When we were planning our North Coast 500 road trip we naturally turned to the internet and social media to gather as many recommendations for our holiday as we could. And now, having done the NC500, I offer this post as a way of passing on my own highlights and recommendations to those planning their own trips.
So, in the order in which I experienced them along the route, these are my favourite moments from our NC500 road trip:
01. The Non-Existent View from Bealach na Ba Pass
I’m starting with what might look like a horrible experience, but was actually one of my highlights. Our drive over Bealach na Ba was wet, windy and the cloud was low – we couldn’t see much, and the “viewpoint” was non-existent. But it was fun! I guess it’s one of those strange things about being human – we love a story of when things didn’t really work out, and this is one of those. I giggled so much as I got out the car to pose at the summit for a photo; we might have had sideways rain, strong winds, low cloud, and most importantly no view, but still a great experience. I just need to go back to put the view in with the rest of the memories!
The non-existent view from Bealach na Ba pass.
02. Seeing Bambi in Torridon
We knew we’d likely see Red Deer on our trip, they are very common in this part of the world. And I thoroughly enjoyed watching a wild herd in Applecross, witnessing the strange sight of them jumping up onto their hind legs to reach the tastiest leaves from the trees. But my second top ten moment of the NC500 was watching a Red Deer calf – Bambi – feed from its mother in the deer park at Torridon. Just so wonderful, a really beautiful sight.
Seeing Bambi in Torridon.
03. Sunset over Loch Broom, Ullapool
Sunsets on the west coast are some of the best I’ve seen and I relish a clear evening and pretty coloured sky before bed. I might have been mauled by midges for this one, but the sunset over Loch Broom at Ullapool was simply stunning; the pebbles, the flat water, and the hills in the background, a perfect sight to end the day.
Sunset over Loch Broom, Ullapool.
04. View from Knockan Crag
I climb up hills for the views from the top, and the ones from Knockan Crag were just wonderful. The path was short and steep but well worth the brief effort; there was even a bench at the top for us to sit and take in the scenery. It might have been a very short walk from the car, but sometimes the shortest walks provide the greatest rewards, don’t dismiss the ones that don’t require all the planning and equipment!
View from Knockan Crag.
05. Walking to Bone Caves
Noted as one of Scotland’s “best short walks”, the hike to Bone Caves was so full of dramatic scenery that it should be on everyone’s hit list when they do the NC500 road trip. You know I love a good walk and this one was a real treat; just 4km but still got the legs and lungs working hard, with some great rewards. Make sure you have a couple of hours in your schedule for this one, wear some sensible shoes, pack some water and snacks, and go and do it. There might not be actual bones in the caves any more (they’re all in a museum down in Ediburgh!), but the caves are still worth a visit and you will love the views down the valley.
Walking to Bone Caves.
06. Time on the beach at Durness
There is something about being by the sea at sunset that is truly magical, watching the light dance on the water and reflect on the sand is one of those natural occurrences that I just love to watch. And so time spent on the beach at Durness late into the evening as the sun lowered in the sky was magical. Being so far north the sun took forever to set, which made it all the more wonderful; I wandered on the sand and high up on the cliffs, watching the waves and looking out to sea. A moment for the soul to find peace.
Time on the beach at Durness.
07. View of Ben Loyal from the Kyle of Tongue
The scenery up in the north of Scotland is simply breath taking, and is the primary reason why anyone would want to do the NC500 road trip. But this one particular view sticks in my mind as being just so perfect. We’d already been treated to some fantastic and dramatic scenery on this particular day, but coming over the hill and down to the bridge over the Kyle of Tongue, we had a perfectly clear view of Ben Loyal over the water. Standing proud in the distance, it definitely made me wish I could live amongst views like this and wake up to the mountains every day.
The view of Ben Loyal from the Kyle of Tongue.
08. Soup and Sandwiches at Weaver’s Café, Tongue
Everyone knows that in Scotland the welcome is warm and the food is hearty. We ate well throughout the trip, coming across some really wonderful cafes with homemade soup, bread and cakes. I’m not ashamed to put the sweet potato and butternut squash soup from Weaver’s Café just outside Tongue on my highlights list because it was simply yummy; I would go back again and again if I was closer!
Soup and sandwiches at Weaver’s Cafe, Tongue.
09. Trig Bagging at Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head is the northern most point of mainland Great Britain. Famous for its (noisy!) seabird population, it has been designated a nature reserve run by the RSPB. The trig pillar here might be in the middle of a disused military base, with its concrete buildings, but the views from here are incredible.
Trig bagging at Dunnet Head.
10. Watching Dolphins at Fortrose Bay
You might gather that I love the sea, and with that comes a love of sea life – I like nothing more than being able to watch fish and mammals do their thing in their natural habitat. We chose our final night’s camping based on reports that we were pretty much guaranteed to see dolphins in the Moray Firth, and we were not disappointed. We stood with a host of other people at Chanonry Point for an hour or so watching the dolphins in the bay. They can generally be seen on the rising tide, so check before you go.
Watching dolphins at Fortrose Bay.
Some of you have asked what my favourite photograph from the trip is… I love a big view with mountains and sea and everything else, but actually this simple capture of a Highland Cow is the one I like best from our week-long NC500 road trip. Taken from the car window, with no zoom or filters, it just shoes my viewpoint as I sat waiting for the cows to move on so we could pass them safely. For a moment I saw the world from her point of view. I’d love to know what she was thinking.
Highland cows looking out to sea.
If you’re planning to do the NC500 and are looking for a great road map, I highly recommend the Ordnance Survey road map of Northern Scotland (OS Road Map 1). It covers the whole area you need, and some extra, and has plenty of detail to help you plan ahead and navigate during. A paper map is definitely the best idea for this trip as using a satnav will only lead to direct routes and driving straight past amazing features, and a trip like this should be savoured not rushed (we could easily have spent double the time, but a week was a pretty good call).
Add your Tips!
Have you done the NC500 road trip? What were your favourite moments, views or must-see recommendations? Add your hints and tips below for others considering this as their next road trip here in Great Britain.