Welcome to a slightly different blog post, divided into two as it’s too much for my poor computer’s WordPress!
(Please note that most of the photos below were taken by Klaus – I haven’t specifically said which were his pics and which were mine, but the good ones are his and the cake ones are mine, mostly).
This is also about a tour, but rather than touring by bicycle or Velomobile as normal, we were touring by car. We of course did a car tour last year, travelling to Italy, but this year we decided to travel outside of the EU and so we went to Scotland.
We were going to take Klaus’s BMW Z3 and a week before we were due to leave he got it serviced, including a change of gearbox oil. We then noticed a couple of days later that it was dripping fluid from the gearbox area. Frank our landlord and tame mechanic ordered a new seal and it was fitted two days before we left. Fortunately this fixed the problem, otherwise we would have had to take my car (which was not in Klaus’s plan! – he wanted to drive with six cylinders)
The evening before we left was very busy as Klaus‘s daughter Lara had her Abitur ball, which is equivalent to the prom, and she was on the organising committee so had lots to do. We went to the evening event where the students did quizzes, dances, etc, and there was also food.
The next day we were due to leave at 10 am. We had both packed a day or two before and so everything was ready. All we had to do was empty the bins, say goodbye to Poppy, and then head off.
For this holiday, we were taking a new ferry route, from Amsterdam to Newcastle. We drove to IJmuiden and I wanted to have plenty of spare time (in case of disasters!) so we arrived early enough to have a relaxing lunch at a café. Followed by the first of several cakes this holiday.
We then went to the local supermarket to buy ourselves food for the evening, rather than the very expensive ferry food.
As we arrived at the ferry port we saw lots of Oldtimer cars (heritage cars) including a really old Bentley. Klaus used the opportunity to take a nice photo of Zuzanna.
This is a much longer ferry crossing than the normal Hook of Holland to Harwich crossing which we regularly use and when we got onto the boat we were a bit surprised how small our cabin was. We also had this rather alarming notice on the upper bunk bed…
Fortunately there are lots of other places to sit, including a bar, right on the top of the ship in the open air, where we had an ice cream in the very warm sun before we sailed.
The crossing was fine, there was not much wind, so it was very smooth, and of course we were asleep for much of it.
Day 1: Newcastle to Edinburgh
We had signed up for the breakfast on the ferry so I had the first of many cooked breakfasts. This one was the least tasty of all of them!
We arrived punctually in Newcastle (North Shields) and were told to go to our cars. we had parked in a very narrow side section where it was quite a squeeze to walk to the car past lots of fatter cars.
They seemed to be unloading most of the rest of the ferry first, but finally we saw various brake lights going on and off ahead of us as the cars in this narrow side section started to leave.
When it was time for the car in front of us to move off, nothing happened. After a few minutes, the driver got out and told us he couldn’t start the car because he didn’t have an Internet connection. I kid you not!
He came back 10 minutes later with a guy from DFDS, but they still were not able to start the car. Apparently there was a problem with the immobiliser which needed some kind of Internet connection to be released, and to even allow the car to change gear into neutral to be pushed.
We were sitting in a 23-year-old BMW behind a brand new BMW, and both agreed that Zuzanna was much less likely to fail to start due to no Internet connection.
The guy seem to be on the phone to BMW, and eventually he was able to start the car and move it off, although we now had to wait for all the other trucks to be unloaded first, as they had changed the ramp system for them.
Eventually we were out and in the queue for passport control. We put the roof down as it was a nice sunny day (it wasn’t grim oop north).
We were of course at the back of the queue as we had been one of the last cars off, but when we got to the booth we suffered further delays. The chap was scanning our passports but his system wasn’t working properly and he had to keep restarting and trying again.
After 10 minutes of this, they tried at a different console in the same booth, but that also didn’t work.
Once everyone else had been checked through they got us to reverse and go to another booth where the Wi-Fi connection was stronger. We were finally checked in to the UK at the border post at 11:15, having officially started to leave the boat at 9:15.
So we were on our way, and the roads were very quiet as everyone else was long gone. We drove towards Newcastle on the main roads, which then eventually took us to the A1 where we started on the coastal route rather than the direct route to Edinburgh.
It was really good weather with the roof down, not too hot. It’s pretty noisy in the Z3 at speed and we were driving at the national speed limit a lot of the time (60/70mph or 100-110km/h), but it was still a really nice day for Cabrio driving, even if we were both a bit deaf at the end of the day.
The coastal route diverges from the main A1 and goes further east. We went past some castles (although we didn’t pass Alnwick) and Klaus took a couple of photos.
I was driving for this bit as it was the beginning of our driving in the UK and you need to get your eye in a bit. Obviously for me it is easier.
We also went through some lovely villages.
I noticed that the cars seem to be more colourful than in Germany – in Germany everyone seems to choose silver or black for their posh cars. we were looking out for other BMWZ3 but didn’t see any, although we saw two Z4s. There are more Japanese and Korean manufactured cars in the UK too, the Germans are very loyal to their brands.
The original plan for today was possibly to visit Holy Island (Lindisfarne), but I knew this would be a bit dependent on our timings as the causeway would be closed at 13:40. In the end because of our delays getting off the ferry we were too late to safely do a Lindisfarne visit so we just stopped at our planned coffee break at The Barn at Beal. This had been recommended to me by friend Lindsay and it was a very nice café, although the choice of cakes was all tray bakes and no cream cakes. We were to discover on this tour that you don’t really get cream cakes in the UK – certainly nothing like Käser Sahne Torte that we see everywhere in Germany. However, they did have scones with jam and clotted cream so that was my birthday cake lunch.
After our tea break, we then got back into the car with Klaus driving now for the remaining hour or so to Edinburgh. We had also filled up with petrol as we were not sure how frequent petrol stations would be on this journey and so decided to fill up when we got down to half a tank to give ourselves a good reserve (in fact on the tour this was not a problem – fuel could be pricey but we never had problems finding it). The fuel gauge in the Z3 is also a bit random as it moves around quite a lot as you are driving. We knew we could get at least 450 km per tank, probably more like 500, but didn’t want to risk anything.
We were now on the A1 heading towards Berwick upon Tweed and after Berwick we reached the Scotland border.
We took the obligatory photos, and then continued on.
We were on the A1, but got occasional glimpses of the North Sea. The weather was still good and it was a nice day for driving, although dual carriageways are not as attractive as country lanes!
We were soon arriving in Edinburgh. It was Sunday afternoon and we had to drive past a shopping centre where there were huge queues of traffic and we miscalculated a roundabout so had to drive past Home Bargains, Mountain Warehouse and the rest. A big difference to German shopping centres on Sunday afternoon as they are always closed.
We arrived at our guest house which was an old posh house with a fairly large car park. There were two motorcyclist with German Hannover numberplates who had also just arrived, presumably from the same ferry.
Our room had a four poster bed, a sofa, and of course tea-making equipment which I used straight away. We also had a decanter of sherry and some biscuits as a welcome gift. I shared the biscuits with Klaus, he had the sherry on his own.
After a short break to unpack and drink tea and sherry and chill out we decided to walk to the centre of Edinburgh and then go straight from there to our posh evening meal. The meal was booked for 18:30 so we had an hour to look around Edinburgh first.
We walked to Princes Street and lots was going on there. We saw everlasting shops selling whisky and tartan and all the things you would expect. The place was really busy with tourists and loads of colour and activity.
There was also a piper of course.
We were feeling fairly peckish, so decided to go earlier to the restaurant and see if we could have our table, which we could. We had a very nice meal and they knew it was my birthday, presumably because I had to put my date of birth in the online booking form, so we got 2 free glasses of champagne, so Klaus did well out of that as I don’t drink alcohol!
We actually finished the meal quite early in the end, so decided to walk back a different route rather than get the bus. It had been a 3.5 km walk to the restaurant and it was the same back; with heavy rain forecast we wanted to try and get back before the onslaught. We popped into a Sainsbury’s Local for some post-dinner chocolate and Wine Gums and managed to get back before the rain started. We were still on German time, so it was an hour later for us so we had a pretty early night, having not slept brilliantly on the ferry the night before and the night before that due to Lara‘s Abi ball.
Day 2: Edinburgh to Inverness
We had pre-booked what we wanted for breakfast, which was basically everything although we both didn’t take the risk of choosing haggis as one of our five cooked breakfast items. Perhaps we would be braver later on in the holiday. Anyway, the breakfast was really good and it was interesting to hear all the different accents in the breakfast room. I think there were four different German-speaking couples, and one Englishman, who was speaking to an Austrian couple and talked about the war of course. Embarrassing.
Anyway, I ate a hefty breakfast and enjoyed that traditional toast in a toast rack which you just don’t get in Germany.
I photographed all the different breakfasts I ate whilst in Scotland and rather than littering the text with them I have put them in a gallery here. Enjoy!
The forecast for the the day was quite a lot of rain and it would also our longest day in Scotland with 200 miles/300 km, which would be really quite a long way in the Z3 on mostly country lanes.
We set off at nine in the morning, driving out of Edinburgh and over the Queensferry Bridge which is parallel to the Forth bridge. I tried to photograph the Forth bridge but that was rather difficult as the Z3 is very low down, but I took a half a picture – you can just about see the three different bridges.
Klaus was doing the driving to start with.
We had thought it might be a day where we stopped twice, but in the end, we only stopped once for lunch because the journey went more smoothly than expected.
We had the roof up all day because there were occasional rain showers and it wasn’t actually that warm. It was also really windy at times.
The beginning of the route was on the motorway going towards Perth, where we came off the motorway and did a much more scenic route that had been recommended to me by a cycling friend.
We were driving on a roads which were twisty and turny, mostly with trees either side.
We went to past lots of nice houses and small settlements, and then the road started to climb a bit more and the trees thinned out.
We had some really nice views over the mountains as we climbed, and also various animals, including a sheep and lamb who wandered out in the road in front of us.
We stopped for lunch cake at Braemar, as this was about the halfway point and I had already found what looked to be a good café.
I ordered a scone with jam and cream and was surprised that the jam was from Tiptree. In fact, I had several scones whilst in Scotland and they all had Tiptree jam, a nice reminder of my former home in the UK (I lived just up the road from Tiptree)
Klaus had a ginger cake as once again they had no cream cakes. We also had tea and coffee of course.
A bit later on we passed Scone Palace so I thought I should photograph the sign – this is a different kind of scone though (a stony one).
At Braemar we switched drivers, so I took over the left hand seat and Klaus was the passenger, taking photos and videos out of the window as we continued along.
The road went past Balmoral Castle where there were loads of cars parked outside, but we didn’t bother stopping.
We climbed up again over a mountain range with lots of skilifts, although it looked like there wasn’t too much after-ski going on in the winter as there weren’t that many buildings. Of course, there was no snow there today, although we did see some on a mountain in the distance at one point.
We stopped at a viewpoint, parking a car behind a car registered in Duisburg in Germany. we hadn’t actually seen all that many foreign cars or motorhomes considering the number on the ferry.
It was incredibly windy at this viewpoint but we managed to take a few photos of the scenery.
We carried on, this time with some very steep downhills and there were also lots of hidden dips and blind summits on the road, so it was a bit of a rollercoaster. However, the Z3 handles perfectly and we have complete confidence in it. I was never anywhere near the limits of its traction. I would definitely run out of bravery before the Z3 runs out of grip.
We were now in the whisky-distilling regions and saw lots of familiar whisky names on signposts.
The final 15 miles or so were back on the A-road which goes to Inverness and we had a bit of a queue to get into Inverness.
The whole journey had taken us probably five hours driving in total and I was pleased that my backside wasn’t complaining too much. I had had trouble in the past with the Z3 when sitting in it for three hours but had since invested in a memory foam seat cushion which helped things a bit. However, I had a slightly bad back for the first couple of days on the tour which might have been linked, but it cleared up after that.
Check in at our guest house was theoretically from 4 pm but we had arrived outside and parked in the resident’s parking bay at 15:00.
The lady was in, gave us a parking ticket thing to display, and all was done. So we got into our room early and were able to chill out a bit and then choose a restaurant for the evening meal, which we booked by phone to ensure we would get a table.
It was raining until later in the afternoon, so we chilled out for longer than normal, but when the rain started easing off we took our chance to go and visit Inverness.
We both really liked Inverness, as there was plenty to look at, and there were also some very attractive walks along the riverside, with several crossings over footbridges, which were old and often quite wobbly.
We had quite a good walk around and then went for a meal at the Gastro pub that was highly rated on Google. Klaus had his first glass of whisky on this trip, a Tomatin, as that was a local – and he also ate haggis.
Afterwards we walked in the town a little, and now all the shops were shut it seemed a little more seedy. We tried to walk up to the castle, but there was some kind of renovation going on so we couldn’t visit. But we thought that Inverness had a lot of energy and there was lots to look at. There were clearly lots of foreign visitors as we heard French and Spanish and German and Dutch being spoken everywhere.
Day 3: Inverness to Wick
We had a continental breakfast this morning which meant cereal and toast with marmalade rather than the full Scottish Monty. We were ready to leave before nine in the morning, so set off, even though we didn’t have as far to travel today.
We started our day by going south rather than north as we wanted to go and look for Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. I had read that there was a particularly good place to visit Loch Ness, which was just 15 minutes from Inverness, so we went to Dores Beach and were the first in the car park.
We walked to the beach which was really beautiful and the weather was behaving so we had good views along Loch Ness.
We walked across the beach and did some photography. We had thought we might do the 5 km walk, they suggested, but it wasn’t well signposted and we didn’t know if we wanted to be that long – it might also have been a bit insecty, so in the end I selected a nice colourful stone from the beach to add to one of my hurricane lamps at home and we went back to the car.
Needless to say, we hadn’t spotted Nessie, but she probably appeared just after we left.
We then headed off back north again on our journey to Wick. This was mostly on the A9 road which turned out to be a really decent route. The road was well built, mostly single carriageway but always wide enough so we had no problems when trucks or camper vans were passing on twisty corners. Although the weather forecast had warned of storms we were able to drive with the roof down the whole day. It wasn’t always mega warm, so I had my jacket on the whole time in the car, but it was very pleasant to be out in the fresh air as we could smell the sea a lot of the journey.
The route went along the east coast, so we got lots of really beautiful views, firstly of the Moray Firth and then the Beauly Firth as we did a slightly more scenic route than the A9, via Muir of Ord, and Conon Bridge and Dingwall. We then re-joined the A9 as it goes along the Cromarty Firth, and we passed the Glenmorangie distillery, having previously passed the Dalmore distillery. Klaus was totting up the distilleries we passed, so that he could decide what to drink tonight!
We drove over the Dornoch Firth and enjoyed a lovely curvy route which went up and down and gave us some stunning views. We decided to stop for cake in Brora and I had checked the options beforehand and so we went to Cocoa Skye, a tearoom which had good reviews. I had a Victoria sandwich cake and Klaus went for a Biscoff cake.
This little village has some lovely buildings made out of stone and an impressive bridge.
Klaus had done the driving up to now, but we switched around so I would continue on to Wick. This was almost all driving on the A9 but although it sounds like it could be a boring route it was actually really lovely. We turned off onto the A99 for Wick at Latheron and went past some villages with great names, such as Lybster, Occumster, Whaligoe and Thrumster. We were hoping for a Popster as that is our nickname for Poppy the dog but we seemed to have missed that one.
I enjoyed the driving and I was definitely getting more used to Zuzanna. However, I definitely don’t use all her options as I didn’t go over 3000 rpm, even when overtaking, on the whole trip. Her engine pulls beautifully right up to 6500 rpm so she is wasted on me. Klaus thought I should put my foot down a bit more for some overtaking, but I never had the need as she would just drive round the vehicle in front when requested.
We arrived in Wick very early, at 1:45, so that was before we could check in. However, we parked the car right outside the guest house and they said that parking there would not be a problem, and we could check in later when the room was ready.
We went off for a bit of a walk and looked over the harbour. There have been several really interesting monuments built, which commemorate a lot of the problems of the seafarers in history, including some bad storms and shipwrecks. it was lovely looking down over the water and as it was a warm day, although a little windy, it all looked very beautiful.
We acknowledged it would probably be freezing and grey and rainy in winter.
We then walked down into the town which definitely has seen better days as there were lots of closed up shops and not much really there. Wick was where the signposts started to be in Gaelic first, and on this one you can also see the NC500 logo for the route of the North Coast 500.
We checked out a couple of possible restaurants for our evening meal and chose one that had good reviews. We then went back to the guest house and checked in to what turned out to be a lovely room with an enormous bathroom – in fact, I think the bathroom that day was larger than the entire bedroom the day before.
After some relaxing it was time to go out for our evening meal. The restaurant we were visiting is famous for being in the shortest street in the world, which is just over 2 m long: Ebenezer Place in Wick. The Bistro in Mackay’s Hotel was good and the prices were fair – especially as they forgot to charge us for the desserts. I realised after payment and told them, so we paid for those separately. Klaus tried the local whisky, Old Pulteney 12 years, which he liked.
We walked a slightly different way back and found the steps that Lowry had painted.
We had yet another early night. All the fresh air and travelling made me tired!
Day 4: Wick to Melvich
When we arrived at the guesthouse in Wick we had to fill in what we wanted for breakfast (as was the case in all but one place where breakfast was included with the room). I had ticked everything, and when we actually had breakfast the next day, I realised how much that everything was! We started with cereal and then had some wonderful porridge with milk (which I had with sugar), and then the huge cooked breakfast came out, including haggis, and black pudding. I managed to eat almost all of it, but couldn’t manage any toast to go with it.
Klaus had chosen a little more wisely and only had egg, haggis and black pudding.
We had a very short day’s journey today, only 85 km in total, so we had made some plans to stop off at various things on the way to Melvich.
Our first task was to find a hand car wash or jet wash as a bird had pooped on Zuzy’s rear window, plus she was pretty dirty and dusty. We found there was a car detailing company and headed there, but he said he didn’t open till 11 but suggested we tried the jet wash at the filling station just down the road. So we went there and discovered that they did indeed have a jet wash and we gave Zuzy a quick wash for five minutes which cost just £2. We later spotted jet washes at lots of other filling stations we passed so that seems to be a thing (it’s not in Germany), as well as occasionally laundrette facilities. We filled Zuzy’s petrol tank at the Tesco petrol station, leaving Wick. She was being fairly efficient on the tour, averaging under 10 L, per 100 km for the whole route. She can go up to 12 if you are driving a bit excitingly.
We started off by heading to John O’Groats.
I had heard in the past from people who visited that it was a bit rubbish there, but actually they seem to have really improved it.
There were lots of different cafés and shops and plenty of parking. We also went for a walk along the Coast Path some beautiful flowers over to an old ruined Watermill.
Once we got back to the main area, I decided it was time to go in search of Nessie. I had wanted to get a Nessie mascot for the car and there were enough gift shops at John O’Groats that I thought I would find one. And I did.
She was our driving mascot and sat on the dashboard most of the time – occasionally making a bid for freedom by sliding across to an open window if the road is particularly twisty.
It was way too early for cake as I had had the colossal breakfast, so we just used the loos and then got back into the car, this time with the roof down as it had dried after the jet wash and it looked fairly sunny outside.
We continued on, this time aiming for Dunnet head, which is the most northerly part of the British mainland. This involved our first real bit of driving on single track road with passing places, but it was fine as the visibility was good and there weren’t that many cars coming the other way. We would have much more of this sort of road later on in the tour.
Dunnet head was very windy but also very beautiful. We were very lucky with the weather as there were some rain storms threatened for the whole day, but we were always out in blue sky when we were visiting something.
Klaus’s friend Thorsten had suggested that we visited a couple of distilleries, but in the end we just quickly looked in one of them (the one at John O’Groats), as a whisky tour is wasted on me, as I am teetotal, and Klaus didn’t seem that desperate for one either. We drove past the distillery at Dunnett and also a couple more later on.
The plan for today was to have a longer stop at Thurso as this was the last large town before we reached our accommodation in Melvich, which was really in the middle of nowhere. We arrived in Thurso, found a parking space and then went walking into the town.
Thurso seemed rather like Wick, in other words, loads of shops closed and empty and a generally rundown and gloomy feeling.
We found a greasy spoon café for lunch where Klaus had a tuna salad and I had a Panini and then we felt it was time to move on. There wasn’t much more in Thurso to hold our attention, and we thought it would be better to get to Melvich and do a walk there than hang around in Thurso.
I had already seen that there was a café just up the road in Melvich so that was our plan to use up the two hours needed before we could check in. In the end the café was small and the cake choice wasn’t brilliant. Klaus had a small muffin and I had an ice cream.
We thought then we would go for a walk on the beach and so followed some signs down to a very steep road which led to a slipway at Portskerra Harbour. We were the only car in the car park and were the only people walking around.
There was a signpost to a drowning memorial which was half a mile away so we decided to walk there.
This involved walking up and down some quite steep dunes with a howling wind around us, but fantastic views over the different bays, including the beach at Melvich, which is very sandy.
There were rainclouds amassing in the distance, but we still had sunshine and blue skies where we were.
We enjoyed our walk, although we were getting very windswept, and decided we could try to check in a little early as we were now half an hour before the official check-in time.
So we went to the B&B and the chap was happy to let us in. He said he was Swiss and was happy to speak to us in German. It was a nice B&B in very quiet surroundings.
We walked down the road to the local restaurant for our evening meal. It was another pub which had a campsite attached and it looked just like a traditional UK pub. The food choice was also very familiar, but what was interesting was the whisky menu had 60 different whiskies on it. we ate three courses again, this time I finished up with a jam sponge pudding and custard. I am really enjoying eating all this hearty English food which I miss when in Germany. I also had a very nice fish and chips as my meal with locally caught fish. Klaus had the Wolfburn North End whisky.
On the walk back we had beautiful light.
Day 5: Melvich to Kinlochbervie
Today, we would cross over to the western side of Scotland, the area where the midges might be, so I looked carefully at the weather forecast before we set off. It looked like it would be a fairly windy day so I thought we would be safe from midges.
Breakfast was really good again, and we had a long chat with the host, the Swiss guy, who told us that he moved to Scotland to get away from the stress and pressure of Switzerland. He is in Scotland from April to September and then spends the winter in Spain. He can do this with Scottish and Spanish prices but could not do it if he still lived in Switzerland.
The weather forecast looks promising today, so we started with the roof down, even though it was still quite chilly. We had 120 km to do today which would theoretically not take very long so we decided to stop off at any interesting sites we saw on the way, and I did a bit of googling.
We ended up stopping very soon indeed, as Klaus had spotted that Strathy Point Lighthouse was just along the road. We drove part of the way there and then parked the car to walk the final kilometre or so which was through a field.
There were lots of birds and sheep and cows, but apart from that we were on our own with fantastic views over the bay and out to sea.
The Lighthouse was really large, but they had a little model Lighthouse in one of the ponds.
We sat for a while looking over the sea and then climbed the hill opposite the Lighthouse for some views even further around. It was extremely windy but the sun was shining and it was absolutely beautiful scenery.
Klaus took this photo of me which I think is not actually that flattering! You can see my 52 years…
We set off again on the road and stopped just a few kilometres further when we saw the signs for the Strathnaver museum. I had seen a few reviews of this on Google, which said it was really interesting, a small museum but with loads of local information. So we decided to give that a go as well.
The entrance fee was £5 and I said to the lady I didn’t even know what the museum was about. She said it was about the highland clearances – this is a topic. I know very little about and had given Klaus just some basic information before. So we decided to look at the Museum which had been newly reopened this year so all the exhibits were up-to-date and fresh (although I noticed a few typing errors on some of the information boards!)
It was a lot of information about the lives of the people in the area of Strathnaver from the ancient Pictish and Beaker people times up to the Highland clearances where these families were moved out of their land and settled on the coast to become fishermen or miners because the authorities wanted their land for sheep grazing. Landowners taking advantage of poor people seems to be a regular theme, and people being forcibly resettled is very similar to what has been happening in Germany at the Garzweiler Open Cast coal mine over the last 10 years.
It was a small exhibition but had plenty to read, and it was also interesting to see the history of the Mackay family. There is some kind of organisation of Mackays who were involved in putting this museum together and they were showing off where some of their family members have ended up, for example, a previous prime minister of the Netherlands.
We spent about 45 minutes at this museum and then we got in the car and drove on.
There was supposed to be a viewpoint spot for Bettyhill Village very soon after the museum, but we somehow missed it so we carried on driving on our way around the north coast.
The route took us more inland across some open spaces, but with views of the mountains in the background.
We approached the village of Tongue and it looked like there might be a nice way down to the water, so we took this very narrow, single track road and parked in a layby near a pier. We had a quick look around but we couldn’t walk very far so got back in the car and carried on.
I was driving this time and ended up having to reverse down the single track as there were several cars coming the other way, but it felt like a long way back to the passing place and once they had passed and I carried on again, I saw that there had been a passing place just behind all these cars when I first saw them.
As we were driving into the village of Tongue, we noticed a sign for a café, and as it was 12:30 we decided it was time for cake. I had a scone with jam and clotted cream and Klaus had some kind of Rockyroad biscuit flapjack strudel thing.
We then crossed over the causeway and headed across the open peat bog area called the Mhoine, including a ruined house, which stood alone up here on this wind blasted spot.
We had a quick explore and then carried on on what was a lovely road that went all the way round Loch Eriboll.
This was mostly single track road, although with very regular passing places. We saw more traffic generally today than in previous days, but still there wasn’t very much at all, you only saw a car pass you every four or five minutes. There were quite a few camper vans and also some Tesco delivery vans that we seemed to regularly see. We saw lots of German numberplates and also some Dutch and French.
The scenery here was absolutely beautiful, with the lake a really turquoise colour in places. The road went up and down, hugging the side of some quite steep hills in places. We passed a place called Smoo, and then ended up in Durness where we stopped at a supermarket for some chocolate and wine gum supplies (we had these to fortify us during all the travelling of course).
It was a fairly short drive from here to our accommodation in Lochinver, which was up a small road beside a lake. This was slightly off the route of the NC 500 as I had struggled to find decent accommodation when booking last December. We arrived and have a comfortable room and they had included some home-made shortbread which was very tasty.
The host had also agreed to do our washing which was extremely useful as the Z3 has a rather small boot – we could not each bring enough clothes for two weeks so had to make do with one week’s clothes and a washing service.
We had already booked a meal for the evening, and we would have to walk 2.5km down the main road to get there, but the host said that would not be a problem, there would be hardly any traffic. It would be our first test of the midge repellent on the way back.
As you can see, I was well-prepared for the midges. I decided that if I bought every possible anti-midge item then we wouldn’t be attacked by them, although they had been awful a couple of weeks before. (Spoiler alert – during the whole holiday I didn’t get bitten at all, Klaus only got bitten twice. I used Skin So Soft and he used Smidge spray.)
We set off in plenty of time for a meal and bumped into our host as we were leaving the building and had a bit of a chat. We asked him where he went to buy the food and he said they had a daily delivery from Tesco which cost them £2 for the delivery. I asked which Tesco they came from and he said from week, which is a 2 1/2 to 3 hour journey. Impressive that Tesco do this.
Klaus and I walked the 3 km to the restaurant, The Old School House, with some fantastic views on the way. We were walking along the main road but there was very little traffic – which was good as there were no pavements a lot of the way.
We had another traditional meal, Klaus had the venison pie and I had duck breast with mash. We also treated ourselves to the traditional desserts, he had a salted caramel cheesecake and I had a chocolate fudge cake. Klaus enjoyed a Highland Park 12 year whisky, one he has had previously and enjoyed.
We walked the same route back, this time into the setting sun, so it was quite bright.
We didn’t see a midge the whole time, so we took this as a good sign for the rest of the holiday.
At this point, I’ll mention a couple of things that I’ve noticed touring around in Scotland rather than our usual Germany. The first thing is that there are a lot of electric showers rather than showers from a hot water tank. As a Brit I understand there is a random switch somewhere outside the bathroom that you have to turn onto the shower works (probably a string hanging from the ceiling), but I am sure for many Germans this is a complete mystery.
They also wonder why light switches are outside the bathroom or on a pulling rope, rather than just on the wall in the bathroom. This is because we have very different electricity wiring design in the UK and in the past it was not considered safe to have accessible sockets in the bathroom except for shaver sockets.
Having separate taps rather than mixer taps makes life much more difficult when trying to run your hands under water that isn’t either boiling or freezing. We have separate water supplies in the UK as our hot water tanks are not really safe enough for drinking water purposes and if they are mixed in a mixer tap then you might drink something dodgy. This is probably no longer the case (well, I had mixer taps in the the UK before I moved the Germany), but tradition still seems to be separate taps in the bathroom. Drives me nuts!
What I had also noticed is that in every bathroom on the holiday we did not have tiled showers but instead a showerwall, a flat panel. I find these easier to clean and it also looks good, as I had a showerwall in my last bathroom in the UK, but it isn’t something you see very often in Germany. It means you don’t have the problem of mouldy grout as the showerwall is really easy to clean.
And I also have to mention how relaxing it was for me to know that when I checked into a hotel room, there would be a kettle with teabags and milk so I could mainline my tea as usual. We had also received quite a lot of packets of biscuits as well as a bonus!
Day 6: Kinlochbervie to Lochinver
We had an absolutely fantastic breakfast in the B&B at Kinlochbervie.
There was a huge choice of cereals, and then we received a bumper cooked breakfast. There were Scotch Pancakes and croissants. The scotch pancakes were clearly home-made and I complimented our host on the quality of the breakfast.
We were chatting to another couple, who were also guests there, and they told us they had been at John O’Groats, and had seen a pod of orcas, some puffins and also a golden eagle. They are clearly better at wildlife spotting than we were! At this point we had not seen any really exotic wildlife, and by the end of our holiday all we had managed to see was a dead deer beside the road, and I wondered if I had possibly seen an eagle but was really unconvinced.
We checked the route for the day, which was fairly short, just 80 km (50 miles). There seemed not to be very much actually on the route for us to do, but I had highlighted a few items, such as a couple of viewpoints where we could stop for photography and also a waterfall. I had also seen a lighthouse that we could possibly visit, but it was up a quite long single track and I was always a bit nervy about single track.
We set off and found ourselves at Scourie very quickly. I had found a café and restaurant there, but this was way too early after our breakfast. However, Scourie beach was considered worth a visit so we stopped there. There was a dog playing on the beach and he was having the time of his life so we watched him for a bit. We then walked along some lovely yellow sand. Although the weather looked a bit generally wet we avoided getting rained on whilst on the beach.
The beach had these wonderful stripy stones – we read a bit about the geology of Scotland and it all seems very interesting and varied.
We drove the whole day with the roof closed on the Z3 as there were several rain showers threatening, but we usually had the windows down for the fresh air!
We stopped at the Assynt viewpoint just before Kylestrome. There was a chap looking at the information board there, and then it took him a long time to step down from this small plinth area – he turned to me and said he only has one working eye so it was difficult to walk. He got in a car and drove off and I did wonder if that was as safe as it could be.
Our route was planned to take us then on the single track road via Drumbeg, but we stayed on the main road first of all to visit the waterfall at Loch na Gainmhich. The first car park was full, but we found a parking space a little higher up the hill and were able to walk to see the waterfall.
What was a bit weird for me was I felt a bit nervous standing on the edge of these cliffs on the soft and boggy ground so couldn’t get very close for a photo.
I have this weird sense of self preservation now which overrides my sense of adventure!
We decided to go down to the lower car park and see if we could walk up the river which some people seem to be doing. We started this but the path sort-of disappeared and there were quite a lot of large flying beasties which I didn’t fancy. So in the end we turned round and walked back.
We did see a little of the waterfall, but there are better pictures on Google! We then retraced up the route shortly to get onto this smaller road that hugs the coast.
I was driving at this point and was very happy when I was behind another car so they could look out for the scary vehicles coming the other way too fast on the blind corners. It was mostly fine because the roads were very empty still, but it was also interesting to experience some of the slight disadvantages of the BMW Z3, which are its low seating position and long nose – there were a few times when I went over an incline or the brow of a hill and couldn’t see anything.
At the B&B a few days later the host said that they called the route we took “the wee mad road” as it is so scary and lots of tourists do it in large motorhomes. He thought it was much scarier than the Applecross peninsula which might come later (more on that anon).
When we arrived in Drumbeg, we saw a sign for a tea garden and candle shop, so parked the car, and then discovered it was closed on Fridays to Sundays. So we decided to carry on, and Klaus took over the driving. I could relax my grip of terror on the steering wheel for the wee mad road, although I had to shut my eyes a bit on some of the single-track corners and blind summits!
This was a twisty road going through some really lovely landscape with sheep by the side of the road and occasionally crossing it in front of us. After a fair distance, we saw a sign for drinks beside the road in Clachtoll and stopped at Flossie’s beach store. Then we had to sit outside, although it was slightly raining.
My order came in a take-away package…
and was a scone!
This was with whipped cream rather than clotted cream which was a slight disappointment.
After this, we decided to walk to the beach where there were toilets, but actually ended up using the lose in the campsite, not realising these were the wrong ones. They had a dog bar for dogs which was well stocked!
Afterwards we went to the beach and had a bit of a walk around – once again, lovely turquoise water and yellow sand, but we saw hundreds of jellyfish in the water too.
We carried on knowing that we would arrive very early indeed to our next overnight stop. We got to Lochinver at 1 o’clock with check-in from four but we decided to park the car first and then go for a walk. As we parked at the B&B the owner’s father was there and he said no problem with the parking, but would have to come back later to check to check in as she wasn’t there. So we walked into Lochinver and when it started to rain we popped into a café to have a slice of lemon tart and crumble.
We walked around Lochinver a bit, going to the harbour to see various boats, leaving – one was registered in Spain and the other in France. That’s a long way to go for fishing! The B&B owner told us later a bit of the history of fishing in Lochinver, it is one of the biggest ports for fishing in the UK but has over the decades been seriously affected by crashing fish stocks etc.
We also passed a famous pie shop but didn’t stop. However, I liked this information on the back of the van (under the numberplate).
We got back to the B&B at 3 o’clock, so an hour early, but the lady was there and let us in. She made us a cup of tea and we had a good chat about travels and the NHS and life in rural Scotland. She told us that the German guests were always very pleasant and easy to get on with. She also gave us a recommendation or two for the next days sightseeing.
We had booked a meal at the restaurant Delilah‘s, as recommended by our landlady, so we walked down there in some slight rain for our evening meal. We crossed the bridge from where the lady said you could sometimes see an otter but of course we saw nothing.
The food was really good and the place was bustling and lively. There was a table of a hen night group in the upstairs room where we were sitting, but they weren’t too noisy. The view from our table wasn’t bad!
We both chose beefburgers as our main course and Klaus eschewed a dessert, just having a Balblair whisky. I had a crème brûlée dessert which was really nice, although I managed to spill some raspberry sauce onto my jeans, so had to give them a bit of a spot wash in the loos of the restaurant as I didn’t want want to walk around with pink on my legs for the next week.
We walked back in dry weather with much improved visibility of the islands at the mouth of the loch. Although we thought it might be a midgie evening, we didn’t see any, but we were well prepared anyway. We both always feel really tired for some reason after a day of driving around and looking at scenery, although we are also walking about 10 km a day in total, so once again we had an early night.
To be continued…
The second half of our tour is available here.