Highland Adventure Day 2 - the North Coast 500 to Ullapool

With a good night's sleep and a good breakfast inside us we were ready to head off and explore some more of Scotland's north coast on the second day of our Highland adventure. It was another day of contrasting weather with beautiful blue skies one minute and rain clouds the next. Our journey took us westwards right around the northern top of Scotland and in this post I'm really going to let the photos (and there are quite a few of them) do the majority of the talking. The scenery was beautiful and really doesn't need much description to accompany it.

After leaving the lovely Ackergill Tower we were soon passing close to the Castle of Mey which was the Queen Mother's summer residence. It too, like many attractions, was closed for winter but we hoped we might be able to see it from the outside as we had managed to with Dunrobin castle the day before. Sadly not though so another excuse to return that way again at some point perhaps. From there we continued on along the coast towards Dunnet Head, which as I learnt on the first day of our adventure is the actual most northern part of mainland Britain as opposed to the far more famous John o' Groats.

Dunnet Head is a small peninsula sticking out into the Pentland Firth at the very top of Caithness and is stunningly remote. There are no cafes or anything here as you'll find at John o' Groats, it doesn't lend itself to that at all, it's just simply a lovely peaceful and pretty bracing, even though it wasn't anywhere near as windy as the day before, spot. The only building in the immediate area is a lighthouse which was built in 1831 like many around the coast of Scotland by Robert Stevenson the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

From here you can enjoy some great views of the cliffs and coastline below you and beyond that towards the Orkney islands on a clear day. It is a good opportunity to enjoy some of the wildlife of the area, particularly the huge array of seabirds. We saw many swooping around the cliffs below us and helpfully there are some information boards telling you what you may spot but I'm afraid I couldn't tell you what we saw exactly. We had the whole place to ourselves which was lovely, even though John o' Groats had been fairly empty we hadn't been the only visitors, but here it really was just us and the seabirds.

Lighthouse at Dunnet Head

View from the cliffs at Dunnet Head

After enjoying the views we continued on along the coast heading towards Durness and beyond and in the process continued to lap up the stunning wilderness that is this part of Scotland as it unfolded before us. Here the journey is predominantly traversed via single track roads and really impresses with its complete emptiness, emphasised all the more I'm sure by our choice to visit it during the winter months.

As we continued westwards we entered an area designated as the North West Highlands Geopark. There are geoparks all over the world with the common aim of telling the story of that particular landscape and making it accessible to visitors. This one was Scotland's first, having been granted UNESCO geopark status in 2004 and includes within its boundaries some of the oldest rocks, around 3000 million years old, in Europe. In another part of the geopark in ancient limestone caves the remains of Eurasian lynx, brown bear, Arctic fox, reindeer and polar bears have all been found as well as human remains dating between 4515 and 4720 years old.

the geopark area is Loch Eriboll, you can see it for yourself in the video clip below. This is one of the deepest sea lochs in the UK and as a result Royal Navy ships have used it as a safe anchorage and shelter from the often more stormy seas close by for much of the 20th century. Since the 1920s it has also become common for crew members to spell out the names of their ships with stones on the shore edge. When I learnt that I couldn't help but be reminded of our visit to Muscat and our sunset boat trip along the coast where you can also see the names of ships carved into the rocks by sailors who have passed through that port over the years.

Today's rainbow

As we travelled on the landscape seemed to change yet again, still desolate but now filled with brackens, firs and numerous small expanses of water in amongst the mountains, hills and valleys. The colours of the landscape changed too and were now filled with beautiful browns and yellows of many shades. Scotland certainly knows how to turn on the charm.

Heading towards Ullapool, our stop for the night, we came to Loch Assynt, a freshwater loch, with the ruined Ardvreck castle standing on a promontory of land stretching into it. The castle dates from the 16th century and is thought to have been constructed by the Clan MacLeod family who owned the surrounding area from the 13th century onwards. When first built the castle stood three storeys high and was originally a large and imposing structure. Just as with pretty much every stop that we made on that second day we were the only people there meaning that once again we got to enjoy the whole gorgeous view entirely by ourselves.

During the course of this second day of our journey we were lucky enough to see four beautiful deer by the roadside but they were too skittish for any photos. Of course we also spotted a few Highland cows along the way and this one below was particularly chilled out. When we arrived in Ullapool our inn for the night overlooked Loch Broom, the loch that Ullapool sits on. From our room we were perfectly positioned to see the ferries for Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides arriving and departing. After settling in and a stroll around the small town which is still the largest settlement in this part of Scotland for many miles, we enjoyed a welcome dinner and retired for the night ready for the next part of our adventure.

It was another beautiful day of exploring this wild and desolate part of Scotland. As I mentioned previously today it really did feel like we were the only two people on the planet at times. There is almost too much dramatic scenery to take in and whilst we were enjoying its winter beauty I'm sure it would be just as lovely, though very different in the Spring, Summer or Autumn. It is quite magical and magnificent and I really hope we do get the chance to return some day and spend a little longer exploring its glory.

If you missed any of my previous posts about our Highlands adventure you can check them all out here.

Highland coo!

Our view for the night across Loch Broom


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