Inverness to Wick
Officially, The North Coast 500 starts and finishes in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, in the North of Scotland. On our itinerary, we will firstly drive through the Black Isle which is a peninsula of land just north of Inverness. The area is also one of the best places in Europe to watch dolphins from the shore, at Chanonry Point. The pods of bottlenose dolphins often comes within yards of the shore. On our way to Dornoch, there is a chance of stopping at Glenmorangie Whisky Distillery and take a distillery tour (pre-booking required). Heading onwards, we call in to Dornoch. The town is most famous for its cathedral and the Witch’s Stone which is said that the last witch in Scotland was burnt in 1727. There is an opportunity to have a stop for lunch at the restaurant, coffee and cake or a pub meal. Driving further north from Dornoch, you will find the stunning Dunrobin Castle, a 700-year-old unoccupied house – it is one of Britain’s continuously inhabited houses dating back to early 1300s. Worth a visit! A short drive north of Dunrobin Castle is Carn Liath. Carn Liath is a broch – an iron age structure that is around 2,000 years old. From Carn Liath we are driving north towards the town of Wick where your first night will be spent. Before arriving in Wick, we will be stopping at Whaligoe Steps, a series of steps carved out of the cliff face which lead down to the sheltered Whaligoe Bay – be prepared for a good walk. After a day of discovery, your accommodation in Wick is waiting for you. Wick has a curious record – it is the home of the world’s shortest street – Ebenezer Place, blink and you will miss it!
Wick to Tongue
On your second day exploring the NC500 route, we will be driving along Scotland’s northern coastline, and visiting the most northerly point in mainland Britain, John 'O Groat – from this point it is 874 miles to Land’s End in Cornwall, England. John O’ Groats is an enchanting place. Take your time to walk around and see the famous landmark “Journey’s End”, a signpost installed in 1964. After this stop, we will head towards Duncansby Head lighthouse where you can appreciate a stunning view from the cliff top. Again, take you time to walk around and do not miss the Duncansby sea stacks – walking across the fields to reach the viewing spot. There is an ongoing discussion about the most northerly point in Britain: John O’ Groat or Duncansby Head? Our next stop towards the west coast is the Castle of Mey, which was owed by the Queen Mother once. A castle tour is possible by making prior reservation. The gardens can also be visited by pre-arrangements. The site has a tearoom for a light meal or snacks and drinks. Leaving the Castle of Mey, we are heading towards the town of Dunnet. Dunnet is geographically located at 58.67 degrees north, which makes it THE most northerly point on the UK mainland. How about John O’Groat and Duncansby Head? Well, John O’Groat is located at 58.63 degrees north and Duncansby Head is located at 58.64 degrees north. On Dunnet, you take time to appreciate the views around the lighthouse. There is also a lovely beach where you can spend some time if you wish. Also, there is an opportunity to visit a gin and vodka distillery – Dunnet Bay Distillers (subject to pre-arrangements). A tour will last 1.5 hours, and you can sample some gin locally produced. The next stop will be at Thurso, which is the one of the main regional town. We will be stopping here for a sometime to do some shopping before heading to the village of Bettyhill where the Strathnaver Museum is located. The museum tells the history of the Scottish Highlands, including the clan systems and the tragic tale of the Highland clearances. A Pictish standing stone outside the museum. Your last stop of the day is in the village of Tongue, where you will be spending your second night.
Tongue to Ullapool
On the day 3, you will be leaving Tongue and heading to the beautiful town of Ullapool. Our first stop on this section is Smoo Cave, in Durness. With 200ft long and 130ft wide, the cave has one of the largest entrances of any sea cave in Britain, at 50ft high. With a waterfall inside the cave (depending on Mother Nature’s mood), this natural attraction cannot be missed. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk, walk, and walk. Do not forget, what goes down must come back up! You can reach the cave via a series of steps. In the bottom inside the cave, there is a wood bridge which leads you to the waterfall. There is also a guided cave tour, however, this is subject to availability on the day. Standing at the top of the cliffs and looking down to the cave and its sea passage is well worth a couple of photos. Locally, there are some craft shops and cafes for a quick fuelling. If you are a chocolate lover, we can stop at Cocoa Mountain for a hot chocolate in Balnakeil Craft Village. If you want, you can spend more time in the area to explore the craft shops too, as you may find THAT souvenir to take home from your trip. Back on the road, the scenic view is amazing! We will be crossing the Kylsesku Bridge and a photo can be taken before crossing it. A stop on the Rock Stop Cafe and Exhibition Centre can be included as it is a great place to learn about the geology of the region – it is the North West Highlands Geopark Visitor Centre. Driving further, you will reach the ruins of Ardvreck Castle and Calda House on the shores of Loch Assynt which is dating from the 16th century. These ruins are free to visit and there is a visitor information signage which introduces these historic ruins. The next stop is at Knockan Crag National Natural Reserve where you will discover the geological history of the Highlands and the world. The natural reserve holds stories of colliding continents and scientific intrigue. The last stop of the day is at Ullapool, the largest town in the North West Highlands where you will spend your 3rd night. Take time to walk across the town, have a fish and chips and an ice cream. We suggest you go seal hunting – easy to spot them in the water!
Ullapool to Applecross
The day 4 is very scenic – hold your breath! You will leave Ullapool towards Applecross. The first stop will be at the Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve, which provides evidence of how glacial meltwater can create deep gorges. A short steep walk will bring you to the Victorian suspension bridge that crosses the gorge. You can look down at a series of waterfalls. Drive further, we will call in at the white sand beach of Mellon Udrigle Beach – you can spend some time walking on the beach or (if you feel brave enough) taking a swim. Further on, from Aultbea we will be driving to Poolewe and to Gairloch. In the beautiful village of Gairloch, we will stop for some retail therapy, food and drinks and some local activities and heritage. Gairloch is part of Hebridean Whales Trail and it is a hot spot for whales and cetacean spotting. Marine tours are usually available from the harbour (might need to pre-book). The village has also a museum about the local history. During the driving from Gairloch, we will pass Loch Maree which has stunning views of Siloch Mountain. This offers some lovely photo opportunities. Victoria Falls can be accessed by a short walk. It is a short walk to the viewing platform to see the falls. Moving forward, we head to the village of Kinlochewe and during the driving to there, you will find numerous photography opportunities as the natural beauty is something unique to the Highlands. Arriving at Torridon, we will stop where it is safe to take stunning photos opportunities. The area has one of the most dramatic mountain sceneries in the British Isles and you cannot miss that! Still heading towards the town of Applecross, you will be driven up to the Bealach Na Ba (aka Applecross Pass). Built in 1822 it is the steepest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level to 626m and it is the third highest road in Scotland. You will spend your 4th night in the town of Applecross or within the region, depending on accommodation availability.
Applecross to Inverness
Leaving your accommodation in the morning, Day 5 starts with another ascent of Bealach Na Ba and heading to the village of Locharron. If you have an interest on seeing deer, a private tour can be suggested within this itinerary (pre-booking is essential, and it is subject to availability). Colin Murdoch of Reraig Forest is a deer stalker who manages a herd of deer and his tours are highly evaluated on TripAdvisor. You would need to spend between 2 -3 hours on site. Near Locharron is located the ruined of Strome Castle. As another suggestion, if you want to find out how tartan is made or want to pick up some tartan of your own, Locharron of Scotland has a Mill Tours where you will learn the history behind an authentic weaving mill. The tour takes approximately 75 minutes. Our next stop will be at Eilean Donan Castle, a beautiful 13th Century Castle located in the village of Dornie. You can purchase a ticket and visit the castle inside. Driving along the road, we are heading towards the famous and mysterious Loch Ness. The Loch Ness is 22.5 miles long and we will stop in the village of Drumnadrochit, so that you can visit the local shops and the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition. The village is also a good place to have lunch. After having seen Ness (yes, you did see Ness), we will be taking you to the ancient ruins of Urquhart Castle by Loch Ness. Standing perched above the deepest point of the loch, the castle is very popular with tourists. From Urquhart Castle, we will be driving towards Contin and visit Rogie Falls where you will see the waterfall that is famous for salmon viewing from the suspension bridge which has stunning views. Additionally, you have the option to spend some time exploring the forest if you want. After visiting Rogie Falls, we will return you to your accommodation.