North Coast 500 – Scottish Highlands Road Trip

The drive up to Scotland didn’t seem too long. We saw two camels at Scotch Corner and stopped off at the Falkirk wheel for a cup of tea, before arriving, early evening in Perth – a city of grand buildings with a stunning bridge running over a wide river. A place steeped in history, where you can stay in a castle if you want to, or not. Our hotel was opposite a funeral parlour and smelt like the dentists.

We explored a little, noted that the things I am interested in probably aren’t in any tourist guides – climbing frames that look like insects and the fanciest glitziest mirrored foyer at Morrison’s supermarket. We walked down the road and eyed up blocks of flats sporting a beautiful pebble dash and pink paint combo. Some of the buildings were incredible, some of the buildings were incredible and derelict. The Waverley Hotel had been taken over by pigeons, wafting in and out of their broken glassed net-curtained windows.

We ate in the hotel restaurant, a tartan carpeted conservatory extension to the front of the building. I felt like I might be by the sea, and also quite elderly. I was reminded of the time I stayed in Eastbourne – I breakfasted with a bunch of lovely ladies who didn’t want to see me sitting alone. I joined them and accidentally ate rather a lot of prunes.

I slept for a few minutes at a time, managing to hook the open end of the pillowcase around my wrist so that the weight of my hand would pull the pillow down tight over my head and protect my ears from the drone of vehicles and traffic-light racers outside.

Breakfast was black pudding, potato cake, poached egg and mushrooms. We didn’t want beans. ‘Musical fruit!’ the waiter exclaimed before taking our order to the kitchen. The Grampian Hotel has a charm of it’s own.

From Perth, we drove, through the Cairngorms – heather, ferns, rosebay willow herb, rock, trees, so many trees – to Inverness, and on towards Wick.

 As we headed further north I noted, less trees, more sheep. We stopped off at a small cemetery atop a hill overlooking the sea. We climbed steps, hauled over a stone wall, to explore, to feel the breeze.

In Wick, on the shortest street in the world (reason enough to go there for me) we checked in to Mackays Hotel. In our room, a tipple of sherry and a Werthers Original each. Winning. Also, relief, a welcoming bed. The view of the bay from the window was almost timeless.

Again, we wandered and explored. Hand painted signs in shop windows advertised ‘Superdry’ and ‘White Stuff’. Another, framed brightly in orange, read ‘YOUTHS’ in bold letters.

We ate in the hotel restaurant, No.1 Bistro.Presumptuous name!’ I thought, but then I got eating and decided they were probably right.

Orkney handdived scallops, black pudding risotto (peppery, creamy and rich, with shredded apple), Monkfish and Serrano ham ballotine, venison with golden beetroots, tiny wild mushrooms, pink tinted potatoes and a creamy parsnip sauce (deliciously earthy and foraged flavours), a pre-dessert (why did I not know about pre-desserts before? Who has been hiding this from me?) of chocolate sponge with Wick strawberries and white chocolate mousse, soufflé with gin gel and raspberry puree, petit fours, a cup of tea… rejoice, and breath!

We slept well, ate breakfast, and drove to John O’Groats to watch people queue for photos in front of the sign. We didn’t get a Starbucks, but (sadly) we could have done. I watched little birds (twites, I think) hop in an out of crab baskets, whilst Adam tried to lure a lone seagull.

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