Scotland's Route 66 - North Coast 500 - Cape Wrath to Inverness
The final and concluding part of my time on the iconic road trip along the North Coast 500 begins in Durness where I had spent time visiting, amongst other places Cape Wrath. Before reading this I would suggest you at least don't miss Part 2 Applecross to Cape Wrath and if you don't want to miss any part of the journey so far you, including the crossing of The Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle) a historic and quite famous pass through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula you could even start with Part 1 Inverness to Applecross.
Within 3 miles of my morning start I am revisiting the beach at Ceannabeinne. Traditionally the beach was known as Traigh Allt Chailgeag – the beach of the burn of bereavement and death. This referred to a story of how an elderly woman fell into the burn, which flows onto the beach, and drowned. The burn Allt Chailgeag, was in spate at the time and her body was washed down to the shore.
At low tide the beach as amazing patterns created in the sand and also exposes the wonderful colours of the Lewisian gneiss. It brought back memories of the "Sand Waves" image I captured on my last visit in 2011. This time it was the turn of the Lewisian gneiss to join my Intimate Landscapes Collection.
Moving on I round Loch Eriboll. After the Kyle of Durness it is the second of three sea lochs and river estuaries to indent this north coast. It is the widest and at 10 miles the longest. Loch Eriboll's most attractive feature is towards the end of the loch at Ard Neakie which you can see in the photograph below. This is a mound of land prevented from becoming an island by an umbilical cord of sand and shingle linking it to the east shore of the loch.
Shortly after I would usually be crossing the Kyle of Tongue, the third sea loch but on this occasion I decided to try the old single track road that you had to use before the causeway was built. The road rewards the longer way to Tongue as it works past Ben Hope, Ben Loyal and Lochan Haken but unfortunately the weather had turned rather dull and I would rather share with you this earlier view of the Kyle of Tongue from the causeway.
After my side trip I am back on the main road and heading into Caithness, less mountainous than the other areas of the Highlands, eventually arriving at Dunnet Bay for my next overnight stop. Before parking up for the night I managed to drive over to Dunnet Head the most northerly point on the British mainland with it's wide vistas out towards the Orkney's.
Heavy overnight rain had cleared by the morning and a walk along the beach at Dunnet Bay brought into view what I believe to be a type of red seaweed which created some amazing patterns as it had been washed ashore. If you look carefully in the background even the sea was a darkish shade of maroon.
Leaving Dunnet Bay I travelled along the North coast - took a brief look at the over commercialised John o' Groats and moved onto the wilds of Duncansby Head. Walking out to see the Duncansby Stacks was wet and slippery from the overnight rain and it was very windy - in fact that windy that it was almost impossible to keep the camera steady to take any photographs. Hopefully I just managed it with this one.
Glad to be back in the camper and sheltered from the wind I started to head South and just outside Wick near Noss Head is Sinclair and Girnigoe Castles and what an amazing location. This impressive stronghold was built as one castle in the late 14th century and adapted regularly over time until abandoned and partially demolished in the mid 17th Century. The Castle is dramatically and grandly situated on a long narrow peninsula projecting into Sinclair Bay and the North Sea with perpendicular sides of almost 60 feet. It is separated from the mainland primarily by an arm of the sea known as a goe. This is a Norse word meaning a cave, a rocky inlet or creek or a deep ravine that admits the sea.
As far as I can recall the next 50 miles to my overnight stop at Brora I had not travelled before and at Whaligoe I just couldn't resist trying out the 365 steps. They are quite unique in Scottish industrial heritage as they lead to a fishing station, and no other has been built in such an apparently inaccessible place. The steps were built in their present form about 1792.
Approaching Helmsdale the coast road twists and climbs the steep Ord of Caithness, a vast natural bastion of rock and heather 750 feet above sea level. From the summit, which marks the old county boundary between Sutherland and Caithness, the views of the coast in all directions are superb.
Arriving at Brora and being right next to Dalchalm Beach I decided that an early evening stroll was in order and as you can see from the photograph below the approaching rain forced me back to my camper to prepare for my penultimate day on this amazing road trip.
The following morning my first stop was at Loch Fleet, a National Nature Reserve. The waters of the loch are sheltered and calm, the natural breakwaters at the eastern end leaving only a narrow passage to the sea at Littleferry. Presumably so named as a ferry used to cross this passage until 1815, when it was replaced by a causeway.
The beach area to the right in the photograph above was covered in some wonderfully colourful stones which I immediately saw as an opportunity to add to my Intimate Landscapes Collection. I'm still trying to decide the best orientation for this one so any suggestions would be most welcome.
Crossing the Dornoch Firth on my final day before heading home I left the main NC500 route to follow the long, low, windswept promontory sweeping towards Tarbat Ness. It's highest point is no more than 150 feet above sea level and guards the entry to the Firth. It is dominated by it's tall white and red lighthouse, which keeps shipping clear of a dangerous sand bar called the Gizzen Briggs, a name derived from the Norse.
Carrying on along the coast road shortly before Dingwall I cross the Cromarty Firth to the Black Isle where I followed the northern shore to Cromarty and eventually my final stop at Rosemarkie. Shortly after arrival this was the view from my pitch for the night. My walk along the beach to Chanonry Point was delayed whilst the storm past through.
One hour later and despite Chanonry Point being one of the best spots in the UK to view Bottlenose dolphin from the land it was not to be so moving away from the crowds staring optimistically out to sea I had to make do with this view of the lighthouse but what a spectacular day to bring my North Coast 500 trip to a conclusion except of course for my 500 mile drive home.
Other photographs from this trip and early visits to the areas passed through can be seen in the Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness & Moray and Aberdeenshire galleries or just visit the New Releases gallery where you can see the photographs from this trip along with others from my 2016 trips. If you happen to have any favourites amongst these then please place a comment on this post or contact me direct.
I hope you have enjoyed following my journey around the North Scottish coastline and I would certainly recommend this to anyone whether you have been to the area before or it will be your first visit. You will not be disappointed. Just make sure that you take your time and enjoy every mile with it's ever changing landscapes. My problem now is finding another road trip that can at least try to compete with this but who knows what 2017 will bring.
Keywords: British Isles, Caithness, NC500, North Coast 500, Scotland, Sutherland, landscape photography, landscape photography prints, landscape prints
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