One of the best things about cycling in Scotland is coming across the unexpected. You can look at a map and research places online to get a pretty good idea about what you are going to see on your travels. But when you come across something that you didn't expect it becomes the highlight of the journey.
When I set out on the Loch Buidhe road between Golspie and Dornoch I had no idea that I would come across this rumbling, tumbling waterfall by the side of the road.
There was no warning. It came out of the blue. All of a sudden. There was a gushing waterfall right by the side of the road. I had no idea this was going to be here. There was no mention of it on the map or in anything I read about the area. I loved that. My secret waterfall and I had it all to myself. I stayed here for ages watching it and enjoying the noise.
The waterfall is located a few miles from where this road joins the A9 at The Mound. The road runs alongside a rushing burn, there is a bit of a climb and then the waterfall appears.
There are many secrets, like this waterfall, to be found across Scotland. Yes, there are castles, stately homes, museums, cities and other attractions that are famous and draw thousands and thousands of visitors. But it is the little surprises, the things that are not widely written about, the hidden gems that are often the most memorable.
Read my blog about cycling along this road and discover more surprises
Ever wanted to stay in a castle with a four poster bed and a blazing log fire? You can do this at Dornoch Castle Hotel. Check in to the Old Courtroom and you can light the fire, listen to it crackle and cosy up in a bed fit for a king.
This is a unique experience. It is rare to find a working fire in a hotel room and to be in charge of lighting it and stoking it with logs. I have been to hotels that have fireplaces in the lounges, but never in the rooms.
And what a room this is. Many people dream of living in a Scottish castle. It is something they would love to be able to experience on a trip to Scotland. Staying in the Old Courtroom makes that dream come true. There are several other castle hotels in Scotland, but I have not yet come across one that matches Dornoch Castle for the authentic feeling of the room.
It is not just the four poster bed and the fireplace that make is special. There is wood panellng, exposed stone walls, and roof beams.
The window seats are my favourite feature in the room. There are two window recesses that have face-to-face stone seats, topped with cushions:
The Old Courtroom is the most expensive room at the hotel. As of 2016 it is £260 for bed and breakfast, but when you consider the uniqueness of this room and being able to stay in an authentic Scottish Castle this is worth a treat. It is unlikely that you would find such a special room like this in London for a similar price.
The Tower Room is the same price and has a wood burning stove and a four poster bed with a carving of a squirrel running up one of the posts.
The other categories of rooms do not have stoves or fires. I have also stayed in one of the other rooms- the Terrace Room- which is lovely. It has a large, comfortable bed and views of the castle gardens.
It is worth signing-up to the hotel's newsletter as they email you with special offers and you might pick up a good deal, particularly during the low season.
A stay in the Old Courtroom at Dornoch Castle Hotel has to be one of the most special places to stay in all of Scotland. Treat yourself to this unique experience.
When staying at the hotel:
Visit Dornoch beach
Cycle the snowy mountain view road, from Dornoch to Golspie
When I arrived into Dornoch it was not immediately obvious to me that the town has a beach. With a castle, a cathedral and no sign of water it does not feel like a seaside town. The beach is located about half a mile from the centre of town and it is spectacular. A nice surprise.
Dornoch, in Sutherland, is around 43 miles north of Inverness. If you did not know about Dornoch beach before you got there you could be forgiven for assuming there was not a beach. The town has no obvious clues that it is near to the sea. There are no shops selling buckets and spades. The buildings are solid stone constructions- no pastel colours or nautical decorations.
The beach is about half a mile from the town, the town does not sit on the shore, so this is probably why the town has no obvious seaside paraphernalia. There are signs all over the town pointing to the beach, so it is easy to find and worth the short walk or cycle to get there.
The beach is devoid of commercialisation and development, so there are no bars, hotels or other things to distract you from the simple pleasure of walking on soft sands and enjoying views of distant hills.
Beaches like this where there are no crowds and all you can hear is the sound of the surf are good for the soul.
I spent half an hour walking along the beach, with the breeze in my face, fresh air filling my lungs and my shoes gently crunching the sand. I came away smiling and feeling relaxed. Let Dornoch beach take your worries away.
Why not stay in Dornoch Castle Hotel? Read my review of this superb hotel
Try cycling the snowy mountain view road between Dornoch and Golspie
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.