NC500 Part 3: Lybster to Talmine

Welcome to part three of my NC500 roadtrip. If you’re still with me, I’m assuming you’re either planning a trip of your own, or reminiscing about one you’ve taken. Either way, i’d love to hear from you so don’t forget to leave me a message in the comments section below! 

IMG_8162The sun setting over the mountains at the Kyle of Tongue

Let me start by saying that while each leg of the journey was lovely and special, our stay in Talmine was my absolute favourite part. We will get to that in a minute! After a lazy morning in Lybster, we headed north along the coast up to John o’Groats. ‘What a strange name!’ I hear you say. John o’Groats is the northern most point of the mainland of the United Kingdom and you might have heard of people embarking on epic journeys from Land’s End in Cornwall in the South of England, to John o’Groats in the far north of Scotland. It’s named after a Dutchman called Jan de Groot who ran a ferry route between the mainland and Orkney. The story goes that he had seven sons who each fought over who was the most important. To diffuse the tension, Jan built an octagonal house with eight doors, so that nobody could be seen to be sitting at the head of the table.

IMG_8144This is the house which is now a gift shop

With only a very small village nearby, John o’Groats really feels as though it’s on the edge of the map. The weather and the ocean can be extreme but we were blessed with beautiful blue skies and the sun was shining the day we went to visit. We took a stroll along the shore, standing by the famous signpost that tells you how far it is to Land’s End and other important destinations. There were lots of warning signs about how perilous the rough seas can be and looking at the reinforced sea walls, I can believe that it gets pretty hairy when the weather is dirty. I still think it would beautiful even if the sun wasn’t shining.



We stopped at the tea rooms for what turned out to be a very generous morning tea complete with cupcakes, scones and sandwiches. We couldn’t finish it all but the ladies were kind enough to wrap up our leftovers so that we could take them with us. Bless! After our tea/lunch/holiday-meal-that-happens-at-whatever-time-you’re-hungry we went for a longer walk along the coastline.


We drove to Duncansby Head Lighthouse which is about five minutes further east of John o’Groats, then hopped out of the car to stretch our legs. You can walk between the two points but it will take you a couple of hours, rather than a couple of minutes! Still, if you’re not in a hurry, it looks like it would be a beautiful walk. Instead, we followed the grassy path that hugs the clifftops for as long as we felt like, which turned out to be this point, where we had an epic view of the cinder stacks that sit in the ocean. These cliffs house a number of seabird colonies and there were a few nature photographers out the day we went. We wore our hiking boots but the terrain is mostly grassy with some slightly boggy patches, so you could get away with sneakers etc.

When when we had had our fill of the ocean and craggy cliffs (so… maybe never…) we hopped back in the car and headed west to our stop for the night in a tiny town called Talmine. This was one of the longest drives of our NC500 route and took over two hours. This wasn’t because the road was tricky to drive, rather, it is such a beautiful stretch of road that we wanted to make it last. Again, the skies were blue, the seas were calm, and the sheep were plentiful. We still hadn’t seen any of of the cutest animals on earth – the highland coos – but that didn’t matter once we entered the Kyle of Tongue.


The Kyle of Tongue has a bit of a strange name but we can overlook that because it is legitimately one of the most beautiful places on earth. As we drove over the causeway, we screeched to a halt and jumped out of the car. We were surrounded by sea that twinkled from blue to emerald and stretched out to the actual ocean. The water is flanked by mountains that stretch off into the distance and roll gently down towards the sea loch. I must have stood for ten minutes just with my mouth open as I took in this spectacular view. There are only a few sparsely spotted houses along the hills and it feels pretty much uninhabited.



We were met by our airbnb hosts Steve and Lea who run one of the most comfortable and hospitable bnbs i’ve ever stayed in. Please, if you are planning on stopping anywhere near here, let me know and i’ll give you their details. My biggest regret is that we didn’t stay a few nights with Steve and Lea (and their incredibly soft and playful dog). From this picture you can get a sense of how sparse the population is here and how wonderfully serene it is. As we sat by our huge bedroom window, sipping on our mugs of tea, the sun began to set over the mountains. Steve told us that in Winter you can see the northern lights from their house and really, I can believe it. I had no idea that Scotland was so far north! As sunset went for hours, we interrupted it with a brisk walk over to the Craggan Hotel for some dinner.


I decided to go for a traditional scottish dish with a bowl of hearty Cullen Skink.
(I left this picture small because it is a very visually unappealing dish! Lucky it tastes great!)

If you’re Australian, you’ve probably only heard the word ‘skink’ before in the context of lizards. Fear not, this is not a lizard soup, rather it is a thick soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. The addition of milk makes it look like it’s split and gluggy, but in the chill of a scottish evening, this soup is warm, delicious, and exactly what you need. Definitely try one while you’re in Scotland, and definitely try the Craggan’s.

IMG_8161Now back to that sunset.

The mountains turned fire red and glowed while the sun went down. I’ve never really seen anything like it before and to look at that picture, you might think you were in a desert rather than the Scottish Highlands (if you didn’t look at the sea loch below the mountains…) You can see that the tide has gone out, revealing a big sandbar at the bottom right of the photo. In the morning when the tide was still out, there was a whole group of seals basking on the sand. Steve and Lea had set up a telescope so that we could watch the seals as they flopped around enjoying the sun.


Then, as the sun slowly (very slowly) sand beyond the horizon, the glow faded but the landscape was still beautiful. If I ever decide to throw everything in to go and live a life of solitude somewhere, Talmine is where you will find me.

So that was the third leg of our NC500 trip from Lybster to Talmine. Are you getting a hankering for the open road yet? Are you currently driving the NC500? Drop me a line in the comments section below!

Coming up next: Part 4 of our NC500 road trip from Talmine to the Summer Isles


NC500 Part 2: Inverness to Lybster

Alright lovelies, are you ready for some more road tripping? This one is a little longer, but read on for NC500 Part 2: the road from Inverness to Lybster. This leg involved some fancy whisky, ridiculously beautiful coastline, and some precarious hiking to reach this ruined castle…


After a great night’s sleep in Inverness, we hopped in the car to drive the second leg of our NC500 trip. We followed the trusty A9 northwards towards Tain and were treated to some lovely views of the landscape surrounding Cromarty Firth as we passed over Cromarty Bridge. The sky was blue and the gods were smiling down on us… the Whisky Gods, who lead us serendipitously to the door of the Glenmorangie Distillery five minutes before the tour began.


 See? I wasn’t kidding about those blue skies.

The Glenmorangie Distillery has been quietly crafting whisky on the banks of the Dornoch Firth for over a hundred and fifty years. We were met by Anna, our guide, who showed us through the different rooms in the distillery and explained the whisky making process. I loved being in the mash room, which smelled sweeeeeet! Literally. She also shared with us the history of the men who work there. Despite having a huge production output, the distillery has been traditionally run by a very small staff who always come from Tain, the local village. As they make a point of employing local men, the staff were given the monicker “The Men of Tain” and it was really lovely to hear about how a local company was still carrying on traditions to support the community, despite being outrageously successful.


 We walked through the factory to see where the whisky sleeps before being bottled. The cask room was cool and dark and filled with wooden barrels that housed the different types of delicious whisky. The barrels were made of different types of wood which gave each style of whisky its distinctive taste. We also learnt about the different ways the distillery is trying to rejuvenate the natural wildlife. They have been putting money into reforming the natural oyster beds that used to line the river, and their pledge to keep the water clean and free of byproducts. That part was pretty impressive!

After our whisky tasting, we crossed the beautiful Dornoch Firth and continued along the coast to our home for the evening in Lybster. This was the first time that we realised that we were really getting into the high country as the villages got further and further apart, spread along the rugged coastline. the weather for our NC500 trip continued to be ridiculously beautiful with glorious sunshine and little more than a light breeze coming in from the sea. We are spoilt for beaches in Australia but I have to say that I would swap those golden sands for these wild pebble beaches any day. Our experience at Lybster definitely had me falling in love even further with this landscape.


When we reached our airbnb, our lovely hosts told us about a place they called ‘Ropey Cove’ which was a path down to the pebble beach at the end of the lane that our cabin was on. We thought that it was just a quaint name, I mean, how cute does Ropey Cove sound? It was a super steep slope with no track down to the beach other than to abseil yourself down on a thick rope that was hammered into the ground in a way that did not inspire confidence. Still, I laugh in the face of danger so I wen’t down first.

IMG_8123Thought I was kidding about the steepness and the rope? This is a picture I took when I was halfway down. Because I am ALL danger.


Now do you see why I was so keen to get down there?

I’m in love with Scotland. Really. The ancient rock thrusting itself up through the ocean, the  smell of that salt water, and the hush of the sea as the tide came in, are all things I would happily live with every day of my life. We were the only two people exploring that day and it was so damn peaceful. While you will definitely find your own secret places to explore when you travel the NC500, I think experiences like this epitomise why this road trip is so incredible. This is definitely not something you will be sharing with a thousand of your closest friends, like you would be in Venice, or Dubrovnik. Scotland still has that untamed wildness that makes you remember why this world is still such an incredible place. It also reminds you why it’s so important to keep it that way.


Once we climbed back up the rope, we made like mountain goats over to this little ruin perched on the top of a fairly steep little hill. Can you see a path there? No? That’s right, because there wasn’t any. We hopped through some marshy patches and some thick, thick grass (thanking god it wasn’t midge season yet!) and many times I thought I was going to slip right back down to the bottom. But we didn’t, and were rewarded with these spectacular views as the sun decided it would think about setting. Just kidding – it wasn’t going to set for another hour or two!

We passed a happy night in Lybster before moving on to the third leg of our NC500 tour through the highlands. Just a quick warning though, as the landscape gets wilder, the villages are further apart which means that you want to be watching your fuel gauge and planning ahead where you want to get your groceries. Some towns you stay in won’t have a restaurant other than a fish and chip shop so make sure that you have an idea what you will be doing for breakfast and dinner each day. This leg was the first one that we used to stock up on groceries such as milk, cereal and bread. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

NC500 Part 1: Edinburgh to Inverness

Ok are you ready for some road trip fun? Im super excited to share with you the first leg of our NC500 trip where we drove from Edinburgh to Inverness. If you haven’t heard about the NC500, flip back to my last post where i’ve given you a helpful overview. Then buckle up and get ready for sheep, spectacular scenery, and the open, open road!



Leaving Edinburgh, we took the A9 towards Inverness. No, the shot above isn’t of that road, that road isn’t super interesting so we are going to fast forward there. We stopped along the way at a little town called Pitlochry, which is pretty as can be and has quite a few places that you can stop at for lunch.



Or perhaps a huge donut milkshake – i’m not judging

We also poked our heads into the numerous charity shops and scored a couple of paperbacks to read along the way. The countryside was green and beautiful, and we went through dark and deep forests – at time’s mildly concerned about Birnam Wood…


English students/teachers should be aware of the significance of that one for a certain King Macbeth. Luckily, these woods weren’t moving.

We followed the A9 pretty much all the way to Inverness and our accommodation. We stayed in an airbnb here and were so sad that it was for only one night! Let me know if you want a recommendation though, it was an incredible old house with a very friendly host.


When we neared Inverness, the road opened and the landscape grew more wild and rugged and… inhabited by majestic sheep.

Inverness itself is a big town with lots to do both there and in the immediate surroundings. As I said, we were only staying overnight so, as the daylight hours were ridiculously long (sunset around 9.30 anyone?), we decided to take a drive to Loch Ness. Only roughly an hour away, the road is narrow but beautiful, particularly in the golden and sunset hours. There seemed to be only one road in to Fort Augustus from our side of the loch so we weren’t too worried about getting lost – although we did somehow manage to return on a different road to the one we came in on. As long as you follow the road signs to Inverness or Fort Augustus, you should be fine.


Loch Ness is beautiful and peaceful at dusk. The tour buses have gone and it seems as though it’s just you and Nessie – wherever she may be. The water is dark, almost black, and very still, save for the light ruffling of breezes. We stretched our legs by walking a little way around the shore of the loch and tried to do a bit of monster spotting, before stopping for dinner.



Maybe I saw something… maybe I didn’t…

There are only a few options for dinner, so don’t expect oodles of choice. If you have special dietary requirements, you should probably bring your own food. After dinner the sun was really starting to set so we walked up the series of locks that control the flow of water down into the big loch. Confusing I know, but it will make sense when you see it.


Or just look at the pretty sunset

The drive back was a little nerve wracking as it was dark and of course there are no street lights out on the back roads. There are also a number of stretches that are single lane roads, but you will see the headlights of any oncoming traffic long before you need to pull into a passing place. The drive back to Inverness was where we saw some of the most stunning sunsets across smaller lochs. It really gave us a taste for what the rest of Scotland would be like and we were very excited for the next leg of our journey. So are you planning on doing the NC500? Or just reminiscing? If you’re planning, let me know if there are any other details I can help you with by leaving a comment below!


Here’s one last sunset shot to see you out.

And a little taste of what’s to come: NC500 Leg 2 was the day we drank fancy whisky, ate dirty sandwiches, and got more of an adventure than we bargained for…