Living in Caithness, it can be easy to stick to the same spots out of familiarity, but this year, I explored a number of 'new to me' places over the summer and early autumn. This period of exploring new places has coincided with Lonely Planet's recent (October 2023) recognition of the Far North region as part of their #BestinTravel recommendations for 2024, so it's definitely time to share my list!
Read on for my round up of quiet spots that you can include on an itinerary of Caithness and Sutherland to explore and enjoy for yourself in 2024 and beyond.
Far North - Inland:
I can't believe it took me so long to get to Forsinard, but since August we have been twice! I had passed through it so many times on the train when heading to Inverness. Forsinard is situated in the middle of the Flow Country, a national nature reserve and huge area of peat bog which is crucial in the fight against climate change, containing nearly 30% of the world's store of carbon.
At Forsinard, there is a RSPB visitor centre in the train station which has informative and beautiful displays and films about the region and the habitat that it provides for nature. However to get the best experience of the Flow Country I would recommend walking the Dubh-lochan Trail, which is a short circular boardwalk which takes you to a stunning viewing point and tower lookout.
You can see for miles around and we've enjoyed visits on both still and breezy days. If you're visiting in summer definitely wear some midge repellent! It's a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the environment. In summer 2024, the Flow Country will learn if the bid to be awarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has been successful. If so, it will join St Kilda and Orkney as the third Highlands and Islands region.
Self serve refreshments are available in the RSPB Visitor Centre and we also took a picnic for one of our visits, but I'd recommend a trip to Forsinard Lodge Tea Room which offers snacks, cakes and drinks year-round (check opening days/times before you visit).
Driving out to Braemore has also been on our list for a few years! Braemore is the last possible place to park if you intend on climbing Morven or the other hills nearby. With a long walk in before you start ascending, it's worth consulting a guide like Walk Highlands. We took the gated farm estate path for a shortish walk where we could get a lovely panoramic view.
Far North - Coastal:
We didn't just stay inland in our explorations, there are plenty of coastal locations in Far North Scotland to explore too!
Strathy - Point Lighthouse and East Beach
Walking out to Strathy Point was a highlight. We visited on a sunny but breezy day which meant we saw crashing waves, and the light illuminating the cliffs.
The Lighthouse itself is a private property and you can walk around the property's boundary - it's clearly signposted. On this walk dogs should be kept on a lead because of the sheep roaming in different areas.
We also visited Strathy East beach. A short steep walk down the cliff leads to a stunning beach where we saw swimmers, surfers, sandcastle building and sunbathing in action! However my favourite part of Strathy were the incredible caves which are accessible at low tide.
Far North - Heritage
I have to be honest in saying that I had visited Strathnaver Museum a good few years ago so it's not a completely new place to me. However the museum has gone through an extensive renovation programme and it was a true delight to revisit in 2023 once these works had been completed.
Housed in a former church, the musuem recounts the local history of the area, including stories of the landscape, people and culture, including a fascinating exhibit all about the Mackay Clan.
The new layout has many exhibits over two floors and there's also an annexe building which hosts guests exhibits. There are lots of interactive displays so it's a true family friendly museum, and there's also a lovely small shop with a range of gifts and locally made products.
There is a small charge (at the time of writing this is £5 for adults, free for children). There's also a cafe in the Bettyhill Tourist Information Centre which is just a short 2 minute walk away.
Far North - Food and Drink:
Forss House Hotel
I enjoyed not one but two trips to Forss House Hotel for afternoon tea in 2023! If you're looking for a true treat in some quiet and refined surroundings, I'd definitely recommend Forss House. We enjoyed walking through the grounds on both occasions and during our second visit after Storm Babet (October 2023) were mesmerised by the sight of the thundering falls by the old Mill.
We were also mesmerised by the quality (and quantity) of our delicious afternoon teas and constant refilling of our tea and coffee! Forss House were very accommodating of our dietary requirements and we took home a box of the goodies that we couldn't manage during our sitting.
For more Far North Ideas:
For more inspiration for your trip to the Far North of Scotland, take a look at:
Venture North website (for Caithness and Sutherland - I work for Venture North as well as being a business member)