Dunnet Head self catering cottage with 2 double bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and garden overlooking the Pentland Firth.
- Elig-a-Bhrodan is a 3 bedroom cottage to rent 2 miles from Lochinver.
- The Glenrossal Estate rents out 2 holiday cottages (sleeping 4 - 6). Salmon fishing also available. Situated near Rosehall (between Bonar Bridge and Lairg).
- The Hoose has 3 double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen and living room. Situated on the harbour at Helmsdale.
- Highland Glen Lodges offer 4 star self catering in 5 lodges (each sleeping 4 + baby). Set on a wooded hillside near Rogart (between Lairg and Dornoch).
- Keiss Harbour House is a contemporary-styled house on the edge of the Caithness village of Keiss. Sleeps up to 12 in 5 bedrooms. 12 miles south of John O'Groats. 10 minutes drive from Wick.
- Ocean View is a self catering cottage at Brough, Britain's most northerly mainland village within walking distance of Dunnet Head. 2 bedrooms (1 double and 1 twin), living room, dining kitchen, bath/shower room.
- Polin Croft is a 1-bedroom cottage just 5 minutes walk from the beach. Located in the far north-west of Scotland, 3 miles from Kinlochbervie.
- Strathcraig is a crofter's cottage 2 miles from Lochinver. 3 bedrooms (1 double, 1 twin & 1 single).
- Accommodation and fishing holidays are available in Strath Halladale. The Halladale is a well known salmon river with a season running from 12 January - 30 September. Wild brown trout can be fished in the lochs. Stalking and shooting can also be arranged in addition to other outdoor activities.
- Torran Cottage in Lochinver sleeps 4 in 2 bedrooms. Free Wifi. No pets. Open all year. Tel: 01571 844352.
Bunkhouse / Hostel Accommodation
- There's a simple SYHA youth hostel at Achinver, Achiltibuie (tel: 01854 622254) with 20 beds which is open early May - early September. Approach via a rough track. Map Ref: O.S.15 (GR 042056). Details on Web site.
- The Lazy Crofter Bunkhouse at Durness offers quality self-catering accommodation to groups, families and individuals at unbeatable prices. Bunkhouse for up to 20 persons and additional chalet for 5. Contact Robbie and Fiona Mackay. Tel: 01971 511202.
- Sandra's Backpackers Hostel - 24/26 Princes Street, Thurso. 8 dorms (30 beds in total). Kitchen.TV lounge. Internet access. Bike hire. Tel: 01847 894575.
Caravans & Camping:
- Dunnet Head Campsite overlooks the Pentland Firth to Orkney. Tents only. Limited shower and WC facilities. Cycle hire. Open Easter to mid October. Tel: 01847 851774 (office hours).
- Thurso Bay Holidays offer a choice of static caravans (each sleeping up to 6 people), equiped with all mod cons. Situated on the Thurso Bay Caravan and Camping Park with views over Thurso Bay looking out to Dunnet Head and Orkney. Contact Tanya Sutherland tel: 01847 895960 / 07833 787 749.
- Clachtoll Beach Campsite for touring caravans, camper vans and tents. 2.5 acres. All grass. Warden on site. 6 miles north of Lochinver. Open from May to September. Toilet and shower facilities, dishwashing sinks, chemical disposal point and a public telephone. Dogs are welcome (must be kept on a lead).
For more campsites in this area, search ScottishCamping.com
Books & Maps
North West Highlands
One of the lovely Pevensey Guide books, full of info about the area's heritage, landscape, climate, place names, flora and fauna. It covers Loch Ness & Inverness, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Lochaber & Fort William, Knoydart & Ardnamurchan. 112 pages with over 100 colour photographs.
Order your copy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
The Sutherland Trail
Written by hillwalker Cameron McNeish and with super photos by Richard Else. Book to accompany the long distance walking route from Lochinver to Tongue, following ancient pathways, stalker's routes and hill tracks. Based on the BBC TV programme.
Hardcover. 160 pages. Published 2009.
Order your copy from Amazon.co.uk
The Cape Wrath Trail
Full of gorgeous photos, this book is a guide to the long distance trail which stretches 200 miles through the remote and spectacular north-west Highlands. Perhaps more for the armchair traveller to enjoy since this is a difficult route to achieve in its entirety in real life. Published in April 2000 by David Paterson. In the same series as his book entitled A Long Walk on the Isle of Skye.
Order your copy from Amazon.co.uk
Exploring the Far North West of Scotland
A Walker's Guide to the Hills, Glens and Coastline of Wester Ross and Sutherland
Useful book with photos and maps.
Hardcover, 144 pages.
Order your copy from Amazon.co.uk
Scottish Highlands and Islands
Latest edition of the popular Rough Guide series exclusively devoted to the Highlands & Islands. One of the top best-selling guide books on Scotland.
Order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
If you intend to go hiking, particularly in the hills, you will need the scale of maps provided by the Landranger series produced by the Ordnance Survey which is the official map agency of the UK. These can be purchased via Amazon in the UK:
- Landranger Map 0009: Cape Wrath, Durness & Scourie
- Landranger Map 0010: Strathnaver, Bettyhill & Tongue
- Landranger Map 0011: Thurso & Dunbeath
- Landranger Map 0012: Thurso & Wick, John O'Groats
- Landranger Map 0015: Loch Assynt, Lochinver & Kylesku
- Landranger Map 0016: Lairg & Loch Shin, Loch Naver
- Landranger Map 0017: Helmsdale & Strath of Kildonan
Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board (brochure request)
Assynt Photographics - photographic services by
Martin Morrison including photos of Assynt to buy