NC500 - The ultimate UK road trip?
I recently completed the Scottish North Coast 500 tour which is a ring route around the north of Scotland. It starts in Inverness and follows the east coast until you get to John O’ Groats, along to the west until you get to Durness and then down the west coast. It’s got to be the best road trip I’ve ever done. The scenery is out of this world and is so diverse. You have rugged mountains with clouds floating above them and then at the other side you have beautiful beaches with clear blue water and white sand which makes you feel like you’re somewhere in Spain rather than Scotland.
The first day we left home rather late at 2pm (due to the fact I didn’t finish work until 1am the day before). I wanted to drive up past Glasgow, Loch Lomond, through Glencoe and Fort William but as we were running late we chose to go up the A9 to Inverness which isn’t the most fun road in the world as it’s average speed check the full way and is normally busy but we wanted to get to Inverness in time for dinner so it was the best option.
Once we arrived at Inverness, we just checked into our hotel which was the Cheiftain hotel. We had dinner at the hotel, had a few drinks and just chilled as the next few days were going to be busy…
We left the Cheiftain hotel at around 10am, topped up with fuel at shell as this was the last time we could get V Power. We then carried on up the rest of the A9 which started to get a bit more twisty and fun at the end and then eventually turned off the A9 towards Wick. We actually had to stop off at Wick retail park for a toilet break which I didn’t know existed, I never knew there was this much civilization this far up north. After our toilet break, we continued, the roads started to get a bit better until we stopped at John O’ Groats. To be fair, John O’ Groats wasn’t exactly that special. It’s the highest point of main land Britain which is cool and it was good to see the famous sign… kind of a bucket list thing to do. Other than the sign, there wasn’t much else to see as the land was pretty flat (there’s normally mountains up north?) so we set off towards Durness.
This is where the roads started the get really good as they got a bit more bendy and a lot quieter so we could finally have a good hoon. The roads do get narrow and turn into single track which are still fun but you obviously have to be a lot more cautious and courteous of other road users and use the passing places to let oncoming traffic past. Also be patient when you catch up with slower traffic, most drivers tend to let you past at a passing place.
At one of the passing places we let some oncoming traffic through which is normally 1, maybe 2 cars but there were 20 vehicles in a rally of campers, caravans and cars and they all had Scotland flags waving out their windows. Every one of the cars were flashing, tooting and waving at us going past… they all looked so happy!
We then got to where we were staying that day. A camp site in Durness called Sango Sands which is a beautiful camp site which sits on a cliff that leads down into one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to. We checked into the campsite, pitched the tent, chilled for a bit and had dinner from the restaurant at the campsite. We then went down and explored the beach, took some cracking photos and then got some much needed sleep.
We first back tracked about 1 mile from the campsite and went to Smoo Cave which is a massive coastal cave with a waterfall which is remarkable…
We set off from Smoo Cave and as we were passing the camp site we came across a rally of super cars. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop to take pictures but there was a Ferrari 458, GTR’s, loads of Porsches including a GT3 RS and a 918, Ferrari F12, F12 tdf, a DB11 and probably a lot more but we couldn’t stop as were were already behind the other car in our group so we had to catch up.
The west coast is so beautiful. Most of it is single track roads, basically in the middle of no where surrounded by water and mountains. 360 degrees of amazing scenic views…
We continued down the west coast and took the Lochinver coastal route which is a very narrow, tight and twisty road, probably the slowest road on the full route as most of the corners are blind so you need to be extra cautious. Even though it’s only around 20 miles until you get to Achmelvic Bay, it took us almost an hour.
We eventually got to Achmelvich Bay which is a quiet waterfront near Lochinver. Beautiful beach with white sand and blue water. You definitely wouldn’t think this beach was in Scotland.
We then continued down the west coast. The roads varied between your average b-road and single track roads, most of which were pretty twisty so it was sometimes hard to find an opportunity to overtake but luckily for us, it wasn’t too busy… After a few hours of B road bashing we reached Ullapool, where we stayed for the night at a little hotel called The Arch Inn. Ullapool is a lovely little town which sits on a ridge on the west coast. It’s a small town but it’s one of the main towns in the area as it has the ferry terminal for Stornaway. We went to a local fish & chips shop for (you’ll never guess) some fish & chips. In the evening I went out to take a few photos as the sun was setting and it looked absolutely stunning.
The next day, we continued down the west coast. Again, it varied between b-roads and single track roads - the tarmac surface was constantly changing… Somewhere along A832 after Loch Dubh (pronounced “Doo”) we were on a single track road with no road markings and it was pretty bumpy which wasn’t too good being in a Fiesta ST with lowering springs. Suddenly we were on a freshly laid road with fresh road markings. It was so smooth, it felt like a race track. I just had to put my foot down.
The west coast is so rugged… Mountains, mountains everywhere. Driving through Torridon was incredible, being surrounded by massive mountains.
After the Torridon area we cut off onto a smaller, narrower road - a bit like the Lochinver coastal route but not as narrow then after passing a place called Fearnmore, the road and the coast start to open up a bit more so you can see views of Skye and Raasay. The road was still narrow and a single track but you could see a decent amount in front so you could still drive pretty fast and have a bit of fun.
This road continued all the way until Applecross - we stopped here for some chips at a snack bar and take in the view. After food we proceeded to the famous Bealach na Bà (or Applecross Pass) - This road definitely lives up to it’s name, it’s super twisty and was definitely great fun in the Fiesta ST. It did start to rain when we got close to the top so we did have to be a bit careful but it was still an exciting drive. I’m planning to head back that way next year for a few runs of this road so hopefully the weathers the bit better next time.
After Applecross Pass, the roads continued to be awesome fun until we got to our last stop which was Lochcarron. We stayed at a little cabin which is part of a bed & breakfast called Loch Dubh. After dinner, we just chilled out, had a few drinks and a few games of scabby queen as we had a long drive home the next day…
Day 5 - Heading Home
After a great journey, it was sad that it came to an end but all good things do come to an end. We set off from Loch Dubh Bed & Breakfast after having a delicious full Scottish breakfast. We left Lochcarron, joined the A890 - It started off being a nice b-road where we had a bit of a hoon, it then turned into a single track road - like I said before, the roads and surfaces are incredibly inconsistent but that’s what makes it so fun. You then go through a tunnel that goes parallel to a railway track. We blasted through this and it made the Mountune exhaust on the Fiesta ST sound insane. We did get it on video but it didn’t give it any justice at all…
After a few miles of a single track road, it opens back up again and gets a lot smoother. Still on the A890, it becomes really bendy and stays like that for a while, the roads actually got a bit more consistent the more south we went. We then came across a part of the road which had long sweeping turns - one after an other - they were so long, it actually felt like we were going round in a full circle.
After a few hours of driving, we were no longer on the NC500 route - we actually missed the small section between Strathcarron and Inverness but we just didn’t have time. We will definitely go through this section the next time we adventure up north. As we were on the west side of Scotland, it just didn’t make any sense to go down the A9 as it’s a dreadfully boring road. I finally got to go the way I like to go… Through Fort William and Glencoe - a much more exciting way to go. The roads are much more fun and the scenery is amazing, especially driving through Glencoe - Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see Ben Nevis in Fort William but the clouds floating above the mountains in Glencoe did look pretty cool.
NC500 is definitely something you should do at least once in your life - even if you’re not into driving or the outdoors - should be on everyone’s bucked list. There’s a lot of different things to do on the route including a never ending amount of mountains to climb, breweries and distillery’s, waterfalls, caves, caves with waterfalls, castles and ancient ruins, gardens, wildlife sanctuary’s and probably a lot more. I’d definitely do it again but I’d do it over a lot more days, probably a week or even more as there’s so much to do. There’s so much I wanted to do but couldn’t because there wasn’t enough time.
During the trip I learnt that it’s possible to have a lot of fun in a car whilst keeping it withing the national speed limit. Most of the single track roads you probably can’t even reach the national speed limit. I also learnt how beautiful my own country is - Scotland is beautiful!
I’d definitely recommend anyone from the UK to give this a try but beware - you will spend A LOT on fuel… unless you drive a Prius (If so, you probably don’t belong on CT)
Thanks for reading - see below for a video of all of the dash came footage and some shots of the amazing scenic views.