#NC500 | A Scottish Highlands Roadtrip
Earlier this year I took a quick weekend trip to Edinburgh and I quickly fell in love with Scotland. I came across the Scottish Tourism website for the North Coast 500, a 500 kilometer route around the remote northern highlands, and decided it would make for a perfect May holiday.
The website, www.northcoast500.com offers luxury, adventure, golf and camping itineraries. I think I fall somewhere between luxury and and adventure so I created a four day itinerary that includes the best of both! This itinerary follows a counter clockwise loop, starting and ending in Inverness. I listed our many stops along the way, but the drive is an adventure and a destination in its own right. Enjoy!
Friday | The Northeast: Easter Ross and Caithness
2 hours 40 minutes total driving time from Inverness to Ackergill Tower
Start by heading north from the Inverness airport towards Wick. This is a great option if you are new to driving on the left side of the road and/or driving on two-way one-way roads because the drive starts out on a normal two way highway. You’re able to get your bearings before encountering any crazy terrain.
- Culloden Field – have you read Outlander? Are you a Jacobite? Was history your favorite class in school? If so you should stop by Culloden Field, where the Scottish supporters of Charles Stuart were defeated in April 1946, on your way out of Inverness.
- Dunrobin Castle – At Dunrobin Castle I was greeted by a roaring fire, lots of plaid and a Boston loving Scot . The daily falconry show and perfectly restored rooms illustrating snapshots of Dunrobin Castle’s history make it a must visit destination.
- Old Pulteney Distillery – whiskey tasting is pretty much a requirement in Scotland. The Old Pultney Distillery in Wick has daily tastings and tours.
- Ackergill Tower – when staying at Ackergill Tower you can basically pretend you are visiting a castle-owning-friend. The hotel rooms have cute names like Lady D and Cherub and are scattered throughout the castle intermixed with public spaces such as the library, drawing room, study, billiards room and more. As a guest you can pop into any room, settle in and order a whiskey or tea!
- Mackay’s Bistro No 1 – located at a nearby hotel, one of the top rated restaurants in the area
Saturday | Top of the UK: Exploring Caithness
4 hours total driving time from Ackergill Tower to Lochinver
This is the longest day of driving, but worth it! The first day in Scotland I was worried about catching a picture of the adorable roadside grazing sheep and highlands cows. No fear, the north coast proves Scotland is not lacking in cows, sheep or dramatic views!
- Castle Sinclair – just north of Ackergill Tower, a pretty castle to start your day off on the right track
- John O’Groats, go for a walk/hike – John O’Groats is often considered the northern most inhabited point in Scotland. Its a great stop for a walk along the coast (we walked for about an hour). The Storehouse is a great option for an early lunch!
- Castle of Mey – the Queen Mother’s former summer retreat, and an impeccably kept castle to visit.
- Sango Sands – an oasis on the North Sea! I never imagined such a stunning beach would appear in Scotland.
- Duncansby Head – the most north-easterly part of the Scottish mainland
- Smoo Caves – sea caves! it takes about 30 mins to walk down to these glow-y underground caves to marvel at the shiny black stone, rushing waterfalls and blueish light.
- Inver Lodge Hotel – we had a tough time deciding where to stay on this leg of the journey. Durness was an option, but I’m glad we drove the extra hour to Lochinver. The town is quaint, but busier than most of the highlands villages we passed through. The Inver Lodge is a respectable country hotel with a fantastic restaurant.
- The Albannach is an alterative option. It looks lovely and I was very excited about the Michelin star restaurant, but unfortuniately the Albannach only takes reservations for 2 nights or more on weekends.
- Chez Roux Restaurant – fine dining in the country. We didn’t plan on eating at Chez Roux, but because of a timing complication (see note below) it was our only option. I’m glad we did! The Albert Roux Classic Soufflé Suissesse is one of the most delightful appetizers I’ve ever experienced!
- The Caberfeidh – a small, cute neighborhood restaurant / pub. Bar menu only after 8. It’s important to keep in mind that throughout the highlands most restaurants stop serving food by 9 PM.
Sunday | Hiking in Sutherland
2 hours total driving time from Lochinver to Laide
We started our Sunday with a full Scottish breakfast at the Inver Lodge in preparation for an aggressive day hike and ended it with seafood and sunshine looking over Loch Ewe.
- Full day hike up Suilven and Cansip (both starting at N 58°8’45.96″, W 5°13’2.64) or An Teallach (starting an hour south at N 57°50’24”, W 5°12’54”). Its great to spend a full day outside getting fresh air, exercise and a little sun! We had a difficult time deciding between the Suilven Hike which starts at the Glencansip Lodge, a 5 minute drive from the Inver Lodge Hotel and An Teallach, about an hour from Loch Inver. Suilven is one of the most iconic peaks of Scotland, so we decided it was the right choice.
- Love Croft Guesthouse – my first ever stay at a B&B / guesthouse couldn’t have been better! Stephen Love, proprietor of the Love Croft Guesthouse made us feel perfectly welcome and comfortable. The cozy rooms, homemade breakfast and little sheep and ducks outside our bedroom window were all picture perfect.
- Aultbea Hotel – we originally hoped to stay at the Aultbea Hotel, thankfully the recommended the Love Croft as an alternative
- Fat Whippet – Since we didn’t get to stay at the Aultbea Hotel, we were happy to enjoy dinner in their bright yet intimate dining room over looking the loch. Its a prefect setting for a crisp glass of white wine and local seafood after a long day of hiking!
Monday | Wester Ross
4 hours total driving time from Laide to Pooleve, Gairloch, Torridon, Applecross and Inverness
The Wester Ross coastal drive provides a dramatic seascape around every (sharp) corner. The terrain is more subtle than along the mountainous north coast, but the roads are just as narrow and curvy. If you dare, take the “scenic route” through Apple Cross Pass! A super fun drive if you have a secret aspirations to be a race-car driver.
- Mellon Udrigle Beach – a stop before we even got started! Mellon Udrigle Beach is the crown jewel of Laide, a beautiful cut of coastline
- Loch Maree and Beinn Eighe National Park one of Scotland’s largest lochs and a national park with a 30 minute walk through the pines. Perfect to take in the scenery.
- The Torridon – hotel / country resort – I wish we had an extra night to stay here!
- Eilean Donan Castle – of the many castles you’ll pass on the route the Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most iconic and recognizable.
- Loch Ness – the most famous loch, and not out of the way to Inverness!
- Kishorn Seafood Bar – a clam shack type seafood restaurant in Apple Cross. Go for the picnic tables, prawns, and laid back atmosphere!