I recently returned from a road trip through Scotland’s northern highlands. I was traveling to Gill’s Bay where I planned to board the ferry for the hour long ride to St. Margaret’s Hope on the Orkney Islands. The overland journey began in Ullapool and continued along the coast all the way to John O’Groats and the northeast coast of Caithness county. As expected, the scenery was spectacular. Here are some of the highlights:
Ullapool – Durness
Located on Scotland’s western coast, the town of Ullapool was a pleasant waterfront town and a relaxing place to spend the first night of the journey. Simple and affordable B&B’s line the main street and many offer excellent views overlooking the water.
Ferries depart Ullapool for the town of Stornoway on Lewis, the northernmost part of the Western Isles.
Departing Ullapool and heading north along the coast, the town of Lochinver is located along a scenic detour just off the main road. Traveling north on A894 take A837 out toward the coast and circle around back to the main route. The detour winds past lakes, cliffs and coastline and is said to be one of the most scenic areas along the route.
Once back on the main road I continued north past the towns of Scourie and Kinlochbervie to arrive at Scotland’s northern coast and the town of Durness.
Durness – Thurso
The westernmost town on Scotland’s northern coast, Durness is located along the coast nearby to several natural attractions including Sandwood Bay, Cape Wrath, Faraid Head and Smoo Cave. There are a few shops along the main road and a tourist information center. Heading east from Durness A838 becomes A836 and continues along the coast to the town of Thurso in Caithness county.
The length of road along the northern coast from Durness to Thurso is sparsely populated and scenic with views overlooking clear turquoise water and white sand beaches backed by cliffs. The northern region is one of the least populated regions in all of Scotland. Caithness county is home to a population of around 26,000 residents, 8,000 of whom live in the town of Thurso.
Thurso is the most northerly town on the British mainland and the place of departure for the Northlink car ferry to the town of Stromness on the Orkney Islands. Thurso has some interesting attractions including Old St. Peter’s Kirk, Pennyland House and historic Halkirk the first planned village in the northern highlands. Thurso is also within easy driving distance of some of the finest beaches in the north of Scotland.
Despite the near emptiness of the region, driving can be slightly intimidating if it’s your first time driving in the area. Especially if you’re just becoming accustomed to driving on the right hand side of the road. Many of the roads consist of a single lane and passing places where cars are able to pass each other while heading in either direction. Remember to keep to your side, avoid entering into a passing place on the opposite side. Instead, come to a stop parallel to the passing place and allow the oncoming vehicle to use the passing place to go around your vehicle.
Fortunately, most drivers are careful and considerate and you’ll likely avoid any problems.
It should also be noted that renting an automatic vehicle is more expensive than renting a manual model and gasoline is significantly more expensive in the UK than it is in the States.
For more information visit the Scotland Tourism Board website