Waking up to that view of Loch Broom was absolutely wonderful and set us up really nicely for day three of our NC500 road trip. Today we would head north from Ullapool on the west coast up to Durness on the north. We’d actually designated this something of a day for walking; driving through the mountains it seemed a shame not to see something of the scenery on foot, and so we planned two short hikes to take in the views from a higher vantage point than just sitting in the car.
Having a cuppa overlooking Loch Broom.
DAY THREE | ULLAPOOL TO DURNESS
The scenery today could only be described as dramatic, from the moment we left the urban area of Ullapool until we arrived in Durness. We were treated to mountains, moorland, heathland, crags, lochs, cliffs, wild flowers, and beautifully winding roads that made the miles an absolute joy.
The NC500 at Badnabay.
The first of two main stops today was at Knockan Crag, which the internet had recommended to us. This area of Scotland is well known for it’s unusual geological features and so a stop to learn some more about the history as well as to get some great views from high up seemed like a no brainer. I’ve already written about Knockan Crag so I won’t go into all the details here, but just to say that you really shouldn’t drive this stretch of the NC500 without stopping here – even if you don’t do the short hike right along the top. The (free) car park is signposted and there are public toilets, an information centre and several short trails to choose from. If you have the energy, I highly recommend doing the longest one so you get the benefit of the views from the top. On a clear day, which we were grateful to have, you can see for miles and miles across moorland to mountains, and there was even a glimpse of the sea, too.
After our little hike up onto the crag top we were in need of a decent lunch, and were pleased to come across the Elphin Tearooms just a mile or so down the road. We sat outside with the most amazing view and ate soup and sandwiches, and the homemade cakes were looked too good to refuse, too. Another highly recommended lunch stop.
Resting on Knockan Crag.
Always fascinated by wildlife, I’d heard that Bone Caves was the place in Scotland where proof that bears and lynx once roamed this part of the world had been proven, and so we just had to visit. We did the strenuous hike up the river to the caves where the bones were found, which provided some of the best non-sea views of the whole trip in my opinion. It was hard work but absolutely worth it. As with Knockan Crag, I’ve dedicated a whole blog post to our Bone Caves hike because I felt it was worth the extra effort.
View from inside Bone Caves.
Looking down the valley from Bone Caves.
Cocoa Mountain Chocolate Shop
After a quick stop at Scarie, with its amazing turquoise blue water (also fuel, a Spar shop and public toilets), we continued to head north. The drive to Durness was a real treat, more single track road but we could see for miles along the long stretches and sweeping bends as the road headed further and further north. There is an option to head up to Cape Wrath which did appeal, but we ran out of time and would have had to get a ferry before driving out to the peninsula and so it didn’t quite work out on this occasion.
The road to Durness.
I think I was expecting the Cocoa Mountain Chocolate Shop, a place that everyone who has ever visited this area recommends, to be in a more scenic location. And while the town of Durness is scenic in some ways, this chocolate shop and café is actually on a rundown looking industrial estate and surrounded by large weeds and broken-down cars. But I was looking forward to what is said to be the world’s best hot chocolate, so in we went. And wow! Although expensive, the hot chocolate was indeed superb, and the brownie was so good. I probably had a week’s worth of calories in that few minutes but it was definitely worth it. I can totally see why people talk about this place and will add my voice to the “must see” recommendations.
Hot chocolate from Cocoa Mountain Chocolate Shop.
Durness and the Sea
Sango Sands is a large and very popular campsite right on the cliffs overlooking the sea to the north. As with several of the other sites we used on this trip, we didn’t need to book ahead, and once booked in at reception we could drive around and pick whichever spot we liked best. The site is big and was already very busy, but we found a field with barely anyone on it and chose a suitable spot there. The facilities at Sango Sands are currently being renewed which is a very good thing, there simply aren’t enough toilets or showers to go around (maybe four or five showers for the whole site, with queues for each), and those that there are were very tired and in need of some TLC. This site is all about the location, which is indeed spectacular, but in its current state I wouldn’t want to spend more than one night here.
Sango Sands, Durness.
For dinner we decided we didn’t want to drive anywhere so we headed over to the onsite restaurant and bar. It was the kind of thing I would expect at a holiday park or Butlins resort from the 70s or 80s. The food was from a frozen food delivery company rather than home-made, although it wasn’t pretending to be anything else and it was good value, but as with the ablutions facilities on site, the whole place needed a refurb.
Sunset over the beach at Durness.
After dinner we went for a walk along the coast path, on the beach, and up onto the headland to watch the sunset. Being right at the north of Scotland the sun didn’t set until well after 10pm, and it didn’t get completely dark until nearly 11pm or just after. It was just glorious, so beautiful, watching the low sun dance on the sand and waves was definitely one of the highlights of the tour for me.
The beach at Durness. Take me back!