NORTH COAST

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North Coast, ScotlandTraverse the A836-A838 roads from Durness to John O’Groats and you will discover some of the most quietly impressive landscapes in the Highland northern coast, many of which are virtually untrodden by visitors.  The rugged coast, transformed by crashing waves that surfers dream about, is surrounded by untamed scenery—majestic mountains, peaceful, glassy lochs, tall cliffs, and magical inlets waiting to be discovered.The isolated white sandy beaches are the best in Scotland, and are all sparsely populated, both by residents and tourists alike.  Dotting the region are mystical ruins, nature reserves, and wildlife-spotting.  Everything here seems very remote, and it is the kind of journey that requires your full attention—though this does not require a lot of effort, as the sights do command your attention, whether you like it or not.  The comforts of modern life—banks, gas stations, and the Internet—are far and few in between, so prepare yourself.

 

 

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TOWNS:  1. Durness  2. Tongue  3. Bettyhill  4. Dounreay  5. Thurso  6. Scrabster  7. Dunnet Head  8. John O'Groats

 

 

   
 
 
 

 

Geologically fascinating Durness, sitting on top of cliffs overlooking white sandy beaches on the northwest edge of Scotland, is a great jump-off point if you’re looking to travel on the A838 road of the North Coast.  The main public transport here is provided by the Dearman Coaches link, which comes from Inverness.

 

SIGHTS
Smoo Cave, DurnessTiny Durness holds interest both for visitors and geology students for the crumbling sea cliffs it sits on, and the 200ft-long limestone cave that features both freshwater and seawater flowing through it.  The Smoo Cave, located east of the town, is a geological wonder, and if you’re lucky, you will catch waterfalls cascading down the small cavern region of the cave, where you can also catch a boat ride that will let you explore the interiors of the limestone gaping hole.

 

Nearby, in a village hall, you will find a touching memorial to Beatle John Lennon, who used to spend his boyhood vacations here.  He loved it so much that he even revisited it with Yoko Ono in 1969.  It reputedly also inspired many poems turned into songs, though the end-products hardly mention the place, so this can be refuted.

White sandy beaches with cold but clear waters dot the area, including the Sango Sands, which are directly below town.  Flanking the bay are the beaches of Rispond to the west and Balnakiel to the east, both of which are equally beautiful and isolated.  In Balnakiel, you will find a small craft village housed in a former military radar station dating from the 1940s.  It is still active, with a few craft workshops, and a great café, the Loch Croispol bookshop.

        

To compare Durness hotel prices that are available right now simply enter your dates into the search box at the left.  You will see the best prices from the world's major hotel booking services.

 

Or you can check out our reviewed hotels below and contact them directly.

Lazy Crofter Bunkhouse (Durness, +44 1971 511321, £14/person).  Owned by the family who owns the best hotel accommodation in Durness, this hostel is a perfect choice for travellers on a budget, and who wouldn’t mind sharing a bunk room.  For a budget accommodation, Lazy Crofter Bunkhouse has clean and comfortable linens, nice furniture, and a deck offering great views of the coast.  A plus to the bunkhouse is that the dorms are actually centrally-heated.


Hillside B&B (Durness, +44 1971 511737, from £25)
One of the newest accommodations in Durness, the Hillside B&B has few but spacious rooms with en-suite facilities and tasteful decoration.  The house is nothing impressive from the outside, but the views from each room are outstanding.


Mackay’s Room and Restaurant (Durness, +44 1971 511202, from £50).  This small family-run hotel has seven en-suite rooms that are serviced by the hosts very personally.  The rooms are all individually designed in typical traditional Highland décor, with large comfortable beds.  There’s even free Wi-Fi and an iPod dock for the music lover provided in each room.


 

Tongue 
Kyle of TongueTo reach the wee coastal village of Tongue, you can take the causeway over the Kyle of Tongue, or the narrow road leading to the top of it situated at the south, which makes for fantastic sightseeing.  Starting from here onwards, the trip is as important and as stunning as the destination.  You will know that you have reached the village of Tongue, or in Scottish Gaelic, Tunga, once you see the 14th century Castle Varrich in ruins, which pretty much defines the town.  
The coastal village is backed by the mountains Ben Hope and Ben Loyal in an impossibly picturesque way.  The shallow Kyle of Tongue is beautiful, whether high tide or low.

 

Bettyhill
Lying on the A836 road east of Tongue is Bettyhill, a crofting settlement founded by Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, who evicted more than ten thousand residents for ten years living in the area and then created a replacement village which she named after herself.  This move, so- called the Strathnaver Clearances,  is recalled in detail at the Strathnaver Museum.  West of the village, you will find the estuary of the River Naver, and the Torrisdale Beach.  In between Naver and Borgie, there is a whole stretch of white sandy shore of the Farr bay that feels remarkably isolated.  All these are located in the older part of the village, while the main road has the hotels and other accommodations, as well as more contemporary houses.


Dounreay
 

Dounreay, ScotlandEast of Bettyhill is the biggest provider of jobs in the north coast, Dounreay.  The Dounreay Nuclear Power Station has long been closed, but cleaning up and decommissioning the whole complex, with its vast array of buildings of different shapes and sizes, makes it the biggest employer this side of the Highlands.  In its glory days, it had the reactor (the ball-shaped structure called the Dounreay Fast Reactor) that first provided electricity when it was opened in 1955.  The visitor centre is a good resource for people interested in nuclear power and the possible radioactive stuff that may still lie on the beaches near the plant.


 

Thurso
Thurso Castle, Scottish HighlandsThe most northerly town in mainland Britain, Thurso has long been seen as merely a town to pass through on the way to the Orkney Islands, or a jump-off point to explore the rest of the North Coast westward.  It certainly is a pretty town, with several Victorian-era structures dotting the grid-iron streets and a pretty beachfront overlooking the nearby islands.  Gone are the days when it was a major Viking settlement.  Nowadays, it makes its mark on the surfer’s map, with many wave-chasers taking advantage of the oftentimes violent waves crashing on the beach.  On the beachfront, you will also find the ruins of the Thurso Castle

 

Scrabster
The Scrabster harbour is still the main gateway to reach the Orkney Islands.  It is located a mile northwest of Thurso.

          
   

  To compare Thurso hotel prices that are available right now simply enter your dates into the search box at the left.  You will see the best prices from the world's major hotel booking services.

Or you can check out our reviewed hotels below and contact them directly.

Sandra’s Backpackers Hostel (24-26 Princes Street, +44 1847 894575, £14/person-dorm/£34-double).   An average hostel that’s very central and easy to find, Sandra’s Backpackers Hostel has en-suite dorms and free wi-fi.  It also has no curfew, and the hosts are friendly.  Age has worn out some of the rooms, though.


Murray House (1 Campbell Street, +44 1847 895759, £30-40)
The Murray House is a refurbished 19th century house in a very central location, a few minutes away from the railway station, and accessible.  The rooms are all en-suite, yet nothing special in terms of their looks—they serve the traveler’s budget well, though, and the beds are big and comfortable enough.


Pentland Hotel (Princes Street, +44 1847 893202, from £70) boasts of a very good seafood restaurant and a central location.  It is a bit old-fashioned for some people’s taste, and the décor can surely use some refurbishment.  The very helpful and professional staff members make this hotel a worthwhile stay.


Station Hotel (54 Princes Street, +44 1847 892003, from £70).  The central but quiet location and the number of rooms in this no-frills hotel make this a good last-minute option if everywhere else is booked. 


Pentland Lodge House (Granville Street, +44 1847 895103, from £80).  This family-run hotel (not to be confused with the Pentland Hotel) is very disabled-friendly, with bedroom and bathroom facilities especially created for the partially-able.  The rooms are quite clean and spacious.



 

Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head Lighthouse, Highlands, ScotlandContinue eastwards on the A836 and then north of Dunnet on the B855, then on to the northernmost tip of the mainland, Dunnet Head, from where you can see the Cape Wrath coastline on a good day and haunting crumbling cliffs. Before reaching the tip, dip your toes on the golden sands of Dunnet Bay.  It is another surfer’s haunt this side of the coast.


John O’Groats 
  
Uninspiring John O’Groats is a cautionary tale to travellers on the tourist trail.  Promises of a quaint village are shattered upon stepping on the streets of John O’Groats which filled with tourist traps.  As it is, it is a good base for people travelling onwards to Orkney, which you can see from the coastline of the town, but do not believe when its claims to be the northernmost tip of the mainland (that’s Dunnet Head).

 

 



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