All great holidays in Scotland begin with an engrossing drive.
And while the birl up the A9 from Glasgow to Inverness can never be described thus (even less so in a clunky rented Mini so big it dwarfs a VW Polo), the section beyond the Black Isle is adequate compensation. Downhill and over the Cromarty Bridge you go, breezing along the firth before bypassing Tain and crossing the Dornoch Firth. Shortly thereafter it's a right hook off the A9 and in minutes you're breathing North Sea air, a giddying mix of brine, oxygen and a whiff of sand, almost like a dram from one of the area's numerous top-notch distilleries.
Loading article content
Dornoch is nothing if not civilised. As hushed as a Provencale village, this is not a destination for those hooked on the buzz of a city. After 48 hours, we will depart with memories of two of the village's key lures: whisky and golf.
Our base is Dornoch Castle Hotel, a handsome building opposite the 13th-century cathedral - the most northerly in mainland Great Britain - and slap-bang in the heart of the village. Though run for the past 10 years by hotelier Colin Thompson and his sons Philip and Simon (both of whom are also establishing a name for themselves in the rare whisky market), the castle is now for sale - though you'd never guess, so smooth is the operation.
Besides the hearty fare you'd expect of this Highland spot, the spectrum of single malts is worth the journey alone. (Indeed, overseas whisky buffs make up a large proportion of the hotel's clientele.) It is here that my taste for The Glen Dronach has its source; so too do I lap up a 35-year-old Bunnahabhain from 1965 (£850 a bottle) - arguably the best dram I've ever had - and more recent drops of Balblair Elements and a Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2006. Philip's zeal for the alchemy of whisky making makes for a salutary soundtrack.
The golf, too, at Royal Dornoch is unmissable - the epitome of links and deservedly a mainstay of world top 20 lists. Easy? No. Unforgettable? Absolutely.
Sean Guthrie was a guest of Dornoch Castle Hotel. Two nights' dinner and B&B in a superior room costs £189pp. Visit dornoch castlehotel.com or call 01862 810216.