The Arts in John O' Groats
In an old converted country school, the Lyth Arts Centre (tel. 01955/641-270; www.lytharts.org.uk) stages year-round performances of innovative and experimental works by small touring companies, from drama and dance to jazz, folk, and new music. There's also a permanent collection of art related to northern Scotland, and July and August bring touring exhibits of contemporary art, photography, and some crafts. Exhibits are open daily from 10am to 6pm; admission is £2 for adults, £1 for seniors, and 50p for students and children 5 to 15. Performances usually start at 8pm. Advance booking is necessary for all shows, so call ahead. Tickets cost £10 for adults, £8 for seniors, and £6 for students and children. Coffee, tea, and light snacks are available on performance evenings. The arts center is signposted, 6.5km (4 miles) off A99, between Wick and John o' Groats.
One of our favorite towns in this region of Scotland, Ullapool was founded on the lovely shores of the saltwater Loch Broom. The site of the ferry docks for the island of Lewis, Ullapool remains a bustling fishing station. It's also the best embarkation point for trips to the Summer Isles.
One of the most dramatic and scenic drives in this part of Scotland is from Ullapool to the village of Lochiner (a 64km/40-mile run north following the signposts). Take A835 north from Ullapool, enjoying the views of Loch Broom as you go along. You'll pass the hamlet of Armair on Loch Kanaird, and then come to the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve, of some 10,935 hectares (27,000 acres), including lochs and lochans; along with the peaks of Cul Mor, at 849m (2,785 ft.); Cul Beag, at 769m (2,523 ft.); and Stac Pollaidth, at 612m (2,008 ft.).
At Knockan, 24km (15 miles) north of Ullapool, a signposted nature trail along the cliff offers the most dramatic views in the area and is the best place to observe the regional flora, fauna, and geology.
At the Ledmore junction, take A837 to the left, passing along Loch Awe, with the mountain peaks of Canisp, at 847m (2,779 ft.), and Ben More Assynt, at 984m (3,228 ft.), forming a backdrop. You'll reach the lovely 10km-long (6 1/4-mile) Loch Assynt. The road along this lake-dotted landscape eventually carries you to Lochiner, a hamlet with fewer than 300 souls. It's known for its scenery, sandy coves, and crofting communities. For tourist information, call tel. 01854/612-135.
There are a number of day trips you can take from Ullapool, including a jaunt to the Corrieshalloch Gorge, 19km (12 miles) southeast, a nature reserve along A835 at Braemore. From this point, the Falls of Measach plunge 45m (148 ft.) into a 1.6km-long (1-mile) wooded gorge. A bridge over the chasm and a viewing platform offer a panoramic way to enjoy this spectacular scenery.
Another interesting excursion is to the Inverewe Gardens (tel. 0844/493-2225; www.nts.org.uk). An exotic mix of plants from the South Pacific, the Himalayas, and South America gives the gardens year-round color. They can be reached along A832, 10km (6 1/4 miles) northeast of Gairloch. Open March 31 to October, daily from 9:30am to 9pm; January to March, daily from 9:30am to 4pm. Admission is £8.50 for adults, £5.50 for seniors and children 5 to 15, £21 per family.
From either Ullapool or Achiltibuie, you can take excursions in season to the Summer Isles, a beautiful group of almost uninhabited islands off the coast. They get their name because sheep are transported here in summer for grazing; the islands are a mecca for bird-watchers. Boat schedules vary, depending on weather conditions. Information is available from the tourist office on Argyle Street (tel. 01854/612-135).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.