North Coast 500 Day 5: Durness to Gairloch

This is a series of articles about the North Coast 500, a 500-mile road trip through the Scottish Highlands. Associate Editor Graylyn Loomis is making the journey and will be posting here every day of the trip. Follow along on the website and on LINKS social media as he drives ever-further into rural Scotland! Click here to view posts from Day 1Day 2Day 3, and Day 4.

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Today was all about the drive. After a morning round and a few stops in the town of Durness, it was a three-hour journey south to my eventual goal of the Gairloch Highland Lodge in Gairloch, Scotland. The hotel is comfortable and within an easy walk of both the golf course and the town. I’m about to head in for dinner as I write this!

Durness Golf Club

Durness was my most anticipated round of the trip. I knew from friends that the setting was one of the best in golf and they also told me about the famous ninth hole. It’s a final par three (it’s a nine-hole course) that is a forced carry over the cliffs to an undulating green. A dramatic finish! Just behind the green you also see a church and graveyard… It’s a reminder of what has happened to many a golf ball on number nine.

In terms of scenery, I would put Durness up against nearly any course that I’ve played. What impressed me about Durness though was the holes away from the water. The course loops through rolling hills and around a loch. As you can see in the photos, it is Scottish Highlands through and through. The greens were in very good shape (thanks to head greenskeeper Alistair Morrison) and if the sun had popped out, it would have been the perfect morning.

The course is the most northwesterly on the British mainland and it’s admittedly not easy to reach. However, I encourage anyone visiting the Highlands to go to Durness. It’s a case study in sustainability and many American courses could learn from it. Alistair is the sole greenskeeper and due to the sensitive land on which the course is built, he can’t widely use chemicals or herbicides. The clubhouse is a modest building with an honesty box for greens fees and apart from shaping the greens, very little earth was moved to build the course. Visit Durness for the setting and quality of golf, but also the example it sets for the golf industry.

The Drive

After my round I made the short drive to Smoo Cave, a local feat of nature where a flowing river drops through the earth into a cave system below. You can access the cave and walk to the waterfall where the river crashes into the water below. I highly recommend stopping if you are driving through Durness.

The drive really picked up south of Durness on my way to Lochinver, where I planned to have lunch. Low hanging cloud and mist made the views even more dramatic. In Lochinver I had lunch at the famous Lochinver’s Larder Pie Shop – a must-do activity if in the fishing village!

The sun came out as I left Lochinver en route to Ullapool, a place I’ve wanted to visit for years. Ullapool has been on my radar because, in addition to being the largest city in the Highlands, it is also a ferry port for the Outer Hebrides (a series of islands off the west coast of Scotland). I will be returning to Scotland in July to visit the Outer Hebrides with my wife and our return ferry will drop us off in Ullapool. Consider the Ullapool stop a scouting mission as much as anything.

Today’s final leg was Ullapool to Gairloch, which was undoubtedly my favorite driving section thus far. The sun was out and at every turn there was a picture-worthy view. The road curled around stone features hundreds of feet above the water before dipping down to pass through the occasional village. There is driving left to do tomorrow, but if you’re only going to drive part of this North Coast 500, that would be where to go.

Tomorrow will be a morning round at Gairloch Golf Club and then a final winding drive back to Inverness for what will be my last day of the North Coast 500! If you have thoughts or tips, leave me a comment below.

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