Day 3: Thurdistoft to Durness
Our main article - Driving Scotland's North Coast 500: Our 7 day Road Trip - has links for each day.
Day 3 was another big day but not as long as Day 1. We knew we were driving to Durness and either staying at Sango Sands Oasis camping site or at an affordable bed and breakfast. Google lied again, saying it would take 2.5 hours to drive 90 miles (145 km). Allow 4 hours to drive this stretch. With road conditions and about 4 hours of stops it took us 8 hours. We didn’t leave Thurdistoft until about 10 am. We also back-tracked to Dunnet and explored the Dunnet Head Lighthouse and headland for about an hour before getting back on the main road to continue our journey west.
Thurdistoft Farmhouse > back to Dunnet > Dunnet Head Lighthouse > continue along A836 > Thurso > turn right and continue along the A9 / A836 > pass the turn off to Scrabster on the right > Lybster > Reay > Melvich > Strathy > pass the turn off to Armadale on the right overlooking a beautiful beach > Bettyhill > Bettyhill Beach > stop at the Bettyhill cafe or the park spot on the right after the cafe and walk into the field towards the bridge over to Bettyhill beach > after Invernaver turn right onto A836 > after Coldbackie take right turn onto A838 into Tongue > stop at the Tongue viewpoint and carpark half-way along the bridge > have a picnic lunch > Heilam > Eriboll > Rispond > Sangobeg > Smoo Cave - after the turn off to Leirinmore > Sango Sands Oasis camping site.
Driving time (including stops)
8 hours - 10 am to 6 pm
About 90 miles (145 km)
Sango Sands Oasis camping site. We paid £9 each (£18 for two of us) when we arrived. We drove to where only tents can be pitched and took about 40 minutes to set up our tent. It was our first time setting up our new tent and given that the last time we went camping was sometime in the 90’s we did quite well. The toilet and shower block were clean and handy. There was a breakfast caravan for cheap and cheerful bacon and sausage rolls the next morning. You definitely need a torch to go to the toilet overnight as it is very dark - perfect for star gazing.
Breakfast - Amazing. Cereal, toast and jams, fruit, fruit juice and pod-coffee, prepared by us in our accommodation at Thurdistoft Farmhouse.
Lunch - Ham and cheese sandwiches and a banana, prepared by us in our accommodation that morning. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Tongue viewpoint.
Dinner - Sango Sands Bar and Restaurant at the Sango Sands Oasis campsite. Steak pie with chips and a pint of Orkney Gold beer. Very tasty and affordable.
Dunnet Head Lighthouse
After Mey, pass the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey and look for signs to Dunnet. We returned here first thing on Day 3 as we ran out of daylight on Day 2.
If you have an hour at the end of the day, try and catch the sunset. Otherwise, do what we did and visit first thing the next day. The scenery is spectacular. The heather and mixed ground-cover flows across the hills like a multi-coloured plush-pile rug.
The wind cleanses your face and puts knots in your hair while you listen to the Atlantic ocean crash on the cliffs. We had serious fog so it was eerie and calming. On a clear day enjoy 360 degree views from the bunkers and surrounding hills. Your shoes will likely be covered in sheep sh*t so do scrub them off on the grass before getting back into the car.
The drive between Dunnet Head and Durness was one of my favourite days. The weather was dry, not too cold and the views along the coast and through the Highlands was remarkable. Very few trees so you could see as far as the horizon and mountains in all directions.
Farr Beach, Bettyhill
There are many white sandy beaches along the coast. We took the time to stop and walk to Farr Beach at Bettyhill.
From Bettyhill to the Kyle of Tongue
We saw very few cars for most of the day so we could slow right down and stop regularly to enjoy the views.
The drive to Tongue winds through and crosses over many large sea lochs, including Loch Eriboll - the deepest sea loch in the UK. In May 1945, Loch Eriboll was used as a German surrender rendezvous point for over 30 u-boats.
It is here you will see Ard Neakie. Connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of rock and sand, it is the site of a former lime kiln built in 1840.
Kyle of Tongue
The Kyle of Tongue is a shallow sea loch. The tide was out when we stopped here for a picnic-lunch.
According to Wikipedia, Smoo Cave is the largest sea cave entrance in the UK. Measuring about 40 metres wide and 15 metres high, the entrance is located at the end of a 600 metre-long tidal gorge which was once part of the cave; now collapsed. It was formed along two geological lines of weakness by a combination of erosion from the sea and an inland underground stream which has formed the innermost chambers. The Smoo burn (freshwater stream) drops into the cave through a sink hole when the upstream sink overflows.
Our photos show the walk to the cave, the entrance, bridge, the 20 metre waterfall and the cave’s interior.
It is free to visit Smoo Cave. There is also a paid boat ride. It looked like a dingy for about 3-5 people to get closer to the waterfall (if it is flowing). It was closed and I don’t think you will see much more as the cave interior is only about 83 metres long.
After exploring the interior of Smoo Cave, we followed the stairs up the hill to view the cave from a distance, see more sheep and listen to the echo of the ocean on the high walls.
After we set up our tent we enjoyed the views of Sango Bay at sunset.
Our Photos of Scotland’s North Coast 500
We included some of our favourite photos in this post. You can find the rest over at Flickr.
Read Scotland's NC500: What I wish I knew before driving the NC500 (link coming soon)