The ancient cathedral city of Dornoch, 101km (63 miles) northwest of Inverness and 353km (219 miles) northwest of Edinburgh, is Sutherland's major town and the area's most interesting stop. The major sightseeing attraction nearby is Dornoch Cathedral. Dornoch is also known for its sandy beaches, which do make for lovely walks, but we find that the swimming is best left to polar bears.
A tourist office is at the Square (tel. 01862/810-491; www.visitdornoch.com). It's open November to March daily 10am to 1:30pm; April to May and September, Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 10am to 4pm; June to July, Monday to Saturday 10am to 4:30pm and Sunday 10am to 4pm; August, Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sunday 10am to 4pm; and October, Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. From the Inverness bus station at Farraline Park, off Academy Street (call tel. 01463/233-371 for schedules), three local companies run daily buses to Dornoch: Stagecoach, Scottish Citylink, and Highland Country Buses. The trip takes between 60 and 90 minutes and costs £8 one-way.
This family resort town with a golf course sits on A9 and looks out across the water to the Dornoch Firth, with a crescent of sandy beach. Golspie, 367km (228 miles) northwest of Edinburgh and 116km (72 miles) northwest of Inverness, is visited chiefly because of its towering Dunrobin Castle.
Heading north along A836, you cross high moors and brooding peaks to Tongue, 414km (257 miles) northwest of Edinburgh and 163km (101 miles) northwest of Inverness. For the nature lover and hiker, there's a lot to see, from the mighty cliffs of Clo Mor, near Cape Wrath (known for its large colonies of puffins), to waterfalls like Eas-Coul-Aulin (the highest in Britain) and the Falls of Shin, where you can see salmon leap. Masses of land, like Ben Loyal (known as the queen of Scottish mountains), suddenly rise from a barren landscape. Any of the district's tourist offices, including the one in Dornoch, can provide a map of the local hills, valleys, and trails. The one closest to the above-mentioned trekking sites is the office on Main Street in Bettyhill (tel. 01641/521-342), a coastal village about 24km (15 miles) from Tongue.
West of Tongue, on a promontory, stand the ruins of Castle Varrich, said to have been built by the Vikings. Possibly dating from the 14th century, this castle was the Mackay stronghold. This is a great place for a walk.
A rather dramatic hike from the center is to the Kyle of Tongue, crossed by a narrow causeway. Protected from the wild and raging sea nearby, this is a long, shallow inlet. At low tide, wearing a pair of boots, you can wade out to Rabbit Island, lying at the mouth of Kyle of Tongue. You pass towering cliffs, sandy bays, odd rock formations, and deserted rocky islets that time has seemingly forgotten.