It was a weekend of great food and eye-opening activities but, on the way back to Aberdeen, I had a question running through my mind.
Why didn’t I know all this sooner?
Earlier this year I spent two nights in the far north of the country with one of my oldest friends, as part of a kind of mini wellness retreat in Caithness and Sutherland.
Venture North tourism organization had given us a packed itinerary and we arrived at Oldmoreshore Retreats near Lairg to start.
We were greeted by wonderful hosts, Andy and Angela Johnson, who had prepared one of their three wooden glamping pods for our arrival.
Each was the perfect size, equipped with all the equipment you would need – ours even had an air fryer – with a brilliant choice of cereals and rolls left for our breakfast the next morning.
Admittedly, we had arrived a little late, so we didn’t have much time to settle in before being ushered into an outhouse for a gong bath.
Rather than involving water, it uses sound and vibration to “immerse” your body and help you enter a state of hypnotic relaxation.
At first I was skeptical as the weird sounds got louder (but never overwhelming). However, I left the session feeling completely refreshed – albeit a bit confused as to how it went!
That night we headed to the Old School House in Kinlochbervie for a brilliant dinner, then took advantage of the good weather to stroll around the nearby harbour.
After a good night’s sleep – it is, unsurprisingly, exceptionally quiet there – Angela and Andy had invited us to join one of their morning yoga sessions.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to join as we had to rush to Dunnet for the second leg of our trip.
It was another quick turnaround as we checked into the Northern Sands hotel before meeting Isobel and Angela from Above and Beyond Tours for an in-depth look at the area.
Both were incredibly knowledgeable as they drove us to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the Scottish mainland, pointing out landmarks and sharing little-known stories along the way.
They also offer health and wellness activities, and we stopped at a beautiful secluded beach to practice mindfulness and search for the elusive Groatie Buckies – tiny cowrie shells believed to bring good luck.
It was a great opportunity to clear our heads after hours of travel that morning and prepare ourselves perfectly for a North Coast Watersports surf session.
Instructor Iona made us feel comfortable as we headed to the beautiful beach for a quick demonstration on land before jumping into the water.
I’ve paddleboarded before and like swimming in the North Sea, but this was completely different.
Iona was incredibly encouraging as we watched for the best waves to tackle and then did our best to stand up on the boards.
And I don’t mean to brag, but I got it right the first time. Iona said I was “a natural”. (It certainly wasn’t just beginner’s luck.)
After two hours in the water we returned to the hotel and I had one of the best meals I think I have ever eaten. I still think too often of that chocolate mousse dessert.
Our double room had everything you could need from a hotel room. It looked stylish but with a great Highland feel, and when it comes time for me to remodel my bathroom, I definitely go with that one.
The next morning we went to Thurso for a private session with Iain Black at Flow North Yoga.
It was just what I needed to relax my body after our intense surf workout, and Iain was brilliant at checking my posture and making sure I was getting the most out of the experience.
He also encourages people to try the great outdoors, offering classes on the beaches – and even balancing on paddle boards.
One thing I took away from my visit was that everyone seemed to know each other, and it felt like we had entered into a real community.
Everyone we met raved about everyone else and were always willing to offer recommendations and suggestions on what else we could do in the area.
Fortunately, the introduction of the NC500 seems to have brought many more visitors to the area who might not otherwise have made the trip north.
Venture North has certainly tapped into that too, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it has to offer.
From the activities we tried to hiking, biking, bird watching and even scuba diving, there is something for everyone.
Yes, it’s a good distance to travel – even from Aberdeen it felt like quite a long drive – but certainly worth it.
Oldshoremore Retreats, 152 Oldshoremore, Rhiconich, Lairg IV27 4RS
Call: 01971 521036 (Monday to Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.)
Old School Restaurant, Inshegra IV27 4RJ
Above and Beyond Tours: aboveandbeyondtours.co.uk, 07810 285 848
North Coast Watersports: northcoastwatersports.com, 07982649635
Northern Sands Hotel, Dunnet KW14 8XD: Northernsands, co.uk, 01847 851 300
Flow North Yoga and Wellbeing, 1-3 Brabster Street, Thurso KW14 7AP:
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[Sound baths, surfing and mindfulness in Caithness and Sutherland]