Scotland's rugged north coast attracts few visitors, but those who do venture this far find that there's plenty to write home about.
Durness is not only the most north-westerly village on the British mainland, but also one of the most attractively located, surrounded by sheltered coves of sparkling white sand and machair-covered limestone cliffs. It's worth stopping here for a few days to explore the area. The Tourist Information Centre, Tel. 511259, arranges guided walks and has a small visitor centre with displays on local history, flora and fauna and geology. Open April-October Monday-Saturday 0900-1800; July and August also Sunday 1100-1900.
A mile east of the village is the vast 200 ft-long Smoo Cave. A path from near the youth hostel leads down to the cave entrance which is hidden away at the end of a steep, narrow inlet. Plunging through the roof of the cathedral-like cavern is an 80-ft waterfall which can be seen from the entrance, but the more adventurous can take a boat trip into the floodlit interior.
A few miles east of the Smoo Cave are a couple of excellent beaches, at Sangobeg and Rispond, where the road leaves the coast and heads south along the west shore of stunning Loch Eriboll, Britain's deepest sea loch, which was used by the Royal Navy during the Second World War as a base for protecting Russian convoys.
About a mile northwest of Durness is the tiny hamlet of Balnakeil, overlooked by a ruined 17th-century church. In the south wall is a graveslab with carved skull-and-crossbones marking the grave of the notorious highwayman Donald MacMurchow. If you're looking for souvenirs, or an escape from the rat race, then head for the Balnakeil Craft Village, an alternative artists' community set up in the 1960s in a former RAF radar station. Here you can buy weavings, pottery, paintings, leatherwork and woodwork in the little prefab huts. There's also a café. Info - Apr-Oct daily 1000-1800. Balnakeil has also become well-known in golfing circles. The nine-hole golf course, Tel. 01971 511364, is the most northerly in mainland Britain, and its famous ninth hole involves a drive over the Atlantic Ocean.
The beach here is glorious, especially in fine weather when the sea turns a brilliant shade of turquoise. Even better, walk north along the bay to Faraid Head, where you can see puffin colonies in early summer. The views from here, across to Cape Wrath in the west and Loch Eriboll in the east, are stupendous.
Local Sights & Activities for Durness
Smoo Cave is a sea cave where evidence of human occupation from around 5000 years ago has been discovered. There's a path down to the cave from the car park at the top of the cliffs.