Last month I finally got a real taste of Scotland, by driving around the North Coast 500. I’ve spent years thinking that the only way to experience foreign lands was to jump on a plane and put miles between myself and the UK. It turns out I was seriously overlooking my own backyard!
Scotland is rugged. It’s unapologetic, in-your-face and will leave you slack-jawed and teary-eyed. This is particularly true when faced with the scenery of the west coast. Before even reaching the likes of the North Coast 500 you could find yourself gazing up in awe at The Three Sisters near Glencoe, or hauling yourself up a mountainside on the Isle of Skye (both of which I highly recommend adding to your itinerary).
The North Coast 500
The North Coast 500, or NC500, is a 516-mile circular route which snakes its way around the far north of Scotland. It serpentines around glistening lochs, climbs into the Highlands where shaggy ginger beasts roam free and meanders through quaint towns, perfect for a pit stop.
It also takes you along some bum-clenchingly narrow roads, throws four seasons at you in a day and is absolutely chockablock with family-toting, gleaming white juggernauts – coming at you from all directions and often dominating the landscape.
Indeed, the NC500 is popular amongst tourists and patience is very much needed if you are going to get around this route in once piece. But don’t let this put you off. Even in high season, you are likely to find yourself wandering along deserted beaches or getting a front row seat to a beautiful waterfall.
So with that in mind, here are 10 things to see on the North Coast 500:
An eerie shipwreck
Corpach Wreck was once a busy fishing vessel. She ran aground in 2011 after a heavy storm and now sits proudly on a pebble beach with the stunning backdrop of Ben Nevis. The shipwreck is somewhat of a hidden gem, but a quick Google search should help you locate her.
Wild salmon leaping upstream
Rogie Falls is a short but popular walk descending through woodland to the Blackwater River. From a suspension bridge, you can watch wild salmon attempt to leap up the frothing cascades in an instinctual bid to spawn further upstream.
The Highland ‘Coo’
A trip into the Highlands isn’t complete without an encounter with these handsome creatures. Chances are, you’ll find a nonchalant cow or two chilling by the side of the road. They’re completely unfazed by the hoards of photographers ‘cooing’ over them (me included).
You’ll be putting your tolerance for heights to the test on the bouncy suspension bridge at Corrieshalloch Gorge. Sixty metres below, the river Droma rushes through the tight canyon, which has been shaped by glacial meltwater and stretches for one and a half kilometres.
White, sandy beaches
You won’t believe you’re in Scotland when you first lay your eyes on the clean, white sands and turquoise waters of the western and northern coastlines. Despite their beauty, the beaches are fairly quiet (sometimes even deserted). They are a welcome way to stretch your legs after a long drive.
There are a number of castles dotted around the NC500. Some are in ruins, like the lochside remains of Ardvreck Castle. Others are more intact and look like they have come straight from a fairytale, such as Eilean Donan Castle.
I saw an array of animals during my trip. From the aforementioned Highland Coo and wild salmon, to red squirrels, deer and seals. I particularly loved waking up one morning and strolling from my campsite down to the small beach to find a group of them basking on some rocks!
Smoo Cave has one of the largest entrances to any sea cave in Britain. Standing on the cliffs above, you really get a sense of just how big it is. The cave is combined with fresh water and sea water. The larger part of the cave was carved out by the sea over time, whilst the inner caverns were formed by freshwater streams. You can walk through to a second chamber in the cave, where a 60 foot waterfall cascades down through the ceiling!
Sango Sands staircase
You might recognise this Insta-worthy photo. The winding staircase at Sango Sands in Durness provides the perfect viewing point over the pristine beaches and waters beyond. The campsite here is excellent and I’d recommend staying a few days to explore the area thoroughly.
Your drive around the NC500 is going to involve a lot of gasping as you round each new corner and a lot of stopping. Take your time, savour each view. Some days the lochs will glint in the sunlight and the lush landscape will pop with colour. Other days the clouds will hang moodily over the mountains.
Whether it rains or shines (and I can guarantee it will rain at some point), the NC500 is an awe-inspiring route to drive and definitely one for the list.
If you love Scotland, check out: FUN Things to Do in Edinburgh. For more incredible road trip inspiration, check out: 30 INCREDIBLE Things to Do in Tasmania, Things You’ll Love About Kangaroo Island and 19 AMAZING Things to Do in Iceland.
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