Our Favourite Experiences in the North Highlands
Updated: Apr 18
Our latest foray into podcasting with the UK Travel Planning website really got us thinking about the places and areas we both really like across the North Highlands of Scotland.
It wasn’t easy and it took some debate between Robert and myself (Sally-Ann) to define the ‘shortlist’ of ‘Our Favourite Experiences’ as we tend to like different things. That’s a good thing though, isn’t it?! But there were also a few which we did immediately agree upon - can you guess which?
Of course, there are many stunning sights to see and experiences to be had across the North Highlands but we hope this short list may inspire you to consider a visit to our special part of the UK.
1. Duncansby Stacks
In the far north east, near John O’Groats, these sandstone seas stacks rise up out of the sea like witches hats. And together with the dramatic east coast cliffs, this area provides the perfect place for a walk along the cliffs, for space, fresh air and the chance to enjoy nature.
2. Castle Varrich
Mid-way along the north coast, this 16th century tower is built on the site of an earlier Viking fortress near the village of Tongue. Although no-one knows what it was really for, its location provides a spectacular viewpoint along the Kyle of Tongue and across to the mountains of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope. And the area is full of history too - from a gold heist to an incident with a famous Beatle, no less!
3. The Flow Country
This is by far Robert’s favourite place. As it is not on the main North Coast 500 route, it is often missed by visitors and this adds to the romantic remoteness you will find there. The area is a vast expanse of peat bog , important in fighting climate change, which also contains an RSPB Nature Reserve and is the perfect place to spot red deer and golden eagles, if you are lucky.
Kylesku is known for its bridge and hotel, but the wonderful thing about this location is that the area offers much more than that, several wonderful walks, a cruise up the loch to see the highest waterfall in the UK and a myriad of wildlife nestles in and around the mountains and lochs.
5. Wailing Widow Falls (Allt Chranaidh Waterfall)
Just down the road from Kylesku, you can find the 'Wailing Widow' Falls, so called because, as the fable goes, a shepherd was on his way home one stormy night when he decided to take a short cut with the aim of getting out of the storm as quickly as possible. Unfortunately as the weather whipped around him, he couldn’t see where he was going, slipped and fell to his death at the bottom of the falls. This left his distraught widow, who became known as the ‘wailing widow’, and the falls took its name from the shepherd's poor beloved.
This bronze age site is located in the wild expanse of the Caithness countryside and its name means ‘field of monks’. A 4000-year-old unique stone enclosure, unusually in a horseshoe shape rather than a circle, also contains stones which are perpendicular to the centre rather than facing it. But even more interesting is the story of the unusual grave of a lady who lived and died there 4000 years ago – discover more about 'Ava' here.
7. Am Ploc Church
Nestled in the shadows of the mountains near Torridon is one of the most evocative locations on the North Coast 500 (in Sally-Ann's opinion!) – an ‘open air church’ once used by crofters after the religious disruption of the 1840s. You can stand (or sit) there and really feel a spiritual presence as you are surrounded by nature and beauty.
It is truly special to be 'at one with nature' and this is one of the amazing opportunities in the North Highlands - whether it is red deer, seals, otters, orca or puffins, it is a magical experience and each of these and more can be found here in their natural environment.
9. Favourite Food!
Two places which we love are the Lochinver Larder (also known as the Lochinver Pie Shop) and The River Bothy Cafe, Berriedale - both places we use for lunches on our tours and both places we go to ourselves for pleasure. But if you ask me, my favourite indulgence is a Venison and Cranberry pie from Lochinver and a slice of home-made carrot cake from The River Bothy!
10. Balnakiel Bay
In the far north west corner of the North Coast 500 near Durness, you can find a very special place for us - and somewhere we came back to year after year before we moved up here. Balnakiel Bay has it all - a beautiful beach, a ruined church on the shore with an interesting history, a backdrop of mountains and a bothy by the beach where can you can stay, as we did for 3 nights one December for our 10th wedding anniversary. Wild and wonderful!
And finally, we just wanted to share a few pictures of 'Hidden Beach' with you - that's our description by the way. To learn more, you'll have to listen to the podcast or join us on tour. But we hope you are intrigued - it is a stunning and fascinating location, just off the beaten track!
Finally, for those still wondering, it was numbers 9, 10 and the 'Hidden Beach' which we agreed about!