Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Travel & Holidays in later life


Dornoch HotelDraw a wriggling line along the A835 highway that runs northeast from Inverness to Ullapool, and everything to the north is unknown territory to most people who have done Scotland. 

The area takes in the whole of Sutherland and Caithness, where sheep, salmon and black Angus cattle far outnumber the humans. It's a land of wide open peat bogs, lochs and firths galore, and great scenery.

To catch the local flavour and see the maximum possible in short time Reg Butler booked a coach tour based at Dornoch Hotel in the capital of Sutherland.

Remember that Sutherland is the county with the smallest population in Britain. So it's not surprising that Dornoch - a city with almost 2500 population - may be the only county capital that feels no need of traffic lights. 

The most prominent building on Castle Street is The Old Town Jail - an impressive sandstone building converted into a very spacious and elegant giftware store with prices to match, and an art gallery upstairs. 

Travel Facts


Travel Insurance for over 50s

Visit our  holidays, breaks and travel options pages


Dornoch is an excellent touring base for self-drive motorists. For family holidays Dornoch offers miles of clean, golden Blue Flag beach. There are two golf courses, including the Royal Dornoch Golf Club of world championship status. See web  for general information and accommodation details.

Dornoch Pipe Band parades every Saturday evening from late May till mid-September. The Dornoch Highland Gathering is held on the first Friday in August.

Ask your travel agent for W A Shearings brochures, or phone 0844 824 6351 . Shearings Holidays, Miry Lane, Wigan WN3 4AG. The winter programme includes all-inclusive 4-night breaks at the company's hotels, with unlimited selected bar drinks between 6 and 11 pm.

More information: VisitScotland
Ocean Point One
94 Ocean Drive


Travelsphere escorted holidays


Prewar, Dornoch Hotel was owned by the London Midland & Scottish Railway which featured a five-month season for anglers, golfers and sportsmen who came to shoot grouse. 

Today it's one of around fifty  hotels owned by WA Shearings, the nationwide coach touring company. It stays open 49 weeks a year with usually four coaches in residence, offering a choice of itineraries that change according to season. 

This means the drivers are locals who know every pothole along the single-lane highways with passing places. They enliven their guiding patter with anecdotes about famous people who come visiting on the big estates. 

Northern Scotland's dramatic coastal sceneryOur driver was Kenny, who has shown visitors northern Scotland for many years. He knew exactly where to spot seals, dolphins, salmon, wild goats or golden eagles. He told stories about the Clearances, or the lifestyle of crofters, fishermen or workers on the oil-rigs. 

Let's re-cap a typical day's drive from Dornoch on the east coast, to the harbour of Ullapool on the west. 

We started along a stretch of the Kyle of Sutherland, where an estimated 1500 seals enjoy the good life. They haul themselves out onto the sand-bars and spend their days basking in the sun, while occasionally popping back into the water for a fish lunch, tea or supper, with mainly sea trout on the menu.

Further up are the Falls of Shin, famed for the salmon who leap from pool to pool against the cascading water. 

Believe-it-or-not for anyone who prefers to go shopping, there's a branch of Harrods right there at the parking place. You'll even see a Harrods' van making a delivery. 

The explanation is that Mohammed Al Fayed has bought three large estates in the region. Despite what people may think in the south, he is highly popular in northern Scotland, spending big money on renovations and improvements with lots of job openings.

At this Harrods of the North, you can stock up on champagne or malt whiskies, buy teddy bears dressed in tartan, or even emerge from this ultimate shopping experience with a single-cone ice cream and a postcard.

Later, at a tiny location called Elphin, we stopped for morning coffee and a venison sandwich shot and cooked by the cafe owner. From the crag in the background, three golden eagles soared - a male and female and their fledgling. 

Certainly this is binocular country. A neighbouring National Nature Reserve features pine marten, wildcat and buzzard. The mountain peaks around were all wearing white-cloud balaclavas. 

The boat harbour at UllapoolOur main destination, Ullapool on an open sea loch, was developed as a centre for herring fishing. Today, the big catches have ended, but with enough seafood still being landed to supply hungry tourists. 

For lunch you can choose anything from smoked salmon to half a pint of winkles with a pin included.

Ullapool is a very relaxing place in a time warp. Even the public clock had given up the struggle. And the local council hasn't yet thought of putting out public benches for anyone who'd like to sit down.

Visitors who buy take-away fish and chips can squat on a low parapet along the shingle beach, teeming with seagulls squawking for handouts.

On two other whole-day trips we followed alternative routes across Sutherland and Caithness to the northwest coast, the northern towns of Durness, Tongue and Thurso; and a return down the east coast along the A99 and A9.

Everybody knows that John o'Groats is Britain's most northerly populated location. But the most northerly tip is Dunnet Head a few miles west, inhabited only by puffins and a lighthouse.

Halfway between those two furthest-north locations is the charming 16th-century Castle of Mey, bought by the Queen Mother after her husband's death in 1952. She renovated the castle and the garden, to make a personalised hideaway now open to visitors.

Scotland-Mey-Castle-02.jpg (7464 bytes)There's a volunteer guide in each room, each giving little snippets about how the Queen Mother lived in this haven. 

Just inside the entrance, the Queen Mum's grubby old mackintosh is flung over a chair in its usual position, ready for whenever she wanted to potter round the garden. It's a Stately Home which feels homely. Don't miss it! 

Check out these other destinations in Scotland

EDINBURGH - Look ahead for the big dates

GLASGOW - See Glasgow in true style

HEBRIDES - Hopscotch to the Western Isles

SCOTLAND - Explore the wild Highlands

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Scotland the Best by Peter Irvine - Even the local citizens of Edinburgh and Glasgow have a copy in the car when they head north.

Scotland's Highlands and Islands (Footprint Travel Guides) - very helpful on all aspects of travelling in the north.

The Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands and Islands  by Rob Humphreys and Donald Reid - a detailed guide to the wilder regions, essential for navigating the Islands and the more remote Highland areas. 

Back to



Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site

back to laterlife travel

Site map and site search



Advertise on