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Highlands & Islands Road Trip Part 1

Leaving Edinburgh for a two week road trip up the north-east coast from Inverness to John o’Groats, across the north coast to Durness and down the west coast to Fort William, taking in some of the Orkneys and the Isle of Skye!

I swear May is the best month of the year to visit Scotland and enjoy the spectacular scenery that’s on offer (although I wouldn’t stray too far without some waterproof gear in the rucksack!

Hiking Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry
Hiking Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry
Hiking Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry
Hiking Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry

 

On the journey from Edinburgh to Inverness we stopped near Pitlochry to climb Ben Vrackie. Wow! This was a real leg stretcher, we were almost calling for a stretcher on the final steep climb to the summit but it was worth the pain, the weather was fantastic and the surroundings stunning!

Picturesque Loch a' Choire on way up Ben Vrackie
Picturesque Loch a’ Choire on way up Ben Vrackie
View from hike up Ben Vrackie
View from hike up Ben Vrackie
Nearing top of Ben Vrackie
Nearing top of Ben Vrackie
Top of Ben Vrackie
Top of Ben Vrackie

Stayed 2 nights in very pleasant B&B in Inverness, Ardross & Glencairn Guest House, great location by the river, a very short walk to bars, restaurants, shops and the castle, with helpful, friendly staff.

Hiking Inverfarigaig and the Falls of Foyers beside Loch Ness
Hiking Inverfarigaig and the Falls of Foyers beside Loch Ness
Met a deer whilst hiking Inverfarigaig and the Falls of Foyers beside Loch Ness
Met a deer whilst hiking Inverfarigaig and the Falls of Foyers beside Loch Ness
Falls of Foyers
Falls of Foyers
Cemetery at Inverfarigaig by Loch Ness
Cemetery at Inverfarigaig by Loch Ness

The ironic thing about breakfast is I’ll go months on end eating nothing before work but put me up in a B&B and I’ll demolish cereal, toast & cooked breakfast before hitting the road every day! This brekkie was decent (but had much better) and sets us up for a wander by Loch Ness.

As you can see above, the 6.25 mile circuit from Inverfarigaig, following the route included in the Country Walking 25 Best Walks Ever [May 2012], includes some breathtaking scenery. I should also add that towards the end the route takes you past a house formally owned by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page – “Over The Hills and Far Away” from the neighbours, well almost…

Hiking near Loch Ness
Hiking near Loch Ness

The rest of the afternoon was a visit to nearby Culloden Battlefield where we wandered the paths criss-crossing the battlefield, the feeling/mood that pervades the area is a sombre one with mountains seeming to surround the field that is dotted with headstones bearing the name of the clan buried there – the bodies were identified by their clan badge, a plant sprig worn in their bonnet.

Culloden battlefield and memorial cairn
Culloden battlefield and memorial cairn

Interestingly this was not, as is often thought, a battle of Scots vs English but the end of a civil war for the British throne between the House of Stuart and House of Hanover (the Jacobites and the government), there was Scots and English fighting on both sides.

The last pitched battle on British soil was brief but bloody (over in under an hour). On 16th April 1746 around 700 Jacobite soldiers were killed or wounded in just a few minutes of fighting. The Jacobites’ charge had broken the government front line but they were then forced back, with catastrophic consequences. All told it is believed 1,500-2,000 Jacobite soldiers were killed or wounded and around 300 government soldiers were killed or wounded.

Heron fishing for dinner in Inverness
Heron fishing for dinner in Inverness

Leaving Inverness the first stop is Black Isle Brewery, for a tour, some tasters and of course some shopping for souvenirs!!

Black Isle Brewery, perfect place to stop for a taster and shopping at 10:30
Black Isle Brewery, perfect place to stop for a taster and shopping at 10:30

A crate of beer and some extras in the car boot and it’s off up the coast to John o’Groats.

John o'Groats
John o’Groats

From John o’Groats it’s a short drive along the coast to Duncansby Head where the most north-easterly point on the Scottish mainland is marked with a lighthouse.

Duncansby Head Lighthouse
Duncansby Head Lighthouse

Robert Stevenson [1772-1850] was a Scottish civil engineer and famed designer & builder of lighthouses. For over 150 years Robert Stevenson and his descendents designed most of Scotland’s Lighthouses. Battling against the odds and the elements the Stevensons constructed wonders of engineering that have withstood the test of time – an amazing historic achievement.

Robert Stevenson’s talented family also included the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson (his grandson). Visits with his father to remote lighthouses are thought to have inspired his books Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head
Walking at Duncansby Head

The walk around Duncansby Head is utterly beautiful!

Dunnet Head Lighthouse
Dunnet Head Lighthouse

After a lovely hike around Duncansby Head we head towards Thurso for a very pleasant night’s stay at St Clair Hotel, along the way a visit to Dunnet Head is a must – the most northerly point of mainland Britain and another Stevenson built lighthouse!

 

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