Given that I have lived practically all my life among the hills of England and Wales, you might be forgiven for thinking that when it came to spending part of each year in Scotland, we might just have gone for a change of scenery. What about the big skies and flatter landscape of eastern Scotland, or even a small, friendly market town, with all the activities that would afford us?
The trouble was that by the time this became a possibility for us with my retirement from parish ministry, we had already succumbed irrevocably to the lure of what is often called the last great wilderness in Britain – the north-west Highlands, and especially the county of Sutherland.
|Ben Hope from Loch Eriboll|
Our first long trip took place that summer, on our return from my nephew’s wedding in Belfast. We arrived at Stranraer and as we disembarked from the ferry, simply turned left and headed north. Over the next ten days we circumnavigated a considerable proportion of Scotland’s coast, from Ullapool in the west to the Scottish Borders on the east.
|Ardvreck Castle, Assynt|
As we travelled north into the vast emptiness of Assynt and Durness, then turned east along the north coast, we found ourselves almost overwhelmed by the awe-inspiring grandeur of the area. Gradually we found ourselves falling in love with the extraordinary, rugged beauty of this ancient landscape, with its mountains and lochs, its cliffs and islands, its empty, golden beaches, its tiny, isolated settlements and its long, hard and often tragic history.
|Sango Bay, Durness|
By the time we drove down the east coast and back into England, the damage was done. Despite its remoteness and the long, tiring drive there and back, we knew that this was our bit of Scotland and always would be. Its beauty, emptiness and sheer scale, and the constant interplay of mountains, sky and water, satisfy something deep within us.
One day we will be too old to make the trip and will have to content ourselves with our photographs and our memories. Until then, twice a year, in spring and autumn, we load up the campervan and make what must be one of the most beautiful journeys in the world, up through the heart of the Highlands to the very northernmost edge of mainland Britain. Believe me, what we find there is worth every mile.