Gail Brown is a mum of two who enjoys writing, photography and travelling around Scotland with her family in their VW Campervan. She writes the family travel and lifestyle blog Wellies on the School Run. A native of Caithness, Gail is passionate about life in the far north, and enjoys sharing stories and photos of her family's travel adventures across Scotland and further afield.
Growing up in Caithness, I don't think I appreciated quite how fortunate I was to call this wild and beautiful part of the world home. Day trips to the Peedie Sands near Dunnet, afternoons spent rummaging for elusive 'Groatie Buckies'* on the shores of Castlehill, and bucket and spade days at Dunnet beach - recently ranked one of the best beaches in Scotland by the Scottish Environmental Protection Area - were pretty much taken for granted as a child. It wasn't until years later, when I left home to study at university, that I realised how attached I was to the Caithness landscape and its way of life. I missed the rugged coastline and the pleasure of living by the sea. I missed wide open spaces and the seemingly endless expanse of sky. Most of all I missed family and the quiet warmth and spirit of the local people.
On return trips home, when travelling north along the Causeymire, I was always struck by a sense of connection to the barren, almost bleak landscape that opened up in front of me and made the world seem so much bigger. Even now, almost 2 decades after returning back for good, I still get the feeling of my heart lifting at that sight whenever I've spent time away.
There is only so much I can tell you about this area on paper, or that you can learn from photographs and guides. The far north of Scotland is truly a place you need to breathe in and experience for yourself. But for those of you not fortunate enough to have ever lived in or visited Caithness and its neighbour Sutherland, here are just some of the reasons you might want to add this area to your travel bucket list very soon.
IT'S THE LAND OF BIG SKIES AND AMAZING LIGHT
I've already mentioned my affection for the huge skies of the far north. The open, often treeless landscape of this area allows plenty of room for big skies, which were surely made with the hashtag 'no filter' in mind. Sunrises and sunsets here are beyond beautiful, and the sight of a northern beach bathed in the glow of the golden hour must be any photographer's dream. Whilst we can't always guarantee sunshine in the far north of Scotland, I can say with some certainty that you'll witness the most amazing light you'll see almost anywhere if you take the time to enjoy it. And anyone lucky enough to witness the Aurora Borealis during their stay would be hard pressed not to marvel at this wonder of the universe as it unfolds.
THE BEACHES GO ON FOREVER
The beaches of the far north are impressive to say the least. Long golden stretches of sand flanked by dramatic coastline; these havens by the sea could on a good day rival beaches almost anywhere in the world. Added to the fact that they are often deserted - or at the very least never busy - you might find yourself wondering why anyone who lives here would ever want to travel abroad. Head 'Up West' to North West Sutherland for magnificent beaches like Farr, Strathy and Sango; or make an excursion of the 9 mile round trip on foot to Sandwood Bay, near Kinlochbervie. Or perhaps just take a road trip to find your own personal favourite along the coastline - I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.
NATURE IS ALL AROUND
If you're a lover of nature, you'll find plenty to indulge your passion here. Spot puffins around Duncansby Head near John O' Groats, go on a stag spotting adventure in west Sutherland, or be charmed by seals playing at Broch Bay near Dunnet. If you're really lucky, you might witness Killer Whales or other cetaceans off the Caithness coastline, or come across the delightful Scottish Primrose, which is only found growing wild in Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney.
If you're in the mood for a hike, take a stroll along the enchanting Dunbeath Strath Heritage Trail and feel like you've entered the Secret Garden. Or follow the Big Burn Walk near Golspie and enjoy a treasure of tumbling waterfalls. Get on your bike and cycle by a secluded loch, or reach the majestic summits of Morven, Ben Hope or Ben Loyal. The possibilities here are endless. One thing's for sure: whatever you do you'll be left with a sense of seeing the creations of nature at their best.
YOU'LL FIND ROMANCE, HISTORY, AND LEGEND
The far north of Scotland is a place steeped in romance, history and tradition; and anyone with an interest in past events will find much to engage them here. Discover tales of our Viking heritage, or make a visit to the Camster Cairns near Lybster, to find two of the best preserved Neolithic chambered cairns in Britain. Visit beautiful castles like Dunrobin, near Golspie, which wouldn't look out of place in a Disney fairytale. Or take a road trip west to the ruined Ardvreck Castle in Assynt, surely one of the most hauntingly beautiful places you'll ever see.
Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy visiting the far north of Scotland. I can vouch for the friendliness of its people and the wonder of the landscape I've described. Yet as someone who loves this area, I'll admit to sometimes feeling torn between telling the world about it and selfishly keeping it a hidden gem forever. There is something wonderful about the quiet isolation of the north; the sense of slight surprise at sighting another living being on your favourite beach, or walking for hours without talking to a single soul. But then I remind myself that it's nice to share, and that some things in life are just too good to miss. So come, visit, and enjoy this wonderful area and all it has to offer. Just remember to tread lightly as you go.
As for me, many years after returning to live in Caithness, I now watch the next generation of our family playing by the turquoise waters of the Peedie Sands, hunting for Groatie Buckies on the Caithness coast, and enjoying bucket and spade days out at Dunnet beach. And I know these little ones can't yet possibly understand the wonderful uniqueness of this special place they are lucky enough to call home. But I'm pretty sure that like me, one day, they will.
* 'Groatie buckies' are tiny cowrie shells found along the Caithness coastline.
Photographs © Gail Brown and Gary Brown. Photographs of Northern Lights, Stag, Seal, Puffin and Big Burn Waterfall © Gary Brown Photography.