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The Hill O'Many Stanes, Caithness, Scotland

The signs of ancient history are visible everywhere you go in Scotland. From the heart of Neolithic Orkney to Inverness-shire’s Clava Cairns to Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, history pierces the sediment of modernity. Despite Scotland’s apparent wealth of history, incredibly, there are even more sites that remain unexcavated and undiscovered, and this is especially true in Caithness. The far northeastern corner of Scotland is a gentle landscape of coastline, moors, and pasture where the thick, green grass rumples and bunches over hidden geology.

Or so it seems. Many of the low rippling hills are actually ancient drystone structures buried… Read more...

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Achmelvich Beach, Sutherland, Scotland

Scotland’s northwestern coastline is studded with pristine strips of white and red sand beaches. More often than not you’ll find yourself alone with the wind, waves, and gulls with nothing to remind you of the current era. As with so many places in Scotland, hiring a car and exploring into Sutherland’s nooks and crannies yields treasures you’ll never lose and which take up no room in your luggage. These off-the-off-the-beaten-path beaches blossom under the onslaught of north Atlantic waves amidst incredibly ancient cliffs falling into crystal-clear waters. The beaches in this post are for solitude seekers and adherents to inner philosophies, for even a short while among the wind and waves is enough to clasp the unnameable… Read more...

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Beautiful views along the Wee Mad Road of Sutherland, Scotland

Look at any map of Scotland and you’ll quickly gain a sense of the hierarchy of roadways. “M” roads are the biggest, fastest roads only around the central belt, and then you descend through “A” and “B” roads, the biggest of those with a single digit like the A9 and the smallest with as many as four digits, like the B8009. Some roads are so small they don’t have numbers or even names, they’re just squiggly white lines on the most detailed maps. This classification system does a pretty good job of setting expectations for what you’ll encounter out there in the Scottish wilderness — unnamed or multi-digit “B” roads are likely to be single-track and/or gravel, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Read more...

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Birding at Handa Island, Sutherland, Scotland

One of the first realizations upon joining the North Coast 500 is the sheer breadth of excursions at your fingertips. Ruined castles, sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, windswept heath, lonely islands, magnificent hikes, and some of the best open-road, big-sky driving are part and parcel of Scotland’s most northwesterly driving tour. Neither a vacation nor a lifetime is enough to see everything on this massive circuit, but with careful planning and a discerning eye you can fill your days with the best northwest Scotland has to offer, Handa Island, the subject of today’s post, among them. Handa Island wasn’t on my radar before we took to the North Coast 500. As is typical of any travel around Scotland, the people I met filled me with ideas… Read more...

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Digging into Smoo Cave

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Smoo Cave, Durness, Sutherland, Scotland

The north coast of Scotland’s North Coast 500 is the least exciting stretch, but there are a few highlights. Castle Varrich and Dun Dornaigil Broch both warrant visits, and Smoo Cave just outside Durness is another interesting destination.

Northern Scotland has been home to inhabitants as far back as the Mesolithic, but to look at this coastline today you’d be hard-pressed to see any evidence. It’s a largely rocky, pastoral landscape gently sliding to the sea with few historic structures or markings visible to the untrained eye, and yet the name Smoo probably comes from the Old Norse Smuga, meaning “hiding place.” Read more...

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