Brora to Bettyhill – Coast Road 500


When I was a child, my family would gather round the radiogram and play old 78’s. One of their favourites was Granny’s Heilan’ Hame sung by Kenneth McKellar and by the time the record finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Ref 2001_329_088 No 2334 Contributor Historylinks Year 1959
(c) History Links 

I hadn’t thought about that song in years but when we left the Black Isle and headed towards Brora I saw a sign Granny’s Heilan Hame and it triggered some happy memories. I researched the eponymous granny ( Kate Mackay), and discovered more about her and the song, including a  photograph of her highland home.

Rain bucketing down we headed for Golspie and the campsite at Brora. The wind dropped enough to allow us to explore the sand dunes and we had the glorious beach almost to ourselves. We considered taking the single track rail journey to Wick the next day but were talked out of it by a fellow camper who said that most of the journey was between brown hills dotted with telegraph poles. Next time, maybe. panorama of beach at Brora

If you do find yourself in Brora consider visiting Dunrobin CastleDunrobin castle (2) - Copy(see turrets in photo on right) We’d visited years before so we headed up the A9 instead for Dunnet Bay and the Castle of Mey. We thought that touring Scotland in September the camping/caravan  sites would be empty – not so. The popularity of Route 500 meant that sites were very busy and it’s wise to book ahead.

That’s me pointing at a dead jellyfish on the beach (one of many!) and the view from our caravan window over Dunnet Bay. Bit stormy as you can see, but no midges.


Next day we drove into Thurso. Being used to large towns and cities I turned my nose up at the rather old fashioned shop fronts. Once inside the shops, I revised my opinion,   I found them to be well-stocked and the staff were very helpful and welcoming. So don’t drive past Thurse, take time to stop and look around. The following day we visited John o’ Groats. We hadn’t been there in twenty years so we were surprised to find it vastly improved, – fabulous cafe. cool gift shop, free wifi, and the best roast beef sandwich ever.

2017-09-16 12.40.23IMG_0450[2]was glad I was able to get on the internet  because there was a message from Amazon offering me a three month #PRIME deal on Boot Camp Bride. I had to reply before the end of the day. Did I accept? You bet I did.

We decided to visit the Queen Mum’s former home at the Castle of Mey and had a guided tour which made it well worth the visit. It’s a pity it wasn’t high summer because we were told that the rose gardens there are something else. The castle was very comfortable and I could have easily have lived there because it wasn’t too large – and it had central heating (!)

The next day, as we drove through Thurso, we were held up to allow a police convoy to pass us by at high speed. It consisted of outriders on motorbikes, and a couple of large vehicles packed with armed officers wearing SWAT gear and carrying machine guns. We never found out what the drama was, but we wondered if it was a drill or something similar. Anyhoo, undeterred, we moved on – past the former nuclear plant at Dounreay  and towards our goal, BettyHill.


I’ve always wanted to visit Bettyhill because that was  my maiden name, and I remember as a child wondering why a place in the remote north of Scotland shared a name with me. Just as we were travelling along the rather narrow road (sans caravan, obvs) we drove past over a thousand cyclists – luckily going the other way – on the last leg of the Lands’ End/ John O’ Groats Ride Across Britain . We stopped at the Bettyhill Hotel and had coffee and a bacon butty while we watched them swoosh past. Brave souls. Here are two stragglers . . . and a view from the hotel dining room.


Then it was on to Bettyhill. I discovered that the Countess of Sutherland had built it as a replacement village the to rehouse 15, 000 tenants removed from prime sheep grazing land as part of the Highland Clearances. The Countess (Elizabeth) named the village after herself and probably considered that she’d looked after her former tenants/crofters well.  We might have a different take on that nowadays. Read some of the first-hand accounts of the distress caused by the clearances and make up your own mind.

74269077 – haunting remains of arichonan township, a cleared village in the highlands of scotland.

One of the places we would have loved to visit and camp overnight is Altnaharra but everything we read advised against taking a caravan to the site. So we pressed on the Durness and my favourite cafe – Cocoa Mountain – and the best hot chocolate in the world. But I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post.

Meantime, if you haven’t read any of my novels, check out the blurbs and download one from Amazon. Paperbacks also available.


I’ve just finished proofreading my latest novel – Take Me, I’m Yours – which will be published July 2018. If you’d like to learn more about THAT, subscribe to my newsletter and be in with a chance to even win a signed paperback and other goodies.

About Lizzie Lamb

I write contemporary women's fiction mostly based in Scotland with hot heroes, feisty heroines and always a happy ending. Along with three other authors - Adrienne Vaughan, June Kearns and Margaret Cullingford - I formed the New Romantics Press under which our books are published. I have published six books since 2012, the latest being Harper's Highland Fling. I am currently working on #7 which I hope to publish in 2022. In the meantime, do check out my Amazon page: and click 'FOLLOW' to keep up to date with me and my news.

Posted on May 26, 2018, in Lizzie's Scribbles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Great post,Lizzie and I remember going from Aberdeen to Golspie on holiday as a child.Big adventure! All the very best for Take Me,I’m Yours. x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for commenting 😊 We’re about to set off for a month in Scotland. On our bucket list is a trip to Applecross. We’ve been defeated by the weather so far. While we were in Golspie we came across some Gaelic speaking Jehovah’s Witnesses who were handing out leaflets. Travel is a wonderful thing!


  3. Wonderful post, Lizzie. You’d make a fabulous tour guide. Sign me up for the front of the bus!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on New Romantics Press and commented:

    Photos and thoughts about my tour of Scotland in September last year. I hope you enjoy.


  5. Margaret Hood

    Looking forward to seeing you on the tour,after you’ve had your tea.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wonderful blog, Lizzie. Thoroughly enjoyed the tour yet still in my dressing gown! Looking forward to joining you and June on that bus … Can we learn ‘the gallic’ and visit a whisky distillery too please?’ X

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Morning Adrienne, I spend half of the day in night attire. LOL. Writer’s prerogative. Tour of whisky distilleries on the cards, see you at the door for a wee dram of the swally.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Sharyn Farnaby

    Good to read and reminisce Lizzie. We stayed in Thurso for a week a couple of years ago and thought it was a nice town. The art gallery in the beautiful Georgian library is worth a visit if you’re ever back there. May see you next weekend as we set of on a Scottish adventure too x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sharyn, I would love to return to Thurso one day and maybe take in the art gallery. When we looked round the Castle of Mey the guide showed us all the artefacts made by local artists who’d been supported by the Queen Mum. Beautiful paintings and ceramics. I hope we can meet up next Sunday and that I have a copy of my new book to show you. (it all depends if my formatter wants to hold to it or not.)


  9. I LOVE your travelogs, Lizzie! I keep saying this, but if you ever get tired of writing romance (as if! LOL) you have a future writing travel guides! Looking forward to hearing all about your new tour. xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Isa, I enjoy writing them – when time allows. My trip to Scotland this year will be along the west coast, up to Scourie, back down the middle to Alloa and then onto the lakes. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos to share. Hope we can meet up in July, as planned, too.


  10. Shirley Sibbald

    Your blog brought back many happy memories. First of all a family holiday at Crakaig, between Brora and Helmsdale and then many visits to a friemd’s Croft cottage at Scullomie, three miles or so from Tongue on the Bettyhill side. ,we had many visits to Durness and Balnakiel,Bay, Cape Wrath was amazing. The beaches are stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Shirley, thanks for sharing your memories with me. The trip back down to Brora through Helmsdale is amazing, isn’t it? The Kyle of Tongue is so beautiful and inspiring and Cape Wrath takes your breath away. I hope you’ll drop by next time to see my photos of the Smoo Caves, John Lennon memorial gardens in Durness and, of course, Cocoa Mountain.


      • Love the Smoo caves! Have nir been north for a few years now. Is the Craft area at Balnakiel still operating? There used to be some amazing artists residing there. Enjoy this summer’s visit. BTW have not seen the John Lennon memorial gardens. When were they developed?


      • Hi Shirk, yes, the craft area at Balnakiel is still in operation. I hope that visitors to the area make the effort to visit it as it looks nothing from the road. Not quite sure when the John Lennon gardens opened but they’ve been there for the last three years. I’ll be writing about them in my next blog post so I’ll have more facts by then. I believe he had cousins in Durness and he and Yoko and the kids used to visit there. Not sure if I’ll get there this year as we are only going as far as Scourie this time. But its tempting to visit the craft village once more.


      • Sorry, that should have been Shirley, not Shirk! Remember having amazing crab sandwiches at Scourie. That west coast route is spectacular! Balnakiel may be a bit far. We played golf there on the nine hike course above the beach. My girls went on the beach to retrieve the mishit balls.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Shirley – hoping to research #6 while I’m up there. And to go over to Handa Island to see the puffin colony (weather permitting!)


  11. Joan Davies-Bushby

    Such an interesting blog Lizzie. Makes me want to jump on the next train to Scotland. Looking forward to your next Highland adventures and your new book!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Margaret Cullingford

    Your blog evoked memories of four fabulous weeks in August spent in Brora when I was six. I remember the sun shining every day (it probably didn’t) and hanging around with 18-year-old Marigold, my grandparents’ and my landlady’s daughter, and her mates believing I was as ‘grown up’ as they were. Eating ice cream bought from an Italian ice-cream parlour, a delicious novelty for a child then. Won’t say what year it was but that Italian family may have been released from Internment only 18 month’s or so previously. I do remember too the sand dunes, the seashore, the smell of seaweed, and believe it or not the heat. The fascination of a family nearby on the beach who spoke with cut-glass English accents, unlike, to me, the difficult to understand Scottish accents of Brora. A clue maybe was the way the teenage boys behaved like typical Public School hooligans, and acted as though they owned the beach.
    See what you’ve done, Lizzie. Brilliant blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad I’ve invoked some great memories Mags. Not much sun when I was up there but the scenery was spectacular. Keeping my eye on the weather atm and wondering if the sunshine will wait for us to reach Oban!


  13. Sarah Houldcroft

    Fascinating post Lizzie. I really must visit Scotland again, the one and only time I have been was with 2 coach loads of foreign students in the late ’80s!

    Your books have also been inspiring me to get my act together and travel North as they are full of Scottish places, traditions and characters, not to mention the odd phrase in a language which is total incomprehensible to me!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sarah, I’m sure you’d love it. You’ll come back speaking Scottish, for sure 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿


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