In August, Alex and I did the North Coast 500, a road trip that takes you on a circular route around the north coast of the Highlands of Scotland. I had never really explored enough of the highlands before. So the North Coast 500 seemed like a good way to take in a lot of the sights I should have seen by now.
Coming from Edinburgh, our original plan was to start at the south of the route at Inverness, then go clockwise. The plan was to camp along the way for the first few days. As a reward for roughing it, we had booked a couple of nights in self-catered accommodation at John O’Groats for the end of the week. Hence our clockwise direction of travel.
However, our plans changed when a surprise 30th birthday party was arranged for my friend. The celebrations took place in Rogart, over an hour’s drive north of Inverness. So we headed up there to spend a couple of days, before looping back round to resume our journey in the planned clockwise direction.
Sleeperzzz at Rogart Station
For the birthday celebrations, we stayed at Sleeperzzz, a collection of vintage train carriages that have been converted into hostel-style accommodation. This is an ideal place to stay for a train geek, or someone just looking for somewhere quirky to stay.
The carriages have been largely preserved in the condition they were in when last on the railways, which seemed to be the early 1990s going by some of the signs inside. Some of the seats have been replaced with bunk beds, and a couple of compartments in each carriage have been converted into kitchen areas.
I took great delight in pulling the chain improperly.
The facilities are a little on the basic side, but no-one would come here for comfort. But it is a pretty special place to stay. At £17 per person per night, I found it excellent value for money.
On a very geeky note, I was intrigued to see this signage in one of the carriages using the Transport typeface rather than Rail Alphabet.
Helmsdale highland games
On the Saturday our friend took us to the Helmsdale highland games, where his father was in charge of laser clay pigeon shooting. I had a go, but obviously I had the duff gun because none of my hits registered.
It had been a long time since I had last been to a highland games. It is a bit like a jazzed-up school sports day. And just like school sports day, it was the sort of weather where you could get sunburnt without realising it.
The coastguard had a presence there, recruiting volunteers. They had their helicopter flying around to wow the crowds. The announcer warned the audience in advance:
If you have any dogs, make sure you keep them under control. And if you have any wives with you, also keep them under control.
This was the first of many moments in the highlands where it felt like we had stepped backwards in time a few decades.
Spending the afternoon drinking beer in the sunshine pretty much took it out of us. So we just relaxed for the rest of the day, chilling out in the garden outside the train carriages at Rogart. Later we convened with other residents in one of the compartment-cum-common areas.
The relaxing evening was needed, because we had a big drive the next day, back towards the south before heading west to Applecross.
Stay tuned for further updates to learn what happened when we resumed the clockwise journey round the North Coast 500.