Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Back from a North Coast road trip

It's that time of year when the "I'm back from my holidays" blog posts from people start to appear, so here's mine...

Our holidays for the last few years have been mainly in North Wales...there are posts elsewhere on the blog usually tagged as "Castles".

This year we had a slightly different holiday which was more of a road trip.  We began with a few days based in Glasgow for my niece's wedding and staying with my parents.  My son then headed back to London and my wife and I set off on our North Coast road trip.  My wife had come across a Facebook page for a lighthouse on the west coast of Scotland, mainly because of the photography, and we'd decided to stay there for a couple of nights.  The reviews on TripAdvisor are mostly very positive but there are a couple of reviews that are 'interesting' and suggest the owners are a bit odd.  We figured that a couple of nights would give us a good flavour of the it was it was a lovely place to stay but very remote and the owners were very nice indeed.

The lighthouse is near Gairloch on the North West Coast so we had a couple of days exploring the area before heading further north.  In the last couple of years the Scottish Tourist Board have created a driving route to attract tourists...a kind of Scottish Route 66.  This is the North Coast 500 (info here) which, if you're into driving makes for a spectacular road trip, working its way round the West, North and East coast.  The route seemed to be very popular with bikers and owners of vintage cars and lots and lots of Germans...almost every other car/bike we passed was from Germany.

We had a few nights based in the middle of the north coast of Scotland at a place called Bettyhill...pretty unremarkable but a good central spot.  We did the usual touristy things like visiting John O'Groats which is really quite unimpressive...essentially it consists of a signpost and a couple of cafes, but if you've gone all that way you need to at least go and be photographed pointing at the sign.

After a couple o nights up here we then headed back down towards  Inverness and eventually on to Glasgow.

Now of course this is a Wargaming blog (mainly) so the challenge is to find suitable historical and/or wargamey things to write about in a land consisting of sheep,  beaches and moorland and not a lot else.  So here goes...

The Rua Reidh Lighthouse where we stayed....

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Like most lighthouses around Scotland it was built by one of the Stevenson family...yes, the family which includes Robert Louis Stevenson, famous writer and of course, wargaming author of the poem 'The Magic Land of Counterpane" which describes being ill as a child and playing with toy soldiers in the bed (lets face it we've all done it although it does tend to annoy my wife...)

While we stayed at the lighthouse we spent some time on the beach at Gruinard Bay, letting our dogs run riot. 

Gruinard Bay with the Island in the centre right

Just off the bay is Gruinard Island, infamously used by the MoD as a testing ground for Anthrax in 1942 and only declared clear in 1990.  The cleanup was only initiated after 'Operation Dark Harvest' in which after a warning, soil samples appeared outside Porton Down and in Blackpoool where the Conservative government of the day were holding their conference.  That seemed to get there attention!

Just round the coast from Gruinard Bay is Lochewe which is where the Arctic Convoys used to assemble in WW2 before heading off on what must have been the worst possible sea journey to Murmansk or Archangel. 

Loch Ewe

My wife's grandfather sailed on at least a couple of Arctic runs although he was reluctant to talk much about them,  We know he served on HMS Fowey but I think was in the Channel Approaches rather that the north on this ship.

HMS Fowey

At Bettyhill, where we spent a few days I found this Pictish Stone in the local churchyard:

According to the sign next to it, the stone is dated from 800-850 CE

As I mentioned earlier John O'Groats is pretty uninspiring but we also stopped at Dunnet Head which is the actual most northerly part of the mainland and is a nature reserve.  On top of the hill are a number of concrete buildings dating from WW2 when this was a radar station and spotting post for U Boats, given its proximity to Scapa Floe:

WW2 buildings at Dunnet Head

It must have been a pretty bleak posting, especially in winter!

On our way back south we stopped at Wick to walk the dogs and came across Old Wick Castle, guarded by some rather scary cows.  This is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, dating from around 1100 and was apparently built by Earl Harald Maddadson...this part of Scotland owes a lot to the Norse.  Apart from this it seems to have had an uneventful life.

Old Wick Castle

Finally, when we stopped on our way back to do some dolphin spotting in the Cromarty Firth, I realised we were looking out across the Firth to Fort George:

Fort George... a bit out of focus

This fortification was built in the aftermath of the 45 Rebellion and is a fort that had somehow passed me by completely despite several previous trips to Inverness.  We didn't visit as we needed to drive back to Glasgow via Glencoe which took the rest of the day.

Glencoe...handy spot for a massacre
So there we go... quite a few unexpected historical bits and pieces.  The holiday was great fun and we both enjoyed the North Coast route...if you like driving it's well worth doing but do stop and see some of the sights as well!


  1. The wife and I have just followed the same route in a mobile home. We had to laugh you had the same experiences, We also thought John O Groats a disappointment, and the bloody dolphins never appeared off the Black Isle. John O Groats is however much better than the sign at Lands End which you can only be photoed by an official photographer, and they take the top off when he finishes for the day.

  2. So it was your mobile home causing the hold ups!! :)

    We were lucky with the dolphins...they appeared and performed nicely as soon as we arrived!

  3. I'd love to do that one day. Even the Old Bat would like it, being one quarter Scottish!