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!
The 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.
This 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.
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