Days 10 & 11: THE LAST WORD

Leaving The Old School House was quite emotional for me, the tantra feeling created by Cathy and Alan was very calming and I felt at peace. We had a lovely vegetarian breakfast, with berries, mint and tiny wild alpine strawberries from the garden, freshly squeezed orange juice and cooked eggs etc, Andy was so pleased not to have been offered or seen any haggis or black pudding! Cathy is a yoga teacher and is offering a relaxing yoga retreat to Sri Lanka followed by an invigorating visit to India this winter, Andy was reading all about it and seemed to be very interested, but I can’t see him doing the downward dog and he doesn’t like curry so I won’t sign him up just yet!

As Andy says nothing much happened on the journey down from Scotland to England, the weather was overcast so we had the roof up especially as there was a lot of motorway and that is quite a battering. We grabbed some lunch from a Waitrose at a service station which we ate en route. The weather had improved by the time we arrived in the Lakes and the boat trip was relaxing, it was delightful watching the little girls squeal and laugh when they got sprayed by the water.

The farm lady’s style of b&b hosting was completely opposite to the previous night, we were given a booking in slot between 3 & 5pm (so we did that before our sightseeing) and instead of the normal breakfast slot of, for example, 7:30 to 9:30 or 8 to 10, we were told, “breakfast is between 8:15 & 9:00” but as we are all good little sheep we duly arrived during that time, us first of course! And, I am in great admiration for our host as she single handedly, efficiently, calmly, with a smile and nothing too much trouble cooked and served tea/coffee, toast and variations of cooked breakfasts for 12 people within the 45 minutes and was out taking her horse to the field opposite at 9! How did she do it?..

Now, don’t be fooled by Andy’s ‘it was an uneventful journey’ home comment, it was a NIGHTMARE! The start was lovely, beautiful lush mountains, green woods with the sun shining through the trees, a warming sun, pretty villages…then, THE MOTORWAY dun dun derrrrrr….M6 (especially around Manchester) horrendous, speeding along in a nose to tail 3 lane solid train, with lorry wheels within inches of my unprotected face, arm, self, the sun blaring and burning down, the heat noise and dirt from the traffic, terrifying. It was a little less scary when we put the roof up for a while but next time I will be flying to Inverness and meeting Andy there! M6 Toll (Midland Expressway, whatever!) fab-u-lous! The final few miles as with any arrival home after a long journey and/or break away is agonising, you just want to get home, be in your house with your own things so the unscheduled stop at the CooP was irritating and when the single small cloud in the sky decided to spew out great blobs of freezing cold rain on me I nearly combusted like Rumplestiltskin! Of course by the time Andy came out of the shop the blazing sun had dried up all the rain and he was flummoxed as to why I was sitting in the car with the roof up and windows closed. Anyway after waiting at the temporary traffic lights (now a permanent feature on the roads within a five mile radius of our house this year) just outside the village for two tracks of the CD (not embarrassing in the slightest, I pulled my skirt over my head to hide) we were serenaded by the bagpipes as we turned into the drive! Bustaaar, looking very tired and a stone lighter was very pleased to see us and jumped into the drivers seat as if to say, you are not going anywhere!

And finally (although I doubt that, I’m sure I shall think of a few more things over the next few days that I need to tell you) Andy did all the driving apart from approx 50 miles on the way up. I was in charge of seeing and sleeping, clearly I had some catching up to do. Cows in Scotland are called and spelt Coos and house is hoose, until you see it you can’t believe it. Also for those ex-smokers amongst us, Scotland is keeping the tradition alive!! It’s very strange walking the streets and smelling smoke in the air. Andy will be trawling through the 8 hours of Go-Pro footage and putting together a short video soon, so keep registered for notifications.

Off to sleep in my own bed now and cook my own breakfast whenever I want it tomorrow!

Ok, so it can’t be that difficult it’s an automatic!
How much washing???

Day Eleven: Bassenthwaite to Home!

WE MADE IT! After 11 days 7 hours 38 minutes and having driven 1,802 miles and sailed a further 71 miles, making 1,873 miles in total, we are safely back home.

It was an uneventful journey. We sauntered through Ambleside and Windermere admiring the scenery, finally encountering the processional driving I was expecting in Scotland, before picking up the motorway just outside Kendal, from there a straight blast to get home early afternoon.

The weather was, as forecast, hot and sunny so we had the roof down for most of the journey. However, parked in Honeybourne we encountered a short, sharp shower! All that way and we get wet just a couple of miles from home (well, I didn’t get wet, I was in the Co-Op buying some provisions. Angela was in the car so had to get the roof up quickly!)

Does the NC500 live up to the hype of being one of the greatest driving routes in the world, our “Route 500”? Compared to our experiences of driving through Europe I would say so. While it doesn’t have the ‘majesty’ of the snow-covered alps, the scenery is spectacular, especially along the coast, and, as a driver, some of the roads are simply driving heaven! I don’t know if we were lucky but I was very surprised at the overall lack of traffic so we could drive at our own pace, fast or slow. Will we return? You bet! Only this time we’ll go the other way round (and look out for those ‘short’ walks!).

Home Sweet Home!
We will return ….

Day Ten: Ballater to Bassenthwaite

A very short post today as there’s not much to say. Today we started the journey home from Scotland but, unlike the journey north when we did it in one long day, we decided to stop in The Lake District and travel over two days.

We found our B&B near Bassenthwaite, a working sheep farm with a B&B business supplementing the income (outside lambing season when they close to visitors), before heading to Keswick and a boat ride around Derwenwater. We sat in the bow seating area so, although the weather was dry, the wind ensured we still got wet from the spray! It was a slightly strange sensation as, unlike when on our own boat, it didn’t taste salty!

Tomorrow we head for home and the hot and sunny weather we’ve so far been able to avoid!

Jolly sailors
Hair looks lovely …
Lots of hills!
A few hundred horsepower in the foreground, one in the background!

Day Nine: Dingwall to Ballanter

After a very comfortable night in our castle, we woke to warm, dry but very windy weather. Stepping out onto the balcony nearly saw us being blown off like kites (well, maybe not quite so dramatic but you get the idea!). Suitably refreshed we made our way to a local RSPB Red Kite centre.

The blurb said it was at the end of a ‘short gravel road’. Of course, by now we should be wary about anything described as ‘short’, but in this case not only wasn’t it short but it wasn’t really gravelled, more like ‘deep ruts, overgrown and with large potholes’, not ideal for a low-slung sports car! So we crawled along, manoeuvring to find the least rutted/potholed bit of road (we still grounded a couple of times, ouch!) to find the visitor centre deserted! No people. No kites. Yes, the opening time was 10:00am, it clearly said so on the door, and it was now 10:15am, but then I guess this is Scotland where timekeeping is a flexible concept! So we crawled our way even slower back down the so-called short gravel road, and thankfully returned to paved roads to continue south.

We crossed the Kessock Bridge to re-enter Inverness, and so completed our circumnavigation of the NC500! I didn’t bother to record exactly how many miles we did cover between start and finish as we went off route a number of times, but it’s safe to say we covered more than 500 miles.

Our journey continued towards Balmoral and our overnight stop in Ballater in the Cairngorms National Park, so we’re back in The Highlands and driving on some of the best roads so far, especially the A939 on the ‘Highland Tourist Route’. I cannot believe how little traffic there has been on our journey, and here again the roads were almost traffic free! Great fun, although at one point Angela was telling me to “watch the road and stop looking at the scenery”!

Did I mention the weather? Sunny and warm, in fact a little too warm … 26°C! Come on, this is Scotland, I thought we’d left all the hot weather down south!

Balmoral Castle was quite busy as you can imagine. Lots of foreign tourists with Americans probably outnumbering everyone else by at least 2:1; they do love the British Royal Family. The castle itself was quite spectacular though I was a little disappointed we didn’t see more than the Ballroom inside, but then it is a private residence after all! The grounds were very impressive, especially so as they are preparing everything for the imminent arrival of Her Majesty and family; all the plants are selected to be at their best in August. The free audio guide handset allowed you to pick what you wanted to hear about the history, the castle, gardens, estate, people and more – very interesting and informative. Angela and I went ‘off-piste’ to find the water garden behind the garden cottage. Not much to look at but a bit humbling to think we were walking the same paths trod by generations of Royals.

We arrived at our B&B for the night, The Old Schoolhouse in Balleter, to be greeted by very welcoming hosts Alan and Cathy. As it turned out we were the only guests booked in for the night so not only did we have our own room (large and comfortable as it was) but also the lovely lounge area with huge sofas and a pew-like seat that must have been from the original school days!

It was another tiring day, and another long walk, but it was worth it!

Did I mention the weather? HOT!

Total distance travelled today was 97 miles.

Did I mention the weather …. !!

THE LAST WORD: it definitely was strange having a sunny day! I wore a dress and no coat needed in the car, YAY! Bit jealous of the heatwave in England but as everyone will be moaning that it’s too hot and putting the despicable air con on I am glad to have the peace and relative warmth here.

I don’t think that I really have much to add to Andy’s resumé, I was not humbled (they are just human beings like us but with more money and an exciting life/past) but I was jealous of their lovely holiday home, seen at its best in the sun. The Estate staff are the Queens personal staff who also work the tourist jobs in the season, so the shuttle could have been driven by her Footman and the amazing girl who worked 2 tills at once to get the [small] queue in the cafe cleared could be her Lady in Waiting! But they were all incredibly polite, welcoming and helpful.

Andy has a new nickname today, Pingu. Because he ‘pings’ so much, not necessarily all the time (although some working days is seems like it) but when he receives a message e.g. a blog comment from our most prolific follower GAL (you know who you are!) he pings on 2 phones, the iPad and his watch simultaneously, he is like a human wind chime!

Anyway, have to rush, lots still to do..

Who do I think I am The Queen? – rhetorical question no need to reply!
Pingu at his happiest playing on a device!
River Dee outside Balmoral
The Castle – can you spot Angela?

Views of the gardens
The stone in the grass marks the entrance to the original castle
The lounge at the B&B – massive sofas!
We’re surrounded by hills!

Days 7 & 8: THE LAST WORD

So Andy is getting up really early and posting the blog while I’m asleep and as soon as I’m awake we’re off on another adventure so I am a bit behind..

Day 7, still on Orkney (getting claustrophobic, this island is too small, need to be back on the mainland)…today we are Timeteam..Andy aka Tony Robinson took us to see some stones in the ground and some bigger stones above ground. You have to admire the archaeologists patience cleaning away at rocks with tiny trowels and toothbrushes, I was getting stressed just watching them! The big stone circle is a community meeting place, i.e. a village hall (there are places in England still using theirs!). No highland cattle, lots of black cows of which I ate some (cooked in restaurants by professional chefs not by hacking a bit off one on the roadside!) very tasty and extremely tender. Coat off and on, not much sun but nicely warm. Ferry, just a ferry, whining French children sitting behind us, ugh!

Day 8, JO’G, rain/drizzle/overcast. End of a cliff, birds, wild flowers (tiny tiny wild orchids, amazing) more ruined buildings, rocks, sea, castles. What is wrong with Andy? Why doesn’t he want to climb on every rock we see? He got out of scrabbling down to the tiny beach at Castle Sinclair by saying he would get a better pic of me from where he was, I am soooo sea-gullible! And why doesn’t he want to read all the blurb and look at every tiny detail in the historic Castle? I had to demand he came back to be informed of the installation of bathrooms – Andy: it’s a bedroom, it’s a room, there are the beds, done, next. Angela: love the wallpaper, why only 2 beds as it’s a night nursery and there are 10 children, the bathroom was created by closing off the spiral staircase in the corner and commissioning round baths to fit, the pictures in this room were painted by…Andy? Andy…ANDY! come back here and listen to me telling you about the bath. Ok, let’s walk round the gardens now…Andy? Andy…ANDY!

Tip on packing your sandwich bag poncho, make sure it is completely dry first, today I looked like a giant jellyfish and smelled like an old walking boot…Andy? Oh there you are, I didn’t know you could run!

Tony Robinson, more like Mick Aston!
Cliff with nesting birds inc Puffins
Tiny tiny orchids, the whole purple bit is one inch big!
Cathedral window
Time has run out?

I hate tourist season, just lying here smiling all day!

Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb!
Shower award doesn’t go to the Castle! Maybe the plumber was a midget?

Day Eight: John O’ Groats to Dingwall

Our original planned route, with the excursion to Orkney, meant we would not have quite completed the full NC500 route, missing the short section between Dunnet and Gill’s Bay. However, Angela fixed that by leaving a precious souvenir (a tartan hair slide!) at the Dunnet Bay B&B so we returned to collect it, ensuring we covered the missing miles. In fact, for good measure, we did them twice, once in each direction, so now we can claim to have already started our next NC500 tour in the anti clockwise direction!

Before that, our first stop was Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point of the British Isles mainland. There was supposedly a ‘short walk’ to the cliffs and nesting bird colonies, but we’ve become somewhat suspicious of anything promoted as a ‘short walk’ so decided to give it a miss.

After completing the mission to retrieve the valued souvenir we resumed our journey south. Our next stop was Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, a ruin comprising the 15th-century Castle Girnigoe and the early 17th-century Castle Sinclair. Two for the price of one! Perched on the edge of the cliff this was quite a spectacular location although it was a serious ruin so you really had to use your imagination. And it gave Angela another excuse to go clambering over rocks, but as she found … they were quite slippy!

We followed this with a visit to Dunrobin Castle. Although the origins of a building on this site can be traced back to the Middle Ages, most of the present 189 rooms and gardens were added between 1835 and 1850 so this one was in a good state of repair. Did I say 189 rooms? It felt like we traipsed through ALL of them! Up and down stairs, through here, back through there, stand and admire the paintings, the furniture, the little trinkets in display cabinets … by the time we’d finished touring the house I couldn’t face doing the gardens as well, so we admired them from the terrace. It was well worth the effort because there was a lot to see, with information boards and guides explaining things along the way. It’s more Angela’s sort of thing though so I’ll let her tell you all about the interesting details.

This part of the drive south was mainly on the A9 which, unlike the A-roads in The Highlands, was wide, smooth and fast, so lacking any real interest for driving apart from a couple of sections up and down hills. The scenery wasn’t anything to write home about either. Add to this the forecast weather front had arrived, so it rained most of the day, meaning driving today was more for purpose than pleasure.

We made a short detour through Dornoch, likened to a Cotswold village with its sandstone buildings, before heading to our hotel for the evening in Dingwall. Completing our day of castles we were actually staying in one! Originally dating back to the mid-12th century, Tulloch Castle Hotel is believed to be home to many ghosts (two nuns buried alive under the floor, for example), but the most frequently spotted is the Green Lady, a young girl who walked in on her father and his mistress, and was so shocked that she fled and fell down the stairs, breaking her neck. Fortunately Room 8 is where she likes to linger, we’re in Room 12!

And what a room … OK, it’s on the third floor so there were yet more stairs (no lifts included in the renovations and modernisations!) but we have a Four-Poster bed and a balcony with a view! The hotel is also a bit of a rabbit warren, we got lost going to dinner, I had to ask the bar staff for directions to the restaurant!

Total distance covered today was 145 miles (all on land!).

Duncansby Head
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
Guess who!
Just before she slipped and nearly fell in!
Dunrobin Castle
The Library – one of the MANY rooms!
The garden – a step too far!
A remarkable family likeness! William, 17th Earl of Sutherland, and family
Tulloch Castle Hotel (our room is top floor second window from the right)
Our room ….
…. with a view!

Day Seven: Kirkwall to John O’ Groats

The weather gods smiled on us yet again with another dry and sunny day. What do they say, the sun always shines on the righteous?!

A few miles out of Kirkwall we clicked over 1,000 miles on the odometer, in the words of the song “… I would drive one thousand miles, and I would drive one thousand more …” or something like that! I doubt it will take us another 1,000 miles to get home but we’ll see.

We retraced our steps from yesterday, criss-crossing the island (well, it’s not that big), first to see the Ness of Brodgar and the Ring of Brodgar.

The Ness of Brodgar is an archaeological site which, as luck would have it, was holding an open day so there was lots to see. We sponsored a couple of squares of the dig where the original Neolithic building had been covered by an Iron Age dwelling so the prospect of a find was quite high. We’ll get an email telling us what’s been found, but alas no share of any valuable items!

The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic stone circle, think Stonehenge but on a much smaller scale! No-one knows the true purpose of the stone circle but it is presumed to be for gatherings and formal celebrations.

We then followed the coast to Scapa Flow. Here the German fleet was scuttled after the First World War. When I was diving this was always the ‘mecca’ of dive sites but I never managed to do it; now I’m here there’s nothing to see! There is an official visitor centre but it’s on the island of Hoy so we made do with driving down a no through road.

Incidentally, I did find a couple of interesting roads to drive on the island, so clearly the planners didn’t have it their own way all the time!

We returned to Kirkwall to visit St Magnus Cathedral, a very impressive building and a “fine example of Romanesque architecture” according to the tour info. It’s also the most northerly cathedral in the United Kingdom. Their WiFi tour videos were excellent, watched using your smartphone, and really bought the experience to life. We even found the resting place of St Magnus himself, hidden halfway up a pillar so his remains were not disposed of during religious reformations, and rediscovered during renovation work in 1919!

After lunch we headed for the ferry back to the mainland, crossing the islands of Lamb Holm, Glims Holm and Burray before reaching the ferry terminal at St Mary’s Hope on South Ronaldsay. The causeways between the islands are know as the ‘Churchill Barriers’ as they were constructed at the direction of Churchill by Italian POWs during the Second World War to protect the British Fleet at anchor in Scapa Flow. I’m sure it is no reflection of Italian workmanship that all the causeways carry the warning ‘Drivers Cross at Own Risk’!

The POW camp was on the uninhabited island of Lamb Holm and they were permitted to construct a small chapel for worship. It comprised Two Nissen huts joined end-to-end, the corrugated interior covered with plasterboard and ornately decorated to look like carved brickwork, very effective! A facade was built at the entrance using concrete from the barriers. It wasn’t finished before the war ended but one of the prisoners stayed on to finish the work.

We boarded our ferry for a short trip back to the mainland and on to the Seaview Hotel in John O’ Groats which lived up to its name; we had (distant) sea views from two windows this time!

Distance travelled today, 46 miles by road, 17 miles (15 nautical) by sea, 63 miles total.

It would be much quicker with a JCB!

Trench ‘T’ – our sponsored squares are in the top right of this picture

Ring of Brodgar

Selfie and stones!

Scapa Flow – so exciting I couldn’t even be bothered to get out of the car to take the photo!

St Magnus Cathedral
Clearly we weren’t the only ones disappointed not to find Twatt!

Italian Chapel
Your supposed to smile for the camera!

Day Six: Dunnet to Kirkwall; THE LAST WORD

What a day! I must have had a good nights sleep because I didn’t wake up in a bad mood!

The breakfast table was an enormous french polished table set with lace doileys, the best cutlery, Denby tableware, a vase of lilies and, obviously, table mats and coasters, the sort of setting you expect at your posh Auntys that terrifies you upon sight. Breakfast was delicious, I had croissant filled with the best scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, and then spilled an entire mug of coffee everywhere! Arrrrrrrggggghhhh! Not like me at all, how embarrassing, The Queen doesn’t do this! However, within seconds one of the other guests spilled a glass of orange juice and at the end of the meal another guest spilled a jug of milk (how nice of them to do this to make me feel better about it!) the immaculate host (how can she cook breakfast for 7 people in a fancy white top, no apron, and still look perfect?) just laughed it off as the most messy breakfast she has ever served!

The rest of the day was like an episode of Challenge Anika “come on Andy keep up” my wobbly bottom and blond hair running off to the next site seeing spot…Gin Shop: gin bought, stop the clock!…Dunnet point: photo on the edge of the world, stop the clock!…catch the ferry, stop the clock!…tour of watermill: bought the flour, recipe book and biscuits, stop the clock!…Earls Palace: climb the walls, point out architectural features to Andy, stop the clock!…Neolithic Village: run round the site whilst being chased by the custodian, stop the clock!…Stand on the edge of some fragile looking cliffs and take selfies, stop the clock! (Give me the car key because if you fall off and get a helicopter ride to hospital I need to get home! Always thinking of others!)…

The ferry journey was nice, probably because I was drinking Prosecco! Andy did say “go to sleep, you are much quieter then” cheeky! I didn’t so he did but I carried on talking regardless, he never listens anyway and I can repeat it all in an hour when I have forgotten I’ve already told him!

Is that Finland over there?
Queue for the ferry, hello, can I have one of those biscuits please? So cute!
Sea GPS tracking thingy on Ferry, “I’ve driven the Isle of Wight Ferry you know so I am qualified”
Bored now!

Day Six: Dunnet to Kirkwall

The rain had returned overnight but by the time we’d finished breakfast it had stopped although remained overcast. Our first stop was the Rock Rose Gin company just a few yards from the hotel. Although we weren’t able to tour the distillery (too early) the shop was open so Angela treated herself to some ‘ Navy Strength’ gin (57% as opposed to the usual 41.5% ABV) on the basis it will last longer – yeah, right!

From here we headed to Dunnet Point, the northernmost point of the UK mainland. I was disappointed we couldn’t get right to the very tip, the lighthouse was private property, but we got quite close which I recorded as 58° 40.271’N. This area is also an RSPB reserve with birds nesting on the cliffs. We saw many types flying around but were particularly amused by the Puffins!

We continued our journey north heading to Scrabster for the ferry to Orkney to spend the night on the largest island ‘Mainland’.

The ferry crossing, which took about 90 minutes, was smooth and comfortable; I’d booked us into the lounge so we had complimentary drinks and snacks, a comfy sofa and no screaming kids!

After disembarking in Stromness we made straight to the north end of the island to Birsay where we toured a working watermill. Sue, our not-very-Scottish guide, gave a wonderful insight into the history and workings of the mill, she even tolerated my technical questions! I also got to play, turning on the water to start the wheel (a large wooden lever, not a big tap!) and get everything moving, and then using the bag lifter to bring the flour bag from the lower floors to the top through the trapdoors. Definitely big kid time!

The roads on Orkney are amazing! Pretty much dead straight from point to point, two carriageway so even the tractors weren’t a problem, and well maintained. Better than the mainland roads! However we were disappointed to find no place signs for the settlement of ‘Twatt’, Angela was looking forward to taking a picture of me there (can’t think why?). Although clearly marked on the map, and even signposted from Stromness, when you get there …. no Twatt!

While in Birsay we popped into Earl’s Palace, built in 1574 by the then Earl of Orkney, Robert Stewart. These days it’s not looking its best, it needs a lick of paint (!), but it was interesting to see where the various rooms would have been, each marked by plaques and illustrated with drawings.

Driving back along the south coast of Mainland we made an impromptu stop at Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement, reputed to be one of the best preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Western Europe, which was uncovered by a storm in 1850. We arrived to be told the site closes in five minutes, so we made a hasty tour of the site photographing all the plaques to read later!

We continued along the coast to Yesnaby Cliffs, a stunning view of …. you guessed it, cliffs! They were pretty spectacular, and with no fences you could get right to the edge! Angela was a bit nervous when I was taking photos (“give me the car key”!) but I survived.

Having packed a lot into the day, thankfully with very little walking, we headed to Kirkwall and our room for the night at the aptly named Kirkwall Hotel, a typical British seaside hotel that has probably seen better days, but with a good view of the harbour so we’re happy!

Today we travelled 69 miles by land and 24 nautical miles (28 miles) by sea, so 97 miles in total.

We have now reached the northernmost point of our driving tour, just four miles shy of 1,000 miles in the car since we left home. Tomorrow we start our journey south.

The edge of the world! Well, nearly …
Nice cliffs
In the lounge aboard ship “Get out of the way, you’re spoiling the view”!
The main workings of the mill – the three milling stones

Earl’s Palace – with a lick of paint it’ll look OK!

Neolithic living in style

As long as she had the car key I could get as close to the edge as I liked!

All smiles that I got back safely … with the car key!

Another room with a view!

Day Five: Lochinver to Dunnet

We woke to blue skies and bright sunshine …. no really, this time we did! It has been a lovely sunny day today so it’s been roof down motoring all the way. We only got a little bit wet as we approached our destination but otherwise sun cream was the order of the day!

We had a relaxed start this morning, the B&B had ten guests but only eight seats at the breakfast table so we let everyone else get done and out of the way so we had the place to ourselves.

First stop on our tour today was just a couple of miles up the road. Achmelvich Beach is supposed to be one of the best beaches in Scotland, and it lived up to its reputation. Golden sands and turquoise sea, we could have been in the Caribbean, if only it was about twenty degrees warmer!

From there we followed the coast road, a minor ‘B’ road, which was tight and twisty and quite nerve-racking at times with blind brows and bends, but some spectacular scenery. The coastal views were stunning.

Our next stop was to see the Smoo Cave. Located on the north coast this spectacular cave meant another hike down a load of steps, then of course back up again! Ninety-something steps according to a breathless Angela (I’m sure she’ll tell you more about it!). We stayed for a picnic lunch while we recovered!

We’re now heading east along the north coast along some fast and flowing roads; big smiles from the driver (sorry to keep going on about it but it is a driving holiday!). Fast AND smooth, Angela fell asleep again for a good part of it.

After a couple more stops at lookout points to admire the scenery we approached Reay and the Dounreay nuclear plant, in the process of being demolished. From there it was only a short (and wet) run to our digs for the night, a huge, lovely furnished room in a big house overlooking Dunnet Bay!

Total distance covered today was 123 miles, all on land!

THE LAST WORD: sunny and warm, I even took my newly acquired Scottish woollen blanket, scarf and coat off! However, there was no actual sun creaming going on so tonight we look like two barbecued beetroots! We have been getting strange looks from the locals this evening not because of the colour but because it has pssssed down with rain here all day, maybe they think we’ve been in the tanning shop, doubt if there is one here though.

First twisty road, bleugh! It wasn’t the twists and turns that made me feel sick it was the constant stop start and reversing every 10 yards to let someone pass. We stopped for 10 mins in a lovely charity tea room with fantastic view over a sea water Loch, Andy had tea and scone, I breathed and sat still.

There were lots of lovely white sandy beaches with turquoise and deep blue seas, mostly without anyone on them, but we didn’t have time to stop and make sandcastles. Andy didn’t see them because he was concentrating on not driving down the verges and breaking the car.

The cave was amazing, like a big natural bus stop. I didn’t count the steps on the way down but we went the short route, we came the long way back up, 70 steps up, 39 down and some slopes both up and down.

We stopped to look at a lighthouse but as we couldn’t drive right up to it and had to walk the last 500 yards Andy said “no way” so we drove on.

Best sight of the day a self service laundry machine on a garage forecourt WTF?!

Cave-Man or Man-Cave?
Who even thought of putting washing machines in garage forecourts?
Blue skies and bright sunshine … for real!
Achmelvich Beach
Climbing on the rocks!
Coastal scenery … and a car!
Smoo Cave … outside …
… and inside
Another room with a view!