We spent our first night in northern Scotland in the city of Inverness, the official capital of the Highlands. We only spent one night at the wonderfully cozy Kingsmill Hotel, but we will return to Inverness for a few days before we head back to Edinburgh. After a long train ride and a good night’s rest, we picked up our car rental, and headed out for our trek around the North Coast 500. The North Coast 500 is an iconic highway in Scotland, similar to Route 66 in the States. Along this amazing scenic route, you will often find sports car enthusiasts, motorcyclists, and cyclists. I was always impressed with the cyclists and their ability to pedal up the steepest roads. But I will say, the drivers were very impressive as well…. taking those curves all fast and furious! We were not out to impress as this was our first time driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and it took some getting used to. Maybe now that we have some experience we will have to come back and try out those hairpin turns with an Audi R8 like a true European! 😉
Kingsmill Hotel, Inverness
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Our first stop along the NC500 was the town of Dornoch. We briefly toured Dornoch Castle (which has been converted into a very nice hotel) and visited a small museum (Historylinks) featuring the history of Dornoch and the Highlands. The museum was situated behind the castle and only took half an hour to learn some great background on this quaint town. There was an interesting exhibit about the Viking invasion and colonization of Scotland that occurred from the 8th to the 15th century. One of the locals commented on Vivienne’s blue eyes and told us that many believe that the blue eye trait observed in those with Scottish ancestry comes from the Viking influence in Scotland. Many of the Scottish Highland castles were established as a defensive position against Viking onslaughts. There was also a short exhibit about Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist, who was one of the wealthiest people of all time and a pioneer of the American steel industry. What most people probably do not know about Andrew Carnegie is that he dedicated his later years to philanthropy. He purchased and resided in the magnificent Skibo Castle, located just west of Dornoch. The Historylinks museum also had a children’s activity at each point, as well as a large room at the end of the exhibit with numerous toys and costumes for Vivienne’s amusement. We then explored the downtown area and the Dornoch Cathedral. After a couple of coffees and a gingerbread cookie for Vivienne, we were on the road again.
Dunrobin Castle was next. We drove down a long gravel road that was artfully lined with beautiful trees that suddenly parted to reveal the most stunning 13th century castle. As we parked the car and walked through the garden gate, we were surprised again with a breathtaking, panoramic view of perfectly manicured gardens and the expansive coastline that lied beyond. It started to rain just a bit, bringing with it a peaceful quiet as we walked and admired the gardens. The castle is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland (The Chief of Clan Sutherland) and has 189 rooms, making it the largest castle in the northern highlands. Dunrobin as you see it today was restored and revitalized in the 17th century by Sir Charles Barry. The original building from the middle ages is still intact and can be seen from the inner courtyard. In 1745, the 17th Earl of Sutherland, who called Dunrobin Castle home, supported the British government during the Jacobite Rising. The Jacobites were led by Bonnie Prince Charlie who garnered support from the Highlanders to take his rightful spot on the English throne. The Jacobites stormed Dunrobin Castle forcing the Earl of Sutherland to flee to Aberdeen. He joined the Duke of Cumberland’s army and together they defeated the Jacobites at the Battle of Littleferry. The dynamics of the Highland clans and Jacobites is interesting to dissect and begs the question: why did some Scots support Prince Charles Stewart and the Jacobite rebellion and others did not? Fascinating 18th century politics, right?
*Stay tuned for more on the Jacobites in later posts.
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We arrived at our hotel for the night, MacKay’s Hotel, located in Wick, county Caithiness. MacKay’s Hotel is situated on Ebenezer Place next to the river, which holds the Guinness world record for the shortest street. We enjoyed some very good local fish and chips and grilled haddock for dinner at No. 1 Bistro, and we called it a night with our complimentary “wee dram” (a shot of Scottish whiskey) before bed. ‘Twas a very good sweet whiskey from the Old Pulteney Distillery in Wick. When in Rome, right?!
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We had a great start to our journey around Northern Scotland! Tell me, have you driven Route 66 or the NC 500? Will you add the NC 500 to your bucket list??
*Check back for NC 500 – part two coming soon!!