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Castle Girnigoe Sinclair, Caithness, Scotland

As the North Coast 500 corners the northeastern highlands and travels through Caithness, a host of ancient sites scatters before you. Coming from the west, this is a nice change of pace as the west coast of the North Coast 500 is firmly focused on stunning scenery and austere coastal communities. Here, in Caithness, the landscape is level and unremarkable off the coast, but it’s along the water where you’ll find crumbling castle ruins and antediluvian drystone brochs still half-buried in the emerald turf.

Just north of Wick stands my favorite castle in the region, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. The Sinclairs are a famous family in Scottish history… Read more...

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Beyond the deep sweep of Loch Eriboll and inland from Sutherland’s wind-scoured coast, Strathmore holds Hope in its mountainous embrace. The enduring eminence of Ben Hope, Scotland’s northernmost sentinel, reaches crag-faced for sky and space. Following Strathmore beneath Ben Hope’s sheer shoulders, modernity grows threadbare and distant. A wondrous broch falls to pieces. Time reveals itself as another of mankind’s constructions, another tawdry exercise in placing ourselves at the center of the universe. Under the overcast sky Loch Hope is a sheet of beaten iron mirroring the weather’s whims, mirroring the mind’s constant convulsion. 
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Summer’s grip slips from the world’s northern rim. Standing on an archaic emerald archipelago as the day, packed beneath colorless clouds, suddenly burns with vespertine brilliance. Blades of equinoctial light slash the overcast sky into blue ribbons and send black shades stretching from Brodgar’s obstinate stones. A golden pall falls upon the Ness of Brodgar, and the wind, feeling its impotence, disappears like the last bedeviling sorrows scrabbling for our strands.

Salt Knowe rises west of the standing stones, a mound curious for its height and apparent lack of purpose. As I turn toward the season’s parting kiss, that purpose appears stark. Read more...

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Beyond The Minch’s watery grasp and Loch Broom’s beckoning finger, north of the Summer Isles spilled in the shimmering sea, and west of all man’s thoroughfares, the Coigach peninsula reaches for the sun and stars. Lochs patter upon the intervening glen, tears from a blind god, as the earth throws wide its embrace. Stac Pollaidh, Cùl Mòr, and Cùl Beag bark in the mist ‘yond the wind-blown gorse. This is a chance, an open window, a doorway cracked and illuminated.

How wonderfully intuitive and unexpected, this, that venturing to the sacrosanct corners of our long-neglected but sought-after selves requires physical emplacement…
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Castle Varrich outside Tongue, Sutherland, Scotland

The north coast of the North Coast 500 is the least exciting span on that mammoth road trip of marketing genius. As you move from west to east the landscape steadily shrinks back into the earth, and the span from Tongue to Thurso is especially unremarkable with only a few small settlements and sites of interest. The northwestern horn including Durness, Loch Eriboll, and Tongue, however, has a few incredible stops. Chief among those is Castle Varrich, a small, ruined tower house on a hill opposite Tongue.

I had no expectations once we rounded Durness and began heading east. Read more...

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