I love roadtrips. How many times have I mentioned this in my blog? Many, I am sure. But it is still as true now as it ever was, so please take that into consideration when I say that the N500 of Scotland is one of the best roadtrips that I have ever been on. I got the idea for this journey from a Guardian article, and we actually replicated this intinerary fairly closely. It is a great little outline, unless you have more time, in which case I would suggest taking a day or two more on the way down from Wick to Lockinver- especially if you like to hike (or walk as they call it in Scotland). In any case, this means that we travelled from Inverness to Wick, Wick to Lochinver, Lochinver to Gairloch, and then Gairloch to Oban over the course of our roadtrip.
When I used to think about the UK, I imagined rolling green hills sprinkled with little villages, and webbed by narrow roads. The image is based on what I can remember of a two week trip I took to Ireland in 2012. This was nothing like that.
Actually, the drive from Inverness to Wick was somewhat like what I imagined, but that was no indication of what was to come. On the particular day that we did this drive, we first went a little south from Inverness down to Loch Ness to visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle . While the castle itself is little compared to the sprawling fortresses that you can see elsewhere in Scotland, there was something enchanting about these ruins. Maybe it was the fact that the famous loch was the backdrop to the crumbling walls, but I think there is just something that I love about such places… the element of imagination that you need to immerse yourself there can be so personal. It wasn’t a long drive down from Inverness, and even though it rained during the free tour, we enjoyed our time there, and it was unique among the castles that we saw in Scotland. After spending the afternoon wandering through the old rooms, now open to the sky and elements, we started north, up to Wick, and through the green pastures that I naively expected (somehow, despite having read the article that I posted above).
Our longest drive was on the day that we traveled from Wick to Lochinver. That morning, we drove as far north as possible, joining the ranks of bicyclists that had made the long journey from Land’s End in the south of the British Isles all the way to John O’Groats, the northern most point of mainland Scotland. There we looked out across the sea to the Orkney Islands, and posed next to the white post that marked this special point. After that, it was down the west coast and into some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen in my life.
The road that we followed south took us into the mountains and along sweeping coasts. While the white beaches and cliffs dropping off into the blue sea were lovely, it was really the peaks that I fancied the most. Many of them swept up from the ground with steep, stark and treeless flanks. Those mountain sides reached up into the low lying clouds on many occasions, but when their crowns were revealed, the bracken and grass gave way to dead stone, traced by veins of water making its way back to the earth after its stay on the summits during the winter. On some mountain tops, that snow may never melt, even in the depth of summer.
To be continued on June 15th.