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A journey along the top edge of Scotland that brings many rewards and an album-full of photographs.

The northern coast of Scotland is remote, rugged and breath-taking – sometimes quite literally, as the wind roars in off the Pentland Firth and snatches the breath from your mouth. Standing here on the northern edge of mainland Britain you are witness to the sea’s awesome, unstoppable power and the equally indomitable strength of the rock beneath your feet, the two locked together in a battle, both timeless and never-ending.

We begin at Caithness’s north-eastern tip of Duncansby Head, with its jagged sea stacks, home to countless seabirds, and continue via John O’Groats to the most northerly headland of all - Dunnett Head, with far-reaching views in all directions. We also enjoy a visit to the Castle of Mey, the lovingly restored former summer residence of the late Queen Mother. Heading westwards we continue to Strathnaver, the lonely river valley which echoes with the dark days of the notorious ‘Highland Clearances’ of the early 19th century. From our harbour-side hotel at Kinlochbervie we seek out some of the highlights of the north west coast, such as Smoo Cave at Durness, a huge sea cave with a waterfall and a ‘blowhole’. A thrilling trip by ferry and mini-bus to Cape Wrath is included, Britain’s most north-westerly point and as remote a location as you could find.

Available departure dates and prices

 

Day 1

We depart from our designated pick-up points and head north, stopping en route for refreshments. We continue north by the scenic coastal road to Thurso and our accommodation at the St Clair Hotel.  All rooms have en suite facilities with TV, telephone and tea/coffee making facilities.

Dinner is served in the evening.

Day 2

This morning, after breakfast, we visit Duncansby Head, the north eastern tip of the Scottish mainland. The single track road from John O’ Groats emerges at the lighthouse which was built in 1924 and became automated in 1997.  With views north over Orkney and west to John O’ Groats and Dunnet Head, a well trodden path brings us to the first sight of the Geo of Sclaites, a huge cleft bitten deeply into the cliffs with a natural arch.  Further along the cliff top there are stunning views south to Thirle Door and the jagged rocks and arches known as the Stacks of Duncansby.

Our next visit is to John O’ Groats, the landmark at the “end of the road”, the northernmost corner ofBritain, 874 miles from Lands End.  There is a craft village, shops, ferry, exhibitions and museum all set in magnificent scenery with panoramic views over the stormy waters of thePentland Firth to Orkney.  This is a seabird haven with puffins, shags, fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls and gannets and many more species nesting in their thousands on the rock ledges.

We continue to The Castle of Mey the former holiday home of the late Queen Mother.  OriginallyBarrogillCastle it was first seen by the late Queen Mother in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband King George VI.  Falling for its ruined, isolated charm she declared she would save the castle from ruin.  Having acquired the most northerly castle on the British mainland, she renovated and lovingly restored it and for over half a century she spent her summers here and created the beautiful gardens you see today.

We continue on to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on mainland Britain with some of the most extensive views to be found anywhere in northern Scotland, and Scrabster, from where the ferry to Orkney sails.

We return to the hotel in time for dinner.

Day 3

This morning after breakfast we leave the hotel and set out on our journey across Scotland’s northern edge, to our first visit - Strathnaver Museum, Bettyhill. Located in the former church of St Columba which was built in 1700, the museum takes you on a journey from the mystical past of prehistory to the emergence of the Clan Mackay, the tragedy of the Highland Clearance and you will discover the vibrant culture of today, inherited from our Norse and Gaelic ancestors.

Strathnaver is one of the principal sites of the Highland Clearances.  In 1814, the “year of the burning”, as many as 15,000 people were cleared from the one and a half million acre estate of the Duke of Stafford (later made the Duke of Sutherland) to increase the income from the land by letting it to sheep farmers. Many emigrated toNorth America and never returned. Driving along this single track road beside the River Naver it is hard not to be moved by the thought of the terrible loss and upheaval that people here suffered.

 

We travel to Tongue where we will have lunch (not included).  The name Tongue has old Norse origins, though fairly obvious: it comes from “tunga”, a tongue of land projecting into the loch.  Although the Norse people probably lived here between the 900 and 1200, nothing certain has been found of their settlement.  When Thomas Telford completed the road south to Lairg in 1828, Tongue changed from being an island community relying on the sea for its communications.  When the road to Thurso followed in 1836 a daily coach service ran and during the rest of the 1800s efforts to complete the road west to Durness continued.

We continue via Loch Eriboll and Durness to Kinlochbervie on the tip of the north west coastline.  Our accommodation is at the Kinlochbervie Hotel which overlooks the busy fishing harbour.  All rooms have en-suite facilities with TV, telephone and tea/coffee making facilities.

We arrive at the hotel in time for dinner.

Day 4

This morning after breakfast we will travel back up the single track road to Keoldale, the starting point for our dramatic journey to Cape Wrath. A fifteen-minute ferry trip takes us across the Kyle of Durness and once on the other side we board a minibus which will take us along the 12-mile track to the headland, whose name derives not from the stormy waters of the area but from the Norse word for a turning point, for here the Norsemen turned their ships to head for home. On the way we pass an old tin schoolhouse, last used in the 1930s, and various buildings used by the MoD in connection with the bombing range here (but not during the tourist season!). At the point is Cape Wrath Lighthouse, built by Robert Stevenson in 1828 on the most north-westerly tip of the Scottish mainland. Looking east from the lighthouse you can see the spectacular sea cliffs stretching out towards Durness, which provide ideal habitats for many sea birds.

On our return back to the other side of the Kyle of Durness, we move on to the villageof Durness itself, where we will visit the Balnakeil Craft Village. Originally an early warning station in case of nuclear attack, it was turned into a craft centre in 1964 and has housed a number of local craftspeople. We also visit the nearby Smoo Cave which has the largest entrance of any sea cave in the British Isles. Recent excavations show that the cave was in use 6000 years ago by the earliest settlers in the north. The “blowhole” and waterfall can be observed from an observation point above the cave.

We then return to the hotel in time for dinner.

Day 5

This morning after breakfast we leave the hotel and begin our homeward journey, travelling via Laxford Bridge, Loch More, Loch Shin and Lairg. In the 1950s a hydro-electric dam was constructed which raised the level of Loch Shin by over 30 feet and it now forms one of the major attractions of the area, complete with a spectacular salmon leap.

At one time the majority of the inhabitants in Lairg area resided on the high moorlands and straths, with the children of tenanting shepherds walking miles to school over rugged hill paths, but gradually these dwellings have been vacated in favour of a move down to the more accessible present village on the southern shores of the loch, which developed from around 1812.

Continuing via Bonar Bridge and Tain we return back to our original pick-up points, where we expect to arrive in the late evening.

Included in the price

  • 4 nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast – 2 nights at the St Clair Hotel, Thurso and 2 nights at the Kinlochbervie Hotel. All rooms have private facilities
  • Comfortable coach travel throughout
  • Visits to Duncansby Head, John O’Groats Museum, Castle of Mey, Dunnet Head, Strathnaver Museum, Cape Wrath, Smoo Cave, Balnakeil Craft Village at Durness and Loch Shin
  • Services of a Brightwater Holidays tour manager

Not Included (per person)

  • Single room supplement             £80.00
  • Insurance                                  £18.50 (under 65); £37.00 (65-74); £55.50 (75-90)
  • Rail/air travel and overnight accommodation in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Perth before or after the tour available on request
A 4-night package by air is available from London from £655 per person – ask for details.

Departure points and times: 

  Depart Return
Glasgow 0715 2045
Edinburgh 0830 1930
Dunfermline 0900 1900
Kinross 0915 1845
Perth 0930 1830
Inverness 1430 1530
Subject to minimum numbers, the following pick-ups will be served by feeder coach and passengers will join/leave the main coach inPerth:
Montrose 0805 1955
Arbroath 0825 1935
Dundee 0845 1915
Subject to minimum numbers, the following pick-up will be served by feeder coach to/from Inverness:
Aberdeen 1130 1830

 

Please note all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.

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Pauline our Tour Manager was a wee star, her personality and knowledge make the Highlands come alive.

Mrs Wilson

We thoroughly enjoyed the archaeological tour to the Outer Hebrides, the driver and guide made the holiday a great success

Mr and Mrs Sutherland, Dundee

A superb holiday - thanks Trish the Tour Manager was very helpful and knowledgeable - the free day was a great idea.

Mr and Mrs Somerville
 
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