NC500 – Day Three: Did our tent just blow down? 

So while our campsite was incredibly picturesque, we learnt throughout the night that it wasn’t the most practical. Its coastal location combined with the lack of shelter left us fairly exposed to the elements. At multiple points during the night the wind was strong enough to blow our tent flat for a few seconds at a time. This, paired with the rain, meant we were essentially water boarded by our own tent on several occasions as we tried to sleep. Although we questioned it at many points, our tent weathered the storm and survived the night. We were actually quite lucky, as, if this had happened on day one we’d have ended up sleeping in the car. 

Our third day meant our third morning of starting our route in the hope that breakfast would jump out at us. We thought Durness would be a good shout as it was a bigger town, but… it was a Sunday. Luckily, breakfast wasn’t the only reason we had chosen Durness. 

You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by, a Smoo criminal.

High on my Pinterest hit list was the very picturesque, Smoo Cave. Pinterest can at times over sell attractions. The heavily edited photographs with eye catching captions can leave a bit to be desired when you see them in the real world. Smoo Cave was maybe the opposite of this. While the pictures I’d seen had actually been quite accurate, the waterfall inside the cave was an unreported surprise. As soon as you entered the wooden tunnel taking you to the heart of the cave, the sheer force of the water became apparent. While this wasn’t a particularly beautiful waterfall, nor a particularly large one, it’s power made it stand out. The sound of the splashing water echoed through the cave. The sheer volume of water meant it was difficult to get close to it without being splashed by water ricocheting from the plunge pool. Smoo Cave was a hidden gem with its own little secret.

Having skipped breakfast, we grew increasingly hungry. Our original plan had been to wait until we reached John o’Groats before having lunch, but our hunger was rapidly becoming ‘hanger’. The coastal views lessened the suffering but all we could really concentrate on was food. 

The fish cake of my dreams.

As we passed through Thurso the temptation grew too much. Worryingly, as we walked through the town, we learnt that Durness wasn’t the only quiet place on a Sunday. It didn’t look like we were going to have much luck here either until some good fortune meant that we stumbled across Y Not Bar and Grill. For a small town pub, the place had a fairly trendy, city like atmosphere. Brian went for his usual club sandwich while I opted for the seafood option yet again. In this part of Scotland it takes some will power to turn down seafood as it literally goes from sea to plate.

With full bellies we continued our drive east. While the scenery was very different to what we had experienced over the past two days, it was no less beautiful. The dramatic cliffs at Dunnet head were worth the wind we had to endure to see them. 

Tropical beach or Scotland.

The weather had been quite mild throughout the day, mostly dry and even pleasant at times. Naturally as soon as we got out of the car at John o’Groats, things changed. In the usual Scottish fashion, the weather took a damp turn. We had long enough to take a picture before we had to seek shelter from the elements in the first cafe we could find. So that was all we saw of the famous town… it’s sign – but maybe that’s all there really is to see? 

From John o’Groats, our coastal adventure continued. The highlight for me was Duncansby head. This is where, two almost identical rock formations, shaped like shark teeth, bite through the water just off the shore. 

That sign and the deceptively blue sky.

Now it was time to start heading south to Rogart where we were staying that night, with plenty stops along the way to keep us going. At this point, little did we know that we would spend a lot of our afternoon driving up and down the same 20mile stretch of road looking for these attractions.

Our first stop was meant to be Bucholie Castle. If anyone can actually find this then please give them a medal. As the Sat Nav began to lead us down a dirt track, we decided that maybe today wasn’t the day for that castle. With the amount of rain we had, venturing further was just asking for us to get stuck. Spending so much time trying to find this castle and all to no avail was actually pretty disappointing. After a short sulk I picked myself up and moved on as we still had plenty to do. In my head I wanted everything to be perfect so the idea of missing something upset me. However in reality, it wasn’t going to make or break our trip but my reaction could. 

Luckily Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, just outside of Wick, was much easier to find – there was even a couple of signs. As with most of the castles we had stopped at, there was not many people there. Much of the castle had eroded away over the years. As we peered off the castle walls down to the vicious sea, it was easy to sea why. What remained of the castle was still incredibly beautiful, so it’s sad to think that, soon, without more restoration and protection it may not be there either.

A castle, battered by the elements.

The Whaligoe Steps were next on our route, but before seeing them, we passed a sign for our following stop, the Camster Cairns. This should have been an indication that we maybe missed a turn for the steps. Oblivious, we headed towards the Cairns. As we drove down the road we were caught in the kind of traffic jam I thought only existed in movies. As the farmer moved his flock of sheep and lambs we pulled over to one side as we were surrounded. As a city slicker, this was surreal to me, but I think it made Brian feel at home. 

Upon reaching the Cairns, we were met with huge rock piles each with a small tunnel that lead to a hollow interior. I crawled into one, and that dark, claustrophobic experience was enough for me. 

It was at this point that we suspected we may have missed the Whaligoe Steps. We decided that they were worth a drive back, but sadly we never found out. Much like Bucholie Castle, the Steps were invisible to us. Although this was another disappointment, we both agreed that it gave us twice the reason to drive in this road again. Although having driven it about 5 times that day, maybe not anytime too soon.  

The trailer park.

The race was now on to get to our unconventional lodgings, Sleeperzzz, in Rogart, and meet our friend Dave who would join us for the last part of our trip. We had time for a drive by photograph of Dunrobin castle, before we reached our final destination for the day, Rogart, which was possibly our most rural stopover yet. 

Time to put our feet up and drink up. 


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