This summer seems to have blurred past with work and garden dominating, culminating in a long 2-week jag of yet more work, moving our web site to new servers, upgrading the security, further upgrading security and finally integrating a new payment system. A day out was on the cards, so we fired up Sarah’s Mini and headed north: To Caithness!
Caithness is the furthest north we have ever taken the Mini. Usually, she heads west to Plockton and the Isle of Skye on our road trips. However, 150 miles there and 175 miles back from Nairn shows how big a country Scotland is, and we still only made it as far as Wick, and no less than 13 miles from John O’ Groats; we did not plan to go there on this occasion. North of Brora, the main A9 road to Thurso is very quiet indeed; even though it is a trunk A-road. For a Tuesday, we hardly saw a car over most of it in Caithness, nor on the A99 up to Wick either.
Caithness is not tartan and shortbread tourist Scotland but very much a wild country of hard flinty moorland with spectacular coastal scenery, hardy farming folk and little in the way of the usual tourist traps, unless you count John O’ Groats! The Castle of Mey is very beautiful and the open spaces probably much appreciated by those visitors from crowded cities further south. The country is characterised by the slabs of Caithness stone used as walling and almost everything else too.
The A9 to Thurso after the junction with the A99 at Latheron – an empty road over the moors to Georgemas Junction. Taking the A99 along the coast to Wick takes you through villages with wild names like Ulbster, Thrumster, Clyth and Lybster, the latter with a harbour and some amazing scenery. There’s a hamlet called Nottingham just off the A99 road too, but I reckon it has little to do with Robin Hood.
Our destination was this place on the high ground between Wick and Thurso: ASK Restorations where we had the Mini assessed by proprietor, Kieth Moody, for cosmetic restoration. Whilst in outwardly good condition, there are worrying rust problems developing in all of the usual trouble spots – seams, sills and around the front windscreen. In the end, to find a competent restorer, the Mini made it to the very Far North of Scotland, showing, once again, the gems hidden in this part of the world. With assessment complete, and following a good wee blether about everything from Minis, Highland cottage restoration and the weather, we set sail for Nairn, down the A99 this time and then south onto the A9 at Latheron, turning right at The Mound to take the A839 via Rogart and Lairg, the A836/949 to Bonar Bridge and eventually over the B9176 over the top from Ardgay to Evanton to rejoin the A9. The scenery over that route, even though it adds many miles to the run, is lovely, even on a cloudy day.
Mini pauses on the B9176, overlooking Dornoch Firth with Bonar Bridge in the distance. This layby is always full of tourists taking pictures and we were no different this time! We finished the run at the inn at Clachnaharry for an evening meal of Scrabster fish pie and a pint of Trade Winds before heading for home. Finally, the sun consented to show itself with a display of some colour over the Beauly Firth, reflecting off the calm water whilst we were enjoying the pie – the beauty of the inn at Clachnaharry is the view over the old cottages and the firth itself. Mini completed the run as she started it, full of vigour, showing that a 50 year-old design can still do some of the wild roads of northern Scotland. Next trip? Probably up to Tongue over the wild road from Lairg and around the top and Orkney next year in two separate trips.