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
This adorable building with the tall monkey puzzle in the driveway is the place to stay in Golspie for delicious food and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
The Golspie Inn is one of the prettiest buildings in the village. It is over 200 years old and has some quirky features. It was the first bar in Sutherland and Scotland's oldest post box is in the wall of the inn. Original features like sash and case windows and cast iron radiators add to the character of the rooms.
My room was simple and comfortable. I was a bit concerned about my window overlooking the A9 road, but I need not have worried as the road is virtually silent at night and I had a perfect sleep.
At breakfast there was perfect poached eggs on toast. The couple from Spain, sitting at the next table, were craving some croissants and the manager, Tricia, produced a freshly baked batch especially for them. I heard the woman say that they were the best she had ever tasted.
Tricia offered me one and explained that she also runs the cafe/bakery, Poppy's, on the Main Street and the croissants came from there. It was a delicious croissant, as good as any I have had in France. It is quite unusual to be able to have one for breakfast in a Highland hotel, but this was the kind of personal touch that Tricia likes to provides for her guests.
Tricia told me about what there is to see and do in the area- she has great passion and knowledge. The hotel offers a variety of sightseeing tours, including visits to whisky distilleries and Tricia knows about the hidden gems of Sutherland. She mentioned beautiful waterfalls that few other people know about.
I was glad that she recommended The Big Burn Walk, which is right next to the hotel. It became my favourite walk in Scotland and I wrote a blog about this.
I loved the collection of old photographs of the hotel in the lounge area, particularly this one of the front of the hotel which shows that little has changed, apart from the old car.
I think that it is important that the history of a hotel is shared with guests as it makes it more special and authentic to the area to stay there. With modern hotels you have none of that and even some older hotels fail to tell guests their story, so it is good to see that Golspie Inn makes the history of the place a central part of the guest experience.
I really enjoyed the conversation over breakfast. I chatted to the Spanish couple about travel plans and even a bit of current affairs. Tricia joined in and provided us with lots of tips about things to see and do in the area. It is that kind of relaxed and friendly atmosphere that makes a hotel stay enjoyable and memorable.
A double room with breakfast is around £90 and you can book online on the Golspie Inn website.
For cycling in the area try the quiet road between Golspie and Dornoch
Read more about Golspie: 10 Things to See and Do in Golspie
This blew me away. I loved every minute of it. Sometimes I get off my bike to go for a walk and the Big Burn is the most spectacular walk that I have done on a cycling trip.
The walk begins in a forest with no hint of how spectacular it will become. In fact, it is a somewhat ordinary introduction. The name of the walk gives nothing away- a burn does not sound impressive- but the picture on the stone sign suggests something more special:
The path crosses a humpback bridge, with the same name as me!
A plaque on the bridge explains why it is called Colin's Bridge. It pays tribute to a local man who voluntarily carried out repair works to the paths.
The walk proceeds under the huge railway arch and alongside the burn. Its banks are thick with trees and foliage.
So far, quite a nice walk, but not necessarily spectacular.
That was to change all of a sudden...
The path takes you into a gorge where the burn flows fast and noisily. Wooden bridges continually cross the gorge from one side to the other as you make your way further inside. It felt to me like an expedition into a lost world. I thought I was somewhere abroad, not Scotland. There was something about the rocky chasm, the soundscape of rushing water and the exotic-looking green foliage that transported me elsewhere.
This waterfall, in particular, made me think of rain-forests in Costa Rica. Those delicate tendrils of silvery water pattering over a rock garden of lush green moss seemed to me to be evocative of South America:
I should not have been thinking of elsewhere. This beauty was right here, in Scotland, and I was fortunate to be able to see it. Enjoy this short video that captures the lovely sound of this waterfall:
After seeing this I thought that I had seen the main attraction of this walk, but no. It continued further into the gorge, across more bridges.
I was so glad that there was more and the adventure could continue.
I turned a corner and wham! A gushing, deafening, powerful waterfall was before me. The water was being forced through a narrow gap in the gorge and this was the reason for all this watery chaos.
I stayed awhile, enjoying the sound of the water and feeling the spray on my face. It was spectacular and this video captures some of the magic of this waterfall.
I loved how lush and green this walk is. Take a look at this stairway cutting through grasses.
It was a wet day during my visit, but it did not matter. It added to the feeling of being on an adventure and going somewhere wild. It made the foliage more lush. Look at this carpet of glistening leaves on the path:
Once I had seen the waterfall I retraced my steps to return to Golspie. On the way I took the path marked for the skating pond and found a peaceful spot that would be ideal for a summer picnic.
This walk is a must. If you are in the area please make the effort to do the walk as you will not regret it. The distance of the walk is about 2 miles, relatively short for something that turns out to be such an incredible adventure.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Golspie? The Golspie Inn is right next to this walk. Read my review of Golspie Inn
For more things to see and do in Golspie take a look at Ten things to see and do in Golspie.
Try cycling the quiet road between Golspie and Dornoch for amazing views of snowy mountains.
Golspie to Littleferry is a short, quiet road that makes for great cycling.
At time of writing Golspie station house was up for sale, if you fancy living in a Highland train station.
On a recent trip to Golspie, a village located 50 miles north of Inverness, I discovered that the station house is up for sale. It is a gorgeous building and I wondered what it would be like to live there. I had a look at the estate agent's brochure and discovered that there are many exciting original features.
One of my favourite things about the building is this veranda. I can easily imagine sitting and enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine and watching the trains go by.
Another plaque has the initials "SR", standing for Sutherland Railway, the railway belonging to the Duke of Sutherland. You can make this out in this picture, just before the apex of the roof:
The house has four bedrooms and inside there are sash and case windows, original fireplaces and some wooden flooring.
The most impressive room in the house is the lounge, which used to be separated into the ticket office and station master's office. The fireplace has a Caithness stone hearth.
I really like the main window in the lounge which features a cenrtal oval panel. I have never seen a window like this before and it is yet another feature that makes this such a unique home.
There is something very appealing about living in a former train station and the one at Golspie is certainly beautiful. At the time of writing the house is still available, so get in quick if you have always dreamed of such a home.
The next station on the railway is Dunrobin Castle, another beautiful station building that I have written about.
Golspie is a great place to base yourself when exploring popular attractions like Dunrobin Castle or walking to the summit of Ben Bhraggie. If you have a bit more time to spare in the village here are some more ideas for things you can see and do. In no particular order:
1. The Big Burn Walk
Magical, stunning, exciting...whatever superlatives you use to describe this, they will never be enough. You have to experience it for yourself.
You enter a gorge with fast flowing water, crossing it back and forth on wooden bridges. You go deeper into the gorge that is lush with forest and plant life. You turn a corner and wham! There it is, powerful, impressive and mesmerising- the walk ends at a roaring waterfall. Come at different times of the year to experience changes in the foliage, like carpets of wild garlic and bluebells.
2. Look for Scotland's oldest post box
Golspie has the oldest post box in Scotland. It features Queen Victoria royal insignia, rather than the Queen Elizabeth II insignia that you normally see on boxes. It is on the wall of the Golspie Inn. Once you have found it why not pop inside for a bite to eat...
3. Lunch or dinner at the Golspie Inn
This historic coaching inn is over 200 years old and one of the prettiest buildings in Golspie, It was the first inn in Sutherland to have a bar and today you can try a tasty beer from the Loch Ness brewery. My favourite is Caith Ness, which is made with porridge oats and Caithness honey. Fresh, local and seasonal is the ethos in the kitchen. You have to try the fish and chips. The haddock is thick and succulent and the chips are sheer perfection- crispy on the outside and fluffy as a cloud on the inside.
4. Find the fishy gargoyles
Somewhere in the village there are these otherworldly creatures sprouting out of a wall. You will find them on the Countess of Sutherland memorial fountain. I read a description of the fountain that called them dolphins, but I don't think they look much like a dolphin. They are fantastical creations that transported my imagination elsewhere. Brilliant.
5. Go villa spotting
On Fountain Road, where the fishy gargoyles live on the fountain, there are several fine Victorian villas. I particularly liked the one with the yellow door and window frames. I could smell wood burning fires and this had me dreaming of an armchair, a whisky and a grand sitting room. Golspie has many beautiful houses that can be seen on a walk around the village.
Also on Fountain Road, Coffee Bothy serves superb coffee in cute, cosy, rustic surroundings. Try the coffee and walnut cake to boost your caffeine hit- it is the most coffee tasting cake I have ever tasted (in a very good way). Opt for a takeaway and walk down to the sea front promenade, located just behind Main Street. There are benches where you can sit and ponder the expanse of the North Sea and watch oystercatchers and other seabirds go about their business.
7. St. Andrew's Church
This white eighteenth century church is on Main Street. Open the iron gate and step into the church yard for a peaceful moment. There is a sprinkling of snowdrops in the spring and you will notice an interesting mixture of windows of different sizes as you walk around the outside of the building. This was originally the Earl of Sutherland's family chapel and later became the parish church.
8. Walk across the grass bridge
Golspie Old Bridge no longer carries traffic over Golspie Burn, but you can still walk across it and experience the interesting sensation of a grass covered bridge. There are benches, so you can take a seat and enjoy the location for a few moments. This is one of Thomas Telford's bridges, the renowned engineer who had been tasked with a massive project of road and bridge building in the Highlands at the beginning of the nineteenth century. There is an obelisk in the middle of the bridge that has a Gaelic inscription with an English translation below- it marks this place as a rallying point for the clan Sutherland.
9. Loch Fleet
Loch Fleet is a nature reserve, located about 3 miles from the centre of the village. The quiet road to the loch is ideal for cycling. There is a chance of spotting wildlife like otter, wild cat, pine marten, osprey and seals. There are woodland and coastal walks.
10. Visit a Caithness stone workshop
At Sutherland Stonework, next to the Big Burn Walk, you might catch the workshop in action. There is a cutting machine out the back and slabs of Caithness Stone lined up. This stone can only be found in the far north of Scotland, so if you are looking for a unique souvenir this could be just the thing. There is a showroom where you can view the range of work on offer. You could get a worktop, house sign, window sills or whatever your imagination conjures up. Their website states "We will make anything in stone."
Golspie is 50 miles north of Inverness and takes just over 2 hours to reach by train. If you have come this way to see Dunrobin Castle you will likely travel through Golspie as it is about 2 miles from the castle. Also worth visiting is Carn Liath Broch, 3 miles from Golspie and 1 mile from Dunrobin Castle.