Alright lovelies, are you ready for some more road tripping? This one is a little longer, but read on for NC500 Part 2: the road from Inverness to Lybster. This leg involved some fancy whisky, ridiculously beautiful coastline, and some precarious hiking to reach this ruined castle…
After a great night’s sleep in Inverness, we hopped in the car to drive the second leg of our NC500 trip. We followed the trusty A9 northwards towards Tain and were treated to some lovely views of the landscape surrounding Cromarty Firth as we passed over Cromarty Bridge. The sky was blue and the gods were smiling down on us… the Whisky Gods, who lead us serendipitously to the door of the Glenmorangie Distillery five minutes before the tour began.
See? I wasn’t kidding about those blue skies.
The Glenmorangie Distillery has been quietly crafting whisky on the banks of the Dornoch Firth for over a hundred and fifty years. We were met by Anna, our guide, who showed us through the different rooms in the distillery and explained the whisky making process. I loved being in the mash room, which smelled sweeeeeet! Literally. She also shared with us the history of the men who work there. Despite having a huge production output, the distillery has been traditionally run by a very small staff who always come from Tain, the local village. As they make a point of employing local men, the staff were given the monicker “The Men of Tain” and it was really lovely to hear about how a local company was still carrying on traditions to support the community, despite being outrageously successful.
We walked through the factory to see where the whisky sleeps before being bottled. The cask room was cool and dark and filled with wooden barrels that housed the different types of delicious whisky. The barrels were made of different types of wood which gave each style of whisky its distinctive taste. We also learnt about the different ways the distillery is trying to rejuvenate the natural wildlife. They have been putting money into reforming the natural oyster beds that used to line the river, and their pledge to keep the water clean and free of byproducts. That part was pretty impressive!
After our whisky tasting, we crossed the beautiful Dornoch Firth and continued along the coast to our home for the evening in Lybster. This was the first time that we realised that we were really getting into the high country as the villages got further and further apart, spread along the rugged coastline. the weather for our NC500 trip continued to be ridiculously beautiful with glorious sunshine and little more than a light breeze coming in from the sea. We are spoilt for beaches in Australia but I have to say that I would swap those golden sands for these wild pebble beaches any day. Our experience at Lybster definitely had me falling in love even further with this landscape.
When we reached our airbnb, our lovely hosts told us about a place they called ‘Ropey Cove’ which was a path down to the pebble beach at the end of the lane that our cabin was on. We thought that it was just a quaint name, I mean, how cute does Ropey Cove sound? It was a super steep slope with no track down to the beach other than to abseil yourself down on a thick rope that was hammered into the ground in a way that did not inspire confidence. Still, I laugh in the face of danger so I wen’t down first.
Now do you see why I was so keen to get down there?
I’m in love with Scotland. Really. The ancient rock thrusting itself up through the ocean, the smell of that salt water, and the hush of the sea as the tide came in, are all things I would happily live with every day of my life. We were the only two people exploring that day and it was so damn peaceful. While you will definitely find your own secret places to explore when you travel the NC500, I think experiences like this epitomise why this road trip is so incredible. This is definitely not something you will be sharing with a thousand of your closest friends, like you would be in Venice, or Dubrovnik. Scotland still has that untamed wildness that makes you remember why this world is still such an incredible place. It also reminds you why it’s so important to keep it that way.
Once we climbed back up the rope, we made like mountain goats over to this little ruin perched on the top of a fairly steep little hill. Can you see a path there? No? That’s right, because there wasn’t any. We hopped through some marshy patches and some thick, thick grass (thanking god it wasn’t midge season yet!) and many times I thought I was going to slip right back down to the bottom. But we didn’t, and were rewarded with these spectacular views as the sun decided it would think about setting. Just kidding – it wasn’t going to set for another hour or two!
We passed a happy night in Lybster before moving on to the third leg of our NC500 tour through the highlands. Just a quick warning though, as the landscape gets wilder, the villages are further apart which means that you want to be watching your fuel gauge and planning ahead where you want to get your groceries. Some towns you stay in won’t have a restaurant other than a fish and chip shop so make sure that you have an idea what you will be doing for breakfast and dinner each day. This leg was the first one that we used to stock up on groceries such as milk, cereal and bread. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!