We were now coming to one of the parts of the trip I’d been particularly looking forward to – travelling up the Sutherland and Caithness coasts to the far north east of Scotland. Before this, however, we took a scenic drive around the Black Isle, which was good in itself.
Fortrose has the ruins of a 13th/14th century cathedral, but much more fun is Chanonry Point, a mile or so outside the town and a dolphin-watching hotspot. While we were there, dolphins were in view more or less continually and there were a few seals around, too. A good, easy wildlife-spotting opportunity with the option of a free car park or a walk from Fortrose itself (park near the cathdral ruins).
After Fortrose we continued around to Cromarty and then back alongside the Cromarty Firth (on the B9163). This road offers an alternative to dolphins – oil rigs, several of which are moored in the firth at any one time awaiting new commissions or maintenance.
Leaving the Black Isle, we picked up the A9 and started the drive up the north-east coast. This is both a good road and an enjoyable drive, with great scenery, especially from Helmsdale onwards. The A9 heads inland, directly up to Thurso after Latheron, so to stick with coast you follow the A99 towards Wick.
What hits you when you drive up this road is just how much empty space there is – it just isn’t like the rest of the UK. There is space everywhere, most of it uncultivated countryside (check out how few roads there are to the west of the A9 and you’ll see what I mean).