My home is close to the Peak District, so a drive to the north coast of Scotland is a long undertaking.
Last week I made the trip up to the Scottish coast road that runs across the top of our nation. It was one of the final trips I needed to make for a forthcoming book about the best things to do around the entire coast of the UK.
I’d long-planned going to this far-flung part of Scotland, and had heard great things about Balnakeil and Smoo Cave. Originally I wanted to include Smoo Cave in my Days Out Underground book, but it was one of the subterranean trips that didn’t make it as I was limited to just 50.
Having arrived at Smoo Cave on what was thankfully a glorious day, I was not disappointed. The hole you can see from the surface swallows the river, Allt Smoo, and the water cascades down into the unknown.
Walk down some steps onto a nice beach and you’ll find yourself at the huge cave entrance, with the previous day’s rain water dripping from the roof onto your head.
Inside the cave, a freshwater pool is formed by the river falling 21 metres from the surface down into this remarkable underground space. The noise is superb, and the trip can be enhanced by going on one of the tours that local guides put on in the peak season.
Just along the road, Balnakeil Beach provides magnificent isolation in the form of a clean beach that goes on and on. What a wonderful place to walk, framed by might dunes that have been formed by the fierce winds that often batter this shoreline.
The nearby craft village is well worth a visit. It was originally built with the aim of providing an early warning system for the UK during the Cold War but was never commissioned by the MoD.
During the 60s, the local council advertised for craftspeople to come and take up residency here, making all kinds of specialist produce and paying a very small rent.
The craft village thrives to this day, providing a home for woodturners, glassmakers, hair stylists and painters.
The place many people like the most though is Cocoa Mountain, a fine chocolate shop serving up tasty treats that are doused in chocolate.
There’s a nice community feel in the café and the range of chocolates on offer to have with your drink is fantastic. I went for a whisky and a maple syrup option, but you could stand there for ages making your choice. Many people do.