Last month me and my lovely friend Sam set off on the renowned North Coast 500 Route which covers the whole North East Coast from Inverness, right along the Northern mainland of Scotland and back down the West Coast to join back up in Inverness. I’ve explored an extensive amount of these areas of Scotland before but never had the opportunity of being able to cover the whole route at once.
We gave ourselves 10 days so we could really explore as much of the areas as possible and so it didn’t mean we had to rush around and miss some hidden gems! The experience was made even better because my friend Sam has recently just purchased an incredible motorhome which we were able to park up in and wild camp throughout our venture, an added bonus to an already exciting trip! In this blog post I’ll be sharing with you our itinerary for our trip; the places we went to but won’t go into too much detail as this post would then read like a book! I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much and stopped at so many incredible places in the space of such a short time! It’s gave me an entirely new appreciation for my truly wonderful home country and I was left after the trip feeling completely overwhelmed at the history, the culture and the rich geology we have in abundance in Scotland. It’s also provided me so much inspiration for my photography and art work for the future.
We started the trip in the best way possible; driving all the way through the Cairngorms instead of taking the quicker but a lot less scenic option of the A9! We were starting the Route 500 and instead of going West which most people do we decided to go up the East Coast First. The first stops of the journey on the East part of the route were in Tain, Dunrobin Castle, a visit to the incredible Timespan in Helmsdale, Berriedale, Northlands Glass in Lybster, Camster Cairns, Hill O Many Stanes and then parked up for the night at the very top of the Whaligo Steps!
The following morning we explored the spectacular Whaligo Steps, this is an area that is quite hard to find but so worth it! I was recommended it by many people and it met all of my expectations and more! The way the steps that were built by hardworking fisherman fall into the sea to be surrounded by the immense cliffs is spectacular. It was then onto Wick to meet a representative from North Coast 500 who gave us some tips on things to see off the beaten path, a visit to the Wick Heritage Centre, Caithness Broch Centre in Auchengill, Freswich to see the ruins of the Bucholie Castle (another must see off the trail.) Afterwards we spent the rest of this day up in John O Groats looking out over to the sights of Orkney, exploring the beauty of Sannich Bay, Duncansby Stacks, a cliff walk along Dunnet Head (the mainlands most northerly point) and spent the evening parked up on the water overlooking Dunnet Bay!
Ruins at Freswich
Geology at Bucholie Castle
The following day we embarked along the North Coast from John O groats towards Thurso, we spent a good while in Caithness Horizons, a five star museum with so much information and knowledge of the area. It was then along to Melvich, Strathy Point, Bettyhill and it’s spectacular beaches including the wonder of Farr Bay. The rest of the day was spent exploring Tongue in the far North and the Kyle of Tongue beach, Loch Hope and Loch Eribol with it’s breathtaking mountains framing the area. We realised on this day how quickly and dramatically the landscapes change in Scotland, as soon as you are past Bettyhill the landscape starts to become significantly rockier and wilder, the mountains start to rise up towards Loch Eribol where you are truly immersed in their power compared to the more flatter yet spectacular cliff area of the the north eastern part. We made a quick visit to the Lotte Glob Artist Studio which sits right on Loch Eribol. Lotte is one of my favourite artists and if you are interested in geology, ceramics, beautiful paintings and an incredible location I would recommend a visit here highly! Her studio and home is an art work in itself! We parked up for the night right on the shore of Loch Eribol watching the mist drift low over the mountains.
Loch Eribol and the wonderful Island home.
View from Lotte Glob’s Studio, Loch Eribol
The next day we made our way straight for Durness to visit the wonder of Smoo Cave. We were given a tour of the caves to explore the impressive waterfall and geology that is so bountiful there. This had to be one of my favourite places on the whole journey! It was then onto some of the untouched beaches around Durness, Balnakeil Craft Village including a quick pit stop in Cocoa Mountain (we had to) and then a long walk along the sandy bay at Keodale which completely takes your breath away as soon as you embark around the corner after Durness. South of this route we stopped constantly to get out, walk and just marvel at the landscape at the start of the North West Geo Park area. There were many many long winding roads through mountains, rocky outposts, otherworldly places through wild landscapes that overwhelmed us in their power. After stopping numerous times throughout this part of the route (it was my favourite part of the road trip) we parked up at Kylesku bridge to make dinner and watch Loch More Kinloch and the incredible mountains that dominate the land in this part of Scotland.We then made for the infamous B869 single track road that winds and sweeps up and over all manners of landscape watching deer and being careful not to break down along the way! Last up for the day was hiking up the hills on this route looking out to the Western Isles and parking up in the middle of this wild remote landscape near Drumbeg.
Smoo Cave Waterfall
The middle of the otherworldly Geo Park Landscape
The following day we woke up in the middle of the mountains off a single track remote road; that has to be the best feeling! We followed the route around to Drumbeg, Clashnessie and then a turn off towards Point of Stoer Lighthouse where we hiked for a while around the cliff area which looks out to Harris and Lewis. There is even the ‘remotest toilet in mainland Britain’ located here! It was then onto Clachtoll and a visit to one of the most inspiring beaches in Scotland; Achmelvich Bay; we are incredibly lucky to have places like this so unspoilt and breathtaking! Afterwards we headed towards Loch Assynt shrouded by dominating mountains once again to the ruins of Ardvreck Castle looking out to the misty mountains of Assynt and catching sight of Suilven for the first time when we were travelling through Elphin. It was then a big hike up Knockan Crag learning about the impressive geology which is so important and rich in the area.This area in particular was one of the most memorable for me because of the sheer drama and atmosphere of the landscape; I’ll always remember that feeling of standing atop Knockan Crag looking out to the wilderness in the Geo Park area and the mountains of Stac Pollaidh and Suilven. We then passed through Ullapool and continued onward to the incredible road of the A832 passing ruined crofts, deep valleys and more wilderness parking up for the night on the road to Badrallach, a quiet wild secluded spot with many deer around us!
Point of Stoer cliff walk
Loch Assynt from Knockan Crag
Geology at Knockan Crag
Abandoned croft on the A832 from Ullapool
We woke up the following day to sun cast over the Little Loch Broom and the surrounding mountains. On the road again we stopped off at Gruinard Bay with its enormous sandy bay and bright turquoise waters, Loch Ewe and down towards Gairloch. In Gairloch we visited Hillbillies Bookshop; a brilliant cafe and bookshop full of impressive mountain reads and a cosy atmosphere looking out to sea. We then drove down through the wild wonderful roads along Loch Maree and onto the mountain road towards Torridon; another part of the journey that consisted of us stopping every few minutes and walking about/ staring at the otherworldly landscapes. The road is tiny compared to the vast and dominating mountains that surround it, another favourite! The last of the day was spent surrounding Upper Loch Torridon, hiking up the hills to see the wilderness around us and spending the night in the quaint little village of Shieldaig with it’s free community campsite!
Mountain road towards Torridon
Parked up in just another epic spot!
Our last day of the route 500 was spent walking around the quiet village of Shieldaig, taking the windy spectacular coastal road towards Applecross with it’s epic views out to Skye, heather clad lands and misty moors. Again, this was another part of our journey that we had to stop and simply stare out at the views in front of us. We spent a while in the magnificently located Applecross and then onto the sublime ‘Bealach Na Ba’. Nothing will prepare you for the views you will encounter either driving up the Bealach Na Ba or down it, either way you will find yourself gobsmacked with it’s beauty, it’s rugged charm and it’s height of course! We stopped as much as we could to drink in the views and feel the impressive atmosphere that is so unique there. It was then onto Loch Carron, the mountain road through Glen Carron, Strathspeffer and back down towards Inverness where we started!
All three from the ‘Bealach Na Ba’
Phewwww, that is the journey covered! I really hope you have enjoyed reading this huge blog post and I hope I’ve covered the route well. I also encourage you all to just get out and explore Scotland, there is so much to see in this breathtaking Country!
Now I’ve taken so many photos and it was very difficult for me to sit down and select the photographs for this blog but I’ve shared my favourites from the masses I took on the trip. If you would like to see more of my images from the route, I have the high res files up on my website and social media: twitter & instagram. Also if you would like to get more tips about what to see and do on the route, head on over to their website at North Coast 500.
As always, thanks so much for reading my blog and I hope this inspires you to get out and explore Scotland or it’s helped you in the planning of your North Coast 500 trip! There’s SO much to see in our wee Country!