The turning tides of the NC500

The day dawned with driving, horizontal rain. Mrs Slaw and the pooches got very wet on their morning constitutional. Helga was parked in the Seaview Hotel car park at John O Groats. A motorhome stopover on the NC500. A much preferable option to sleeping in the public car park at JOG. The evening meal had been very nice. Both Slaw and the Mrs had chicken and haggis with a whisky sauce. Mrs Slaw followed hers with an ice cream sundae with Orkney fudge. Delicious! She felt sick afterwards; her own greedy fault 🤦🏻‍♀️

After seeing the negative local signs on the North Coast yesterday, Slaw checked out the most up-to-date online reviews for tomorrow night’s free camp. The car park at the Neptune Locks at Banavie had previously had good reviews. However, September had a new review – ‘Definitely not allowed to stay overnight’. Mrs Slaw started hyperventilating and having visions of flaming torches and pitchforks again. Slaw was on it! He found a campsite near enough so he can still walk to the famous staircase locks on the Caledonian canal. But that is tomorrow, back to today.

It’s a cold, wet and grey day. Manky weather according to Mrs Slaw. Ever the good Girl Scout, Mrs Slaw referred to the pre-planned colour coordinated folder. The oracle of the Slaw’s Scotland Road Trip 2020. Mrs Slaw’s pride and joy. First activity is a visit to Duncansby Head to see the stacks of Duncansby. Helga parked in the car park among the overnight free campers and bales of rotting hay, dumped by locals trying to prevent and discourage the free campers. Feelings are running high at the moment and Mrs Slaw cannot understand why the campers feel the need to camp in the car park that clearly states ‘No overnight parking’ when the John O Groats car park allows 12 hours in a day for £2 (making an overnight stop just £4), the Seaview Hotel offers motorhome stopover free when you have a meal, and the Lobster Co. only charge £10 per night to park in their car park. Plenty of alternative choices without creating animosity.

The walk to see the stacks of Duncansby is across a few fields. Mrs Slaw was chuntering to herself. ‘So, what did you do on holiday Mrs Slaw?’ ‘Well, I tramped across a field in driving, stinging, eye-watering, horizontal rain to go and look at some lumps of stone stuck out o’t’sea!’ There’s a laugh around every corner with Slaw though. He stepped on a wooden walkway and just as Mrs Slaw said ‘be careful, that looks slippery …..’ Slaw set off like Wayne Sleep performing an ungainly glissade! He made a superb recovery! Only his pride was dented 🤣

Stacks of Duncansby

Next stop was not an activity, but a necessity. Wick is a big town with all the usuals, Tesco, Argos, Pets at home. Mrs Slaw went shopping for the items not easily sourced in the Highland Crofter’s local shops. Soya milk and gluten free bread for Slaw. Back on the road again; still raining, but a glimpse of brighter skies ahead. Mrs Slaw wistfully thought of sunnier climes, usually experienced on her two-week summer holiday. Not to be this year. Hey-ho! An executive decision was made to do an Alastair Griffin aka ‘Just drive’. Sky Sports F1 theme tune. Next stop Dunrobin Castle approx 50 miles south.

The most interesting part of this section of the NC500, according to Mrs Slaw, was the wind farms and oil rigs out to sea and the grass roofed sheep huts. Good insulation in all weathers perhaps? Mrs Slaw picked up a theme in place names along the way. Ulbster, Occumster, Lybster. Intrigued, she looked into the meaning of ‘ster’. Apparently, according to forum.caithness.org it means ‘stead’ as in homestead or farmstead and is an old Norse word.

Past Berridale, driving through the Langwell Forest, you are reminded of the beautiful scenery of the West Coast. Winding roads, herds of deer, mountains silhouetted on the right hand side. It has finally stopped raining! Mrs Slaw feels like she is on holiday again. Looking out to sea, you can make out Tarbet Ness over the Dornoch Firth. There are glimpses of blue skies ahead! Helga passed the Clynelish Distillery at Brora but amazingly didn’t stop 🤣 Brora is a pretty little town with higgeldy piggledy houses and brightly painted shops.

Dunrobin Castle is the home of the Dukes and Earls of Sutherland. Mrs Slaw knew from research that neither the castle nor the grounds are dog friendly. However, there is a woodland walk that you can take dogs on that takes you across the beach in front of the castle where you can get the perfect insta photo with the castle in the background. Slaw, Mrs Slaw, Prince William and the Cottingham Cowgirl set forth into the woods. They came across the fenced off burial ground of the Dukes and Earls in a clearing with a magnificent stone memorial and then headed onto the beach track. Alas! The tide was in. Thwarted of the perfect insta photo the only one available today was the rear of the castle.

The rear of Dunrobin Castle

Next on the activity list was the Loch Fleet nature reserve. According to Mrs Slaw’s research, this is full of sand banks with seals posing for the tourists. Mrs Slaw knows this because she’s seen the photos on social media. Guess what? The tide that was in at Dunrobin, was also in at Loch Fleet 🤦🏻‍♀️ No visible sand banks, just a solitary seal bobbing about in the middle of the Loch. The ruined Skelbo Castle sits just above the south shore car park. A toothless relic of days gone by,

Skelbo Castle

Tonight’s campsite is Dornoch Camping and Caravanning Site. Not a CCC site as Mrs Slaw thought! A very friendly welcome and Helga was soon pitched. Time to explore the town. Mrs Slaw was fascinated by the Witches Stone in someone’s front garden. Dornoch is famed for the last recorded execution of a person convicted of witchcraft by stripping, tarring and burning alive. The stone marks the site of Janet Horne’s execution in 1727.

The Witches Stone

Dornoch has other interesting places to explore, such as the old jail, now a maze of independent retailers setting out their wares in the cells. Mrs Slaw purchased her favourite Sea Kelp hand soap and conditioner on a stylish white porcelain stand. In the back streets there were photo opportunities in abundance. Mrs slaw found a picture perfect house and car. Heartbeat-esque!

However, Dornoch is not dog friendly. The first two establishments where Slaw tried to spend money over the bar refused the pooches entry 😱 Finally, they were allowed in the Coach House bar and restaurant. A very pleasant evening was spent chatting to fellow travellers. In fact, it seemed that without tourists, the bar would be empty. Tomorrow we finish our amazing NC500 route and head further south through Scotland. We will definitely return to the Highlands.

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