The strapline on Visit Dornoch’s website reads ‘Dornoch, you can do it all from here’. And they’re not wrong, as we discovered on an immersive short break in the pretty Highland town. Dornoch’s golf course is well-known and frequently ranks amongst the best in the world. There’s more to Dornoch than golf though. To showcase the town fully Visit Dornoch has launched Mix and Match Experiences. Featuring whisky, wellbeing, adventure, heritage, food, shopping, golf and festive fun we combined several elements during 48 hours in Dornoch.
48 hours in Dornoch: day one
Wildlife watching at Loch Fleet national Nature reserve
The first stop on our 48 hours in Dornoch itinerary took us to Loch Fleet a stone’s throw from town. We were there to enjoy some fresh air and hopefully spot some wildlife. Loch Fleet is a large tidal basin, popular with bird watchers and walkers. In summer it’s home to Ospreys and terns, while year-round inhabitants include waders, seabirds, seals and otters.
We spotted a heron, oystercatchers and various seabirds but otters and seals eluded us. We didn’t mind though, as it was a lovely late November morning, we were outdoors and surrounded by stunning scenery.
Nothing gives Mr G and I a greater sense of wellbeing than spending time outdoors together.
On the beach, Dornoch
With the sun shining, it was the perfect day for a walk on the beach. Dornoch has one of the finest beaches in Scotland, so after leaving Loch Fleet we paid it a visit.
We arrived to find the beach deserted (hooray) and enjoyed a stroll along the expansive stretch of sand. The boy was in his element and charged around like a wild thing.
Once he’d burned off some excess energy we explored rock pools along the shore.
After spending a couple of hours outdoors we were ready for lunch. It was time to check out one of Dornoch’s dog friendly eateries.
Lunch: The Coach House
The Coach House Bar & Restaurant is a traditional Scottish pub where you’ll find a warm welcome and tasty home cooked favourites. And if you’re a four legged visitor, a generous supply of dog biscuits.
We had chicken soup, followed by filled baguettes and chips. The food was great, especially the soup, which was a perfect winter warmer.
We loved the Coach House Bar & Restaurant and will definitely visit again when we’re in town.
Christmas shopping in Dornoch
Our visit to Dornoch came before the switch on of the Christmas lights and start of the town’s Christmas festival, which includes an outdoor market. That didn’t stop us getting into the Christmas spirit with a spot of Christmas shopping though.
Dornoch has great independent shops which sell quality, locally made items. I’m a huge advocate of shopping local and would rather support an independent retailer than buy mass-produced tat online.
We kicked off our Dornoch Christmas shopping spree at a treasure trove called Tartan Creations, where we met owner Yvonne MacRae, a talented seamstress. The boutique stocks lots of lovely Scottish gifts, including some made by Yvonne. After chatting to Yvonne and her husband for ages, we got down to the serious business of Christmas shopping. We left with various goodies, including a gorgeous pink tartan wrap, which I’m reliably informed I’ll find under my Christmas tree on December 25th.
After leaving Tartan Creations we browsed in hip clothes shops, shops selling pretty kitchen and homeware, antique shops, foodie shops and more.
The best hot chocolate in Scotland
Flagging from our shopping frenzy, we needed a sugar fix so popped into Cocoa Mountain for one of their famous hot chocolates. The cafe/shop sells luxury handmade chocolates and hot chocolate which they claim is the best in Scotland.
We ordered takeaway hot chocolate and a chocolate chaser of two sweeties each. I chose a rose Turkish delight and peppermint cream, which I devoured in seconds. Mr G opted for peanut butter & cranberry and dark orange. They lasted slightly longer than my sweeties, but not much.
You’re probably wondering if Cocoa Mountain’s boast was correct? And the answer is, absolutely. The hot chocolate was heavenly, which is lucky as I bought a tin to try at home too.
More Christmas Shopping in Dornoch
High on sugar we resumed our shopping spree. Our next port of call was The Barn Owl Bothy – another treasure trove of gorgeous, locally made arts and crafts. Inside the shop a beautiful cushion immediately caught my eye. My hints of how amazing it would look in our lounge were understood. After nagging me for weeks for Christmas gift ideas and hearing “I can’t think of anything.” Mr G finally had some very clear steers.
Next, we visited the pro shop at Royal Dornoch Golf Club. Mr G hadn’t given me Christmas gift ideas either, so when he mentioned he didn’t own a waterproof golf jacket I bundled him into one. It fitted like a glove and he liked it – result.
Two city dwellers with no idea what to get each other for Christmas, visit a small Highland town and find the perfect gifts there – I love that.
A woodland walk at Camore Woods
With daylight fading we had time for a short woodland walk before we cooried indoors for the night. Camore Woods are located on the outskirts of Dornoch. They’re a great place for a leafy wander. They’re also a history lover’s dream, as dotted around the woodland trails are relics from the past, including a standing stone and the remains of Neolithic hut circles.
The hut circles are huge and the best surviving examples I’ve seen. Even Mr G was impressed. The boy was more interested in sniffing though and was delighted when his nose led him to a Doppelganger. Westies LOVE meeting other Westies. After much frantic tail wagging and sniffing we said goodbye to the boy’s new pal.
It was time to check in to our accommodation.
Check-in at Royal Golf Hotel
We’ve stayed at the Royal Golf Hotel before and loved it, so were looking forward to staying there again. From outside the hotel was emitting a cosy, inviting glow. Inside, the tree was up and a Christmassy smell filled the air.
Check in was friendly and efficient and we were soon settled in our stylish room (the one we’d stayed in previously and loved). Not only did we have a sea view, but we overlooked Royal Dornoch Golf Course too. For golf lover Mr G, there could be no finer view.
Our room was spacious with a king-sized bed, comfy armchairs, a desk and an en suite with a bath and separate shower. The soft furnishing were plush and luxurious. Heavy tweeds and velvet invited you to snuggle indoors on a cold winter’s night. And with fluffy robes, slippers and lush Scottish toiletries at our disposal, we had all the ingredients we needed for a wellbeing weekend.
The boy was happy to find a doggy bed waiting in the room for him, along with a mountain of treats.
Dinner at Royal Golf Hotel
After spending a couple of hours chilling in our cosy room, we donned our glad rags and headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner.
Like our room, the hotel restaurant also overlooked Dornoch’s famous golf course. Subdued lighting and mellow background music gave the place a nice relaxing vibe.
The restaurant menu at the Royal Golf Hotel is proudly Scottish and features locally produced ingredients.
After ordering a round of drinks, we got down to the important business of deciding what to eat.
I started with a tasty potato and leek soup. It was lovely and creamy and packed with flavour – a good first choice. Mr G was equally delighted with his choice of starter – timbale of poached Wester Ross salmon served with chive creme fraiche and pickles.
For main course I chose the veggie option and had a sweet potato and chickpea curry with coconut rice, crispy shallots and roasted pea nuts. It was another good choice and I loved the interesting texture the roasted pea nuts gave. They were very moreish.
Mr G stuck with fish and Wester Ross for his main course. He loves sea bass, not so much cous cous. Or so he thought until he tried the hotel’s seared Wester Ross Sea Bass fillet, with pearl cous cous, fennel and orange salad and cauliflower purée. He practically licked his plate clean.
I finished with a whopping slice of raspberry cheesecake, which was sweet and tasty. While Mr G chose savoury over sweet with some cheeses from the nearby town of Tain.
It’d been a wonderful dining experience, but we were fit to burst and ready for a lie down.
After taking the boy out for his last outing of the day, we cooried in bed with the TV on and quickly fell asleep.
48 hours in Dornoch: day two
We slept soundly, despite a storm (Storm Arwen) arriving during the night, bringing rain and high winds with it. It’d take more than a storm to keep us indoors, so after tucking into a hearty breakfast we wrapped up warm and headed outdoors to brave the elements.
Mr G was going to fulfil a dream of playing a round of golf at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club. And me, I’d accompany him round some of the course with the boy before the worst of the storm hit.
Playing a round of golf at Royal Dornoch Golf Club
With a 9:00am tee off time on a wild winter morning, Mr G was the first hardy soul to play the course that day.
It was cold, blustery and drizzly but we were dressed for the weather and Mr G’s excitement at being out on the famous golf course was infectious. So much so, I stuck around for seven holes, instead of the couple I’d initially planned to stay for.
They say golf is a good walk spoiled. Although I wasn’t playing I’d have to disagree. I enjoyed walking round the course with Mr G and loved witnessing his tantrum when he missed a birdie on the 4th hole.
Here’s what Mr G had to say about playing at Royal Dornoch:
“As a keen golfer, I’ve long dreamed of playing a round at the world famous Royal Dornoch Golf Club. That dream finally came true on a stormy November morning, and despite the challenging playing conditions I loved every second of my time on the hallowed links. Considering it was so late in the year, the condition of the course was superb. Even as the weather worsened as the round went on, I was so caught up in the thrill of playing at Royal Dornoch that I hardly noticed (other than when my golf trolley blew away)! Royal Dornoch is by far the best course I’ve ever played on and I can’t wait to play there again.”
Lunch: Royal Dornoch Golf Club
After Mr G finished playing it was time for lunch. We didn’t have far to travel as we had a table booked at the clubhouse. Our table by the window offered a fab view of the course and Storm Arwen raging outside.
We had delicious tattie and leek soup, followed by a croque monsieur for Mr G and dirty fries, topped with mozzarella bacon, jalapeños, sour cream and spring onions for me. As we tucked into our comfort food, Mr G regaled me with a lengthy, hole by hole account of his game.
A Dornoch history and heritage tour
After lunch it was time to learn about Dornoch’s rich heritage on a guided tour with a local expert – Lynne the Curator at Dornoch’s Historylinks Museum. The museum contains a fascinating collection of artefacts (both indoors and out) which really bring Dornoch’s history’s to life.
Lynne was a brilliant guide with an extensive knowledge of the town. I was in my element listening to tales of medieval saints, clan wars, Jacobite risings, Highland clearances, Picts and Vikings. There were tragic tales, heartwarming tales and gruesome ones too. It’s amazing how much history can be linked to one town and how certain industries boom then decline over the years.
The most memorable tale we learned was that of Janet Horne. In 1727 she was the last person to be legally executed for witchcraft in Britain. Today, a stone (carved incorrectly with the year 1722) marks the spot where she was burned at the stake. It’s likely Janet was showing signs of senility. In the early 18th century when superstitious beliefs were rife, being senile could easily lead to accusations of witchcraft.
We spent a couple of hours at Historylinks Museum chatting to Lynne about history and it was a thoroughly enjoyable visit.
Whisky Tasting at Carnegie Whisky Cellars
That evening we got to try another of Visit Dornoch’s Mix and Match Experiences – whisky.
I’m partial to the odd dram and we both love the whole whisky making process, so we were looking forward to visiting the Carnegie Whisky Cellars on Dornoch High Street for a whisky tasting with manager Michael.
Michael would be putting our palates through their paces and teaching us how to taste whisky properly. With an extensive background of working in the whisky industry for distilleries and retailers, we were in expert hands.
Our tasting flight of six whiskies took us on a grand tour of Scotland’s whisky regions. I picked up a number of flavours and smells including heather, citrus, chocolate, smoke, straw (yes really), peat and more. I was delighted at how my palate and nose were progressing through time. When I first dabbled with whisky, all I could taste was whisky. Now I can pick out actual flavours – go me.
Mr G on the other hand can still only taste whisky. With this tasting though he conquered his fear of Scotland’s national drink and learned to appreciate it. Six empty glasses were testament to that.
I’ve been on a number of distillery tours and tastings before and loved them all, but this one was exceptional. We both learned so much from Michael about the science behind how we taste and smell. It was fascinating and went beyond anything I’ve been taught before. His passion for Scottish history and the way he wove relevant historic tales into the tasting was also brilliant.
Dinner at Royal Golf Hotel
When our tasting was over we headed back to the Royal Golf Hotel with a rosy glow on our cheeks. We’d booked a table in the hotel bar, so the boy could join us for dinner.
We treated ourselves to a bottle of champagne to toast to another great scottish adventure. For dinner we had soup, spicy chips, haggis and halloumi fritters, as on a chilly winter’s night nothing beats champagne and picky bits. A mountain of traditional Scottish pudding may also have been consumed to round off our meal.
48 hours in Dornoch – the end of a memorable trip
After another fab sleep we woke the next morning to a winter wonderland. It had snowed overnight and was beginning to look a lot like Christmas – yippee.
We enjoyed another lovely breakfast at the hotel, before we reluctantly packed and checked out.
Our 48 hours in Dornoch had flown by way too quickly for our liking. We couldn’t head home before checking out the town looking like a scene from a Christmas card though, so we squeezed in a walk in the historic heart of Dornoch before leaving. And, wow – everything looked so pretty.
We were sad to say goodbye to Dornoch. It’d been such an immersive visit and we loved getting to know the town and people who live and work in it better. The good news is, we’ll be returning early next year to spend another 48 hours in Dornoch, so, watch this space.
The accommodation, food and experiences during our 48 hours in Dornoch were provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …