Highland Hospitality – the contrasts.

Highland Hospitality – the contrasts

This past week it hasn’t felt like being in the Highlands at all. The sun has shone and there has been warmth in its rays, out of the breeze. The birds are singing, daffodils are bursting into joyous colour, and there’s a feeling of hope in the air.

Spring weather tempted us to unearth our bikes from the shed. With oil on our chains and air in our tyres, we took to the roads.

Cycling is nothing without a stop for coffee and cake, but mindful of our route on Saturday, and the notoriously haphazard opening hours of the facilities at our destination, I packed a flask and took a couple of scones from the freezer. And I’m glad I did.

Loch Ness from Dores Beach

No Highland welcome at Dores beach

We arrived at Dores beach around 11am, but despite the beach being as busy as I’ve seen it, both the Dores Inn and The Spot Coffee Shop were firmly locked up. A Highland welcome? Hardly.

We settled ourselves on the jetty in front of the closed pub. The water was glass still, the sun warm enough to wish we’d worn shorts. The ducks glided in, hoping for a few morsels of scone – no chance. And with everything closed, they weren’t getting crumbs from anyone else either. The voices that floated across to us were in French, Dutch and Spanish. I couldn’t help but wondering what they thought of everything being shut.

Here we were, drinking in one of the most beautiful, iconic views in Scotland, on the warmest day of the year yet, and there was nowhere to buy a coffee or a bowl of soup – or to go to the loo. Neither we, nor any of the scores of people enjoying the beach, the loch, and the weather, could have spent money if we’d tried. What a missed opportunity.

Welcome to Inverness!

My delicious smoked pork taco from Ollie’s Pops

Luckily, it was a different story in Inverness. Back in the city we headed for the riverside by the Cathedral, to enjoy the fabulous Highland Food and Drink Trail. The brainchild of ‘Bad Boy’ Douglas Hardie from Bad Girl Bakery in Muir of Ord (soon to be anchor-tenant of the revamped Inverness Victorian Market food hall), the place was buzzing, with street-food stalls doing roaring trade.

We joined chattering, good-natured, queues for mouth-watering pork tacos, and stood, blethering for hours, with friends who were enjoying scallops, smoothies, and venison. The Cathedral Café joined in, and there was ice-cream, cake, and coffee if we’d wanted it.

I’ll carry on bringing flasks to Dores, but I’d rather support a local business.

It takes someone with vision, and with the tenacity and passion to push that vision forward, to make our places better. It needs the support of locals if these ventures are going to thrive, but it also needs some consistency. The businesses must offer good food, and they must be reliable.

Thank you, Douglas, and Ollie’s Pops, for the festival atmosphere, the unexpected catch-up with old friends, and the best tacos I’ve ever eaten. See you next time.

With Caroline (l) and Rhoda (r) of North Coast Wet’n’Wild

Gettin’ Wet’n’Wild

If there’s a theme to this week’s column, it’s about creating opportunity where none existed. During lockdown, Rhoda and her friend Caroline from near Tongue got into wild swimming. It felt good for their bodies, good for their mental health, and good for their souls.

So, they got qualified, teamed up with Rhoda’s brother George, and set up a business based in Talmine, a beautiful sandy beach near The Kyle of Tongue, to teach others how to safely enjoy the water. North Coast Wet’n’Wild offer lessons in sea swimming, paddleboarding and – taking advantage of the area’s wonderfully craggy coastline – coasteering.

They invited me to join them, so I packed my wetsuit. Can we gloss over the ‘standing-up’ bit of stand-up paddleboarding? I blame the wild waves of the Pentland Firth…

This brilliant new business offers locals and holidaymakers a new perspective on the north coastline. If in doubt, get in the sea. No regrets.

Attack of the Giant Octopus

Danger on the Kyle of Tongue! (Thankfully we made it across safely…)

If anything could have ruined the enjoyment of my afternoon in the Pentland Firth, it would have been the threat of attack from a sea monster.

Do such things exist? If you’re asking me about Nessie, that’s a resounding ‘Yes’. But an octopus big enough to grab a car?

This was the warning sign as we crossed the Kyle of Tongue on our way home from paddle-boarding. Always a fan of a ‘googly-eye’, I need an explanation, please…

This column is published by Highland News and Media in six of their newspapers across the north of Scotland. If you can, please support print media and the future of independent  journalism by buying a paper, or subscribing online. 

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