The North Coast 500 is often called Scotland’s Route 66 for a reason. With stunning mountain vistas, open skies and secluded beaches as well as a plethora of historic and natural places of wonder and great tourist attractions along the way this road route is rapidly becoming a must do on any visitor to Scotland’s bucket list. Independent hostels and bunkhouses are the perfect choice of accommodation for those wanting to explore the route. The map below shows the location of all the hostels, bunkhouses and bothies on the Scottish North Coast 500 road route.
Accommodation on the North Coast 500
Accommodation on the North Coast 500: Scotland’s Route 66
If starting The North Coast 500 in Inverness travellers can find good value friendly accommodation in Inverness Student Hotel, on the south west corner of the route Kinlochewe Bunkhouse, Sanachan Bunkhouse and Gerrys Hostel all offer individual and great value self catering accommodation. On the West Coast travellers can find accommodation at The Ceilidh Place Bunkhouse and Badrallach Bothy, all close to Ullapool, whilst Inchnadamph Lodge is further up the West Coast. On the North Coast there are a good selection of hostels including Kyle of Tongue Hostel & Holiday Park, Cornmill Bunkhouse and Sandras Hostel. Back down the East Coast you can stay at Black Rock Bunkhouse and Helmsdale Hostel.
Have children, will travel
This year we decided to drive the new NC500 coastal road, the North Coast 500. I organised a week’s recce, packed my boys into our old van and off we went. The first thing to strike us was the difference in the landscape as we travelled from the flat lands of Caithness where the sky dominates, to the spectacular mountain ranges in the West.
I am a mother of 4 small boys aged 11, 8 and 5 years old twins. We live in the most Northerly part of Scotland, and have been known to travel great distances to go on holiday. This year, however, we decided to stay a bit closer to home and drive the new coastal road, the North Coast 500, NC500. In a bid to see what the route has to offer for families, I organised a week’s recce to do some research for my new business venture, a bunkhouse. My boys were duly packed into our old van and off we went.
The difference in the landscape is the first thing to strike you as you travel the North Coast 500. From the flat lands of Caithness in the East, where the sky dominates, to the spectacular mountain ranges in the West. We started from Caithness and the first hostel along the route was Kyle of Tongue Hostel & Holiday Park or Cornmill Bunkhouse if you don’t mind going a little off route. However we had our hearts set on spending to our first night camping at the wonderful beach in Durness. The next day we made our way along the precarious track to Drumbeg. Our efforts were rewarded with stunning views and we stumbled across a little hidden gem, ‘The Little Soap & Candle Company’ shop and café. It was a gloomy wet day, and the tearoom resembled a rainforest eatery enhanced by mellow music, no Wifi or phone signal, and the sound of raindrops falling.
As the day turned even gloomier we were delighted to arrive at our next stopover Inchnadamph Lodge. Built in 1821, it was turned from a family estate into its current incarnation in 2006. We were given a warm, informative welcome by Julia, who showed us to our bright, spacious dorm room (originally the Lady of the Manors’ room). My boys were extremely excited to see a stag out of the window, a regular occurrence, we were told by Chris (the owner). The facilities in the hostel are perfect for walkers, cyclists and large groups exploring the surrounding Assynt hills. There is a fantastic drying room, two large well equipped kitchens, and there is a discount for children. A continental breakfast is included in the price and the large dining room, with views out over the mountains and loch, made an excellent makeshift art area!
The next day, with dried boots and jackets, and improved weather, we decided to check out the ruins of Ardveck Castle. Hilarity ensued as all my boys ended up in the dungeons and then tried to squeeze themselves out of tiny window openings. As grimaced faces slowly appeared round corners, a scene from ‘The Shining’ sprang to mind! Although we haven’t managed too many large hikes as a family, we did enjoy a 4km walk to the bone caves about a mile and a half south of Inchnadamph. The caves feature in The Northwest Highland rock route and tell the incredible story about the surrounding glen and how it formed during the last glaciation.
The Mountain ranges in this region are awesome and we will return for a family hike when our legs are longer! As for the North Coast 500, we’ve enjoyed taking our time, going with the flow and finding some of the most glorious scenery this great part of the world has to offer.
North Coast 500 in Five Days.
As we left Strathcarron Irene noticed a car on the side of a hill ahead. “We are not going up there are we?” Well … yes I answered. We were heading for the Beallach Na Ba, the Pass of the Cattle which would take us to Applecross. We drove up the hill allowing for a cyclist who was working really hard to make progress. We were impressed.
Looking back and down we saw the view of Strathcarron and looking forward we saw that the pass was shrouded in mist. On coming round a bend a magnificent stag stood proud overlooking a herd of Deer. The hinds carried on grazing. We stopped to watch this tranquil scene and the deer didn’t stir.
Over the hill and not too far away was Applecross with a very welcoming Inn and a Hostel for the night. We had travelled from Glasgow to Applecross in one day. We breakfasted in the Walled Garden of Applecross House the following morning. Smoked haddock on toast topped with a poached eggs washed down with a lovely cup of coffee. Delicious. We then explored the walled garden at leisure. Lots of lovely colour and a very special Potting Shed. A time capsule from the 1920s full of tools and equipment still recognisable to today’s gardeners. .
As the drove north on the Applecross peninsula we had good views of the island of Raasay. We have walked Calum’s Road on Raasay a few times with great pleasure. Soon we reached Sheildaig enjoying great views again. We dropped in bye most of the villages on route as small detours gave us the opportunity to see where people live. At Kinlochleven we spent time talking to two men who were touring the route in their kit built cars. It would be correct to describe them as enthusiasts however I think they are also hero’s and we wished them well. You must not miss the Whistle Stop Cafe in Kinlochleven. It is excellent for a refreshment and it has a great atmosphere and a large wood burning stove.
Leaving behind heavy rain and showers we progressed to Gairloch and on to Polewe where we stopped for a time at Inverewe garden. At Ullapool we stocked up on groceries and set off for Achmelvich which we reached following seven hours of driving with breaks. What an amazing sunset we enjoyed at Achmelvich Beach. Irene and Janette relaxed on the beach at sunset with a paddle to cool off their feet. “The sea is warm”.
The next day (Wednesday) we drove round the crazy “hairy” road with passing places to eventually reach the main road close to Kylesku where once again we indulged in a bit of walking and some refreshments at the hotel. We stopped for some spectacular view s of Assynt looking south. Most of the view points are worth stopping at. This one was spectacular. The run from Kylesku to Durness passed in a series of stunning views. The Kyle of Durness was a welcome sight. We spent time, out of the rain, at Cocoa Mountain and sampled some of the yummy produce before travelling on to Tongue and our hostel for the night. Here we were overlooking the Kyle of Tongue in a very comfortable hostel: Kyle of Tongue Hostel & Holiday Park which felt more like a well appointed Hotel.
On our penultimate day we progressed through Bettyhill and past the massive Dounreay and realised that the Nuclear Power site was such an important and major employer in this part of the world. The hundreds of vehicles parked around the site was startling following mile upon mile of seeing a few cars. Next stop Thurso an imposing bustling town with fine buildings and a look of prosperity. Travelling east we were at Dunnet Head which is the most northerly point on mainland Britain. From here we could see the Orkney Islands and most clearly Hoy and the Old Man of Hoy. The rock stack Irene, Diane and Alice walked to from Rackwick in May.
It was remarkably warm all along the North Coast and our visit to the Castle of Mey garden and farm was delightful. I rang Alice to ask if she could remember the name of the Donkey I liked at Castle of Mey home farm. She said “are you kidding me? I said “no”. It turned out that the Donkey is called Alice. Oops. Alice the Donkey appeared to like me. I can’t imagine why. We stood for a while nostril to nostril breathing into each other. It had a calming affect on … me.
Mid afternoon we were at John O’Groats and the distance and direction sign picking up places such as Lands end. We hugged the pole and held on to Janette to make sure that she was secure and not blown away by a lively wind which appeared without warning. We were on familiar territory now. We often explore gardens in this east coast run and we were soon sitting in the suntrap which is Lybster Harbour enjoying refreshments to sustain our journey. OK it was tea, coffee and oatcakes. This is a lovely wee working harbour still busy with fishing boats landing crabs and lobster bound for all over Europe.
Soon we were negotiating the Berriedale Braes. No sooner had I said that the last two times I had driven this way articulated lorries with heavy loads were coming up the brae on the wrong side of the the road. Just then another lorry with a heavy load appear on our side. We stopped and watched scene play out. The lorries front wheels kept lifting of the road. It seem to be stuck on the bend so we sat well back and waited for it to get going again. Take care on the Berriedale Braes.
We travelled south to Rogart and our favourite railway siding. At Sleeperzzz.com Just as our Queen used to sleep in trains on sidings around Britain from time to time so do we. We each had our own sleeping compartment. We had a kitchen, dining and lounge compartments. Five minutes walk away was the Pittentrail Inn for good food … and liquid refreshments. We rounded our week of f with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne including the rushing in and out . All in the space of a railway compartment.
Next day we explored Dunrobin Castle home of one Duke of Sutherland who cleared his people off the land to make way for sheep. On our way home we spent time on the sands of Dornoch – a beautiful beach. Dornoch has a wonderful Cathedral which has benefited from the wedding of Madonna and Guy Ritchie. It is beautifully decorated and has many fine stained glass windows.
Instead of heading down the A9 we followed the A82 south along Loch Ness to Glen Coe and down Loch Lomond to Glasgow. From Glasgow and back we travelled over 850 miles which were packed with scenery and surprises. Maybe one more day next time to give us more time for walks?