I intend to keep stories short and sweet, ideally a weekly catch up, but this lonely place deserves its own post.
The Crask Inn. Lairg.
The Crask Inn could be Britain’s most remote inn. It’s certainly one of the most rewarding.
Of course any measure of extremes depends on the author, so let me set out my stall in defence of this fine establishment.
Recommended to us by friend, and former Tregiffian neighbour, Mark Orton, this is a special place indeed. I reckon it’s about 7 miles from the nearest house, and 12 miles outside of the nearest (very) small town of Lairg.
The countryside is unlike any other in Britain.
There are mountains, plenty of mountains. But it’s the wide spaces between the hills, and the lochs, that define this land.
It feels empty like no other area I’ve visited in Britain.
Barren moorland stretches for mile upon mile. At a glance it all seems uninhabited, but rest awhile and watch to see the wildlife that consider it home. The sheep and deer roam, but fenced, albeit on a large scale.
The birdlife is free to hunt wherever.
I saw huge birds of prey, which I guess (and hope) were eagles, but just as interesting were the multitude of larks singing high on the evening thermals. I saw so many others too, but have no idea what they were.
The streams and rivers teem with life. Though again you have to sit for a few minutes to get your eye in and spot them.
A detour from the North Coast 500.
After Inverness we intended to follow the North Coast 500 route, but arriving early at our intended stop on the banks of Loch Fleet near Skelbo, north of Dornorch, we decided to call ahead to The Crask Inn, another hour up the road.
What an excellent decision that was.
As we left the A9 for the entirely different A839 our already high spirits lifted to another level.
Along the banks of the beautiful Loch Shin the A838 immediately hints at the joys ahead. But before this you slip, almost without noticing, through the strange burgh of Lairg, unremarkable save for the wee hoose of the Browns at the head of the lake.
After Loch Shin the countryside truly opens wide and the single track road takes you across heath for mile upon mile. Not true wilderness, but as close as you’ll come in Britain.
About 12 miles out of Lairg there’s a house on either side of the road.
And you have arrived. At Crask, and The Crask Inn.
Hospitality at its best.
We were welcomed by Denise and Douglas Campbell on behalf of the Scottish Episcopal Church which owns the establishment.
Dinner was served at 7.30 and the 10 of us eating joined together with Douglas to say a short grace. Only decent, after all we were eating in the church.
Our hearty three course dinner was aided in its passage by several pints of fine Black Isle beers, initially taken in front of the peat fire. If you didn’t fancy the two beers on offer there were plenty of whiskeys too.
Best of all though was the convivial atmosphere. As well as Minty and I there was a group of four cyclists, a couple cycling, a climber, and Ed, a Dutch businessman with the best Scots accent of anyone for miles. We exchanged tales, trails, hopes and dreams over dinner, but then the fresh air kicked in and all were in bed by 10.30.
Darkness though didn’t fall until long after 11.00.
A stank into the wild.
By 7.00am Polly and I were walking. Walking fast in the hope of covering some good distance before breakfast. Our path led into the wild, past a small loch and then followed a stream. There was little in the way of features, but the beauty was palpable.
Birdsong filled the air in a way I don’t remember experiencing before.
Unseen creatures scurried off through the undergrowth.
And deer watched warily from no more than 50 meters away.
We stopped for some morning stretches on a bridge, realised that time had slipped at a different pace to ours, and turned back to the van, and coffee.
It was a special time, although it only lasted an hour or so.
Travelling north at this time of the year allows you to follow spring.
Here on the northern tip of Britain daffodils are still at their best. Primroses delicately scent a warm evening and cherry blossom creates that most delicate of litter.
Scottish gorse seems more intense, not in perfume, but certainly in colour, less of the green and far more of the yellow.
Flowers that had gone over before we left home are just getting to their best ever a few weeks later.
Farewell The Crask Inn. Hello John O Groats.
Leaving The Crask was easy. I know we’ll be back. I fancy a week here. Long walks, long talks, a mounro or three, and little company.
The drive away was as stunning as any we’ve encountered so far. Below are a few of the many photos we too this afternoon.
Tonight as the temperature drops we’re camped at Duncansby Head over looking John O Groats.
It has taken us 1200 miles to get this far, and each has been worth it.
This is often a wild place, far surpassing Lands End in its capacity to absorb the weather and challenge any who’d stand here. Tonight, although cold, it’s still outside, and the Orkneys look within touching distance.
We’ve seen more gulls than we knew existed, and a thousand razorbills nesting in the rocks.
As for the Duncansby Stacks – I hope the photos give you some idea of their majesty.
Tomorrow we head west.
John O Groats v Lands End.
People are disparaging of John O Groats, and indeed it’s no beauty, but at least you can get there free, park for free, take photo of the milepost for free, pee for free. People we’ve met on the route have complained time after time of the cost of Lands End as soon as they realise we’re from thereabouts.
As for the cliffs – I love the drama of the cliffs from Lands End to Nanjizal. The cliffs between John O Groats and Skirza must be among the most dramatic Britain has to offer. I couldn’t live here, but its nature gives aplenty.
The ugly bungalow.
So why then, in this land of extreme natural beauty, are there so many ugly houses?
Boring bungalows that have been built in the midst of some of the best views many will ever experience.
Boring houses built by people who have abandoned their original cottage and built on the croft, leaving the older gem to gradually fall back into the ground.
We have seen a couple of stunning creations on the coast, but they’re few and far between.
Go to Ireland and it’s the same. Perhaps it’s the case in Cornwall too but it has happened too slowly for me to notice.
Price can’t be the excuse.
The Crask Inn. 58.186770, -4.512623
Duncansby Head. 58.644111, -3.025975
Smoo. 58.563453, -4.715526