For the first full day in the Highlands, exploring the North Coast 500 route, I was aiming for “top left” – as close to the northeast corner and Cape Wrath I could realistically go. The area of Assynt is dominated by angular and isolated mountains which rise, hump-like from comparatively flat ground and form some of the features of the North West Highlands Geopark. This area has UNESCO status and features many unusual and interesting rock formations, as well as some of the oldest rocks in Europe, and I really wanted to explore some of the area on foot.
I stopped at the Inchnadamph Bone Caves, which offered an excellent opportunity do some hiking. The track up to the caves was interesting in its own right, with the 3.5km round-trip offering spectacular views up and down the glen to the mountains all around, scree formations and the unusual sight of freshwater springs percolating up through the rocks and feeding the stream that wends down the hillside. Stonechat and meadow pipits kept a musical company along the path.
The caves themselves are reached by climbing the hillside, and it was interesting exploring their depths – they aren’t scarily deep, but some of them continued beyond the range of my torch beam in a sinister manner. The Bone Caves are named due to the unusual quantities of remains that were found during excavations. The bones belonged to species no longer indigenous to Scotland – Eurasian lynx, Arctic fox, brown bears and even polar bears. Human remains dating back over four and a half thousand years were also found.
Travelling onwards, I travelled west then south to reach the Coigach Peninsula, aiming for the westernmost point at Reiff. The occasional quadrupedal roadblock hampered progress….
The area here is incredibly remote, and today the sandy beaches and views out to sea were wonderful. At Altandhu I climbed a little hillock for a marvellous view of the Summer Isles, all of which have their own fascinating stories – I would thoroughly enjoy returning here and exploring by kayak.
The whole region inspires active pursuits – the inviting teal waters at the shore would be ideal for snorkelling, and the touring cyclists I passed were (for once) smiling and apparently enjoying their pursuit (most cyclists I pass look like they are in some sort of pain).
The next destination to explore was further north along the coast to Stoer Head, to what is described as one of the “best spots in Scotland” to observe passing cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoise – I’m always hopeful, but I never entirely put my faith in these sorts of descriptions! I drove along the five kilometre track to Stoer Lighthouse where, unfortunately, the weather began to turn and visibility out to sea was quite poor. Thankfully the ledges and rocky outcrops on the cliffs surrounding the lighthouse were busy with seabirds, and I got my first ever close encounter with a pair of fulmar. Large numbers of cormorant braved the crashing swells on their little islands, and I could also see eider ducks and guillemots.
I began the return journey back to homebase in Dingwall by looping north to Kylesku for a wonderful dinner at the Kylesku Hotel where one could enjoy a meal while watching seals and birds diving for their own meals in Loch Gleann Dubh. I briefly pulled over along the way near Scourie after spotting a large-looking raptor descend onto the moor. I couldn’t determine whether it was a golden eagle or a buzzard – the head appeared characteristically blondish like an eagle, but I wasn’t entirely convinced about the size, although it was hard to estimate given the distance! This is the best photo I could manage (at 60x zoom!) – what do you think; buzzard, eagle or some-kinda-hawk?
At the end of the first full day in the Highlands, I had travelled an additional 217 miles bringing the roadtrip total to 519 – and I still had much of the 500-miles of the North Coast 500 route still to do!