Our last section of Scotland’s North Coast 500 took us from John o’ Groats back to Inverness. After spending the night in Bower we headed back up to Thurso where I’d heard rumours of a popular American themed cafe. The Blue Door Cafe and Diner is situated in the Thurso Bay Caravan and Camping park and is certainty not what you’d expect to find on the North Coast 500. Decorated fully in red, white and blue, the pretty painted chairs, bunting and homely decor are not garish and there’s a nod to its Scottish location which mixes nicely. I couldn’t resist a corn dog and my daughter’s eyes almost popped out her head at the sight of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup – a firm favourite.
We were beginning to realise by then that our amazing trip around Scotland’s North Coast was coming to an end so we couldn’t resist another wee detour back to John o’Groats. Not knowing when I’d get so far north again I realised I didn’t buy anywhere near enough trinkets. It wasn’t as busy this time and we took the opportunity to find a quiet spot and relax for a while, soaking up the views and the sea air. What a trip it had been!
It wasn’t over yet though and we set off down the east coast. There is a definite feeling of returning to civilisation as you head into the Royal Burgh of Wick. Once a Viking settlement, Wick was a thriving herring port in the 19th century and prospered as the principle town of the far north. It’s also in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world’s shortest street! Ebenezer Place measure 2.01 metres (6ft 9in) and is the entrance to Mackays Hotel which was build by Alexander Sinclair on his return from America.
Another place I wanted to visit here was the Old Pultney Distillery which until very recently was the most northern on the Scottish Mainland. Hidden away on a back street it’s one of Scotland’s few urban distilleries. Built in 1826 by James Henderson during the herring boom, the town became known for its barrels of silver (herring) and gold (whisky). Like many other distilleries it closed in the 1930’s when a law was past prohibiting the making of whisky and Wick became a “dry town” until 1951 when it reopened under new ownership. It doesn’t look much from the outside but the visitor experience is fantastic so it’s worth going in and taking the tour, you’ll also get to sample one of their single malt Scotch whisky.
Nearby is the remains of the Castle of Old Wick which is perched dramatically, high on the cliffs overlooking the water. It’s rumoured to have been built in the 1100’s by the half-Norse Earl Harald Maddadson who also built Cubbie Roo’s Castle on Orkney. It’s a gorgeous walk up to the castle and the views are spectacular.
A big highlight of this section for me was the abandoned Clearance settlement of Badbea. Not a highlight as such, as it has such an emotional and sad story behind it but visiting lets you imagine how tough these people’s lives were. The Highland clearances in Scotland happened took place in the 18th and 19th century and and displaced thousands of families to coastal areas. Here, families from Sir John Sinclair’s Langwell Estate were moved to Badbea from their farming stronghold to make room for sheep which were more profitable. The land, which you will see if you visit, was almost inhospitable. Rocky and quite steep cliff faces meant animals and often children had to be tethered so they didn’t fall into the sea. Houses were built from whatever was available, and the men fished for herring. The second wave of families arrived in 1804 from James Anderson’s estate at Ausdale and yet more arrived in 1830 from Donald Horne’s estate at Auchencraig. When the owners of the land at Badbea decided to stop herring fishing and begin the more profitable trade of Salmon fishing lots of men lost their jobs and the village struggled even more than before. People moved abroad in the hope of a better quality of life and the last resident moved away in 1911. Not a lot remains but if you walk the quarter of a mile from the car park you can explore the cliffs and there are lots of information boards telling the story as well as the remains of a few of the outside walls of the houses.
After spending the night in Rogart we ended our trip back in Inverness.
What an adventure.I saw sights that I didn’t think I’d ever see, scenery that blew my mind. I’d met people from around the world and been hosted by some true ambassadors of Scotland who were happy to give advice, directions, recommendations and milk. I’d got lost, found beautiful hidden gems, played cards with some Outlander fans, toe tapped along with some drunk Germans as the sun set, ate delicious pie, toasted marshmallows, drove through what seemed like a Jurassic park movie set, walked on beaches reminisant of a far found exotic destination, got stuck in traffic jams of sheep and highland cows and had one of the best road trips of my life.
We spent six days travelling the North Coast 500. Next time I’d take longer. Although I seen everything on my very long list, id like to spend some time in each place, to let the place seep in. Still, it’s a trip I’ll never forget and I hope you get the chance to do it too.
You can read more about the North Coast 500 here
Have you travelled this famous route? What was your favourite part? More importantly, what did I miss?