We were awake at 6:45, packed, had breakfast and got on our way to the airport at 9:00. We put fuel in – £43.95 for 36.96 litres and approximately 439 miles travelled. We dropped the car off at 10:08 and walked straight to the check in counter. We had to wait there until exactly 2 hours before our flight. Once we had dropped the luggage off we went into the business class lounge which was really amazing
We did not sample any of the whiskys available. Our flight started with a safety information briefing out together by Comic Relief which was very good. Ours was the last case off the plane! We were helped by a lovely young lady at Europcar. We chose a Fiat for this weekend. Our first stop was Millets Farm Store for mushrooms. We were at Anne by 5pm and had a lovely, late evening. I made mushroom pasta for dinner and it was so nice to cook again and have a home cooked meal. We drank lots and chatted about all sorts of things.
We were awake at 7:25 and on the road by 9:25. There was a stunning view of Loch Ness as we left. We took a short walk to Foyers Falls which are amazing.
We are on the other side of the Loch from when we went to Skye and we could see Urquhart Castle across the water. It was then back to Inverness and at the Longman Roundabout we headed for Nairn. The intention was to look up the records of the Sinclair’s that left Nairn for South Africa but the Census was done by street name and therefore not very helpful. We then entered Malt Whisky country and our first stop was at the historic distillery of Dallas Dhu which was closed for lunch.
We drove back into the Cairngorms National Park and had a picnic lunch just outside of Cromdale. Our first tasting was at Cragganmore, where we had the Distellery edition, only available from the distellery.
Our drive took us through the massive Glenlivet Estate, of which only a small part is the distellery. In Dufftown we went to Glenfiddich, a family run distellery which was founded in 1887. I’ve written a few interesting facts about the distellery and the whiskys on my blog. But what I didn’t know is that they own Balvenie. Dave and I started with espresso and whisky cake and then had a dram each. We shared The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 year old and a 1995 Malt Barn exclusive which was 60.8%.
After that we checked into our guest house and relaxed before heading back into town at The Stuart Arms.
We were awake before 7:00 and on the road by 9:20. The roads are narrow and windy for the most part but easy to navigate. Just after Shieldaig Loch we took the scenic coastal route to Applecross. We bought smoked salmon at the Applecross Smokehouse which we had for lunch.
The scenery is bleak and rugged with an amazing amount of water flowing down the mountains.
We had espresso at The Applecross Inn and then took a narrow and steep road which is not usable in winter to Kishorn. This was an amazing 11 mile journey.
At Lochcarron we stopped for a half pint of local ale. Dave had the Golden Cow and I chose Red Cow. This is a family run hotel. Our picnic lunch was at South Strome and shortly after that we turned onto the A87, the same road we took when we left Skye.
We’ve been able to see the Island most of the day. 38 minutes later we were back on a road not yet travelled. At Invermoriston we stopped at Glen Rowan Cafe for espresso and tiffin.
We stopped our driving for the day at Fort Augustus and checked into the Lovat Hotel. We took a walk along the Caledonian Canal before having drinks at The Lock Inn.
An Innis & Gunn for Dave and a Somersby Cider for me. We relaxed before having dinner at the Brasserie and had after dinner drinks in the lounge.
We were awake and up by 7:30 and went down for breakfast at 8:25. We finished packing and left at 9:20, continuing on the North and West Highlands Tourist Route. This is mostly a single track road! At Durness we walked down to Smoo Cave which has the most exquisite waterfall and has been in use since the Vikings lived here.
Our next stop was Cocoa Mountain in the Bakoniel Craft Village for hot chocolate.
Our drive took us over a modern bridge, Caolas Cumhahn crossing loch a Chaim Bhain. We detoured to Lochinver and put in fuel. £46.60 for 37.89L after travelling 411 miles. We stopped to look at the ruins of Calda House and Ardvreck Castle. It’s amazing to observe no toilets in either, 1700 years after the Romans had water borne sewerage.
Our picnic lunch was at Ardmair where we watched sheep dogs at work. It’s truly amazing to observe sheep being herded. Ullapool marks the start of the Wester Ross Coastal Trail. We found a house called Kyalami – they must be south Africans! We had a half pint each of the local ale, An Teallach at a cost of £4, the same as espresso.
There is a naval presence in Loch Ewe with two boats in the water. At Gairloch we decided to stop for the night and found suitable accommodation at The Old Inn. Dinner for us was at 16:45 so before that we took a walk to the harbour and onto The Estate of Gairloch. We went back to the room for coffee and to catch up on work before going to eat. It was another early night for us.
We had a late start to the morning and a wonderful breakfast before saying goodbye to the people we met. I’m hoping to keep in touch with one couple in particular. We were on the road by 10:30 and drove past some ramshackle buildings on the way into Tain. We crossed over the Durnoch Firth and have the bay of Sinclair on our right. It is clear that the buildings are designed for the dreary winter weather. We stopped in Helmsdale at the Emigrants Statue which was commissioned in 2004. It tells the story of how the tenants were moved off farms around 1813 which eventually resulted in 80% of the population leaving the region, many for overseas.
The Badbea historic clearance village in the region of Caithness was occupied from 1793 until 1903. Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster was an agricultural improver, moving his tenants off the land so he could farm sheep. One of the families moved was Marion Sinclair, his wife, their sons John, George, James, Alexander and William, and their 6 daughters. I’m so glad we did the 700m steep walk as this could be a starting point to work out where Dave’s grandfather, William Sinclair came from.
From most of this coastline you can see the oil rigs. We drove into Wick and even though Old Pulteney is open all year, it was closed. Like many places on a Sunday in rural Scotland. Our main aim was to walk to Sinclair Girnigoe Castle at Noss Head but it had been raining and was too muddy underfoot. This is one of three castles belonging to Clan Sinclair, but it is a ruin and considered one of the 100 most endangered sites.
We did a quick shop at Tesco and had a picnic lunch in the car at Duncansby Head. While we were eating, the weather closed in and we could not see the Orkney Isles. We drove through John O’Groats to Dunnet, the most Northern point of Scotland mainland. We have driven past many signs pointing to Cairns but this is not the weather to go and walk to them. In Melvich we stopped at The Halladale Inn for espresso at a price you sum of £4 for 2! From here the landscape starts to change with it being more mountainous. The sheep and cows roam the roadside as there are no fences. We arrived in Bettyhill at 16:15 and checked into the hotel. It is stunning here. We went up to our room, made coffee and relaxed. We were advised to come for dinner at 18:00 to secure a table close to the windows with a view of the sea. We got there at 18:10 and already the two closest to the windows were taken. We had a slow meal but even so we were back in our room by 19:45 and in bed with lights off for me by 20:15.
I woke up at 6:45 expecting to watch the live timing of the last 15 minutes of qualifying. But, it only started at 7:00 so I followed all three sessions online before getting ready for breakfast. That started at 8:30 and was followed by a distellery tour which was very interesting and which I will cover properly on my blog.
We then went to Hilton which is a seabord village where lobster and salmon fishing appear to be the local industry. Here we walked to a replica of the Pictish stone which forms part of the Glenmorangie logo.
This reproduction took 4 years to carve, in situ. We drove past the Shandwick stone which is protected and therefore I gather is the original stone. We went back to Glenmorangie House where we were served lunch. This was a spicey carrot and lentil soup with prawn, egg and tuna sandwiches. After lunch we learnt how to shoot clay pigeons. I was not sure I would enjoy the experience but it was exhilarating. I managed to shoot 2 out of my 6 which is not bad going. This is the second time I’ve handled a gun. The first being Mark’s air rifle over 10 years ago. I did the best out of the women. Dave managed 3 out of his turns.
This experience was followed by afternoon tea and a blind whisky tasting. I came third in this which was quite surprising. We then had a nice break followed by an exceptional experience of the Signet tasting. This was followed by a Sicilian cocktail, canapés and bag pipes. Dinner followed and it was really good. We were then entertained with singing and music played by the most talented family. Ian, one of the guests, regaled us with 2 poems. The evening ended very late.
Slept amazingly well and woke up at 6:45. Got showered and packed and Dave made the four of us breakfast. He cooked up the girolles, shitake and pied du mouton mushrooms and added them to scrambled eggs. Stuart drew us an excellent map and we were on the road just before 8. We had an easy drive to Heathrow and got into the lounge just before 10. We caught up on work, I read my book and an hour and a half later it was time to board our flight to Aberdeen. We bought a sandwich to share from Pret a Manger and with another flight not too full we had no one sitting next to us. The airport in Aberdeen is tiny with one carousel. I waited for the suitcase while Dave went to get the car. We were on the road just after 14:00 and drove through Dufftown along the River Avon. There are so many well maintained distilleries and Churches amongst the farm lands. We headed through the Cairngorms National Park where there is a robot for the cows to cross the road. Like at Heerengracht, Longman roundabout has traffic lights. We crossed over a bridge with Beauty Firth to the left and Moray Firth to the right, entering the Black Isle.
There was a stop and go on place at Cromarty Bridge which delayed us 8 minutes.
Approaching Invergordon we could see a lot of oil derricks. The traffic here was worse than in England this morning going to Heathrow. We arrived at Glenmorangie House at 17:10 and had enough time to get settled and have coffee before proceedings started at 18:00. I will blog about this separately but in short we had a whisky tasting followed by dinner.