13th August 2021
By Sarah Johnson
The North Coast 500 is a driving route around the most remote part of Scotland, boasting breathtaking views of our beautiful country. Each section of the NC500 has different scenery and activities to offer. There are mountainous vistas in the west, wilderness and moor in the north, and castles in the east. There are many things to see and do, so here are 11 tips for the NC500 by Away from the Ordinary to help you decide which bits are unmissable for you.
1. Wester Ross
The Wester Ross area is home to beautiful mountains, glens, and beaches. Pictured above is the view from Gairloch, looking toward the Torridon mountains. The mountains in Wester Ross make for challenging climbs and are spectacular to view from both the road and the peaks, while Mellon Udrigle beach on a sunny day could be mistaken for the Caribbean.
2. The Torridon
Located in Torridon, Wester Ross, The Torridon is a world-class destination to stay, eat and drink. Their rooms are exquisitely decorated and their whisky and gin bar is the perfect place to sample all of the spirits of Scotland. The 1887 restaurant, with Chef Paul Green, serves up local game and produce from the kitchen garden; keeping it seasonal and local for flavours as rich and fresh as they can be.
3. Coigach and Assynt
Slightly further north than Wester Ross, Coigach and Assynt have a more rugged and remote feel, with stand-alone peaks separated by lochans and moorland. The feeling of being both on the edge of the world and yet completely at home is a feeling that can definitely be found in Coigach and Assynt. The coastline is scattered with beautiful white sand beaches and cliffs, with views out to the Summer Isles. These mainly uninhabited islands can be explored by boat tour or sea kayak from Achiltibuie.
Achmelvich Beach is another wonderful beach on the west coast. While yes, there are hundreds of beaches, and it would be impossible to write about them all, Achmelvich deserves its own mention. This special spot enjoys views of Suilven to the east and the Minch to the West. The water at this beach, near Lochinver, is so clear; when it comes in over the white sand it is rich emerald green. There are lots of little headlands you can walk around to discover other hidden coves. Achmelvich is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and much more.
5. Kylesku Hotel
The Kylesku Hotel is right on the water’s edge and the seafood they serve in their restaurant is from the waters you see as you eat it. With breathtaking views down the loch, you can both enjoy delicious Scottish cuisine and rest up in comfort to recharge your batteries for the next stage of your NC500 trip.
6. Sandwood Bay
Worth the hour and a half walk each way – Sandwood bay is a mile-long white sand beach with views of vast sea cliffs and Am Buchaille sea stack. The crashing waves on the shore provide the perfect soundtrack to a mid-day nap on the beach for tired walkers, or a playground to jump or surf in for lovers of wild swimming and water sports.
7. Balnakeil Church and Bay
While visiting Smoo cave, you learn that an infamous contract killer and highwayman, Domhnull MacMhurchaidh, who killed at least 18 victims and tossed them in the waterfall of Smoo Cave, was so hated by the people of Durness that he had to pay for the construction of this church to be allowed to be buried there. The church is in ruin now and is an incredibly beautiful spot situated right next to Balnakeil Bay in the North of the route.
8. Whaligoe Steps
Moving over to the East Coast, the towering cliffs will leave you in awe. The Whaligoe Steps are a set of zigzag steps down a cliffside that lead to an old harbour where fishing boats once moored. It is a snapshot into days long gone and an amazing sight, especially when picturing fisherwomen in days of old carrying baskets of herring up and down them on stormy days.
9. Brora Distillery
The Brora Distillery produced some of the finest whisky in Scotland from 1819 to 1983 when it was closed. Since its closing, its surviving bottles of malt had become some of the most exclusive and sought-after whisky for collectors. In 2017, work began on restoring the distillery back to its original state brick by brick and in May 2021 it opened again for the first time in 38 years. A tour of this remarkable distillery is an exclusive experience not to be missed.
10. Dornoch and its Royal Links
The Royal Dornoch is widely considered one of the best golf courses in the world. It is its unique and challenging holes, paired with its history and awe-inspiring views that make it so special. It is on every golf lover’s bucket list and always a favourite with our clients. That is not all Dornoch has to offer, however. There’s not only Dornoch Beach, but also Dunrobin Castle very nearby. Dunrobin is, architecturally, one of the most unique Scottish castles and its gardens are a joy to explore.
11. Channory Point
The North Coast of Scotland is teeming with wildlife, and the waters surrounding it are no different. There are many opportunities for seeing dolphins from boat trips around the country, but Channory point gets a special mention, as you can see dolphins feeding on wild salmon right next to the shore. It is quite a spectacle that takes place only a few metres away from the water’s edge. It is a show not to miss.
Bonus tips for the NC500:
1. Don’t Rush
While it’s true, the route can be rushed through in a matter of days, where is the fun in that? Take the time to get out of the car, go for a walk, and enjoy a relaxing stay at a luxury hotel in the middle of the wilderness.
2. Don’t feel you have to do the whole route
Different people like different things and depending on what you enjoy, the whole route may not be the best choice. Feel free to slow it down and really enjoy the full extent of the places you are visiting. If you are a golfer, for example, perhaps doing a section of the east coast and stopping for a round of golf at all the world-famous Brora Course would suit you. If you are an avid hiker, kayaker, or you just love views of wild craggy mountains and islands – the west will be more to your taste.
Accommodation on the NC500 is always in high demand – get in touch to book a trip with Away from the Ordinary to ensure the best trip for you.