Updated: Jul 20, 2019
"Whhhooooooooaaaaaa!!" The exclamation streams suddenly out of both of our mouths at the same time. Like a trail of smoke, our voices draw out the annunciation of each syllable, and our faces light up with awe. The ruggedness of the Scotland highlands has seemingly appeared, just as we round a corner on the road. Instead of bound in a range, mountains rise up from the ground, proud as Marines, standing magnificently on their own. Dramatic cliffs shows themselves, exposed in the otherwise well buttoned green rolling hills. Lochs cut through the mountainous landscape, popping up in various sizes and configurations on both sides of us. Our little Citroën is merely a butterfly flitting about this forest of rock and water. No still shot could capture the magnificence. With dropped jaws, we simply drink it in with our eyes.
It's funny how expectations can be unconscious. After we compose ourselves from our limited Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure vocabulary trace, it was revealed that up to this point, our experience of Scotland had not met our landscape expectations. Not that, by any means, we had been disappointed. It was merely that we had expected more rugged munros, perilous cliff driving along the ocean, and kilted men to rush to our side when we needed a refill of tatties and neeps (we finally discover what these are!!! turnips and potatoes...yum!) Ok, just kidding on the last one, but...if it was offered..
Now, however, we were really getting the full Scottish highlands show! It was very clear now why this area was so popular with cyclists. It would be a dream to take weeks trundling along small sections of this route on two wheels, taking in the awesome beauty. Much of the time, we shared silence, because at some point, words fail and to say the same thing over and over is to tarnish the experience of a place like this. We each breath, we took it into our hearts and memories.
Near the ocean, on our journey from Wick to Bettyhill (pronounced by the Scottish, as something that sounds like "Betill"), we explored castle ruins. This particular one seemed to grow right out of the slate rock ground, perched perilously on the edge of a cliff. Apparently, the wear and tear of the winds, rain, and salt air has been a problem in keeping restorations. Imagine!
The middle chamber was for royalty, while the outer chambers housed the castle's staff. Honestly, the staff had the better view! Although, the King's bed chamber was the only room with a fireplace, maybe in Scotland, warmth is better than sea views.
Out into the misty fields in the still-early morning, we made our way toward Bettyhill, stopping on our way just past John O' Groats (no one knows what that guy did...) to the most northern tip of Scotland. We have pictures to prove it!
While Dunnet Head was a lovely ocean view, it was a bit overrated. The better spot was at the Duncansby Stacks, where a tiny well-trod paths opens up into spectacular oceans views, and postcard worthy rock formations.
Only because we are foodies who can't deny a potential place of culinary education, we made a pit stop at Dunnet Bay Distillers to see what could be seen. These makers of artisan gin had a petite shop filled with beautiful glass bottles of their product, with signs suggesting pairings of fresh herbs, or locally made tonic waters. There were also well-curated products to enhance your drinking experience, or unique artisan gifts for special friends (you know the ones, who will coo and awe over their fineness). Outside the shop was an herb garden, in which you were encouraged to pluck a few sprigs of rosemary, mint, or whatever the shop keeper suggested would be the ideal companion for your concoction.
PS, the artisan tonic water is delicious. Mocktails stand up and salute!
As the day wound down, gawking our way into the small town of Bettyhill, we made it to the Bettyhill Hotel. This sweet spot overlooks stunning golden beaches, with well appointed rooms, and comes with a generous breakfast spread. Did I mention the breakfast room displays the same oceans views? It's the place to be in Bettyhill.
The highlands have captured our hearts, the people are wonderful, and the landscape, breathtaking. You find spots in the highlands that feel like you could be in other place across the world -that feeling of unspoiled, wild beauty that transcends time zones. The experience fills the heart with such gratitude for this time of great spaciousness, possibility, and opening into the next phase.