Route: Kinlochbervie – Mey (John o’Groats)
Distance Travelled: 146 miles (670 )
Weather: Mainly dry with heavy showers, and high winds
Drop Counter: Jenny 2 (8) Ian 0 (2)
Today we saw the sun for the first time since starting the NC500 – it poked out from behind some clouds for a few minutes, and afforded us some rarely seen sunshine! The day was mostly dry, although high winds made for an interesting riding experience at times, especially on the open plains/moorland. We filled up up in Kinlochbervie before heading up to Durness. Here we took quite a long break to look around Smoo Cave. Sadly the weather over the last few days, meant the cave was closed for boat trips, and when we entered the second chamber via the walkway, it was clear why. Not only was the cave very full, but the amount of water flowing over the waterfall was staggering! Another experience to put on our list for next time!
With the rain beginning to set in again, we headed to cocoa mountain to try the fabled “best hot chocolate” we had read about online and in a few magazines. Cocoa Mountain is part of Balnakeil, a unique craft village. Originally intended as an army base it was decommissioned before it was ever used and sold to the local council. Today it is home to a number of crafters who live and work in the village, hosting the 25,000 visitors who pass by each year.
We had a quick wander round the open small holdings, before heading into Cocoa Mountain, which given the steady stream of customers looked like it might live up to its name. And it did! We both ordered a hot chocolate chaser which gave us a choice of two chocolates alongside our drinks. All our chocolates were deliciously smooth with just the right amount of flavour. But the hot chocolate itself was something else. The finest hot cocoa, served with a frothed top of steamed milk over which was drizzled melted not chocolate…. divine! It wasn’t too rich so went down easily, yet filled us up so completely we didn’t stop for lunch.
Off the beaten track
We took a few random turns just to see where we ended up, and found some fabulous roads to explore. As you approach Tongue, a causeway and bridge now spans the Kyle. However, a more interesting route can be found by taking the road which tracks to the south, winding its way around the sea loch. This road seems little used, and grass grows from the centre of the single track. Castle Varrich, the ruin which sits imposingly on a rock outcrop, is visible from numerous points along the route. Visitors can take the short hour or so walk to the castle, although sadly we didn’t have time to do so.
A little further along the road is the quirky Strathnaver Musuem. Based in an old church, it tells the story of “the clearances” and of the McKay family. The clearances, involved evicting people from their inland crofts and relocating them near the coasts to make way for vast sheep farms. The museum makes use of pictures, artefacts, video and text to tell the story of the people forced from one livelihood into.
Top of Mainland U.K.
We paid a quick visit to Strathy Point to see the lighthouse there. Strathy point is also a good place to see marine wildlife and puffins, but not while we were there! This is another lighthouse where buildings are available to rent on a minimum weekly basis.
As the road approached Thurso, the landscape and the roads began to change. The ruggedness we had grown accustomed to gave way to cultivated farmland and fields. The single track roads became single carriageways and the traffic flow increased. The miles ticked by, and we stopped briefly in Thurso to buy dinner, passing Dounreay along the way. Once the centre of Britains fast reactor research and development, it was decommissioned, and is now being taken down.
With time getting on we made a dash to Dunnet’s head and John O’ Groats, in case we were short on time returning from our planned trip to Orkney tomorrow. Dunnet’s head marks the most northerly point on mainland Great Britain, but is often overshadowed by John O’Groats, which is the most northerly inhabited settlement. That being said, there isn’t much going for John O’Groats, particularly at gone five outside of tourist season! After the obligatory photos, and with the light fading, we headed to our nights accommodation, a short way back along the coast in East Mey.
The Crofter’s Snug
Chosen for the view, the Crofter’s Snug offers visitors a cosy studio “pod” looking out over the North Sea to Orkney and beyond. On clear nights the stars are fantastic, and when they appear, the show given by the lady Northern lights must be truly stupendous. However, following a now familiar theme, huge rain clouds loomed with the fading light, and with them any chances of a good night sky photo! Nearby, there is also a nesting colony of puffins….if you come in the right months! As the darkness closed in, we could just about make out the flashes of light from lighthouses around the coastline, including that of Dunnet and Dunscanby head.
Watch it here
Day 4 in action: