Venture North day1: car-free NC500 to Dornoch

Discovering Caithness and Sutherland by public transport

Join us on our journey as we visit Dornoch, Brora, Helmsdale and Wick in the far north of Scotland via public transport.  We don’t own a car but would like to show that you can do part of the North Coast 500 (NC 500) without one. So take some time out and enjoy the space and fresh air as we venture north.

Day One – Glasgow to Dornoch

It wasn’t too early a start on our travels.  After a quick stop for coffee, we were on the 10:07 ScotRail train to Inverness. 

off the rails coffee cake

We are huge fans of travelling by train as it always feels like more of an adventure.  We sat back with our coffee and watched the scenery go by. 

Our train was timetabled to arrive in Inverness at 13:26, where we had enough time for another quick cuppa before transferring onto a bus for our journey to Dornoch. 

We had packed sandwiches to keep us going, as since Covid we haven’t seen any catering facilities on board ScotRail trains. So just be prepared to bring something to eat, just in case.

We then took the 14:15 X99 to Scrabster service from Inverness Bus Station which arrived in the centre of Dornoch at 15:15.

NC500 Accommodation in Dornoch

From there, the Royal Golf Hotel is a 5-minute walk away.   Check-in was quick and easy, with our room looking directly onto the golf course.

After the obligatory cup of tea and admiration of the view, we headed into the village.  Here, we saw the old railway station, the gorgeous cathedral and had time for a pit stop at the Eagle Hotel for a cheeky dram where Mark tasted a 5-year-old Thompson Brother’s sherry cask matured whisky from the local distillery.  Starting the trip as he means to go on!

Food in Dornoch

Soon enough it was time for dinner back at Royal Golf Hotel in their Crenshaw’s Brasserie.  Named after the American golfer Ben Crenshaw who was not only a fan of the course at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, but is an honorary member as well. 

The menu here is wide-ranging using Scottish produce with a modern slant.  We chose aged local beef tataki with wasabi, pumpkin seed and caramelised onion. Tataki is a Japanese preparation, where meat is seared and quickly cooled to halt the cooking process. As well as pan-seared shetland scallops with pickled celeriac caramelised apple and ginger puree and Stornoway black pudding. 

For mains, roast rack of Highland lamb, fennel crust, shallots, pickled pumpkin, whipped potato and a tamarind jus.  Plus baby back ribs with a chilli and honey glaze, truffle Mac and cheese, chilli buttered corn and pak choi. 

We were stuffed by dessert so shared a Highland cheese selection with Minger, Blue Murder, Morangie Brie, Tain Truckle and Orkney smoked cheddar.   

royal golf dornoch cheese

After all this, we met up with Lou Rollason from the Dornoch Whisky Festival and Michael Hanratty, General Manager of the Carnegie Whisky Cellars to find out about the upcoming Dornoch Whisky Festival. Established in 2015, the next festival takes place from 28th – 30th October 2022 and will be the first since 2019 due to lockdown.

Carnegie Whisky Cellars, Dornoch

We got to taste a flavour of what’s on offer at the festival, which featured:

  • Wolfburn – 100 years of the poppy, who are based in Thurso in the far north of Scotland
  • Thompson Bros – SRV5 Batch 1, aged 8 years, they are based in Dornoch itself
  • Loch Lea – Our Barley (bourbon, sherry and Shaved, Toasted & Re-charred matured)
  • Deanston – Adelphi, 7 years old, limited to 233 bottles
  • Douglas Laing – Timorous Beastie Winter Edition aged 18 years (sherry matured and limited to 450 bottles)
  • Gordon & MacPhail – Miltonduff aged 10 years (sherry matured)
Dornoch Whisky Festival tasting

We hadn’t tried any of these before so the festival is a great opportunity to taste uncommon drams. There are 6 – 8 events per day, each individually priced, with the ‘main event’ being the Grand Tasting on Saturday afternoon. This is priced at £25 for 20 tokens which can be exchanged for drams. The more common whiskies are available for 1 token while the rare stuff will set you back 5, so the festival isn’t about quantity but rather quality, with only 20 – 30 choice exhibitors attending each year. There will also be a selection of gin, liqueurs and cocktails available for anyone who isn’t a whisky fan.

After a peaceful whisky-induced sleep, we awoke to the sight of the golf course wakening up, golfers already lining up at the first tee to start their day. 

Breakfast in Dornoch

sunrise royal golf dornoch

We peeled ourselves out of our comfortable beds for a leisurely breakfast.  A special shout out for the Kames smoked trout with scrambled egg. 

Bellies re-filled, it was time for day two.

Catch up on day 1 via our TikTok


Many thanks to Venture North and their members for facilitating this trip.

Venture North was established in 2013 as a cooperative body of tourism businesses and entrepreneurs. They have now been tasked to lead the development and delivery of the Tourism Destination Recovery Strategy, alongside core funding support provided by HIE, DSRL and other funding partners over the next three years.  This includes a sustainable tourism strategy for the area.  We were visiting Caithness and Sutherland using public transport to produce a more sustainable tourism experience.  




I am Emma and with my husband Mark write Foodie Explorers, which is a food and travel website.

I am a member of the Guild of Food Writers and British Guild of Travel Writers.

We have a wide range of judging experience covering products, hotels and have judged, for example, for Great Taste Awards and Scottish Baker of the Year.

Along the way Mark gained WSET Level 2 in Wine and I have WSET Level 2 in Spirits as well as picking up an award with The Scotsman Food and Drink Awards.    

Usually I can be found sleeping beside a cat.

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