It was now Wednesday 30th October, and after another super breakfast, we were to head west from Thurso, on a gorgeous day.
When we ate last night at near-by Scrabster, it was dark, so we wanted to see the harbour in the light. A simple place, but the lorries were leaving in numbers, with their marine cargo in refrigerated containers, to presumably the nearest station to continue their journey to the tables of London and beyond.
We only had one thing to do in Thurso itself; get a postcard for a niece and family. We have always done this and it HAS to be about the town. Chatting with the shop staff, we mentioned that a nephew was married to a local girl, whose family still lived in Thurso. It was inevitable that they were known, and we might have enticed a few skeletons from the cupboard if more time had been available!
The A836 follows the north coast from John O’Groats in the east, to Tongue, and then heads south to the Dornoch Firth, through very-varied scenery. Not far from Thurso we met a lot of wind turbines (turning, or stopped as required), then the wave power of the north Atlantic. But most interesting was seeing the Dounreay Power Station, near Reay village, again after some 40 years, when it was at the height of its power generation. Now decommissioned, I fully expected to see a rusting hulk or half-demolished sheds. Pleasantly surprised at how attractive it still looked, whatever concerns we might have about nuclear safety…..and the sheep seemed quite unaware of the technology so close to them.
I wanted a photo of Dounreay from another direction, and just past Portskerra, when a little track ran out onto Strathy Point, we took it. Up here the roads are in good condition, and I got my desired shot. Returning to the main road we saw work on a ‘bothy’ which is now used as an animal shelter.
For the next 20 miles, till we got to Tongue, we were treated to some of the loveliest scenery I have ever seen, with massive beaches, headlands, gentle valleys and deep clefts in the coastline. I have let some photos speak for themselves, and then we will renew our journey…..
After this beautiful scenery on the coast, the road went south just before Tongue, and we headed for Crask Inn for lunch. It is a well-known place, not just in the area, but on Trip-Advisor. One is well-warned that it is not a ‘normal’ inn, as it is run by farmers, and takes a pragmatic attitude to serving food, drink, and accommodation. When we arrived about lunchtime, there were no cars about, so I parked opposite and went to the front door, opened and looked in. There was a nice little bar, but no-one about. Back to car, to be followed by a lady who asked if we had been looking for something. She didn’t seem worried t0 lose potential business…..and we drove off. However I’m sure it’s better in the evening!
Minimal lunch came courtesy of our cool-box in the car, and another 20 miles or so took us to The Cally Café, at Bonar Bridge, at the western end of the Dornoch Firth. It’s a pleasure going in here as the staff are so friendly, so hot choc and home-made cake refreshed us. They also have a little shop of local goods so some Xmas shopping could have occurred.
The photos show the view from the window, the little shop and the Bridge itself.
Suitably refreshed, we turned round the end of Dornoch Firth, and then struck south onto one of the most infamous roads in Scotland…the B 9176 Struie Hill. I had never driven it before, but it is well-known on the weather forecast as one of the first roads in Scotland to be closed when snow hits. It is very twisty and steep so that it is bad enough negotiating it in good weather, but it must be a nightmare in December. Fortunately the snow-gates were open and we proceeded to some of the loveliest views in Scotland, down the Dornoch Firth……if you can find somewhere to stop, of course! The other problem was that there were a lot of dark clouds gathering, so the mid-afternoon light was not good, so we pressed-on via Alness, Dingwall, Strathpeffer (with the Highland Museum of Childhood…..well worth a visit), Contin, Garve, Achnasheen, and down Glen Carron, to the village of Lochcarron, our stop for the night.
It’s not a big place, and is built on a main street, which separates it from the loch from which it takes its name. This time of the year most accommodation was closed for the season, so we were lucky to get booked at the Pathend House. The local Hotel was near enough to walk-to so we went along in the rain, for an evening meal.
The bar, like most of these places is an entertainment in itself, with a dog wandering about, several ‘worthies embibing, the quiet bar-staff, and the owner chattering with some of the locals through the base of a whisky glass. If you ever watch the TV Series Hamish McBeth, then you have it in essence. Big portions of everything, and transport costs are said to keep prices high, but the vegetables, and no doubt the beef and potatoes were local…..or maybe they just saw us coming!
It had been a long day….almost 200 miles over highland roads, and sleep was required……….but the rain, thunder and lightning, and the rich sauce of the steak and ale pie would intervene……