The Internet is a wonderful thing.
You may have noticed the limited range of places we write about. Moscow. The centre of Moscow. The edges of Moscow. The very occasional journey outside of Moscow. A number of articles about Mama’s hometown, Stevenage. The backlog of posts about where we used to live, London. The centre of London, the edges of London, the… OK, you get the idea.
Mama, in fact, is a travel blogger who doesn’t actually like travelling much. Well, it’s a niche.
But thanks to the World Wide Web, she can armchair travel as much as she wants. Mama enjoys other people’s trips to far flung places quite a lot.
Plus, it allows her to keep in contact with all sorts of people in all sorts of places, to share a laugh, to see what they think is happening in the world, to peer into the tiny details of lives and living situations very different from hers. Even, in some ways, to participate.
Which is what happened when her friends bought Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, in the North East of Scotland, close to Wick and Inverness and their airports and train connections, and twenty minutes from the very top of mainland Britain, John o’Groats itself.
Now Mama had not previously given much thought to the existence of Scottish lighthouses, or lighthouses in general. She might be the product of a proud island nation and the daughter of an enthusiastic amateur sailor, but she’s never lived within sight of the sea, the boat she is most familiar with is a Mirror dinghy, and her sailing has all been done on lakes. Very small lakes, mainly.
So previously she did not know that Scottish lighthouses were frequently built by one or another member of a family of engineering-minded Stevensons. With the exception of Robert Louis Stevenson, who benefited from lighthouse building being quite a lucrative business on the rocky north coast of Scotland and became a writer. Yes, that Robert Louis Stevenson.
‘I dreams of cheese! Toasted mostly! Oooh arrr Jimlad! Shiver me timbers! Pieces of eight!’ says Mama, helpfully.
This is what Robert said about the Stevenson Scottish lighthouses:
‘There is scarce a deep sea light from the Isle of Man to North Berwick, but one of my blood designed it. The Bell Rock stands monument for my grandfather; the Skerry Vhor for my uncle Alan; and when the lights come out along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think that they burn more brightly for the genius of my father’.
Alan Stevenson, the uncle, was the one who oversaw the construction of Noss Head Lighthouse and surrounding buildings, and Noss Head has some interesting features. The diamond-shaped windows in the lantern room were a new design, subsequently employed in future lighthouses. He also went a bit overboard with the architectural detailing on the cottages and outhouses, which means that some of them, although not the Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage itself, are grade A listed.
The Noss Head Lighthouse is still in operation, but has long been automatised, which is why you get to stay in the keeper’s cottage rather than the keeper. Cool, huh?
Mama has a somewhat proprietorial feel for the place, despite living very much at the other end of Europe, as she is part of a brainstorming group her friends use to make sure that their meticulous holiday cottage planning is on point.
The discussion about the type of biscuits to include in the welcome pack was a particular highlight, not least because Mama discovered there is such a thing as Blue Stilton and Walnut Shortbread.
In fact, when you walk into the cottage, contemplate Mama being quite proud to have contributed (a very very small part) to choosing the best colour of curtains to create a warm and inviting atmosphere; deciding what kind of saucepan would suit visitors best; searching for interesting books about lighthouses to add to the sitting room bookshelves; stress testing the cottage’s website and the information provided for guests; and working out how to make the cottage child friendly without compromising the aesthetic for adult guests.
Currently debate is buzzing about Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage fridge magnets. You are very welcome.
Overall, Mama’s friends richly deserve the enthusiastic comments about the attention to detail in the visitors’ book.
Now, obviously you want to be comfortable and have a cool place to stay on holiday, and with this holiday cottage you are clearly sorted. But presumably you also want to get out and about and see a bit of Scotland while you are there. Luckily there is certainly plenty to do, in terms of taking in spectacular coastal views and rockpooling along beaches around Noss Head Lighthouse, and also in the surrounding area.
Caithness is plentifully supplied with castles, including a ruined one you can see from Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage itself. As well as the views, there are opportunities to see all sorts of wildlife and birdlife from puffins, through hairy cows to seals. There is ancient history in the form of prehistoric stone towers called brochs. And this being Scotland, there is a whisky distillery. More than one, in fact. And a gin distillery. And a vodka distillery. And also a brewery.
Plus, many small craftspeople crafting away and prepared to sell their unique items of knitwear, pottery, ironmongery and so on. A number of the paintings in the cottage are by local artists, to give you an idea of what is out there.
If you are really lucky, the northern lights might come out to play. If you aren’t lucky, the chances of a cloudless night are good, giving you the opportunity to stargaze away from the light pollution of most towns, cities or villages.
More than this, the North Coast 500 road trip route goes right past the Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.
Even though Mama blanches at the thought of travel, she does have a sort of fascination with road trips and similar. She quite enjoys the thought of packing up a car, an RV, a canal boat or even the Trans Siberian Express, and being gently wafted from place to place, waking up somewhere new every few days, yes, but with somewhere convenient to stash all the extra changes of socks, snacks, extra camera batteries, two tablets and a kindle, five more pairs of pants than the number of days we are staying away for, my bedtime cuddly toy, a couple of books, the wellies, the flip flops, the swimming things, the umbrella, the thermos, and the crafting activities so she doesn’t have to lug them all around with her.
Or worse, leave them at home.
So when Mama finally decides it’s time to go, the journey will be EPIC, and driving round the top of Scotland on the NC500 sounds pretty perfect, with moorlands, lochs, Highland glens, white sand beaches, hamlets, fishing villages and oodles of Scottish wilderness to explore.
Aside from the breathtaking scenery, after years of city living she actually rather enjoys the infrequent occasions she gets to fling a car round country roads. The fact that Papa is generally closing his eyes and gripping the edges of his seat in fear is revenge, Mama thinks, for years of her putting up with Muscovites and their overly breezy attitude to lane changing at speed.
Even the idea of trying to shift Papa’s opinion that whisky tastes a lot like moonshine vodka sounds quite appealing. And you get to stand at the very top of a country, at John o’Groats and contemplate taking off and seeing how long it might take to get down to the bottom and Lands End, just for the fun of saying you did it. Mama wants to go to Vladivostock, for much the same reason. End to end, baby. It’s a (very long term, and probably hypothetical) goal. Especially as her fitness levels are not going to see her climbing any serious mountains any time soon.
Although there are a few of those Northern Scotland too. Bagging one of the Munros is a thing, and there are 37 of them on the NC500 for you to choose from.
So, if you want a quirky holiday cottage in the Highlands of Scotland, a quirky holiday cottage on the NC500, a quirky holiday cottage near John o’Groats, or just a really comfortable (and quirky) holiday cottage somewhere scenic, you really should consider the Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.
Like we are.
Just to be clear, we have not received any financial or other incentive for writing this post. We just like our friends and think their lighthouse cottage is way cool.
The cottage is 2.5 hours drive and 100 miles from Inverness.
It takes five or six hours to drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Buses and trains take longer. You can fly into Wick airport, next door to the cottage from Edinburgh or Glasgow.
If you are coming from England there’s a sleeper train from London to Inverness, or you can fly into Inverness airport. Then hire a car.
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