After a cold night in Applecross (read about Day One here), we had our camp breakfast of tea and porridge, packed up the damp tent into the boot of the car, and headed through Applecross continuing on our NC500 road trip route. Today was all about keeping the coast to our left…
Looking back from where we came.
I’ve been asked about our map choice, and so a quick note about that first. We chose to use the Ordnance Survey road map covering the area to navigate our way around the route (this one – OS Road Map 1). There are so many map options when it comes to road tripping, and we settled on this one because it had all the familiar markings I’m used to seeing on my hiking maps, just zoomed out a little. This meant that view points, trig pillars, car parks, toilets, pubs and trail heads are all marked. And thanks to the contour lines and hill/mountain names, I could easily see and work out when we’d be going up or downhill, and which mountain ranges we were looking at.
Navigating from the passenger seat.
Before we left home I highlighted the route on the map so I could easily find the road we were supposed to be on, and marked up each of our chosen campsites and places we had been told were must-sees. We used the paper map to find our way, find extra places to stop, and generally keep ourselves on track without relying on an electronic anything. And yes, we had the satnav in the car too, but we didn’t use that in the main – only for peace of mind to help us find our campsite on a couple of evenings. I highly recommend the OS road maps, super useful to keep in the car and for road trip planning – I’ve not yet used them in busier parts of the country, but certainly up in Scotland it worked an absolute treat.
DAY TWO | APPLECROSS TO ULLAPOOL
It wasn’t long before we made our first stop of the day, and it would be the first of many in view points along the west coast of Scotland. The landscape here is rugged and gnarly, and I love it! We stopped first to look back at Applecross from up on the cliff, and again for a few photos looking out to sea. We chose to drive the NC500 for the views and we were absolutely right about that. I honestly can’t get enough the Scottish scenery, it’s so good for my soul!
Highland Cow jam!
Having ticked Red Deer of our wildlife spotting list the previous day, we were very pleased to come across a herd of Highland Cows so early on day two. And when I say “came across”, I mean there was a herd of them stood on the single track road from Applecross along the coast. We drove slowly towards them and came to a stop; they were clearly in charge here and we were quite happy to wait for them to decide to move of their own accord. They did, eventually, but not until they’d reminded us who owned this place.
Highland Cows looking out to sea.
Aw baby coooo!
Torridon Countryside Centre
Torridon was on our list because I’d seen some Instagram photos of it that looked amazing. It was also our back-up deer-spotting location if the ones at Applecross had been hiding the day before! There are a whole host of hikes and climbs from Torridon, and you could spend days exploring the countryside from here if you had the time and inclination, but we chose a short and gentle walk from the Countryside Centre itself.
Loch Torridon from Torridon.
The 3km trail takes you through the village (there are public toilets, a general store and an information centre), along the shore of Loch Torridon, and through the Deer Park. It’s well worth stopping here, the views over the loch are especially beautiful, and because of the time of year we visited, we were treated to scenes of suckling deer fowls in the two large fenced-off deer fields. The path was a bit muddy in places but we had our boots on and just got on with it, I highly recommend it as a great extended stop on the NC500 tour.
Oh wow. What a highlight!
Oh hey Bambi 🙂
Soup by the Fire
While chatting to our server in the Applecross Inn the night before, she’d mentioned that her favourite spot for lunch in the direction we were heading was the Whistle Stop Café in Kinlochewe. It turned out to be an excellent recommendation – we spotted the brightly coloured café in an old wooden building on the way into Kinlochewe at exactly lunch time, and headed in to find a super comfortable setting with wood burning stove and a menu of all kinds of home cooked fayre. We relaxed on the sofas at the back of the café and enjoyed soup and door stop bread with a pot of Earl Grey; lunches rock in Scotland! When road tripping, always listen to the locals, they know what they are talking about.
The Whistle Stop Cafe.
From Kinlochewe we drove to Gairloch, where I had hoped to find an ice cream, but had no luck. There are whale watching tours from here each day but we decided not to partake on this trip; the sightings list on the boards looked very impressive but we didn’t really have the time (or cash) this time around. The harbour was very pretty and well worth a look, though, the water was calm and clear and reflections beautiful.
Fishing pots at Gairloch.
The only time we had to pay for parking on the entire road trip was so we could walk to see the Corrishalloch Gorge, a National Trust for Scotland owned area that was on our original list of stops because it promised an impressive sight. The £2 per car was worth it, the view was indeed awe inspiring. The Gorge is a mile-long box canyon, through which the River Droma rushes, that actually takes its name from the Gaelic for ‘ugly hollow’. Okay then!
Woodland trail at Corrishalloch Gorge.
We did the slightly longer of the two trails to the Gorge, which was around 1.5km of well-kept but steep trail with some steps, through woodland and along the side of the gorge before it reached the suspension bridge. The Gorge is very impressive; narrow but deep, and there are some stunning waterfalls too.
Views of Corrishalloch Gorge.
It was quite a busy trail, which wasn’t a problem to us out of season, but I imagine that it is difficult to find a quiet spot when a coach stops in the car park.
When we arrived at the Broomfield Holiday Park, a campsite on the shore of Loch Broom, the reception was closed and there was a note that instructed arrivals to simply find a pitch, stay the night, and sort it out in the morning. We hadn’t booked ahead but it didn’t matter, while there weren’t any loch-side pitches left without electric hook-ups there was plenty of space and we found a couple of good spots without any trouble. It’s a strange site with decent facilities, but everything seemed like it was still in the 70s. The ablutions block had a line of about twelve sinks on one side and a similar number of cubicles on the other; there is certainly no need to queue here! The location was the best feature, naturally, and we had very easy access right onto the beach and a pretty amazing sunset over the loch.
Loch Broom, Ullapool.
We wandered into town, which took less than two minutes, and ate burgers at the recently reopened Caley Burger Bar in the Caladonian Hotel for dinner. The burgers were decent and good value, but the service was a bit disorganised and while the place was clean and had been refurbished it already looked a bit tired, which was odd. Actually the town itself was a bit strange; clearly a very popular spot to stay over because it’s one of the larger towns in this area with some urban facilities that are much needed when you’re on the road. There’s a ferry port for those heading over to Ireland, shops, pubs, a Tesco and a petrol station. On first impressions there were quite a few places to choose from for dinner, but in reality there were only one or two as many were closed or were actually guest houses rather than restaurants.
I guess, ignoring the single track roads for a moment and thinking about evening-time facilities, it’s places like Ullapool that struggle the most with the onslaught of tourists thanks to the popularity of the NC500 route. The road trip is being advertised greatly, and not just by bloggers who happen to write about their own holidays like me. I first found out about it thanks to an advert in quite a major magazine. With a ferry port it isn’t just the NC500 that brings people here, and I’m sure Ullapool can cope, but I do wonder what this place would be like in the very high season. Tourism is both good and bad for places like this; tourists bring money that they are willing to spend, but they also bring expectations, and create rubbish, and make places bulge. I don’t know what the answer is, I’m not going to tell you not to do the NC500 because it is such a beautiful road trip, but if you’re planning a trip you do need to think about when and how you go.
Our tent by Loch Broom.
I picked up quite a bit of litter from the beach by the campsite, including a bread bag with bread still in it (who drops litter when they’re on a campsite right by a line of about 20 rubbish bins?!), and got attached by midges which is definitely to be expected in this part of Scotland in the summer, but all in all Ullapool was such a nice place to stay over because of the breathtaking view over the loch and out to sea. And you just can’t get any better than that.
Sunset over Loch Broom.