North Coast Exploration: from Caithness to Durness


When we moved from Inverness to Caithness, my heart sunk just a little at the prospect that the drive to Achmelvich Bay (my favourite place in Scotland) in the heart of the NC500, would not be in such easy reach on our days off – would we find such staggering natural beauty on the North Coast? I needn’t have worried, as towering mountains, scenic panoramas, caves, and stunning white beaches all feature on a drive from Thurso to Durness.

The drive along the north coast takes two hours, although I defy anyone to drive it without stopping to admire the view or to take a few sneaky photos.

There’s plenty of places to stop and explore –  the main settlements once out of Thurso are Melvich, Bettyhill, and Tongue.

We were on a mission – or rather my brother was, to get a ride on Golden Eagle Ziplines, over Ceannabeinne beach,  but when we arrived in Durness, it was too windy and the flight time was moved to the early afternoon.

So we continued west from Durness, onto Balnakeil Craft Village. The history of this place – a former Ministry of Defence building is fascinating and more can be read here about the development of this unique collection of craft businesses.

The rather original uninspiring grey flat-roofed buildings have been considerably brightened up with a lick of paint. Even calor gas bottles get the upcycled treatment here!

Painted signs guide you to the next hub of crafters and painters…

whilst some need no sign, becuase their property advertises itself!

On we explored, until our final stop at Balnakeil – Cocoa Mountain. For just over £5 get a towering hot chocolate with two chocolates of your choice (with over 20 to choose from, it’s a hard decision! I chose maple and pecan, and raspberry).

Fortunately my brother didn’t choose this option, as a return journey to Ceannabeinne beach was next on our list. Once safety gear was on, he was away down the zipline! We then backtracked to Smoo Cave.

There’s something about walking down the hill and into a big dark cave that makes you feel very very small.

It’s a geologist’s dream, and off-season the tour guides get involved in digs to discover more about the rocks and inhabitants of these caves.

Tours operate in high season for a small charge, (although you can walk over the wooden bridge into the main chamber for free)… but beware that tours can be cancelled at short notice – darn you, pesky sheep!

We started our journey back east along the north coast, when the sun came right out from behind the clouds and gave us just the most beautiful Caribbean-like beaches. It was so peaceful – just the sound of the occasional vehicle, bird or wind. Idyllic!

Of course we still stopped lots, just in awe that Scotland has so much beauty!