North Coast 500: Part 1 – West Coast Wandering

Posted by True Highlands in Kit and Caboodle | 23 comments

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.

Loch Gowan

Loch Gowan

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.

The road to Applecross

The road to Applecross

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



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Comments (23)
  1. Adam says:

    I’m doing this. Looks amazing

    • True Highlands says:

      It is – enjoy!

  2. Margaret Gaalbraith says:

    i have been looking for something like this for a very long time! So now that I’ve retired I’ll be heading to the NC500 !!

    • True Highlands says:

      Yay – go you!

  3. Jean Meek says:

    Would love to do this trip. Will put it on my Bucket List.

  4. Susan Mackenzie says:

    I’ve done this many a time, no matter what the weather is like, it’s always stunning.

  5. Jill says:

    You’ve missed out the wonderful single track road to Coigach (Achiltibuie) and the Summer Isles, plus the wee mad road between Achiltibuie and Lochinver, which then continues around by Stoer and Drumbeg, eventually joining back up with the route you have suggested!! Not all of the above roads are suitable for large camper vans, but the scenery is stunning 🙂

  6. Billy Johnstone says:

    I did this very similar route starting from the outskirts of edinburgh. 1100 miles all in! Travelled in a BMW coupe with 2 adults and camping gear. We were so lucky and couldnt have asked for a better week of weather.

    Edinburgh – inverness – john o groats – tongue – durness – ullapool – gairloch – portnalong skye – fort william – Edinburgh

    The north west corner of the mainland is the most challenging. Thurso – Durness & Durness – Ullapool there are at least 70 miles of single track road with passing places which can be tiring and time consuming. This is also the most stunning part of the mainland though with beaches and coastline that will blow your mind!!! sand so white! water so clear albeit freezing!!!

    Get to Durness! visit the most impressive Smoo Cave! google this place! Go there and see it for yourself!

    I am a 29 year old scotsman who can say has travelled and seen all corners of my country and I absolutely love it!

    I want to inspire people to get out and see how beautiful Scotland is.

    • True Highlands says:

      Got to agree with you there! Your own trip sounds fabulous!

  7. Rory McIntyre says:

    when you say not suitable for motor homes do you mean not suitable or not passable????

    • True Highlands says:

      Some not passable, difficult and especially the Bealach Na Ba is too steep. Best to take the alternative (very scenic!) routes.

  8. Mary says:

    being a ‘dirdyweeker’ I have travelled part of this frequently but look forward to visiting the rest. Great scenery.

  9. Mad Farquhar says:

    Why bother with the Inverness spur? If you are wandering around the true Highlands then another banal Tesco town, sorry, city, should really be avoided. Tourist gimmick IMHO. Why this desire to channel or herd visitors into routes or ways. Part of being a tourist is to discover your own route, your own trail. I foresee signs going up for the North Coast 500. Wonder how quickly it can be done? Just saying…

  10. D. Smith says:

    Route 66 dhu! mmm! what about adding a trip up through Sky over the bridge and Uig to the Uist`s then onto Harris and Lewis ferry to Ullapool joining the North West 500 and through the Far Isles. I think I`v just talked myself into doing just that. Slainte!

    • True Highlands says:

      Now that would be some road trip!

  11. Stuart Maclean says:

    We did this exact same route about 10 years ago in July and it was breathtaking

  12. Jenny Hemmingh says:

    Dear sirs,

    Can you recommend any campsites on this 500 mile route?

    • True Highlands says:

      Hi Jenny

      There are quite a few. If you email us with where on the route or whether it is all the way, I can make some suggestions.

  13. Tom says:

    Hi, we have hired a vw camper July 11th onwards, and intended doing the bellyache na ba to apple cross , it isn’t a large motor home, so I’m assuming it will be ok ? It has no amenaties so need reasonable showers etc
    I’m after recommendations for camp sites …within walking distance where pos of pub/village
    It’s a 5 day trip , so thinking of
    GairLoch …sands
    Ardmair .? Or up to nearer Lochinver ? But can’t see a camp site too close ?

    Any advise,

    • True Highlands says:

      Hi there. Please email and I’ll see what I can come up with! hello@truehighlands.com

  14. Doreen Mackenzie says:


    We are doing the whole trip in 5 days in October. Can you recommend some campsites please? Appreciate it!

    • True Highlands says:

      Hi Doreen

      There are so many it’s hard! Try Clachtoll, Sango Sands, Kyle of Tongue, Dunnet Bay, Rosemarkie, Dornoch. To be honest, if you’re camping, you can camp almost anywhere and I’d go with the flow. You’ll come across a campsite regularly and just stop when you see something you like. Enjoy the trip!

  15. Jon says:

    14 of us have just the route anticlockwise on bikes, motorized. Awesome.
    We are a middle aged bunch, so covered 1250 miles from tyneside to the top and back in 4 1/2 days.
    Family trip coming, six week hols in a 4 tonne A 6.5M class old german LHD camper with stuff all power.
    Will be about 10 days starting with a couple in Edinburgh for the Tattoo ending with a couple of days in Lomond.
    Anybody care to give us a list of ‘must do’s and ‘must avoids’ ?

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