Northern Highlands
Sat 14 Jul 2012 22:59

What a totally busy day this was! We rented a car through ebookers for €40 per day (less than 48h before pickup -- how cheap is this?!), and unlike last time (Kia Picanto), we got my perennial favorite: Nissan Micra, of which I used to own an old model. What a difference this made, and after only a day of driving, I can recommend this car with all my heart.

We set off then, northwards, with a rough idea of castles, distilleries and views which we wanted to experience, but then just across the bridge to Black Isle, Peter found a tourist agency and came back with a three day plan. First stop: Tain, known for the 16 men who distill premium single-malt whisky at the Glenmorangie distillery (or at least they used to, as they are now owned by LVMH). There was no convincing necessary, when given the option of touring the premises (and tasting the whisky thereafter).

The production of whisky is a complicated process, the details of which can be learned from the Glenmorangie Wikipedia entry, however, the following interesting aspects are worth noting. The production process, the ingredients, the recipe and the machines are virtually unchanged since 100 years -- which other sector remains profitable after such a period of no significant technological developments. The whisky business is difficult to start-up: 2% rate of evaporation per year (the so-called Angel's share), the price of a bottle is 72% tax, and worst of all, the whisky lies in casks for 10 years, before being sold. So 10 years of full production costs before any ROI can be expected...

Yes, it tastes marvellous!

On then on the A9 to the Dunrobin Castle and Gardens, just outside Golspie. Made by and for the Dukes and/or Earls of Sutherland, it now exhibits a plethora of historical family artifacts and gives an insight of how wonderful it was to be rich back in the day. Aside from that, the castle's rather acomplished architectural features (and the garden) offer a lot of oportunities for tourists with expensive digital cameras. I wonder who pays for the castle upkeep these days, since it has 189 rooms, and while it's open to public, the family still uses parts of it.

The journey continued north on A9 until Latheron, whose main point of interest is the crossing of A9 and A99, the latter of which we proceeded on until John O'Groats, or more precisely Duncansby Head, the northeast corner of Scotland (not counting the islands). Aside from the lighthouse and the sea stacks, the area offers a good view of the Pentland Firth, one of the trickiest channels to navigate in, because of strong tidal races. These are so pronounced, that they have been given names, e.g. The Merry Men of Mey. Naturally, in the sunny and calm afternoon, none of the danger was visible from the coast...

Next stop on A836 eastbound is the Castle of Mey, Scottish holiday residence of Queen Mother, closed after 4pm, but a photo opportunity not to be missed. This concluded the official part of sightseeing and on the way back we decided to take the "scenic route".

It was unexpectedly the nicest drive since maybe our Ennstal Classic experience. We continued along the coast on A836, then south on B871 and then B873 through the hills and along the river Naver until Loch Naver, and then again on A836 towards Lairg. The paved road is only one lane wide, with frequent passing spaces. During the whole time, we met two cars and were overtaken by one. The rest of the time: Breathtaking views, quiet lakes, wild animals and lots of sheep, all set in magnificent evening light.

Dead tired, we returned to GIN'S around 11pm, just as the clouds took away the last light.