Heading up to Sutherland in north-west Scotland earlier this month felt like more of a Caledonian adventure than usual though, a part of the country I haven’t travelled to for over a decade. Since then, the North Coast 500 has become a thing and the staycation factor was in evidence with the sheer number of camper vans on the roads as we left Inverness, drove over the Black Isle and made tracks through Ross and Cromarty before arriving in Assynt.
South of Lochinver, the majesty of Stac Pollaidh and the surrounding peaks are breathtaking, but it was the beaches of Sutherland we fell in love with most – in particular, those dotted in the coves between Scourie and Kinlochbervie. We felt fortunate to have good weather for most of our stay, but I would still recommend a wetsuit when taking a dip in the Atlantic.
Of course, part of getting away from it all, wherever you go on holiday, is about, well, getting away from it all. It was something I had a chat with a client about before we left, as he is big on the importance of mental health on the entrepreneurial journey.
My holiday moment of really getting away from it all came on a day when the the sea fog came in and obscured the coastal mountains. I plotted a trail run from Kylescu, along Loch Gleann Dubh and into Glean Dubh, the ‘Black Glen’. As I entered a world of lung-busting pain up a path that rose steeply up from the loch, I passed a sandstone boulder the size of a small house and yearned to go further into the dark glen.
It was then that I felt the call of the hills, but my ageing knees disagreed, so I turned to retreat and struggled back to camp. On a rocky trail with sweat in my eyes, I couldn’t take in the scenery to any great extent, but the heather was a purple blaze to my right as the deep loch stirred on the left. It was then that I felt a moment of what I think might have been serenity, unless of course it was simply down to a low blood sugar level.
Later that day, over an ale at Newton Lodge above Loch Beag, I met a retired hotelier who had driven the 26 long miles (you could only guess at the amount of passing places) from his home on the tip of the peninsula “just for a pint”. Like many of the locals we met in Sutherland, he was not a fan of the North Coast 500, mainly because of the lack of infrastructure spend invested to handle the increasing hordes.
However, as we found out during our stay, Sutherland’s land mass alone means it’s never too hard to get away from the madding crowd.
Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic corporate communications agency Freer Consultancy