Scotland’s North Coast 500 is one of Britain’s most famous and remote road trips. Tracing the coastline of the Highlands, it is quite possibly one of the most beautiful routes in the country, with unmissable roads trailing through an utterly spellbinding landscape.
Inverness marks the start, and end, of your Highland adventure. Sat on the river Ness, it’s a picturesque starting point with a burgeoning foodie scene, a grand red-stone castle, Victorian marketplace and cosmopolitan atmosphere to soak up. Loch Ness is nearby, for all those monster spotters, as is the bloody battlefield of Culloden.
It would be rude not to. You’re in the Highlands after all, a region famed for its vast selection of fine distilleries – the home of scotch, of single malt finesse. Since 1790, Balblair has perfected the art of producing an irresistible whiskey. As one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, it’s a perfect spot to choose your tipple for those long summer evenings in the Highlands…
A fairytale castle that clings to a bluff overlooking the sea, Dunrobin is a fantastical sight and one of the most lavish homes in the Highlands. Its French stylings extend to the interior, where myriad rooms show the rich and opulent excesses of the earls and dukes that have inhabited the castle for 700 years. Walk the pretty gardens, inspired by Versailles no less, and indulge in the palatial surroundings.
Duncansby Head & John O’Groats
The trail between the dramatic headland of Duncansby Head and famed, most-northerly point John O’Groats makes for a truly inspired hike. After the obligatory photo stop at the iconic John O’Groats sign, follow the cliff edge past the Duncansby lighthouse before spotting the remarkable stacks that precariously rise from the waves – don’t miss the captivating birdlife that calls Duncansby home.
Castle & Gardens of Mey
Once owned by the Queen Mother, this remote 16th-century castle is a romantic stop-off as you hug the northernmost cliffs of Britain. The walled gardens were restored under the Queen Mother’s ownership, now offering a delightful setting to wile away the afternoon.
Head deep into the cliffs and explore a network of vast chambers, a beguiling set that inspires adventurous spirits to delve deep into this unique natural formation. After delving into the first grand chamber, the second is accompanied by the thundering of a waterfall, falling through a sinkhole above ground. Take a tour to explore further and find out about its fascinating prehistoric past.
It’s hard to believe upon spying Balnakeil Beach, that you’re still in Scotland. The long stretch of white sands, lapped by remarkably clear waters, offer a private sanctuary in this remote landscape. Private to a point – a large herd of black cows are typically found roaming the sands, cooling off in the gentle tide, or generally proving to be irresistibly charming.
Only accessible via a two-mile hike across sparse Scottish moorland, Sandwood Bay is lauded as the most beautiful beach in the UK. Stretching from the magnificent rock pinnacle Am Buachaille on one side, the white sands trace a remote stretch of beach that is packed with beauty and mystery. Behind the dunes lies Sandwood Loch, and between each stunning location, ghost stories abound.
Sea kayak the Summer Isles
This cluster of isolated islands lie just off the rocky shores of the coast, creating a beguiling scene that’s best explored on the water. Glide across the sea on a kayak, heading for the private coves and isolated outposts that make up this wild archipelago. Norwest Sea Kayaking are the closest operator to the isles.
It will no doubt have been some time since you saw any other people. That’s the beauty of this region. But maybe it’s time to head to town, hole yourself away in a cosy pub and chat to the locals of Ullapool. The setting is sublime, surrounded by the Wester Ross crags on one side and the sea to the other. A spellbinding stop perfect for a night’s rest.
Ardessie waterfalls / canoe ewe / loch / castle?
This towering crag rises on one side of Loch Maree, striking a powerful image in this wild Highland landscape. A trail leads from the car park through the ancient forest and to the base of Beinn Eighe. A scramble to the top rewards with spellbinding views over the loch and landscape, a typical, ravishingly beautiful scene you can have all to yourself.
Bealach na Bà
As you approach the road to Applecross, a big sign warns of the perils you’ll face on this snaking mountain pass. It’s gradient climbs dramatically, with snake-like hairpins and turns that traverse a path of unforgettable panorama over Skye. One of the finest roads in Britain.
This seaside retreat, remote and – as you are by now aware – a challenge to get to, provides a warm welcome to those that have braved the Bealach na Bà. Looking out across the waters as you sit in front of the Applecross Inn, soaking up the glorious scene with a pint of local ale.
A treasured beauty spot, the Rogie Falls cascade with a captivating drama, only made better by the unique views afforded by the footbridge that crosses them. A trail winds through the forest along the Blackwater River, reaching down to the falls where you can rest and spot salmon struggling up stream.