19 March 2023
Immerse yourself in the mesmerising history of the north Highlands using our guide to some of the must-see sites of historical significance along the iconic North Coast 500 route...
1. Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle is perched on the east coast of Sutherland in an idyllic setting next to the rural village of Golspie. The castle is home to the Earl & Dukes of Sutherland and has been since the 13th century where it was first initiated into the family in 1401. The name ‘Dunrobin’ is said to derive from Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland who died in 1427. The name 'Dun Robin' means Robin’s Hill or Fort in Gaelic.
Discover the Sutherland families’ heritage in this stunning fairytale castle which also boasts a café, falconry and exquisite gardens in its grounds.
Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland KW10 6SF; tel: 01408 633177; website.
2. Timespan Heritage Centre & Museum
The Timespan Heritage Centre & Museum was established in 1986 and has come a long way since it was first opened. Now an award-winning museum and contemporary art gallery, the centre welcomes around 13,000 visitors a year due to its expansive quality of history and heritage on offer.
For anyone with Scottish ancestors, Timespan has extensive genealogy sources in Sutherland which could help you track down your forebears.
Timespan, Helmsdale KW8 6JA; tel: 01431 821327; website.
3. Culloden Visitor Centre/ Battlefield
Slightly off-route but one of the big visitor attractions around the starting point in Inverness, the Culloden Battlefield is a must-visit for those interested in the history of the Battle of Culloden. In 1746, the course of history changed, as it was here that the Jacobite army fought to reclaim the throne of Britain in a ferocious war that divided families and clans.
Culloden Visitor Centre, Culloden Moor, Inverness IV2 5EU; tel: 0844 493 2159; website.
4. North Coast Visitor Centre
Originally known as Caithness Horizons Museum, this centre includes a museum that houses a permanent exhibition which uses the museum’s collection of objects to tell the story of the county of Caithness from the geological period known as the Devonian (about 416 to 359 million years ago) to the present day.
Exhibitions of note include the Stones Room with locally unearthed Pictish artefacts, a collection and investigation into local botanist and geologist Robert Dick, and a detailed look into the history of Dounreay, and it’s impact on Caithness culturally and socially.
Caithness Horizons, High Street, Thurso KW14 8AJ; tel: 01847 805020; website.
5. Highland Pictish Trail
Something different, and spread across locations, the Pictish Trail tells the story of the Picts through beautifully carved artefacts and stones that are dotted around the coastline of Easter Ross. The Picts inhabited the areas between the 3rd and 9th centuries AD, and have left a lasting impression. Start from Inverness and follow the trail to Golspie. Remember to look out for the ‘Queen of the Picts’ which can be found in Portmahomack. Website.
6. Highland Museum of Childhood
One for the kids (or the big kids!), the Highland Museum of Childhood is situated within a charming old Victorian station in the local village of Strathpeffer. Learn about the toys of children of yesteryear, how children were educated and what they used to eat through displays, memorabilia and artefacts... and not a single iPod in sight!
Highland Museum of Childhood, The Old Station, Strathpeffer IV14 9DH; tel: 01997 421031; website.
North Coast 500…
The North Coast 500 (NC500) is a 500 mile touring route round the stunning coastal edges of the North Highlands of Scotland. Taking in mesmerising castles, glistening beaches, awe-inspiring mountain tops and an abundance of authentic experiences, the NC500 promises a road trip of a life time round some of the most undiscovered, yet beautiful and remote parts of Scotland. To find out more about the North Coast 500 please visit the website.
(Images: North Coast 500 route, Dunrobin Castle, Pictish Trail copyright North Coast 500)
Originally published November 2015. Reviewed March 2023.