True Highlands Blog
Move over Route 66! There’s a new contender for getting your road trip kicks. The just-launched North Coast 500 is a route designed to showcase the best of the Scottish Highlands. Developed by the North Highland Initiative, it covers over 500 miles of stunning coastal and mountain scenery.
Starting in Inverness, the circular route heads west then snakes north along the rugged coastline. It then follows the northern edge of the mainland before turning southward at John O’Groats, heading down the A9 to complete the loop back in Inverness.
This is a truly special part of the world, with lonely roads, spectacular passes, secluded beaches and moody mountains. While the landscape is remote, there’s no shortage of things to see and do along the way. You can whizz around the route in a long weekend, or savour the journey over a week or two.
Note: Some parts of the NC500 are not suitable for motorhomes, and we’ll note this where applicable. To start planning your trip, the official NC 500 website has a GPS download and a route map that includes petrol stations.
From Inverness the route heads west through Achnasheen and Strathcarron, then over the famous Bealach na Ba pass, gateway to the Applecross peninsula. First things first – this route is not suitable for motorhomes. There’s an alternative route to Applecross further north via the coastal road from Sheildaig.
But for those in suitable vehicles, prepared to be dazzled by the most spectacular pass in Scotland… and the some of the most challenging driving! The Bealach na Ba rises to over 2000 feet from sea level in about five miles. It’s single track throughout with hairpin bends galore, reminiscent of alpine passes.
Once you’ve made it to the top, stop in a parking area to soak up the stunning views where, on a clear day, you can see right across to the Cuillin mountain range on Skye. Continue down to the village of Applecross and enjoy delicious fresh seafood at the Applecross Inn.
After leaving the Applecross peninsula the route meanders past the sights of Wester Ross – Glen Torridon with imposing Beinn Eighe, through Kinlochewe (where the Kinlochewe Hotel has great ales and food), then alongside beautiful Loch Maree before hitting the coast at Gairloch and Poolewe.
This area boasts pretty beaches and stunning sea views, and there are good campsites if you want to linger. Don’t miss Gruinard Bay with its rocky coves and pink sands, and Inverewe Gardens, the lush botanical gardens just north of Poolewe.
The route continues north through the harbour town of Ullapool, then past the distinct peaks of Stac Pollaidh and Suilven…
… before turning along Loch Assynt. The ruins of Ardvreck Castle jut out from the Loch, adding to the wild and remote atmosphere. The next stop is Lochinver, the culinary highlight of the route. The town boasts top class restaurants including Peet’s and The Michelin starred Albanach. For heartier appetites don’t miss the Lochinver Larder, home to outstanding homemade pies.
If you’re in the mood for adventure, take the single track B869 coastal road, a near rival to the Bealach na Ba for spectacular scenery and twisting bends. You can also detour to the spectacular white sands of Achmelvich Beach and the lighthouse at Stoer, where you walk across to view the Old Man of Stoer sea stack.
This coastal road is not suitable for motorhomes so it’s best to leave Lochinver from the same main A837 road past Loch Assynt, before turning north again.
Start making plans and we’ll bring you part two tomorrow….. Friday 15th May at 10am!
Written by Michael Surmon of Out there Campervans
All photos © Jiri Skripsky except Inverewe Gardens. For more pictures visit www.skripsky-foto.ch
For North Coast 500 route map and GPS information visit the NC 500 website
Tags: applecross, Bealach Na Ba, campervan hire scotland, drive west coast, Highland scenery, North Coast 500, Peets restaurant, roadtrip scotland, single track driving, visit lochinver, visit ullapool