David Barnes takes a roadtrip to the far north of Scotland...

Trundling across the Severn Bridge and then hammering up the M5 and M6 motorways in three lanes of chokka traffic, struggling through the tangle that is Spaghetti Junction and chewing up miles of monotonous motorway up to Edinburgh isn’t that much fun in good weather.

In dreich conditions it’s even worse.

However, the short flight from Bristol to Edinburgh is definitely the way forward.

You just leave the car in the excellent parking area close to the main airport buildings, walk over to the departure lounge and off you go. It is, in fact, the personification of ease.

So that's what we did one November morning. And we were in Scotland in what seemed like no time at all.

Then it was all aboard the gleaming new Mercedes automatic GLK SUV we'd rented through Sixt. We were given the choice of the automatic or a geared Skoda - the GLK won. To say I soon got to grips with driving without a clutch would be well wide of the mark but safe to say I probably won’t make an automatic car my first choice in future.

And off we set, over the new Queensferry Crossing across the Firth of Forth heading for the far north - Wick.

Now there is only really one road north. But if, as I did once, you take the wrong turning at Perth you can end up making extremely long detour. In the immortal words of my Caithness-born mother-in-law, travelling in the back seat at the time: ‘Yes, indeed, David there is only one road north - but this isn’t it!”

Anyway, lesson learned, we took the right road at Perth and headed for our first comfort stop - the idyllic historic highlands town of Pitlochry for a fantastic Highlands breakfast.

Heading north again through the achingly gorgeous Cairngorms National Park past the ski resort of Aviemore, we shot past Inverness and over to the Black Isle before following the picturesque coast road to Wick.

This is one beautiful drive and November was being kind to us. The sun shone, the sky was blue and the autumnal colours stunning. We stopped at the view point on the Struie and drank in the views of the loch below us.

Gobbling up the miles but aware of the ever-present speed cameras, the wonderfully looked after roads in this part of the world are a real pleasure.

We pulled into Wick some seven hours and about 300-plus miles after leaving Edinburgh.

We made the trip for a family birthday party and had booked into a country cottage which actually turned out to be a complete wing of a rather grand but gloriously ever-so-slightly down-at-heel country house on the edge of the tiny village of Thrumster.

From the pitch black we unceremoniously burst into the main house which appeared, although first impressions can be deceptive, to be very well stocked with groaning tables of various malts and a majestic oak stair case curling upwards from a roaring fire before being shown our quarters.

Laden with sacks of seasoned logs our host showed us round the wing which was like something out of Harry Potter or 39 Steps - what a find. Log fire lit, we drove to Thurso for something to eat which appeared to be shut for the season, so opted instead for a meal in Wick.

In the clear light of a Scots morn we could see that our county house had its own lake, acres of ancient woodland and a rustic garden. There was even an ancient broch, a prehistoric earthwork fort, in the grounds for heaven’s sake!

Exploring Caithness is an absolute delight. The roads are so quiet and the countryside is stunning.

John O'Groats, OK it’s a bit touristy but empty when we were there, is a must as is Dunnet Head (the most northernly point on the mainland). The pristine sandy beaches are empty as far as the eye can see. There was an international surfing competition in Thurso when we were up with surf dudes descending on the Caithness town from all corners of the globe - who’d have thought it?

Dounreay, with its unmistakeable white golf ball housing the nuclear reactor (which locals are campaigning to retain - the golf ball not the reactor) is being decommissioned but remains busy and the late Queen Mother has long since left the building but the Castle of Mey welcomes visitors although, sadly, it was closed when we were up.

Wandering around the rocky coastline exploring precarious Wick Castle wondering at the brute strength of the North Sea is mesmerising. The sandstone rock for generations quarried from the majestic sea cliffs from around these parts at one time shod the streets with paving slabs of towns and cities in the UK and around the globe.

The Whaligoe Steps are a must for the energetic. The atmosphere at the foot is eerie and to think fisherwomen used to haul baskets of herring all the way up the when the fishing boats had landed.

The café restaurant at the top is superb and a welcome pleasure when you make it back up the steps. A picture window gives uninterrupted views for diners of the sea. The largely locally sourced and homemade food is excellent.

The nearby Hill of Many Stanes, an ancient collection of standing stones in a field, is unusual and very slippery.

The Caithness ‘big’ birthday party was a real hoot and after some further exploring of this vast expanse of treeless wonderfulness next day it was back down to Edinburgh - with a stop off at Culloden Moor for more Scottish history - for a day and night out in the enchanting city before our flight home.

Please note: Either be strong willed or leave plenty of time when leaving Edinburgh Airport. The duty free shop has a giddying selection of some of the very best Scottish malts and whiskies which I found completely impossible to resist.