Leaving John O’Groats and Duncansby Stack behind we continued our journey calling into Thurso (the most northerly mainland Scottish town) to stock up. The drive from Thurso to Tongue was beautiful. A mix of rivers, beaches, heather and mountains and all bathed in sunlight. We even saw another T2 van like ours. It was red and we all waved excitedly. At the beginning of the trip Dom and I made a little bet about how many T2’s (vintage VW vans) we’d see on our trip. Dom said 7, I said 10. The one we just saw was number 2 so I wasn’t feeling optimistic about winning.
When we pulled into the Kyle of Tongue campsite the wind had picked up and we suspected the weather was about to turn. Before the wind got too much we took a quick stroll along the bridge to the beach area of the Kyle of Tongue. The water was right out and the mountains looked lovely.
And now we know we are in the Highlands as the midge count begins. Jude – 3, Dom – 0 but he did get a wasp sting.
The morning brought 40mph winds and squally rain showers as we crossed the bridge with the water now lapping the sides. As you can see from the video this wasn’t putting the kite surfer off.
We’d just crossed the bridge when the van’s pop top blew up. When you have an old van you keep odds and ends of all kinds of things for just this eventuality. We rigged up a bit of cord to keep the roof in place and carried on. The wind continued to blow, the rain continued to squall and rainbows seemed to follow us wherever we went. I love driving and have been doing it for over 30 years but the one thing I’m not overly keen on is driving our van in the wind. She has got great ground clearance which is sometimes really helpful but in the wind this gives her the ability to turn into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. On one sweeping bit of road with the heather dancing in the wind a particularly vigorous gust nearly made us air born! Holy Moly became my catchphrase of the drive.
This part of the coast is really spectacular with glimpses of beautiful sea and golden beaches alongside mountains. Everyone had told us that Durness beach was something special but we had our own favourite little spot. About a mile before Durness we pulled in to the parking area at Ceannabeinne beach. Traditionally the beach was known as Traigh Allt Chailgeag – the beach of the burn of bereavement and death. This name referred to a story of how an elderly woman fell into the burn, which flows onto the beach, and drowned. For such a tragic story, the beach is a truly beautiful spot. Turquoise water, breaking waves, golden sand with a hint of pink – just stunning. We scampered down the cliff path to take a closer look.
Our next port of call was Smoo Cave which is just outside Durness. We managed to squeeze into the free carpark by the toilets which had a constant stream of ever changing vehicles and donning waterproofs and wellies for me set off down to the cave. Like all the places we’ve visited the paths are really well maintained and looked after. Some people are critical of the NC500 and how it’s changed the area but there’s no denying a lot of money has been invested.
Smoo Cave features a waterfall which gushes down with a ferocious roar and you can feel the spray from the viewing area. And then just like that the water hits the river and meanders gently out onto the beach. Nature is something else.
By the time we got back to the van the rain had set in in earnest. We were pretty damp around the edges and so for us, Durness Beach was a bit underwhelming. The tide was in, it was raining and misty and we didn’t feel inspired to get back out of the van and get even wetter. Oh well, we’ll just have to go back another time. We’d been so lucky with the weather so far we really couldn’t complain.
We’d been checking the forecast regularly and knew that this rainy day was on the cards so we headed to a spot along Loch Stack where we holed up in the van cooking beef stew and playing Connect 4. The rain and wind didn’t stop for the rest of the day but we stayed snug and dry in our little sanctuary.
Midge Bite count – Jude 5, Dom still 0