The North Coast of Scotland provides a rich and varied tapestry of scenic landscapes as uniquely picturesque as any on Earth.
In early Summer of 2017, I was invited to tour the ‘North Coast 500’, a scenic 517 mile-long route through the Scottish Highlands, beginning and ending at Inverness Castle. My host, Steve Quinn, a semi-retired business consultant and executive coach, enjoyed guiding people on custom-designed coastal expeditions with the opportunity for one-to-one coaching.
In the words of Steve Quinn: “I like the concept of the road trip as a metaphor for life's journey. And travelling the NC500 comes with some bumps in the road. There are some blind summits, some corners you can't see around, some unpredictable things which aren't really controllable. A prime example would be the weather. The weather you get along the NC500 can go through all four seasons in a single day. There are some surprises that are not controllable- but you need to work with them, you need to work around them.
Sometimes you can't make the progress that you would have liked. On the North Coast lots of roads are single track, only one car at a time. Sometimes you have to wait for other cars to pass. That's like waiting for the right time to move forward in life.”
As someone previously familiar with the capital city of Edinburgh, my first encounter with the Scottish coastline was eye-opening, elevating and enlivening.
In the immense geographic expanse also known as the Highlands, the photographic opportunities are endless. Pristine lakes and storm-battered shorelines, rocky ruins and pastoral cottages, tumbling waterfalls amongst cloud-hidden crags, wind-blown wildflowers and the ubiquitous sheep and long-horned cattle, an ever-potential highlight for anyone with a lens.
Along the circuitous route are countless abandoned ‘crofts’, stone cottages in ruins, barren evidence of the 19th century exodus of crofters during ‘the Clearances’, a cultural purging catalyzed by landlords shifting from small-holdings to commercial sheep farming. Crouching amongst these hauntingly stark ruins, gazing out at the dusky ocean, it was not difficult to imagine the suffering these former tenants must have endured, forced by economic circumstances beyond their control to migrate far from their ancestral lands.
There were occasions on our journey when the road was blocked by roving sheep or cattle, pastoral moments perfectly suited for the camera. Other times, while transiting high meadows, we were buffeted by great winds of passing storms, pelting the windshield beneath a rain-filled, darkening sky. Afterward, we enjoyed the magnificent serenity of a leisurely parade of clouds, reflecting on the mirror surface of a Highland lake.
The freedom I experienced having Steve be guide and chauffeur was both relaxing and inspiring. Although he was at the wheel of the car, he was quite willing to stop for a particularly beautiful vista at any time. Time pressures of daily life fell away here. Each day offered a new vista, a new opportunity for discovery. I cherish this trip to this day, its memory fresh and vibrant. The Scottish Highlands, once an unknown destination, now live inside me like a breath of mountain air.