And so we find ourselves surrounded by at least 15 Highland cows, as we depart the Applecross peninsula on the northern route via Shieldaig and the coast. Had we not made our way to Applecross the previous day via the vertiginous Bealach Nam Bo, we'd be bothered by this road's nickname – "the coward's way".
But north we are heading, sticking as close to the shore as possible – initially travelling parallel to the island of Raasay before rounding Loch Torridon, Loch Shieldaig and, finally upper Loch Torridon – as we continue our journey up the west coast to Durness.
Near Torridon, we cut inland for the first time in days – there isn't a road following the coast – to cross a barren, rolling mountainous landscape, before hooking a left and driving the length of Loch Maree. But before our next stopover at Ullapool, we're taking a detour at Gairloch in search of Redpoint beach. It's been recommended to us by a friend and as we get out of the car and make our way over the sandy dunes, the anticipation is high. The grass soon gives way to earthy red sand and an isolated stretch of beach: a perfectly formed mini sun-trap.
Continuing north, we pass Poolewe at Loch Ewe and hug the coast until we reach Ullapool. We're staying at Ardvreck House, where Evelyn Stockhall has created a first-class B&B overlooking Loch Broom on the outskirts of town. Ullapool is a good base for exploring the north-west of Scotland and, at night – particularly in high summer – the town comes alive as it plays host to tourists from all over the world.
The next day is our first dreich day in the week so far, and any hope of seeing the jagged top of mini-mountain Stac Pollaidh is dashed as we make another coastal detour to take in the Coigach peninsula.
This is wild and rugged country, peppered with lochs and beaches and quiet places to stop. The weather means we're not seeing it at its best and at Achiltibuie – a tiny village which would offer a perfect spot to take an al fresco lunch at the Summer Isles Hotel – it's too foggy and misty to see the islands themselves. No choice but to continue, with a promise to return another time.
We eat instead at the Kylesku Hotel, a wee gem that's been refurbished. It offers freshly-caught seafood – the platter is amazing – and to-die-for desserts.
Before we reach Durness, we find two more beaches as we travel north: Achmelvich and Oldshoremore. The latter is a compromise for not going to Sandwood Bay, widely regarded as one of the finest in the country, but not the most accessible: it's a four-mile walk to it.
We're not sorry we don't go. Both Achmelvich and Oldshoremore exceed our expectations. The former is three miles northwest of Lochinver, along a single-track road, but the beach itself is an incredible, perfect cove of white sand, encased by rock scenery. By the time we reach Oldshoremore beach, near Kinlochbervie, we're in the wilds of Sutherland.
The landscape has shifted along the way, the feeling of remoteness intensified and, walking on to the beach, the mood is almost spooky. It's expansive, Oldshoremore – white-sanded and wide, flanked by red rock and cliffs at one end. But, crucially, it's accessible. It's hard to imagine anything can top the three beaches we've seen today – until we reach Durness, where we're staying in the modest home of sheep-farmer Martin Mackay, who runs a B&B. It's a bit like stepping back in time to your grandmother's house, but it could be the Dorchester and we wouldn't know – all we want is a bed. It's been a long day.
The next day – the final day of our trip – we dedicate solely to Durness, although it deserves much more. This is a very special, magical place. So far north, and so isolated, but with so much to offer, we could have easily spend several days here.
You feel like you're on the edge of the world. Walking along the coastal cliff-tops, the wind is so strong at times it could knock us over. But when the sun breaks through – which continually does in this ever-changing climate – the beaches shine.
Sango Bay and Balnakiel beach will be etched in my mind forever, going straight to the top of our list – something we never thought possible after yesterday.
At Balnakiel, we're met with a strange site: military vehicles that seem to come out of nowhere, crossing the sands from the other side of the beach. Nearby is Cape Wrath, where military training takes place. Later, when we visit Cocoa Mountain – a chocolate-making haven at the Balnakiel Craft Village, a former military station next to the beach.
Our hot chocolate is possibly the best we've ever had (white and dark chocolate oozes deliciously over our mugs) and we take a moment before heading to Smoo Cave to buy some of Cocoa Mountain's specially-handmade truffles.
Smoo Cave is a natural wonder – a sea cave created from both sea water and freshwater, the largest limestone cave of its kind in Britain. It's an impressive place, accessed by a circular walk which takes you down to the cave then back up to the car park. We feel a bit like we're in the Goonies as we approach the 50ft-high entrance. The cave is about 200ft long and 130ft wide. A wooden bridge takes you further inside to a cascade of water that falls 80ft down. The noise is stunning, as is the light filtering down from above, glistening on the limestone.
Durness was the teenage holiday destination of John Lennon, who had family connections in the area. Did Durness inspire Lennon like it has us? It's certainly left a huge impression, and with our week-long tour of the west coast now at an end, it is something of a surprise to both of us when we decide this has been the best holiday we've ever had.
Ardveck House, Ullapool, www.ardvreckhouse.com, 01854 612 028
Glengolly B&B, Durness, 01971 511 255.
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