After many years of wishing to go back to some of the places that hold many memories, today is the day.
This, as I said before is a trip in memory of days gone by with my own father and now I want to revisit some of the places he took me, all that 45 years or so ago, with my Youngest Son.
Now classed as the North Coast 500, we, thought being 'Scotlands Route 66' we would travel our own version of what we think is the best way to experience the Highlands or Whatever you choose to call it.
At the end of the day, it is a road and you can call it what you wish.
Scotlands Route 66 More Than a Journey
As we head to Inverness, the 'Real' official start point is Inverness Castle, and it now has a Viewpoint over the City which will cost you £5 for the privilege of a wee peep over the City. The Castle itself is steeped in history and all well worth a visit. The earlier Castle, was reinforced in the early 18th century to accommodate British Government Troops, and was finally destroyed by Jacobites at the command of Charles Edward Stuart, prior to the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The current red sandstone structure today was built in 1836 by architect William Burn. Also present is at the Castle is a statue of Flora MacDonald who's story is History itself.
Luckily for us, the Highlands and in fact the whole UK, had been in the grips of one of the best ever summers, it had now lasted for weeks and we were hoping it would last for just one more. The prospect of doing this trip in glorious sunshine just added a huge bonus to it all. Today, Day One, temperatures were hitting 25 in and around Inverness, which is kinda of tropical for us Highlanders. Heading to Inverness, ( which is a place I have been far too many times to mention ) it is a must for anyone who has never been, but if you have, save yourself time for other great things and drive on by.
We make our first stop at what we think the North Coast 500 start should be, Culloden Battlefield. The importance of Culloden cannot be underestimated in anyway. When you enter the brilliant visitors centre, you will see a sign that tells it all,
Culloden is a definate stop for anyone travelling the Highlands, it allows you to understand the Highlands in so many ways, it was not just a battle. The visitors centre cost £11 for an adult and is worth every single penny. You can if you wish choose not to enter the actual visitors centre and walk the battlefield itself for FREE, even this allows you a great perspective of what happened here and how it changed the course of so many people in so many countries. We arrived and was greeted by an unusual symbol in the sky, I knew or hoped my father would be with us in spirit but to see a symbol on the actual moment we were starting our trip was spooky.
St Andrews Cross in the Sky above Culloden Battlefield
To enter the Culloden Car Park and right in front of us was the Saltire, written in the sky. Obviously coincidence but to us we thought, maybe it was a sign that Dad was with us and in a sense, we hoped and felt he was. Culloden was a place I visited with my father back in the early 70's and it was a tiny visitors centre and an open field, today it is a marvellous place and as we said an utter must for everyone to visit.
There is so much to see and do, inside they have an interactive exhibition. They have audio guides available in many languages and even guides for family groups. Culloden has something for everyone, you don’t need to be a history expert to enjoy a visit to the site. Take a walk around the powerfully moving battlefield on a trail network, and then head inside to explore the interactive exhibition. The modern, family-friendly visitor centre provides a fascinating insight into the last hand-to-hand battle fought on British soil. Discover how a bloody fight that lasted only about an hour changed life in the Highlands forever. You can even book (in advance) your own personal guided tour with one of their experts and that will give you a 60 minute tour where you can discover more about the Battle of Culloden and the stories of the people who fought here. During the year they hold various events which are worth checking out to see if any are on during your planned trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my walk around as much as I had 45 years ago. I still find it a very emotive place, even to stand in front of what may have been where my ancestors may have fallen and to try and even picture what must have gone on here all that time ago is something that you can still feel. Culloden, is without doubt a place for anyone not just thinking about travelling the North Coast 500 but anyone who wants to try and understand Scotland and its people.
We leave Culloden behind heading on to and around the Highland Capital of Inverness. As I mentioned earlier I was not stopping in Inverness as have been here and done that as they say.
Heading Westwards as we are doing it in a Clockwise direction. Many people ask is it best to do the route Clockwise or Anti, most say anti, so we decided to go the opposite direction as that way we are less likely to get held up or to hold up someone as everyone else will be on the other side. What ever way you choose you love it. We carry on till we get to Beauly and it all still feels that it is not the Highlands just yet, just a normal country drive passing little wee places as we trundle on. We pass through the lovely Muir of Ord and then the Glen Ord Distillery. The Distillery is well worth a stop if you are interested in how a Whisky distillery works. You can't various tours and that again depends on your interest but the basic £3 tour is the best option as it will give you a visit to the exhibition, short video and a complimentary dram of Singleton of Glen Ord 12 year old single malt. But if you are a Whisky Lover, consider the other Tours on Offer. Our next stop is Rogie Falls, again another place I went many years ago, long before it was probably a tourist attraction.
With the weather being superb, we can't wait to reach the falls so we carry on and soon reach the well sign posted Rogie Falls. It is only a wee walk to reach the suspension bridge where the view of the Falls is tremendous. Rogie Falls is certainly not the best place for those with walking problems or even mums and dads with a buggy in tow. In fact when touring the Highlands and its many attraction, you will come across those that are not suitable for people with disability in walking and or with buggies. It is unfortunate but to make the places all suitable would be nigh on possible. Rogie Falls is a definite must.
During the months of August and September there's an excellent chance of seeing wild salmon leaping upstream. It really is a sight and although not for us in July it is an extra bonus if your visiting during those months. Visiting after heavy rain, when water gushes and tumbles from the slopes of Ben Wyvis, and the Falls of Rogie are even more stunning and sensational. You can wander round the falls, but take great care on wet ground, but there are great photo opportunities at virtually every angle if you choose to dare and climb down and around the falls, at your own risk obviously.
We wandered around most of the paths through the woodlands and on a fine hot summers day as we had it was just great place to be. The one downside and it was something that we came across time and time again, Car Parks, most of these car parks must have been built when I last travelled the Route 45 years ago. Since then the Tourism in Scotland has grown immensely but sadly the size of the CarParks has not and this is one area that must be looked at. When you travel on a holiday like this, there are certain places that are a must see and arriving to find the Car Park bursting at the seams, your only option is to park on grass verges and other silly places, but when this trip is a once in a lifetime for many, you just can't drive on by. Sadly you face the wrath of a selected bunch of locals who find such behaviour as abhorrent. My advice is ignore them as you may never be back, and if it were me on my last chance to stop, then I for one would…….
So after that it is now time to continue our first day. Many people feel that they need to adhere to the route and if you are one then sadly you are making a big mistake. The North Coast 500 is a route designed to get people to visit the Highlands and it is a route designed to take you around, but the one most important thing about the route is that virtually all the best bits lie off the route. Study Guide Books like, The North Coast 500 Guide Book by Charles Tait, it has to be the bible for anyone thinking about doing the Route. Also check out peoples blogs as you can get great first hand inspiration from these. We hope very soon to start listing our own Itineries for various trips, from 5 days to two weeks, as anything less than 5 days is honestly just not worth it. Planning is the Key to a successful and memorable trip. So Onwards we go and the next stop is actually off route but is a 100% must do.
Glen Docherty, possibly one of the most photographed places in Scotland. This place is a must, to do on the route and to miss this our is nigh on criminal. Once you get here all you have is a wee Car Park, but larger than most you find on the route. It's about a 10 minute stop of admiring the View and snapping some unforgettable Photos. The detour is approximentaly a 6 miles from Achnsheen as you turn off up the A832. The View as the road winds and twists toward Loch Maree is just stunning. We listed it No5 in our Top Ten places to visit
Luckily for us the weather has been superb and we are enjoying each moment that we have. We head on back to the route heading towards Lochcarron. Now we feel we are in the Highlands as every road you turn there is yet another great view and it just never ends. On Reaching Lochcarron we carried on to the end of the road to where we got to Ardaneaskan a village on the North shore of Lochcarron. The road was single track most of the way but was great wee drive and worth the time. From here we could easily view Plockton on the opposite side of the Loch and views across to the smaller islands just before the Isle of Skye itself. With time on our side, we decided that on looking over to Plockton it was more than worth another detour and head over to Eilean Donan Castle, possibly one of the most iconic Castles in the World, if not the most photographed one.
We drove via the A890 before joining the A87 and driving to the well sign posted Eilean Donan Castle. We arrived just after 5pm to a packed carpark which was a large one but certainly not large enough to cope with the amount of visitors at this time of day, especially when the gift shop and cafe closed at a ridiculous time of 5pm. Just when folk like us were dying for a cuppa and a bite to eat. But closed or not that didn't detract from the fantastic Castle which was even more awesome than I had anticipated. We made our way though the many visitors that were from so many nations it just proved why this Castle is so popular. The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. In the early eighteenth century, the Mackenzies' involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle's destruction by government ships. Between 1919 and 1932, the castle was rebuilt by Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap. The restoration included the construction of an arched bridge to give easier access to the island. Macrae-Gilstrap also established a war memorial dedicated to the men of the MacRae clan who died in the First World War. The memorial is adorned with lines from John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields", and is flanked by grey field guns from the war. Eilean Donan was opened to the public in 1955, and has since become a popular attraction: over 314,000 people visited in 2009, making it the third-most-visited castle in Scotland. In 1983 ownership of the castle was transferred to the Conchra Charitable Trust, established by the Macrae family to maintain and restore the castle, and a purpose-built visitor centre was opened on the landward side of the bridge in 1998. It truly is worth the detour from the route and to be so close and not to visit would be a tragedy. It truly is an awesome place.
After a terrific hour at Eilean Donan, it's time to head back towards Lochcarron and find a campsite. It is the end of July and we haven't booked anywhere, as we decided to just go with the flow, and checking google it looks as though there are two in Lochcarron and we shall stop at the first available one, if there is one of course, if not then it's a Wild Camp Job. We return via Plockton and that road was even more fun, just love these single track roads, and contrary to all we have heard, we never experienced any problems everyone was driving and giving way as they should, no hold ups apart from what you get everywhere else in the world, a slow tractor or a tourist enjoying the views, and us, just enjoying life. We finally decided to head for a campsite as only about an hour before the sunsets. The one advantage of travelling the route in high summer is the long long days. It is great at this time of year as it never gets overly dark and that allows you to get more out of your day.
I haven't pitched a tent for about 40 odd years so this will be an experience as we drive into the Wee Campsite which as the name suggests is simply a Wee, Tiny Little Campsite. It is located in the village of Lochcarron so was easy to find even if it is Wee. Now we had check the reviews of this place and it certainly didn't make great reading on many of the reviews, but hey ho we will check it out and see if it merits such, although over all it does get 4 put of 5 which is not too bad.
Well a few months on and it is good to see this Campsite get good reviews as we couldn't fault it. It is not the Ritz but they tell you that. It has all we need for a Wee One night stop after a great start to our trip. If your looking for a Wee Campsite near Lochcarron we highly recommend this one. It had sinks, showers, toilets and loo's we provided the rest including some no doubt comedy as we succeeded on pour 4th attempt to get our Tent up, but to us it was learning process, to others, probably something out of an old fashioned Comedy Sketch.
Our First day has ended and it was 5 out of 5 for everywhere we have been today. From Culloden which was a great place to start and we highly recommend that everyone should start there. Rogie Falls, a tremendous place especially on such a glorious warm day. The Falls did not disappoint. Glen Docherty viewpoint, for the sake of 6 miles, this place is worth double that detour and more, it is such an iconic view and one when you stand there takes your breath away. Simply Stunning. The Drive after that just became brilliant, every corner something new something to photograph. Another detour to Eilean Donan Castle was a big boost on such a glorious day, not just the weather but the memories and new learnings. And our Campsite for the Night, the basic and Perfect Wee Campsite
I know there is so much to come and over the next few days it was to be More Than Just a Journey. and after Day One it has certainly lived up to that.