By Gavin Bell
The north coast of Scotland has become one of UK’s most iconic destinations over the last few years due to the “NC500”, or “North Coast 500”. The North Coast 500 is a 516 mile road trip around the north of Scotland, starting and ending in Inverness.
As someone who loves nothing more than creating content around Scotland, I couldn’t NOT jump in the car and take to the road.
We did 5 nights going clockwise around the North Coast 500 and here’s what our itinerary looked like…
Rather than starting in Inverness, we started our trip from Edinburgh, the city I live in. We left early on Friday 8th June and headed north towards the Cairngorms. As a little break from the driving, we stopped off at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre for a look. We missed the chance to take the hill trip, so opted to walk around the little centre they have there. Very interesting!
After that we continued north and visited the impressive Rogie Falls. We spent a good hour or so walking up the stream, enjoying the sun before stocking up on food in Dingwall. We had no idea how many shops would be on the route, so we suitably stocked up!
We then made our way west to Shieldag, where we had booked Kayaking with Shieldag Adventures. We went Kayaking between 7-9:30pm and enjoyed the flat sea and sunset. No better way to spend night one.
We Kayaked around Shieldag island and were lucky enough to spot a white tailed eagle sitting in the trees. (Bird with the largest wingspan in the UK). Our accomodation on night one was in Kishorn, 20 mins or so from Shieldag.
On day two, we headed north from Kishorn up to Ullapool. We started the day by taking the Bealach na Bà road, a winding, single track road through the mountains of Applecross. It’s a breathtaking road – and has the steepest ascent of any road in the UK. The road has some of the best views I’ve ever seen in Scotland. Huge mountains with views over to the Isle of Skye.
On the road we came across this derelict house that had been taken over by Highland Cattle. I thought it was a pretty cool setting.
Day three consisted of driving from Ullapool to Durness. We got up and hit the road early as we had lots planned! Our first stop was the Bone Caves near Inchnadamph. The bone caves are openings in the limestone craggs which get their name from the huge number of animal remains found in the caves when they were excavated.
Our first stop was the Bone Caves near Inchnadamph. The bone caves are openings in the limestone craggs which get their name from the huge number of animal remains found in the caves when they were excavated.
The remains of Bears, Arctic Foxes, Wild Horses and other animals dating back 15,000 years were all found in the caves. As was evidence that humans would have used the caves as far back as 8,000 years ago. Standing in the caves, it was fun to imagine what life might have been like back then.
After spending some time in the Bone Caves, we drove to Achmelvich beach. When I asked around for NC500 recommendations, Achmelvich beach was one place everyone told us we NEEDED to visit. It didn’t disappoint.
The water was crystal clear, so I couldn’t resist getting the wetsuit and snorkel mask on! Being from Shetland, I love wild swimming and this has to be one of the best places I’ve done it.
Once we dried off we hit the road again, heading out way north to Durness via a little stop off at Clashnessie Falls. We’ve had a very dry summer in Scotland, so there wasn’t a huge amount of water flowing, but it was still very cool.
Day four took us from Durness over to John o Groats. We started the day by visiting one of the most famous sights in Durness – a large sea and freshwater cave called Smoo Cave. I couldn’t get over the size of the cave! In terms of size, it put the Bone Caves to shame!
After the cave we headed to Cocoa Mountain for the famous hot chocolate. We had heard a lot about this hot chocolate. We’d seen countless photos, had countless recommendations and there was even road signs directing us to the cafe.
It’s fair to say expectations were high. We got the famous hot chocolate and it’s fair to say… it lived up to expectations. It was pretty sensational.
The sugar high fuelled our long drive from Durness over to the Dunnet Bay Distillery (where Rock Rose Gin is made). We had booked a Distillery tour for 11am and it cost us £11 each for the tour. It was worth every penny.
It was great to hear the story of Martin who started his career as a process engineer before launching Rock rose.
We then headed to the famous John o Groats sign for a walk before getting settled in to our abode for the night – The Crofters Snug in East Mey. We had an amazing little cabin there with views out over Orkney.
We started our drive south on Day Five. We got up early and headed for Dunrobin Castle. This has to be one of my highlights of the trip. I had seen a huge amount of content on Instagram/Facebook of the castle, so was super excited to see it in real life!
We made sure to get there for 11:30am so we could see the Falconry display. It cost us £11.50 each to get in but with the museum, castle itself, gardens and falconry display, it was well worth the money.
I’d argue this was one of my favourite visits on the whole trip. After Dunrobin, we drove 5 minutes down the road to have a look at an Iron Age Broch ruin called Corn Liath.
We then made our way down to Chanonry Point – a place well known for Dolphin watching. I had never seen Dolphins in the wild, so wasn’t sure what to expect. Regardless, we got there early, bought some fish n chips and had a walk around the beach.
We were told the Dolphins would arrive one hour after low tide… we went with that advice. Just like clockwork, they arrived.
They came right up to the shore as they fed on the fish and it was a truly incredible experience. Amazing to see something like that here in Scotland.
After an hour or so of watching the dolphins, we headed back up north to Bonar Bridge where we stayed in a Glamping Pod for the night.
Our final day (sad times!) involved heading back to Edinburgh. We didn’t plan much for our last day other than a stop off at Gleneagles.
We decided to treat ourselves to a burger here as a send off to what was an incredible 5 nights. The North Coast 500 will go down as one of my favourite ever holidays. We’re so lucky to have this on our doorstep and I couldn’t recommend making the trip enough.
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