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, Sail Mhor Croft 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, Sandras Hostel and BBs Bunkhouse. Back down the East Coast you can stay at Black Rock Bunkhouse, Sleeperzzz.com 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 and the owner of BBs Bunkhouse. 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 in East May. 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?
North Coast 500 accommodation
Cornmill Bunkhouse, Achumore, Strathhalladale, Sutherland, KW13 6YTCornmill Bunkhouse is situated on a traditional croft. The mill was built in the early 1800s and was active until 1920s. It is now 4* accommodation for individuals or groups. Guests are reminded of their historic setting; the smaller bunkroom has a patio door looking onto the workings of the old mill with its large wooden cog driving wheels. Activities can be organised for groups including laser tagging & shooting. Hen and stag parties welcome.
Invershin Hotel, Lairg, Sutherland, IV27 4ETSituated within a small hotel in the north Highlands, the bunkhouse consists of 4 rooms with a shared shower room & toilet. Guests can enjoy the hotel facilities; comfortable reception area, cosy bar with real fire, real ale and regular music sessions. Cyclists, walkers, bikers, fishermen, Munro baggers, families and individuals are all welcome. The bunkhouse is just off the North Coast 500 road route. No self-catering facilities but breakfast & evening meals are available.
Stafford Street, Helmsdale, Sutherland, KW8 6JRSet in the scenic coastal village of Helmsdale, the hostel (which was completely refurbished in 2018) has en suite private rooms, a fully equipped kitchen and comfortable lounge area with log burning stove. On the NC500 and Land's End to John O’Groats route, the hostel is popular with ‘end to enders’ and walkers exploring the far north Marilyn Hills. It is also a perfect stop on the way to Orkney. Dogs on request. Groups welcome.
Craig Achnashellach, Strathcarron, Wester Ross, IV54 8YUGerry's Hostel is situated in an excellent mountaineering and wilderness area on the most scenic railway in Britain. It is on the Cape Wrath Trails, The T.G.O Challenge Route and is 0.5 miles from the Coulin Pass at Craig. It sleeps 20; 10 in a large dormitory with comfy beds, the rest in 5/6 bed family rooms. Meals and draught ale are a 15 min drive away. Your perfect base for many activities including walking, climbing, fishing, cycling, golfing and wildlife watching.
Inchnadamph, Assynt, Nr Lochinver, Sutherland, IV27 4HLInchnadamph Lodge has been tastefully converted to provide luxury hostel accommodation at a budget price. There’s a large self-catering kitchen, a games room, a lounge and a dining room. Food is usually available at the Inchnadamph Hotel just across the river. Based at the foot of Ben More Assynt and overlooking Loch Assynt, explore one of the wildest areas in the Highlands from the door.
Sanachan Bunkhouse, Kishorn, Strathcarron, Ross-shire, IV54 8XASanachan Bunkhouse, in Kishorn, is the perfect base for walking, climbing, kayaking, cycling & sailing in Wester Ross. After a fun filled day, your group can return to a warm fire, comfy bunks, hot showers and simple living. There is parking for six cars and beds for fifteen, split between two rooms (bring a sleeping bag).The bunkhouse is well equipped for self-catering, with enough tables & chairs for everyone. Laundry/drying, outside recreation and BBQ.
Lael, Lochbroom, IV23 2RSClose to the idyllic fishing village of Ullapool in a peaceful rural setting with lots of wildlife. A perfect base for climbers & walkers with 22 Munros and many other hills in the area. Next to Lael Forest Gardens which is renowned for its wildlife. The bunkhouse is ideally located for touring the North West Highlands with easy access to the areas of Torridon and up to Assynt.
8 Culduthel Road, Inverness, IV2 4ABThe cosy and friendly Student Hotel enjoys panoramic views of the town and the mountains beyond. Your perfect place to unwind, just yards from the city's varied night-life and a few mins' walk from bus and train stations. Relax in the fabulous lounge with real log fire and drink as much free tea, coffee & hot chocolate as you like. Visit the beautiful ancient pine forest of Glen Affric or the Culloden Battlefield. Famous Loch Ness lies just a few miles upstream and of course has its own special wild animal.
Kyle of Tongue Hostel & Holiday Park, Tongue, By Lairg, Sutherland, IV27 4XHKyle of Tongue Hostel is a stone lodge, magnificently situated on the romantic shores of the Kyle of Tongue on the north coast of Scotland. It has supreme panoramic views of Castle Varich, Ben Hope and the queen of Scottish mountains - Ben Loyal. Beautifully furnished, like a boutique hotel, but with all the friendliness of a hostel. There are comfortable private bedrooms, roomy shared dormitories and relaxing communal areas. Full camping services are also available
14 West Argyle St. Ullapool, IV26 2TYThe Ceilidh Place, in the centre of Ullapool, is a unique small complex, consisting of a music venue/performance space, restaurant, hotel, bar, bookshop, coffee shop, gallery and bunkhouse. There are regular ceilidhs, concerts & plays. The bunkhouse (group only) does not have self-catering facilities but the coffee shop is open from 8.30am to late evening all week including weekends. Rooms are also available in the hotel. The village of Ullapool is a small exciting port and fishing town, with ferries from the Outer Hebrides. Hill walkers and families especially love staying here.
St Johns, East Mey, Thurso, Caithness KW14 8XLThe Highland Haven is new and offers unique group accommodation in the far north of Scotland. Its stunning location on the NC500 enjoys magnificent views over to Orkney and Dunnet Head. A perfect base for cyclists, walkers. families and friends. The Highland Haven provides everything you need to relax & recharge and perfect dark skies for star gazing. Experience the ultimate group getaway - affordable & luxurious.
Kinlochewe by Achnasheen, Wester Ross, IV22 2PAWalkers, climbers and mountain bikers enjoying the Torridon Mountains and wilderness areas will be warmly welcomed at the Kinlochewe Hotel and Bunkhouse. Situated on the North Coast 500 road route, within 20 miles of over 20 Munros, the bunkhouse boasts a well equipped, self-catering kitchen, an efficient drying room, hot showers and a 12 bunk dormitory. The hotel bar serves excellent home-made food and is in the 2018 Good Beer Guide.
24-26 Princes Street, Thurso, Caithness, KW14 7BQThurso is the northern-most town on the UK mainland. The cliffs are alive with guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars & puffins, while the sea is home to seals & porpoises. The 4* hostel has en suites in all rooms, (some have TVs). Using their own backpacking experience, the owners ensure you will enjoy a level of comfort and service second to none. Surfing, pony trekking, fishing, quad biking, coastal walks and boat trips are all available nearby. On the NC500 route.
Rogart Station, Pittentrail, Sutherland, Highlands, IV28 3XAStay on a first class train in Rogart in the heart of the Highlands, halfway between Inverness and John O'Groats! Two railway carriages have been tastefully converted. One sleeps 9, and one is subdivided to sleep 4 and 2. There are two beds per room, a kitchen, dining room, sitting room, showers & toilets. All bedding is included. Close by you will find a shop, post office and pub with restaurant.
Evanton, Dingwall, Ross-shire, IV16 9UNSituated in beautiful Glenglass and sheltered by Ben Wyvis, this comfortable bunkhouse is an ideal base for touring the Highlands. The bunkhouse is at the eastern end of a hikers' route across Scotland and on the Land's End to John O'Groats route. The village has a general shop, Post Office, bus service and an inn (serving good bar meals and breakfasts) 250m away. There is also a camping ground. All areas of the bunkhouse are easily accessible by wheelchair and suitable for the disabled.
Croft No 9, Badrallach, Dundonnell, Ross-shire, IV23 2QPOn the tranquil shores of Little Loch Broom overlooking one of Scotland’s finest mountain ranges, Badrallach Bothy and Campsite offer a fine base for walking and climbing. Fish in the rivers, hill lochs and sea or simply enjoy the flora and fauna. Hot showers, spotless accommodation, an unbelievable price and total peace make the Bothy and Campsite a firm favourite. There is also a holiday cottage for hire.