NC500 Part 4 Continued: Afternoon Tea in Drumbeg

So, technically, this is still the fourth leg of our NC500 trip, but it was quite a long drive so there was a lot to do. In this post you will see the things that we did in the afternoon on our way down to Polbain. Be prepared for some more beautiful beaches and unexpected stop offs as we veered a little bit off the beaten track to the village of Drumbeg.


After fortifying ourselves with a hot chocolate from Cocoa Mountain, we hopped back in the car for some more exploring along the road to Polbain where we would be stopping for the night. We had (all too soon) reached the west coast and started our descent back south. How lucky we were then to have some more spectacular views, blue skies and generally clement weather to comfort us! Again, I am not quite sure which beach this is that we stopped by, but as you can see, there was clear water and white sand. It was a little nippier than it looks in the picture but we had a lovely time stretching our legs with a short walk along the beach.


We noticed that, on the West coast, there were a lot more people selling home made food from their houses. This was the first sign we saw for fresh, home style seafood and I couldn’t resist the siren call of oak smoked salmon. Especially as it was four pounds, which is a pretty good deal in anyone’s book. We found the house in question and – I kid you not – a little old lady answered the door, super puzzled until we explained that we wanted to buy some salmon.


Forgive the weird angle, I took the picture while I was sitting in the car! Look how fresh that salmon is! We also bought a little cup of hot smoked salmon pate which we ate with some crackers that we had been carting around in the car. It was nice to have a little car picnic (it was a bit windy to sit outside) and eat something that was fresh and local. Although, having said that, the majority of the food that we had eaten so far was fresh and local! Expect to see a lot more seafood as we travel down the West coast.


Even though we had quite a long way to drive that day, we decided to veer a little off course after our seafood stop and took a detour to the village of Drumbeg. Drumbeg is only a tiny tiny little town but it has a magnificent view out to sea. There were plenty of sheep munching on the grass and again, it was quite idyllic. This is probably the time to mention that these photos are all unedited and I haven’t amped up the colour saturation – this really is how it looked. If you haven’t booked your ticket to Scotland yet, i’m not quite sure what you’re thinking.


Drumbeg has a general store and a beautiful little shop called Assynt Aromas that sold home made soaps and did cream teas in their garden. We were super lucky because 1. It was a sunny day and 2. we had the entire garden to ourselves.


We had a delicious cream tea with a huge scone and a dollop of that fabulous clotted cream that only seems to happen properly in the UK. We were also visited by a giant bumblebee that are native to the area. Unfortunately he moved too quickly for me to photograph, so you will just have to imagine an enormous bee, buzzing from flower to flower and generally bumping into things. Although, if you have a phobia of bees, maybe don’t imagine that…


Instead, you can think about this little guy that I met in a field opposite the Drumbeg general store. He has a little bit shy at first, but then he seemed to enjoy having his nose patted.

IMG_8218We made one more unplanned stop on the way to Polbain, and really, can you blame us?

We saw this ruined castle from the road and decided to take a short walk across to it. Again, we were the only people around and the sun was shining and really, why not?

IMG_8221You can just make out my husband in the mid ground here, most likely taking a better photo than I did!

This leg was really filled with unexpected adventures and the kind of spontaneous stumbling upon beauty and history that came to characterise our whole trip. I’m sorry that I haven’t got exact names and addresses for many of the locations that i’m sharing but, in a way, I don’t think you would want to do exactly what we did. Not because it was sub par in any way, but because I think that a road trip like the NC500 is a really personal one. You don’t feel like you’re one of a million people like you do in tourist locations like the Lakes District in England or on the way to Stone Henge. Instead, this road trip is about personal discoveries, it’s intimate, it’s special. Maybe i’m just a huge sap, but I really felt like we were the only two people on earth for most of this trip.

So, we ended up in Polbain for the night, which was probably our most spartan stop over so it doesn’t rate a huge mention and didn’t really take any photos of that one! Don’t worry, i’ve made up for it on the next leg, travelling to the beauty that is Sheildaig via Ullapool where I had some of the most delicious food i’ve ever had from a food truck. As always, if you have any questions or want to share some of your memories or tips, leave me a comment in the section below!

NC500 Part 4: Misty beaches and Smoo Cave (or) Talmine to Polbain

No, this isn’t a still from a post-apocalyptic dystopian film, this is a little taste of the magic that followed us from Talmine to our next stop in Polbain for the fourth leg of our NC500 trip. Read on for the kind of whimsy you can only find in the far north of the Scottish Highlands with misty beaches and Smoo Cave, where vikings used to fix their ships. Also, please excuse my low resolution iphone photos. I’m sure you can take better ones. If you go… 


After spending a ridiculously restful night in our Airbnb in Talmine, we hit the road again to explore more of the far north coast. This leg involved a lot of spontaneous getting out of the car and wandering through spectacular and unexpected places. Because of this (and my natural reticence with organising or recording anything at all) I don’t have specific directions or locations for some of these stops, but I hope that they will inspire you to take your own journey and find something that nobody else will. The photo above was taken on a beach somewhere to the West of Talmine, but before you hit Smoo Cave (i’ll tell you a bit more about that soon!). We rounded a bend and the coast opened up to us revealing a sandy beach awash with fog. Firstly, I couldn’t believe that I was seeing golden sand similar to beaches back home, and secondly, I couldn’t believe the thickness of the fog. I took this photo of my husband who was walking no more than fifty metres behind me and soon after taking it, the mist swallowed him up completely.

When I was walking from the hills down to the beach, the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see the water. When I reached the water and looked behind me, the fog was so thick that I could no longer see the hills. It was curious and surreal and I felt as thought I had wandered through a diaphanous curtain and into another world. We must have spent an hour exploring this dream beach before reality nudged us and we had to return to the car. If you come from a country that is land locked, expect to be constantly getting out of your car to explore the varied and beautiful beaches in Scotland. If you come form a country like Australia, where beautiful beaches are the norm, you should still expect to be constantly getting our of your car to appreciate these empty and pristine stretches. Looking back at the map, this one may have been the beach at Rispond, but is also may not have been. It’s all part of the adventure, right?


After driving around Loch Eriboll, we made it to the next “ooooooh aaaaaah” destination – Smoo Cave. Briefly, Smoo Cave (near Durness) is a huge series of caves that open onto a rocky inlet. It is special for three reasons:

1. Smoo Cave is undeniably amazing to look at and explore
2. Smoo Cave has geological significance
3. Smoo Cave has historical significance

After parking in the carpark at the top of the cliff, you will need to walk down a hundred or so shallow stairs to reach the water level entrance to Smoo Cave. I didn’t find these steps onerous at all but I am relatively fit and if you have issues with your knees or with mobility in general, it might be difficult for you (particularly the steps back up). But, all that aside, can we agree with point number 1 – that this is a pretty beautiful and unusual looking place? When we arrived in Spring, it was relatively quiet and we only saw a smattering of other tourists there. As you walk into the first cave, you are struck by the coolness and the darkness. For a cave with a relatively large mouth, it sucks light like a black hole. It’s geological significance comes from the fact that the first chamber was hollowed out by the hungry sea, whereas the second chamber, accessible by the footbridge in the picture above, was formed by freshwater and rainwater passages. It’s a double cave!

IMG_8183This is a view of the inner cave that is lined by a glassy lake.

If you want to fully explore the inner cave, there are official guides available that will take you on a tour of Smoo Cave. You will have to climb down into an inflatable boat but these guys looked like they knew what they were doing. We would have gone on a tour except that we had a long way still to drive before our stop for the night. So we explored for a little while, and imagined ourselves face to face with the vikings who used to hide out here while they fixed their ships. That’s the historical part I was talking about earlier! Can you imagine Ragnar and Floki discussing ship designs in this rugged place? I can! Still, the magic had to end as again, reality nudged us back to the car.

We were a little bit peckish after our cave exploring so stopped a little further on at Balnakeil Craft village. The village looks a little bit strange because it’s not quite a village in the traditional sense. It’s a collection of flat, concrete buildings that were built in the 1950s as as part of an early warning system in case of a nuclear attack. However, it was never commissioned and was abandoned soon after. It was later adopted by a collection of artists and crafters and became what it is today.


The siren call came from Cocoa Mountain Cafe and Chocolaterie which was really the last kind of shop I expected to find here. While the weather was still chilly, we ate outside, warmed by the delicious and decadent hot chocolate adorned by generous drizzles of melted milk and white chocolate.


You can also choose fair trade tea or coffee if you’re some sort of mutant and chocolate doesn’t appeal to you  you would prefer. All the chocolates themselves are handmade and free of gluten and artificial flavouring. I can’t remember exactly what selection we made but I do remember that they were smooth, rich, and delicious! It was difficult not to buy one of everything and I had to settle for a resolution that we would come back another time to sample a few more.

So, even though this leg of the trip wasn’t quite finished at Balnakeil, I will finish this post here and continue the journey in the next one. When I do this again, I think I would try to stay overnight, or for a couple of nights, nearby. It was a truly lovely spot.

As always, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments below! I’ll leave you with one more photo of the walk down to that fabulous dream beach from the beginning of the post. Just because it’s my blog, and I can.


What Katie Did in Japan – Lolita Costume

WARNING! This post contains much more kawaii photos than these cute bunny shoes that I bought on Takeshita St in Harajuku before I went for my Lolita experience. If you can’t handle this, stop reading now.


The last time I went to Japan was way back in 2007 – not long after Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’ came out and Harajuku Girls became a HUGE thing. Did anyone else have one of the Harajuku Lovers perfumes? Go around singing “if I was a rich girl – na na na na na na na na na na na na na na naaaaa” (if you are in your late twenties/early thirties and didn’t just sing that in your head I know you’re lying). If you need a little refreshing of your memory, you can listen to the song again over here. The point is, the whole crazy costuming that was popular with young Japanese people had just broken onto the world stage in a huge way. I remember going to the bridge in front of the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku where they were all supposed to hang out for photos and being so disappointed that there were only a hand full of people there. Boo.

What Katie Did in Japan – Robot Restaurant

Think of the craziest show you’ve ever seen and then multiply it by a million. You will have something halfway close to the insanity that is the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo. Firstly, a disclaimer: this is not a show that draws on some ancient Japanese culture. It is purely for entertaining tourists. If you’re happy to join the ranks of Australian and American tourists who are out for a night of joyous calamity that embraces the quirky kawaii of comic book culture, this is the thing for you. If you want zen gardens and authentic ancient samurai swords, move along.


Robot Restaurant is situated in the heart of Kabukicho – a suburb of Shinjuku known for its bright lights, pachinko parlous and host/hostess bars. It is essentially a night life district but far safer and cleaner than Kings Cross or equivalent districts in other nations. It is easily accessible and only a short walk from Shinjuku station. You will need to pre-book your tickets online and collect them from the ticket counter opposite the restaurant around half an hour before the show begins. Don’t worry if you’re discombobulated by the bright lights and loud music, there are plenty of staff wandering the street, ready to point you in the right direction.


Once you have collected your ticket, you will proceed to the restaurant entrance, go down some stairs decorated in a style that seems like (trucker hat designer) threw up his most audacious designs and enter a waiting room decked out in a mix of porn star’s boudoir and Liberacci.


Here you can cash in your free drink ticket and relax in a luxuriously cushioned nautilus shell


and be serenaded by a pop singer and her band of musical robots. I’m not kidding.

Then comes the show itself. I can only really describe it as one of the most joyously neon lighted robotic nights of my life. The show is filled with crazily kawaii dressed dancers that twirl and flip and scream HAH! At what seem to be random intervals, then, when it couldn’t get any more random of crazy, the robots enter. The dances and robots seem to change from season to season but the theme and quality seems to remain the same.

There will be a sweet robot dancing number, a fight to the death involving pretty Japanese girls and robotic dinosaurs or similar giant creatures, and an upbeat dance and song number to round out the show. A short interval punctuates the brain overload and gives you a little bit of time to catch your breath (and purchase quite outrageously priced food/souvenirs) but really, the show is all colour, all loud, all of the time.


At the end, I had huge sequin envy, huge neon envy and seriously considered trying to learn to dance so that I could join the ranks cast members who seemed to be having the times of their lives. Have you been? Did you enjoy it? Could you understand what on earth was going on? Leave me a comment!