Since its creation in 2014 The North Coast 500 has quickly established a reputation as one of the world’s great touring routes, often referred to as Scotland’s answer to Route 66.
Starting and ending in the highland capital Inverness, it covers just over 500 miles of breath-taking North Highlands coastal scenery with a vast array of places to visit and things to see along the way.
This unforgettable tour offers you the chance to travel on spectacular roads and take in the stunning scenery, relaxed in the knowledge that your friendly Stravaigin guide knows the best places to stop and visit along the way and the best places to stay.
Starting in Inverness your journey today will take you west to the rugged landscape of Wester Ross, travelling firstly through the charming villages of Beauly, Muir of Ord and Strathpeffer. For whisky lovers, Glen Ord Distillery just a few miles from Inverness is one of the oldest distilleries in the country and we can pop in if you fancy a dram! Slightly further on lies Rogie Falls, impressive waterfalls which can be viewed from a new suspension bridge across the beautiful Black Water River. During August and September there’s an excellent chance of seeing wild salmon leaping upstream!
Continuing west, you will travel through Achnasheen towards Lochcarron and on to Applecross and the spectacular Bealach na Ba, (Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle). This historic pass through stunning mountains boasts the greatest ascent of any road climb in the UK. It is a challenging but breath-taking driving road so enjoy the experience and let your guide take the strain!
From Applecross you will enjoy amazing views to your left over to The Isle of Skye and the Hebrides. Your accommodation this evening is in the picturesque Shieldaig/Torridon area with its stunning natural beauty surrounded by imposing mountain scenery.
Travelling north today you’ll travel through the rugged Torridon Mountains, some of the most dramatic and spectacular peaks in Britain, formed of some of the oldest rocks in the world. Many are over 3000 feet high, so are considered Munros.
Next you’ll head towards the pretty village of Gairloch where nature lovers can enjoy a boat tour, perhaps spotting some whales. Alternatively you may want to visit the famous Inverewe Gardens with its pre-historic trees, rhododendrons and exotic plants.
Your destination this evening is the picturesque fishing town of Ullapool. From Gairloch you will travel past some spectacular unspoiled beaches and your guide will stop at the best viewing points along the way.
Nestled on the shores of Lochbroom, Ullapool offers some very nice pubs, playing traditional music, good eating places and some attractive speciality shops.
Today’s journey enters Sutherland and some of Scotland’s most dramatic coastal landscapes, Your route will take you firstly north-west to the small fishing port of Lochinver where you will have a chance to sample one of the famous pies from the Lochinver pie shop.Once you’ve found your favourite you can even post some home! Lochinver is dominated by the “sugar loaf” shape of Caisteal Liath, the summit peak of nearby Suilven one of the most distinctive mountains in Scotland.
From Lochinver the road follows a winding, twisting, single track around the coast till you re-join the main road just south of Kylesku and head north to Durness, home to the impressive Smoo Cave, unique in that the first chamber has been formed by the action of the sea, whereas the inner chambers are freshwater passages. The cave is free to enter but for an extra charge you can also take a small boat ride deeper into the cave where the guide tell you about their successful discoveries and scary encounters! The other must stop is the delicious Cocoa Mountain home to ‘the best chocolate in the world’ located within the delightful Balnakeil Craft Village. You will spend this evening in the Durness/Tongue area
Your tour continues today into Caithness where you will make your way to the most northerly point in mainland Britain! Dunnet Head is the ‘end of the road’ a wild landscape, with stunning sea cliffs and home to a RSPB nature reserve. A few miles further on you will reach the village of John O’ groats, famous as the end (or starting) point for the ‘end to end’ challenge of travelling from (or to) Land’s End, the most southerly point of the UK – some 874 miles. From there if you want to stretch your legs you can walk to the Ness of Duncansby and on to the Stacks of Duncansby along the coastal path which starts by the Harbour – look out for the small corrie shells known locally as ‘Groatie Buckies’ which are supposed to bring the finder good luck!It is around 3km each way but it is accessible by car too if you would rather your guide dropped you there instead.
You will spend the evening in Thurso, the northernmost town of the Scottish mainland (unsurprisingly!). There are some nice shops and eating places, a pretty beach and riverside walks to explore.
Time to head south today where you will spend your final evening in the charming highland seaside town of Dornoch. There are lots of options of places to visit along the way. The Castle of Mey, former summer retreat of the Queen Mother is located just 20 minutes from Thurso.
Following the coastal route south you will stop off at the Whaligoe Steps a remarkable structure of 337 steps which zig zag down the cliff side. At the bottom there’s a natural harbour where fishing boats used to arrive and drop off their catch. From there travelling through the villages of Helmsdale and Brora you will arrive at the impressive Dunrobin Castle, one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s and home to Dukes of Sutherland. It resembles a French château with its towering conical spires and the castle gardens are said to have been inspired by Palace of Versailles in Paris.
Arriving in Dornoch late afternoon you will have plenty of time to explore the town including the impressive 13th century Cathedral and the Old Town Jail. Keen golfers will recognise the championship course said to be one of the finest in the world and look out for the witches’ stone – The town is also reputedly where the last witch in Scotland was burnt in 1722!
Your North Coast 500 tour ends today back in Inverness where you will arrive around lunch time.
You can continue your tour on to Edinburgh or Glasgow and from Inverness you have a choice of routes. You can either journey through the great glen, stopping off to view the moving Commando Memorial, before continuing through the magical and haunting Glencoe and on to the stunning beauty of The Trossachs and Loch Lomond or alternatively travel through the Cairngorm National Park, into Perthshire and the pretty Victorian town of Pitlochry.
Should you wish to extend your tour to visit the magical Orkney Islands you can add this on from Thurso. Orkney lies just 90 minutes away by ferry and is a place full of stunning landscapes and astonishing Neolithic and Viking history including Skara Brae, The Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe, not to mention award winning beaches and some great places to eat and drink. Time permitting it is definitely an opportunity not to be missed.