If like me, you prefer to travel with your furry companion rather than leave them at home, you are probably always Googling for dog friendly accommodation and activities. I know I spend about half my time researching for dog friendly places in Scotland where Willow can enjoy a holiday too.
Dornoch on the north east coast of Scotland promotes itself as a dog friendly destination so when the lovely people at Visit Dornoch invited Willow to put that claim to the test she happily accepted and obviously I persuaded her to take me along!
Our dog friendly visit got off to a promising start when staff at the new visitor centre were happy for Willow to join me as I gathered up all the local leaflets and info for our stay. We had 3 days in Dornoch to check out the best human and dog friendly things on offer and here's what we managed to get up to...
AWARD WINNING DOG FRIENDLY BEACHES
Not only are all these beaches dog friendly, they have all been awarded a Keep Scotland Beautiful Beach Award which recognises excellence in beach management, access and facilities, cleanliness and safety.
Dornoch Beach was our first stop, simply because Willow LOVES the beach and I must admit to being partial to a walk along the sands myself. Thankfully it ticked all the boxes and more. I was wowed by the beautiful expanse of clean golden sand that fringes the Dornoch FIrth and Willow was delighted to find plenty of doggy chums to run about with and space to chase her ball.
Dornoch Beach is definitely a place that can be enjoyed equally by humans and their canine companions.
Back home on the Isle of Bute, Willow enjoys a visit to the beach almost every day so on holiday she expects the same. In her head, 3 days away still means 3 visits to the beach and in Dornoch we weren't restricted to the local one as there are several all within a short distance.
Embo Beach lies just north of Dornoch and is another inviting crescent of sand which seems to stretch for miles. We ended up at a section which was more craggy and ideal for rock-pooling although from there you could easily walk along to the sandier parts. It is also possible to walk from Dornoch Beach to Embo Beach (about 3 miles) which would make an ideal coastal excursion.
During our stay we experienced the hottest day of the year so far and what better way to cool down than, yes you've guessed it, a visit to the beach! With the temperature rising, Golspie Beach north of Dornoch was a welcome sight and looking a lot like a a little pocket of paradise on the day we visited with the crystal clear water lined by a sweep of powdery sand. Immaculately clean, I enjoyed some sunbathing while Willow ran and splashed around and to be honest the water looked so inviting I was tempted to join her!
DOG FRIENDLY WALKS
Any dog owner will understand that good walking options are essential to any dog friendly holiday and you don't have to look far in Dornoch to find a variety of routes that will interest both dog and owner. For lots of local walking suggestions I also recommend downloading the Visit Dornoch App.
Being a travel blogger's dog, Willow does like to include a bit of culture and history on her holidays and the Historylinks Trail is perfect for this. We picked up a free leaflet from the Historylinks Museum (you can find an online copy here) and set off to learn more about the heritage and sometimes macabre history of Dornoch. We followed most of the main trail which takes you in and around the town, including sites such as the Mercat Cross, Gallows Hill and the Witch's Stone, marking the spot of the last execution in Scotland for alleged witchcraft. The route extends from the town centre through woodland and open countryside so it is an ideal way to educate yourself while exercising your furry companion.
'If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise...' so the song goes and in the case of Skelbo Woods you are guaranteed more than a few surprises. There might not be any teddy bears but there is a parachuting action man, swinging gorilla and a giant bat among others.
I love a nature filled ramble through the woods at any time but throw in a trail of quirky sculptures and I'm in my element. As for Willow, woodland walks filled with interesting scents and sounds will always go down well,
I don't know what it is about Dornoch, but they really know how to make a walk through the woods engaging for all the family (dogs included!) and Camore Woods had just as many surprises at Skelbo. Designed to encourage children to play imaginatively, it turns out that dogs like getting in on the adventure too. Willow had fun discovering hidden tunnels and looked at me expectantly from the wooden fort, all pleased with herself for finding the highest point in the forest to survey her surroundings.
It isn't all just fun and games though as this area was a popular place to live 2000 - 3000 years ago and hidden in the woods you will also find the remains of 25 Iron Age hut circles and chambered cairns.
DOG FRIENDLY PLACES TO EAT
As we were self-catering we didn't have to worry about finding dog friendly places to eat although we did enjoy lunch in the bar area of The Dornoch Inn which welcomes dogs and serves a range of homemade food.
There are a few other places to eat in the town which allow you to sit outside with your dog, ideal on a sunny day but not so great in the rain. If the weather is pleasant your furry friend is welcome to join you in the garden areas of The Eagle Hotel and The Dornoch Castle Hotel or you can grab a coffee and people watch from the seating area outside Gordon House Coffee Shop and Gallery.
I'm not big on shopping but I was impressed that there were a few dog friendly shops to visit if I was that way inclined. However I couldn't resist a trip to Fair Trade Gifts, next to the Historylinks Museum. Beautiful and colourful handmade gifts from around the world, travel books and lots of chocolate, this is my kind of place.
Willow was made to feel very welcome and the owner Gavin even had some treats for her, I'm not sure she wanted to leave! What a lovely, dog friendly shopping experience.
If you need more of a shopping fix, dogs are also welcome to browse with you in Coast Candles and Mitchell's Chemist.
DOG FRIENDLY RELAXATION
After all that walking, eating and shopping, it was definitely time for relaxation. Apparently that's what normal people do on holiday, so I'm often told! I can't think of many prettier places in Scotland to relax beside than Loch Fleet, one of Scotland's National Nature Reserves. An abundance of birds, plants, seals and occasional otters are just some of the attractions that draw people here but the spectacular surrounding landscape was the show stealer for me.
If you do fancy more walking, there are paths through the reserve where you might even spot an elusive pine marten, roe deer or red squirrel, personally for once I was happy to find a deserted bit of shore and join Willow in soaking up the sun and scenery.
DOG FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION
During our visit we stayed at the dog friendly Collies Lodge, self catering accommodation for two just outside Dornoch. The Lodge is joined to the owner's house and sits in a very quiet and picturesque spot with views over the Sutherland hills. The very extensive gardens are particularly beautiful and Willow enjoyed running about the large private grassy area which you can see on the bottom photo. Yes, unbelievably you have sole access to all that green space.
The name might give away the fact the owners have dogs themselves so totally understand any needs you and your doggy companion may have. Willow was delighted with her little welcome bowl of biscuits!
Collies Lodge also gets a big thumbs up from me too, it was well equipped, clean, comfortable and the location is just idyllic.
You can check out more accommodation and ideas for your dog friendly stay in Dornoch here
Dornoch certainly gets awarded four big dog friendly paws from Willow and there was no shortage of things to do on our stay. This is a beautiful part of the world that often gets bypassed as it sits just off the main road and the new North Coast 500 route, however it is well worth the detour whether you have a dog or not and in my next blog I'll be telling you all the reasons why!
Willow and I were kindly invited to experience the area by Visit Dornoch however all opinions and doggy fun are genuine as always :-)
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