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The Scotland North Coast 500

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My wife and I live in Buckinghamshire, England and felt 15 days touring in our car would make a fun and different holiday. To make the most of our time, a significant amount of preparation was necessary, and proved the key to a successful trip.

The start and finish point for the majority of people doing the NC500 is Inverness, Scotland. We opted to take 3 days driving to Scotland to reach the start point. The route follows the coast around the most northerly part of Scotland. A decision needs to be made whether to drive clockwise or anti-clockwise in a circuitous route. We opted to travel clockwise which meant tackling the rugged West coast first.

The first stop was at the Rogie Waterfalls, before continuing to Kinlochewe, via Glen Docherty, with wide views down the valley and the sight of the road twisting into the distance.  We had made the choice to have a two night stay in Kinlochewe.

The second day we tackled the Bealoch Na Ba pass on the Applecross peninsula. This is an extremely steep and twisting single track road that is not suited to novice drivers. Whilst very memorable, the weather was also challenging during our ascent, with chill winds and rain; hence no photographs of this! The road north from Applecross to Shieldaig was built in the 1970’s. The coastal villages prior to the road being built were only accessible by boat. At Shieldaig there is Nanny’s Café, in my opinion the best café in the north of Scotland.

A pleasant german couple with an immaculate Volvo PV544

After a restful second night in Kinlochewe we headed forInverewe Gardens, an almost overwhelmingcolour experience of rhododendrons and azaleas.

Before leaving Inverewe a German classic car tour appeared consisting of a dozen assorted vehicles, including pleasant couple with an immaculate Volvo PV544. Then on to Ullapool for a late lunch at the Seafood Shack, a memorable eatery. A restful evening was spentlistening to improvised Celtic music, some 14 musicians playing a wide assortment of instruments.

Leaving Ullapool with its attractive seafront houses, and a ferry terminal to Lewis, we continued north passing Ardvreck Castle, and on to the village of Lochinver. Driving uphill out of Lochinver there are wonderful views back to the Suilven.  Whilst looking at the view here we were asked our car could be used in an article about the NC500 for the RAC members’ magazine. Later we saw Achmelvich Beach in the distance then drove over 1984 curving Kylesku Bridge and on to the village of Scourie and a delightful hotel frequented by fly fishermen and hill walkers.

North Coast valley

A remote place

Our next day was to Durness in order to catch the ferry across the Kyle of Durness estuary, and then via a minibus along the very broken unclassified road out to the cliff top Cape Wrath and the headland lighthouse. This is perhaps one of the very remotest places in all of Britain. Almost unbelievably the is a café there despite having no mains electricity or running water.

On returning to Durness there are a host of things to see and experience including Smoo Cave, Durness beach, and Cocoa Mountain café a glorious chocolate experience. Next on to Betty Hill for an overnight stop, before continuing to the village of Dunnet for a  two night stop thus allowing us to visit Dunnet Head the northern most point in mainland Britain as well as the Queen Mother’s home of the Castle of Mey, this being the home of Queen Elizabeth’s mother.

The next day we took a day trip by ferry and bus to the Orkney Isles. The all-inclusive trip organised by John O’ Groats Ferries was most enjoyable.

At Dunrobin Castle

Disney castle

Turning south and driving down the East Coast the landscape is much flatter, greener and interspersed with many wide sandy beaches.  An unusual visit on this coast is Dunrobin Castle, built in the style of a 19th century French chateau, almost Disneyesque in appearance! Our next overnight stay was at Dornoch Castle; a little disappointing, but excellent food.

In the morning we had a tour of the Glenmorangie Whisky Distillery. Later we would have like to have taken the small Nigg-Cromarty ferry but we were two day too early for the season’s start and hence missed the opportunity to get to the Black Isle. We returned to Inverness that evening having completed the NC500. In the morning we sought a photo opportunity of our car and Inverness Castle.

To finish with some stats. The total distance driven from our home in Buckinghamshire and back was 1,931 miles (3,108 km) and we used 350 litres of fuel.

A highly recommended trip for early May; light traffic, no midges and the car never missed a beat. That is reliability for you!

Roderick Groundes-Peace

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