North Coast 500 - Day 6 - Thrumster to Dornoch

I woke with the sun streaming through the window, and had my first cup of tea of the day as I watched the wildlife in the garden waking up. After a little potter in the grounds, I went downstairs for breakfast. Such a grand room to feast in! I was greeted with a steaming bowl of porridge sat on a hot plate. I learnt a little bit more about porridge that morning from Islay and Catherine. Proper porridge is made with pinhead oats, it's a very different texture to what I've had in the past. Back in the day, some folk used to let the porridge solidify, and when cold, you could slice it into pieces. It was then wrapped up in a cloth and taken as a packed lunch. Lunch can sometimes be referred to as a piece still  -'have you got your piece?'

I didn't have any definite plans for the day as I drove down the gravel drive of Thrumster House, the sun warming through the glass. As I drove along, with the Moray Firth to my left, I was drawn to the many harbours dotted along the coast. First Lybster and Latheronwheel, both deserted.

And then an encounter that I think will stay with me forever, a chance meeting at a stone circle. I saw a brown sign to The Hill O'Many Stanes with an illustration of a stone circle on it. Having not seen one on my travels, I was eager to investigate, and pulled off the main road onto the comfort of the single track. When I arrived, I think the initial feeling was one of disappointment. I was looking at a field full of very small standing stones. Just as I was considering getting back into the car, a woman appeared on the narrow path. She had cascading hair from a side bun and her piercing blue eyes caught the light. She wore a big smile and a colourful smock. She introduced herself - Yvonne from down the lane. She was really interested in my travels, and we talked about how different landscapes affect us. Then she looked at me straight in the eye and said 'keep going, keep travelling.'. She looked down for a minute and continued 'some people go to their graves with the music still inside them, and they've never let it out. Never be complacent, live it now'. As I was taking this in, she wished me well, said something about her cats roaming wild in the gorse, and bustled down the lane, her wispy hair blowing behind her. I just sat amongst the stones, her words ringing in my ears. I can still feel it now as I'm writing this.

I started to get glimpses of the snowy mountains in the distance. I found this comforting, I'd missed seeing them beside me, in front, or behind in the mirror. I'm so glad I turned off at Dunrobin Castle. Although the castle wasn't open to the public yet, the grounds were beautiful. The castle resembles a French chateau, it's the most northerly of Scotland's great houses. It was used as a naval hospital in the First World War.

I wandered down to the beach. I had this lovely stretch of sand to myself. It was good to feel it between my toes.

The receding tide sounded like a ripple of applause as the stones rolled down the sand. With the sun high above, and the oystercatchers and the tide as a soundtrack, I plumped my jumper up into a pillow and lay down in the sand for a snooze.

When I woke up, I realised I'd caught the sun. With reddening cheeks and forehead, I stepped back into the car. I took the scenic road to Dornoch and saw harbour seals basking on the sand bank. They looked like little smiles as they curled up at both ends.

I pulled into Dornoch and immediately felt welcome. It's a beautiful town boasting an ornate cathedral and a castle (now a hotel). Evelyn, my host at No 9 where I was staying, had chatted to me before about the time I would arrive, and when I stepped in, there were fresh home bakes and tea waiting for me.

I had a wander around the town and stopped in at the cathedral. That musty smell I love, the ornate stained glass windows and the most beautiful light streaming in.

After a gorgeous meal at the Castle Hotel, I turned in for the night and slept a good 10 hours which is very unusual for me. I knew the next day was the last of my road trip, and I wanted to make the most of it.

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