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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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Foraging mushrooms in Perthshire's Old Scone Woods

My trip to Perthshire last autumn presented a chance to see the region at its most colorful, but it also allowed me to pursue activities I’ve long wished to do. Case in point: Foraging. I’ve always loved hiking in Scotland and over the years I’ve gained an interest in earthier pursuits like bushcraft and foraging, ways to interact with the natural world rather than simply pass through it. Inevitably in my planning I come across workshops and tours related to such outdoorsy activities but I could never quite get the various schedules to mesh.

I took a different tack for the autumn Perthshire trip. Read more...

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Ardvreck Castle & Calda House, Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland

The western side of the North Coast 500 that stretches from Kyle of Lochalsh to Durness through Wester Ross and Sutherland is arguably Scotland’s most beautiful landscape. Endless rugged mountains, windswept beaches, cliffs, and lochs define this vast region where tiny roads straggle where they may. Natural splendor is incredibly abundant, perhaps to the expense of everything else. You won’t find any distilleries out this way, few golf courses, and while the region has a lot of history it doesn’t usually take the form of ruined abbeys, castles, and stately manses. The Highland Clearances hit the northwest highlands hard, so the history here is the absence of people, tales on the wind, and a somber intuition of things unjustly lost. Read more...

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On the Wester Ross Coastal Trail

The North Coast 500 is a marketing initiative that invites visitors to explore Scotland’s northern highlands from behind the wheel. It is a massive, 516-mile scenic ramble along the coasts of the northern highlands, including Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, and Easter Ross. I was instantly sold. I’ve long known that driving is the best way to ensure a magnificent trip to Scotland. A vehicle gives you the flexibility and serendipity to travel at your own pace and find those unexpected places that will remain golden in your memory long after you’ve returned home. There were many beautiful drives along the North Coast 500, and one of my favorites is the heart of the Wester Ross Coastal Trail from Gairloch to Corrieshalloch Gorge. Read more...

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