Everything you need to know about travelling the NC 500 in 5 days. Are you looking for a North Coast 500 itinerary that takes things at a relaxed pace? With a sprinkling of beautiful Scottish gardens, beaches and coastal fishing villages to explore.
NC 500 Day 1: Applecross, Beallach Na Ba and wildlife spotting
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.
NC 500 Day 2: Kinlochleven, Gairloch and exploring gardens
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 we drove north on the Applecross peninsula, we had good views of the islands of Raasay and Skye. 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 refreshments, 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”.
NC 500 Day 3: Kylesku, Durness and fresh produce
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 viewpoints 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 which felt more like a well-appointed hotel.
NC 500 Day 4: Castle of Mey, John O’Groats and meeting donkeys
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 Rackwiick 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 effect 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 road. Just then another lorry with a heavy load appeared on our side. We stopped and watched scene play out. The lorries front wheels kept lifting of the road. It seemed 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. Just as our Queen used to sleep in trains on sidings around Britain from time to time so did 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 off with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne including the rushing in and out. All in the space of a railway compartment.
NC 500 Day 5: Dunrobin Castle, Dornoch and amazing cathedrals
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?
To find out more about things to do and suitable accommodation on the North Coast 500, why not check out our Top 15 Hostels and Bunkhouses page?