If you should be unfortunate to only have a day to spend in the North Highlands then this leaflet provides short tours of the Assynt, East Sutherland and North coast. Having experienced a taster you’re bound to want to return. Download the leaflet here
From Durness to Duncansby, a day on the spectacular north coast will take you through a changing landscape – from beautiful uncrowded beaches, over vast sweeping expanses of moorland and through crofting communities strung along the coast into the fertile farmlands of Caithness where archaeological treasures hint at thousands of years of human habitation.
One mile east of Durness on the main coast road (A838) you will find the car park for Smoo Cave. Continue east on the main coast road, which becomes the A836 at Tongue. If you’re in no
hurry, follow the short trail signposted round the Kyle of Tongue (you’ll see an information panel on the causeway). Continue several miles east of Tongue and take the loop coastal road through the
township of Skerray to reach the beach at Torrisdale.
Follow the signs along the coast for Thurso. The museum is in the former Thurso town hall in the pedestrian area, which is on your left as you come into the centre of Thurso. Park in a town centre car park.
Castle of Mey
From Thurso take the road signposted for Castletown (A836) and continue along this road for about 15 miles until you reach Mey. The castle, which is well signposted, is on the seaward side of the road.
Stacks of Duncansby
Duncansby Head is a mile or so east of John o Groats, along a single track road.
Experience wildlife at your fingertips amongst the most breathtaking of scenery. This adventure will take you to the North West of Scotland and the wilderness of Assynt and Lochinver. You may see whales, you’ll visit tropical gardens and climb the mountains to get a glimpse of lochs and sea. Savour the delights of Gairloch and Ullapool and enjoy Highland hospitality at its best. On the return journey we’ll show you’ll visit spectacular forests and falls with the adventure culminating with a visit to the Capital of the Highlands.
Day 1: Assent to Assynt
Arrive in Assynt and Lochinver on the West coast.
Day 2: Seacoast or Great landscapes
Do and see: Explore the beautiful west coast from a different viewpoint. Travel silently by sea kayak and immerse yourself in wilderness; discovering deserted islands, wild coastlines, natural rock arches and white sand beaches. Paddle alongside seals and a whole host of other wildlife or walk Stac Pollaidh where at the summit your efforts are repaid with outstanding views of this inspiring landscape. In the afternoon visit the Assynt Foundation with 44,400 acres of stunningly beautiful natural land, which includes the magnificent mountains, Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor and Cul Beag, a beautiful old hunting Lodge, Glencanisp Lodge, and an awe-inspiring, wildlife-rich world of lochans, rivers and hills.
Travel to Ullapool
Day 3: Gardens to Whale Watching
Do and see: Visit the National Trust for Scotland’s premier garden at Inverewe where the mild climate and sheltered position allows a diverse collection of plants from as far away as New Zealand, South America and China to flourish. Enjoy a picnic lunch in the garden overlooking Loch Ewe. In the afternoon enjoy wildlife watching with a boat trip to Shiant Islands known as the ‘Enchanted Islands’.
Day 4: Forest Foray and City Lights
Visit the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve and enjoy a personalised Ranger led walk. As you travel back to Inverness stop and stretch your legs at the magnificent Rogie Falls and you may catch a view of the last of the salmon leaping up the River Blackwater. In the afternoon you’ll reach the City of Inverness, Capital of the Highlands and walk the old streets, see the Castle which was the venue in September 1921 for the first cabinet meeting of the British Government ever held outside London and pick up some souvenirs before you depart from the Highlands.
Man has lived a long time on the east coast of Sutherland. This enduring and beautiful landscape is home to ancient brochs and medieval castles, hidden woodland sites where iron ore was made and wide flowing rivers and estuaries used for transportation for centuries. Peaceful crofting townships, farms and villages only hint at the sometimes turbulent political history of land use and human settlement. This itinerary will give you a glimpse into the human history of this area, set against a back drop of rugged natural splendour.
Signposted off the A9 a mile north of Golspie.
Exiting Dunrobin, turn right and continue north on the A9 for less than a mile past the Castle, where parking is signposted on the opposite side of the road from the Broch. Alternatively, a pleasant short walk along the shore from the Castle on signposted paths will bring you to Carn Liath.
Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve
Driving south through Golspie, after the children’s playpark, turn left onto Ferry Road. The car park for the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve is around a mile down this road, past the golf course and inside the woodland.
Ledmore and Migdale Woods, Spinningdale
At Clashmore, turn off the A9 onto the A949 (signposted as a Tourist Route) along the beautiful Dornoch Firth towards Bonar Bridge. Once you reach Spinningdale turn onto the minor road for Migdale.
Falls of Shin & Achany
From Bonar Bridge, take the road for Lairg, turning left onto the A837 after Invershin, then right onto the B864 signposted for Falls of Shin.
Leave Inverness on the A9, travelling north towards Dornoch. Once over the Kessock Bridge, a detour can be taken across the Black Isle on the A832 to Cromarty for a boat trip out into the Moray Firth with Ecoventures to look for the UK’s most northerly pod of bottlenose dolphins. Continue up the A9 looking out for the distinctive shape of common seals hauled out on the sandbanks as you cross the bridge over the Cromarty Firth. Continue on until Golspie and turn right down the unclassified road to Littleferry. Car parks along this road give access to Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch Fleet Reserve. Scanning out over the bay will reward you with views of eider, shelduck, red-breasted merganser, oystercatcher, wigeon, bar-tailed godwits, terns and geese, depending on the tides and the season.
As you continue north past the imposing Dunrobin Castle, any stop along the coast gives a chance of common seals hauled out on the shore or dolphins out to sea. Inland lochs are home to ducks and waders, whilst the hills are the haunt of peregrine, golden eagle and red deer. At Dunbeath, the signposted woodland walks give you a chance to see yellowhammer and greenfinch, whilst merlin, short-eared owl, hen harrier and kestrel can all be found on the open moors. Where the A9 turns inland, continue along the coast on the A99 to Wick. The unclassified road north east of Wick will take you out to Noss Head where puffins and other seabirds can be seen during the summer, close to the ruined Sinclair and Girnigoe Castles.
From Wick, follow the A99 to John o’ Groats where an unclassified road takes you to the seabird colonies of Duncansby Head. During the breeding season shags, puffins and guillemots can be seen on the Geo of Sclaites and the offshore stacks. Heading west, any sheltered bay along the A836 may harbour divers and eider, whilst offshore watch for minke whales and risso’s and white-beaked dolphins. The large hide at the Loch of Mey, just past the Castle of Mey, is a good spot for ducks and waders, and white-fronted geese in winter. At Dunnet, the B855 takes you past a small hide at St John’s Loch, haunt of little grebe, terns and otter. The pools on the road to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain, are frequented by red-throated diver, and the moors are home to raven and red grouse. Dunnet Head is a good spot to watch breeding seabirds. Watch out great and arctic skuas that divebomb the unwary.
Past Thurso, the A9 takes you to Scrabster where the ferry across the Pentland Firth to Orkney only takes 1 1/2 hours. Look out for cetaceans throughout the crossing and seabirds whilst rounding the Old Man of Hoy. You can join tours with local wildlife guides, such as Orcadian Wildlife or you can take the car ferry over to the island of Hoy, haunt of short-eared owls and hen harriers and a further array of majestic seabird cliffs. Return to Scrabster at the end of the day.
The tidal reaches of the River Thurso are good for waders and ducks. The A836, west of the town takes you along coastal stretches which hold waders, divers and eider in the sandy bays and rock dove, skuas and harriers on the moors. At Melvich Bay, turn left onto the A897 towards Kinbrace. This is the heart of the “flow country”, home to golden plover, hen harrier, short-eared owl, greenshank and dunlin, as well as red deer and golden eagle. At Forsinairn, walks through Forestry Commission Woodland can give you the chance of Scottish crossbill. At Forsinard, the RSPB visitor centre has details of all the birds seen in the “flow country” as well as cameras trained on a hen harrier nest. Red throated divers nest on small lochans and in spring the area is alive with the sounds of breeding waders.
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