The North Coast 500 road trip was rather a last-minute decision of mine. We didn’t have much planned for last year school summer holidays as we went to Australia for two months in February 2019. The farthest I have ever been to Scotland is Inverness so I got my planning cap on. 

It took me about 4 days to do my research, read about the route and book accommodation. My husband Oliver couldn’t join us as he had no leave left, so it was only me, our 7 years old son Cedric and our 16 weeks old cockapoo puppy called Coco.

What is the North Coast 500?

The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile (830km) scenic route around the north coast of Scotland, starting and ending at Inverness. The route is also known as the NC500 and was launched in 2015 by the Tourism Project Board of the North Highland Initiative (NHI) in an attempt to work with all aspects of the tourism sector to help businesses across the route.

As it is a circular loop you can drive it clockwise going west from the Inverness or anticlockwise going north. We did the latter. Because it is a circular route I guess it doesn’t really matter where you start. 

Starting (anticlockwise) at Inverness, the capital of Highlands,  the route takes you through the counties of Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Caithness and Sutherland.

Top Tips Before You Go

I put together a few tips which might help you if you decide to do North Coast 500. I hope you find them useful. 

1. Do your research

I would strongly suggest that you sit down with a map and plan your route before you go. As I said above, it took me about 4 days to plan the journey and read up on the route. I then decided what places I would like to visit, considering I would be accompanied by my then 7-year-old son and our puppy. I knew from the beginning that this trip would not be about long hikes as I would prefer.

But I was equally excited about our little adventure together, as well as slightly anxious as I had no other adult with me. 

Travelling with a dog can be a challenge too. The accommodation which allows dogs is limited. Equally, they are not allowed at some tourist attractions as well. There is nothing worst than arriving at a place you want to see just to be told that your furry friend is not allowed in. 

2. Create your Itinerary

A long time ago my friend advised me to actually write up an itinerary when I go travelling. She said:

” Create as much detailed itinerary as you can, otherwise you will end up seeing nothing and nobody”.

In this case, I created an itinerary for our 9 days road trip. Each day we stayed in a different place. I planned the trip so that the drive from one accommodation to the other would be no more than 1-3 hours, and we could stop to visit some interesting places or go for walks on the way. I’m glad I did and it worked out a treat. 

3.Book Early

It should be noted, that accommodation in the Scottish Highlands is scarce in some places so I would advise you to book as soon as possible. It also gets booked up pretty quickly especially in the summer school holidays. The general advice is to book 6 months ahead. I knew I had to do this prior to our trip as after all, I was travelling alone with a 7-year-old and a dog. Fortunately, I was so lucky to be able to book everything in such short notice. 

4.Pack Wisely

Depending on your means of travel make sure you pack for all eventualities. After all, this is Scotland! The weather is pretty changeable and it can turn pretty quickly. Make sure you have waterproof and warm clothes with you together with good footwear. And did I mention those pesky midges? I found that Skin So Soft spray by Avon works pretty well against them. Apparently, even the British Army uses it.

It may not work for some, but it worked for us. Although the best thing to avoid them is not to be outside when they come out! It can be mental. In some areas, I would not even last a minute with all the spray poured over me! It really depends on the weather conditions, time and the area you are in.

5. Road Safety

Obviously, they drive on left in Scotland as everywhere else in the UK. Depending on where you are, the roads in the Highlands can be narrow and windy, lots of the times single lanes with passing places. I was a bit wary of this but actually, almost 99% where we have been, you could see the next passing bay from the last one, unlike in England. Be cautious and show your courtesy to the other drivers.

Read up on driving in Scotland before you go for your and others’ safety.  Additionally, read the signs and if you are in the caravan or a large vehicle and they tell you that it’s not suitable for caravans etc., do not attempt to drive it. There are reasons for it. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere without mobile reception, with no opportunity to turn around. You will be waiting for AA for hours and you don’t want to waste the emergency services for not abiding by the rules.

 

6. Maps and GPS

Having a real paper map is always a good idea. I also downloaded the google map of the Scottish Highlands onto my phone and when I was driving I switched the mobile data off and used the map as GPS. This worked pretty well all the way. Moreover, have a look at the North Coast 500 website which might help a lot with planning your adventure. There you can find lots of information on where to stay, what to see and do, and where to eat. 

How much time do I need to complete the North Coast 500?

It’s entirely up to you! The more time you have, the more places you will see. I wish we could’ve stayed at some places for a couple of days and just chill and soak up the atmosphere and take it all in. But sadly, we had to adhere to our timetable.

We met a girl who was driving the entire route on her bike and had only 2,5 days to do it! It’s doable I guess but I doubt she was stopping at places much. Also, bear in mind, that you will want to stop many times and take some photos along the way which will slow down your driving time quite significantly. It’s such a spectacular route. Additionally, you might complete the route faster if you travel without children (unlike me ;-)). 

single track road with passing spaces on the North Coast 500 route

Our Itinerary

We completed the North Coast 500 in 9 days. And still, it was pretty much full-on every day. Along the route, there are lots more places I wish we would visit but you just have to draw a line somewhere and choose places you are the most interested in and are dog friendly too in our case.

We didn’t visit any distilleries apart of one at the end. We didn’t eat in restaurants. Additionally, we didn’t visit any visitors centers for the obvious reasons of being by myself with a small child and a dog. I couldn’t just leave the puppy in the car. Likewise, we didn’t stay at fancy hotels.

Having said that, you can travel the NC 500 on a shoestring as well as in a luxurious way. It’s entirely up to you. Sometimes there is simply not much of a choice depending on where you are and some of the accommodation is also fully booked well in advance.

Dog-friendly accommodation is limited and we basically just needed a roof over our heads.  For me, this trip was about being outdoors as much as possible, going for walks, driving the North Coast 500, and enjoying the scenery.

North Coast 500 9 days itinerary

Day 1 – Kinloss (Inverness if you are starting there) to Latheron, 2.5 hours driving

We actually stayed with our friends for a night in Kinloss prior to starting the route. We avoided Inverness – the starting point of the North Coast 500 as we have been to Inverness a couple of times before. If you were to start in Inverness, then it would be about 2h drive to Latheron. 

North Coast 500 road trip itinerary day 1 map

Cromarty Bridge

We left our friends and after crossing the beautiful Cromarty Bridge I felt like it was the start of our Scottish adventure. Driving the North Coast 500 with a child and a puppy began!

The Cromarty Bridge is a road bridge over the Cromarty Firth in Scotland.

 

Crossing the Cromarty bridge on North Coast 500 route

Dornoch

Our first stop was a pretty little town called Dornoch. It is most famous for its beautiful Dornoch Cathedral which was founded in 1224 and built of local sandstone.

In 2000 Madonna famously married Guy Ritchie at nearby Skibo Castle and had her son baptised in the Dornoch Cathedral.

Also, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and actress Talulah Riley were married at the cathedral in 2010. They divorced two years later in 2012.  You can also visit The Cocoa Mountain in the town who claim to do the best hot chocolate on the planet. 

Dornoch Beach

At this point, Cedric and Coco needed to have a proper run-around. Therefore we headed to our first beach of this trip, Dornoch Beach. What an amazing strip of golden sand!  It is a Blue Flag beach and is popular with families and dog walkers. 

Dunrobin Castle

Next on the menu, resembling a French chateau, was the extravagant, Dunrobin Castle. Overlooking the Moray Firth, the castle is also one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland. The earliest part of the building dates from around 1275. 

Dunrobin Castle on the North Coast 500 route

Nearly all guide books I’ve read about the Scottish Highlights mention the castle as the top ten attraction. As dogs are not allowed inside the Castle we didn’t go in but we had a nice little walk around the castle’s grounds. 

Brora Beach

Finally, the last stop of our first day of the North Coast 500 road trip was Brora beach. Another beautiful sandy beach located next to a golf course where dogs are allowed all year round. 

Brora beach in the Scottish Highlands, North Coast 500 road trip. Snap and Saunter with Martina Hardiman.

Do you like Coco’s tartan bandana? I thought we would go with the Scottish theme here. 🙂 It was still a bit big for him. Maybe we will use it for our next adventures in Scotland in the future. 😉

Cockapoo puppy carrying a stick wearing a scottish tartan bandana on a beach. His name is Coco.

Latheron

At this point, we were quite tired so we were looking forward to a rest in our first accommodation. You first have to drive through a mile of a wooded driveway which leads you to the Forse of Nature. This is a beautiful house set in magical grounds.

We were checked into a very comfy room with an en-suite bathroom. There is also a comfortable guest lounge for tv, coffee and tea in the house. The craft shop on the ground floor is full of lovely local crafts. Our puppy could be with us at breakfast which was great. The owners are so lovely and provide such a nice, family atmosphere all around. The only regret I have that we didn’t have time to explore the grounds as we had to carry on on our adventure the next day. 

Day 2 – Latheron to Castletown, 1-hour driving

Map of Day 2 North Coast Road trip itinerary

Whaligoe Steps

After a lovely homemade breakfast, I wanted to see the Whaligoe Steps which are about 15 mins drive from the Forse of Nature. 365 uneven steps lead steeply down to a natural harbour surrounded by high cliffs. Unfortunately, the steps were closed for repair so I just took a quick photo of the cliffs. 

Cliffs at Whaligoe Steps on the North Coast 500 route. Martina Hardiman Photography.

Grey Cairns of Camster

I am so pleased we did a little detour to visit the very interesting Grey Cairns of Camster next. The Grey Cairns of Camster are two large Neolithic chambered cairns located about 8 ¹⁄₂ miles south of Watten and 5 miles north of Lybster in Caithness. They are among the oldest structures in Scotland, dating to about 5,000 years ago.

Grey Cairns of Camster, North Coast 500, Snap and Saunter with Martina Hardiman

You can go inside via little openings and so we did. Mainly because we needed to escape from the midges! Cedric’s first encounter with these pesky creatures. And let me tell you, he didn’t like it! But I don’t blame him, who would? The cairns are free to visit and open all year round. 

The Grey Cairns of Camster on the North Coast 500 route

Noss Head Lighthouse

Next on our agenda was the active 19th century Noss Head Lighthouse near Wick. One of many on the North Coast 500 route. It’s notable as being the first lighthouse that was built with a diagonally paned lantern room. 

Noss Head ligthouse near Wick part of the North Coast 500 route

 

Cliffs at Noss Head Lighthouse in Scotland

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Following on, a short walk back towards the car park you can’t miss the ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe populated by colonies of seabirds. The castle is easily accessible by a flat 10-15 mins walk from the Noss Head Car park. I think this was the highlight of the day for me.

There is something magical about this wonderfully captivating castle. Perhaps it is due to its location being perched on a cliff-edge which makes it seem almost unreal. 

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe on the North coast 500 route.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is considered to be one of the earliest seats of Clan Sinclair. It comprises the ruins of two castles: the 15th-century Castle Girnigoe; and the early 17th-century Castle Sinclair.

You can access most of the areas of the castle which is free to visit and open all year round. I could spend ages in this place. Most definitely I would love to see and photograph it in the sunset. But we had to press on as we had more touristy things to do. 

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe in Scotland. Part of the North Coast 500 route.

John o’ Groats

In my opinion, the road from Wick to John O’Groats is rather uninspiring but soon you will reach the famous village of John o’ Groats.

Between here and Land’s End in Cornwall, Britain’s most southwestern point is 876 miles (1,410km). This is the longest distance between any coastal points in Great Britain. 

It’s not the most northerly point of Britain as some might think because that is the nearby Dunnet Head which we visited later on.

You can also take a ferry to the Orkneys from here. 

Famous post at John O' Groats, part of the North Coast 500 route

We had a lovely lunch at the family-run and dog-friendly Stack Coffee House & Bistro followed by a delicious ice cream from next door’s Flavours Ice Cream Shop. We then walked around the village and bought and sent a postcard to daddy from one of the souvenir shops. 

Stacks of Duncansby

It was time to drive to Duncansby Head Lighthouse car park and walk that lunch off to see the Stacks of Duncansby. Scotland is packed full of amazing natural wonders and the stacks at Duncansby Head are one that should definitely be on the list.

Whilst they are not accessible on foot, you can still take in the amazing views of the stacks from the clifftops. These natural rock formations stand out from the sea and make a fascinating place to take pictures and enjoy the rugged beauty that Scotland has to offer. I really enjoyed this walk even though it was a bit windy! 

People walking on the path near Stacks of Duncansby on the North Coast 500 route

Additionally, you can also visit Castle Mey which I quite fancied but it was near to a closing time when we were passing by so we skipped that.  

Dunnet Head

When we returned to the car, we were quite tired. But I really wanted to see the most northerly point of mainland Britain which is Dunnet Head. You really have to, haven’t you?

Boy and a Woman with a dog pointing at the Dunnet Head Marker

Dunnet Head Lighthouse was built in 1831 by Robert Stevenson and was automated in 1989. It is now remotely monitored from headquarters in Edinburgh . Unfortunately, you can’t visit the lighthouse but we had a quick walk around. In addition to this, you can see the Orkneys which seem to be so close. 

Dunnet Head Lighthouse on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

Dunnet Bay

Finally, we stopped at Dunnet Bay Beach which is popular with surfers.  At this point, Cedric had enough and was not really interested in going to the beach, so I took a few quick snaps and we called it a day. 

Dunnet Bay Beach in the North of Scotland

What a jam-packed day! It was great to be outside all day long and enjoying nature. We stayed at the Castletown Hotel in Castletown. I slept like a baby that night.

Day 3 – Castletown to Rhiconich, 2.5 hours driving

The North Coast 500 itinerary Day 3

 

Here the landscape gets more interesting. More hills replacing the huge vistas of flat land with far-reaching views. 

Strathy Point Lighthouse

Our first stop of the day was Strathy Point Lighthouse. Strathy Point was the first lighthouse in Scotland, specifically built to be electrically operated. Just as most of the lighthouses in Scotland, it was fully automated 1997 and is now telemetered from the Northern Lighthouse Board Headquarters in Edinburgh. We only stopped to have a snack and I took some photos.

They all look pretty similar to me, mostly white and yellow but I’m not an expert. 😉

Strathy Point Lighthouse on the North Coast 500 route

As I said above, it gets more hilly, wild, and empty here and the drive is so pretty. Countless time I said: “Wow, look at that!” and that stayed for the rest of the North Coast 500.  Very frequently I was stopping the car and to the annoyance of Cedric getting out and taking photos. 🙂

Winding road on the North Coast 500 route surrounded by mountains

The Strathnaver Museum

The Strathnaver Museum sounds very interesting but due to the dog, we gave it a miss. For the same reason, we didn’t visit any of the visitor centres and museums on the North Coast 500 as I would find it pretty stressful leaving the puppy veiling in the car and to be honest Cedric usually whizzes through the museums pretty quickly on most occasions, leaving me with no time to read through the info etc.

The Strathnaver Museum on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

 

The Strathnaver Museum with cemetery on the North Coast 500

Farr Beach

A short walk from the museum is  Farr Beach (Bettyhill). Here we found “our” beach. It was so beautiful and empty. Not a single human in sight. We had a good run around and play in there. I would love to live in that house near the beach as per below. Just when we were leaving a young couple appeared and took a photo of us. 

Woman and a boy with a dog posing on the Farr Beach near the Strathnaver Museum which is part of the North Coast 500 route

 

After a picnic on the beach, we had to move on. Again, beautiful scenery along the way. 

Moine House

Crossing the vast area of heather moor and peat – the Moin, we stopped at the eerie Moine House. In 1830, the Marquis of Stafford built a road over the bog to make travel easier. The house was erected at the half-way point.

The building was occupied by a family who provided shelter for any weary travellers who needed it. The roof fell in long ago and all that remains now are the walls, and especially two large gables which make a striking profile. A new, modern road passes close by, but the old road can still be followed for long stretches.

Ard Neackie Lime Kilns

About 6 miles further from Moine House we pulled over to see Ard Neackie Lime Kilns connected to the mainland only by a cord of sand linking it to the east shore of Loch Eriboll. 
Constructed in 1840 it was once the site of an active limestone quarry and four lime kilns. The Reay Estate produced large amounts of lime here and transported it onto nearby ships. Isn’t it a gorgeous view? 
Ard Neackie Lime Kilns on the North Coast 500 route
Furthermore to our journey, I saw a lay-by and I just had to take a photo of Ceannabeinne Beach. I just wish we could have explored it all. Another fine example of Scottish excellent beaches. The North Coast 500 is full of these little bays which call you in to stop or at least take a photo. 
Ceannabeinne Beach on North Coast 500 route in Scotland

Ceannabeinne Beach in Scotland

Smoo Cave

Our next stop, the spectacular Smoo Cave is unique within the UK in that that the first chamber has been formed by the action of the sea whereas the inner chambers were created by rainwater. Norse and Iron Age artefacts have been found and it is thought that its use may extend back more than 6000 years.
Smoo cave name originates from the Norse “smjugg” or “smuga” meaning a hole or a hiding place. Located a mile east of the village of Durness, the access to the cave is by stairs and walkways from the car park. 
A view of Smoo Cave entrance with houses on top near Durness on the North Coast 500
Before visiting the cave, we went for a walk along the cave as you can see from the photos below. Our walk was accompanied by this Scottish band which was really nice. 🙂
Scottish pipers band playing at the Smoo cave with people taking photos of them

We arrived at our Airbnb accommodation – Ardbeg House B&B in Rhiconich in the late afternoon. Susan was such a lovely host and I think I had the best porridge ever for my breakfast in the morning.

The picture below I took outside her house when I went to pick up something from our car. What an amazing place to live in. It took me only 2 seconds though as I would probably be eaten alive by the midges. Forget the tripod! 

Sunset view overlooking Rhiconich outbuildings on North Coast 500 route

Day 4 – Rhiconich to Achmelvich Bay via B869, 1.5-hour drive

North Coast 500 itinerary map day 4

 

At this section, you can also visit Handa Island wildlife reserve maintained by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Understandably the dogs are not permitted on the island nor on the ferry so we didn’t go.

Kylesku Bridge

Our first stop was at the Kylesku Bridge. In 1984 the concrete Kylesku Bridge replaced the ferry between Kylesku and Kylestrome. 

 

 

Scenery at Kylesku Bridge on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

B869

After crossing the Kylesku bridge over to Sunderland, we took the scenic B869 coast road with beautiful views of Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. I have to admit that I was slightly nervous on this narrow, windy road. I guess this was the preparation for the Applecross Pass later on.

Do check if your vehicle is permitted on this road (especially if you have a caravan) and drive carefully. You can also get easily distracted by its beautiful surroundings such as view over Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin below. You have been warned. 😉

Loch a' Chàirn Bhàin on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

Drumbeg

The first village worth stopping is Drumbeg with its Drumbeg Viewpoint. We walked around the village and bought some ice cream in the local shop. 

A view from theDrumbeg Viewpoint on the route of the North Coast 500

 

Two barns next to the Drumbeg Viewpoint on route North Coast 500 in the Scottish Highlands

The Assynt

The rocky drive onto our next stop at Clashnessie is so pretty. Clashnessie is a small crofting community in the Assynt area of Sutherland. Marking the transition from Sutherland into Wester Ross, this region is one of the least populated areas in Europe. The Assynt boasts some of the world’s oldest rock formations which forms the Northwest Highlands Geopark

 

Assynt area of Sutherland part of the North Coast 500 route

Raw and rugged landscape of the North Coast 500 in the Scottish Highlands, UK

Clashnessie

Clashnessie has a fantastic beach at Clashnessie Bay but I wanted to see the Clashnessie Waterfall. It’s a short walk from the car park and you need to go via some stepping stones. Not sure if it’s passable in high water. I’m glad we took our wellies. It was fun though. 

Clashnessie Waterfall on the North Coast 500 route

Stoer Lighthouse

Further on from Clashnessie we stopped at yet another yellow and white, Stoer lighthouse. The lighthouse is a fully furnished self-catering lighthouse on Stoer Head. And yes, you can stay there
Stoer Lighthouse on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland

Old Man of Stoer

We went for a 2 hours (return) walk along the boggy track to see the Old Man of Stoer. Reviews say that there is a clearly visible path to the Old Man but I think we missed some section of it and I only guessed which way to go by asking people (luckily we met about 3).
Walking through the bogs at times turned out to be harder and felt longer than expected. It was late afternoon and I had this vision getting stuck there with at that point quite grumpy and tired child and a puppy.

But we made it! The Old Man of Stoer is a 197ft rock stack just off the Point of Stoer surrounded by sheer cliffs. 

Cedric was totally unimpressed by now and even more when I told him we had to go back! But in the end, he was a sport and actually told me back in a car that he enjoyed it. We were knackered though. It has been a long day. 

Old Man of Stoer on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

Achmelvich

Half an hour drive later, we finally arrived at the Achmelvich Bay. What a place! We stayed at the dog-friendly Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel. Understandably, dogs are not allowed in the communal kitchen so it was a bit tricky to leave Cedric with the puppy outside while I was cooking our dinner but we managed.

 

Achmelvich Youth Hostel on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

 

Formerly a schoolhouse and a cottage, the hostel is situated only 300 metres from the legendary, white sand, stunning Achmelvich Beach. We went to see the sunset there. So beautiful. 

 

A boy looking at the Achmelvich Beach at sunset.

Boy looking at the sea at Achmelvich beach which is part of the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands.

Day 5 – Achmelvich to Ullapool, 1h driving

North coast 500 map itinerary day 5

After the check out in the morning, we went to check the area around the beach again. I let the “boys” play at the beach. What a shame we couldn’t stay for a couple of days and just enjoy the beach and going for some local walks. Unfortunately, we had to carry on. 

Achmelvich Beach on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

Loch Assynt

Driving along the beautiful Loch Assynt on A837, you can’t miss the ruined Ardvreck Castle dating from the 16th century which stands on a rocky promontory. We stopped for a picnic and a little walk around the castle.

Houses with mountains background along the Loch Assynt on route North Coast 500

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve

Next, we stopped at the Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve. The reserve‘s unmanned little visitor centre has excellent information and interactive displays on the landscape and geology of the area. You can learn about the force of two continents crashing together and forming the Moine Thrust.  

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve

 

We went for a beautiful walk following one of their trails. Cedric was wearing the right T-shirt that day. Yes, it was EPIC! The far-reaching views are just spectacular. We bumped into only one couple. It was such a beautiful feeling to be alone in this truly amazing landscape.

Luckily I decided to take my big lens and certainly, it was worth carrying it because we came across some beautiful stags. What a lucky day! They were so close and we just watched them happily grazing along. 

 

 

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve with sculptures along the way on North Coast 500

wild red deer at the Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve in Scotland

 

Ullapool

It’s only 20 minutes to Ullapool from the reserve and we stayed at the Caledonian Hotel. The hotel could do with some refurbishment at least the room we stayed in. Though their receptionist was very friendly and so helpful. She loved Coco and even offered to watch over him whilst we were having breakfast the next morning.

We went out to have some fish and chips across the road for dinner. After the dinner, we then walked around the town, saw a big ferry leaving the port, had ice cream and visited the gift shop even with the puppy. We were not allowed to leave him outside. The owners just wanted to have a cuddle. 🙂

Day 6 – Ullapool to Gairloch, 1,5 hours driving

North Coast 500 itinerary map day 6

Corrieshalloch Gorge

We were so lucky with the sunny weather up to now. Unfortunately, I had a feeling it would go downhill weather-wise for the rest of our North Coast 500 adventure. Our first stop of the day was Scottish National Trust’s Corrieshalloch Gorge with its Falls of Measach.

We took the half an hour (which probably turned in 1 hour with all the stopping) Fern walk in the footsteps of Lady Fowler. Being in the green lush space after all that rocky roads driving up until now was quite refreshing.

The cantilevered viewing platform surrounded by trees at Corrieshalloch Gorge part of the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands

As you may know, I am not a big fan of heights. We swiftly crossed the 25m long suspension bridge over the 60 m deep gorge. It sways in the wind and even more with other people walking on it! If I remember well there is a limit of 6 people to go on it. That didn’t really make me feel any better. 😀

If you look very closely, you can just about to see the bridge on the very top right corner on the photo below. The cantilevered viewing platform on the first photo above was closed at the time. I didn’t really mind! 

Corrieshalloch Gorge part of the North Coast 500 route in Scotland

Read more about this beautiful and interesting place on their website

Little Gruinard Beach

Driving on, we then pulled over at the Little Gruinard Beach. I swear the intense green on the rocks was as green as on the photo below. Scrambling over the slimy and slippery rocks we have spent some time running around and enjoying the beach. 

Little Gruinard Beach on the North Coast 500 road trip. Snap and Saunter. Photography Martina Hardiman.

The drive from here to Inverewe Gardens is quite spectacular. There are a few viewpoints along the way for you to enjoy the views. 

Some North Coast 500 scenery

Inverewe Gardens

We arrived at the Scottish National Trust’s  Inverewe Gardens late-ish in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the dogs are not allowed in so we went for one of their woodland walk which was very nice. They were just about closing their cafe when we got back but we managed to buy a cake and a cup of tea. I hope to visit the gardens next time when we are in Scotland again. 

cockapoo puppy in heather. martina hardiman photography

I promise he was quite in a good mood. That’s what he does when you say “smile”! 🙂 ↓ a boy standing in the middle of a forest

Gairloch

It only took about 20 mins to our youth hostel in Gairloch. There is plenty to do in this village. 

Gairloch on North Coast 500

That night we stayed at the Gairloch Sand Youth Hostel and have been booked into a huge room. This was the view from their communal living room. I really enjoyed my glass of wine here while Cedric was drawing and our clothes were getting dry in the tumble dryer. 

A view from the Gairloch Sand Youth Hostel

Day 7, Gairloch to Torridon, 1-hour driving

Unfortunately, as I predicted, the weather turned and it was pretty dull and rainy with very poor visibility that day.  Cedric was quite tired and not in a mood at this point, so we decided to have an easy day.

North Coast 500 itinerary map day 7

 

Originally, my plan was to visit and spend more time in Gairloch but we just didn’t feel like it in the rain.  Instead, we went to Mountain Coffee Company for 11th snack. We then went for a short walk along the red sand beach. 

 

Gairloch beach on North Coast 500 route in Scotland

A boy standing on Gairloch Beach in the rain

 

Victoria Falls and Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve

Next, we stopped at Victoria Falls. It was raining quite heavily so we only saw the waterfall which is right next to the little car park and drove on. 

Victoria Falls on North Coast 500 route in Scotland

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve

Our last stop was at the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. There is a nice visitor centre with lots of information and displays about the area. We had a long nice chat with the lady working there.

Originally I wanted to go for a long walk there but due to the miserable weather, we only opted for their 1 mile “Buzzard trail“. It was raining all the time with no good visibility at all but we all needed a little walk. Although we got completely soaked we really enjoyed it. 

Soaking wet puppy sitting on a rock

Rainy Beinn Eighe national nature reserve

Torridon

It’s a beautiful drive to Torridon. I’ve noticed a stag on a layby so I pulled over. We watched him from the inside of our car and he was happily grazing the area.

It was quite funny because there was a guy changing a tyre on his car. I think he was a bit nervous with the stag being so close to him. He kept looking at him all the time while his girlfriend was taking a video of it all. 😀

 

 

The stag was literally just there. I could have touched him. We got out of the car but Cedric went back straight away being put off the stag experience because of the midges. Damn midges spoiled it for him! I took a few photos and we headed on to our accommodation. 

 

wild red deed stag in scotland

Torridon Youth Hostel where we stayed that night surprised me a bit by its size and location. Situated on the NC 500 at the head of Upper Loch Torridon, this purpose-built, spacious hostel is a perfect base for climbers, hillwalkers and everyone who wants to enjoy the surroundings and local wildlife.

The hostel is surrounded by the Liathach mountain with its two munros offering one of the most challenging ridges walks in Scotland. I could easily spend a week in this amazing location.

Day 8 – Torridon to Contin via Applecross, 2.5 hours driving

North Coast 500 itinerary map day 8

Applecross

Looking out of the window in the morning I had a bad feeling about the weather. Applecross and its famous Bealach na Ba drive is the well-known highlight of the North Coast 500 and I was really looking forward to it. The weather was just awful. Absolutely atrocious. I can say now that it was the worst weather of our entire trip. Playing with the idea to skip this part I decided to do it in the end. I regretted my decision later. 

 

a view from Applecross village on North Coast 500 route in Scotland

 

We stopped at Applecross and walked around the village. Obviously we had to buy ice cream from the van below. 🙂

Further on at Shieldag, you will come across this beautiful cottage with a red roof surrounded by Loch Shieldag. When you do your research about the North Coast 500 route you will come across this photo quite a few times. I just had to take a photo too. 

cottage with red roof in Shieldag with Loch Shieldag in background on route NC 500 route

Bealach na Ba (Applecross Pass)

Just after Shieldag is where the Bealach na Ba starts. Also known as Applecross Pass, Bealach na Bach is a winding single track road through the mountains of Applecross peninsula. This historic mountain pass was built in 1822 and is engineered similarly to roads in the Alps with very tight hairpin bends and gradients approaching 20%. It has the steepest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres (2,054 ft), and is the third-highest road in Scotland.

Because of the bad, foggy weather and very poor visibility, I became (I have to admit) somewhat anxious about driving on this exposed road, that is often unpassable in winter. All sorts of horrible thoughts went through my head at the time.

We could basically see nothing and it was like driving through milk. I couldn’t see in front of me, back of me nor side of me.  Pulling over at the viewpoint at the top, I opened the car door which nearly flew off. Cedric was nervously shouting: “Mummy, don’t go, come back!” when I just stepped aside from the car and took the photo below with my iPhone. This was supposed to be the highlight of the whole trip and it turned out to be the most terrifying drive of my life so far. Well, you can’t beat Mother Nature whatever you do. 

Bealach na Ba in fog on route North Coast 500 in Scotland

This is what we were driving and supposed to see from the top. Oh well. Another time, hopefully.

Bealach na Ba, Applecross

Photo credit: Annie MacD

Attadale Gardens

We were not discouraged by the weather and disappointing experience of Bealach na Ba and pushed on to see the Attadale Gardens. The gardens are home to some of the most beautiful collections of ferns and rhododendrons. They are designed to frame the magnificent views of Skye and the surrounding hills. Think about waterfalls, Monet bridges, pine forest and sculptures. Dogs are welcome on a lead. You can also stay in one of their four self – catering cottages

Attadale Garden on North Coast 500 in Scotland

We had a nice walk around and especially liked the geodesic dome or “Fernery” with its outstanding fern collection. 

That night we stayed at the Highland Hideaway B&B near Strathpeffer with its friendly owners and their dog. 

Day 9 – Contin to Kinloss, 1-hour driving

North Coast 500 itinerary map day 9

It was the last day of our North Coast 500 road trip! Wow, 9 days went really quickly. Time flies when you are having fun. So true. 

Rogie Falls

About 2 miles from Contin are Rogie Falls. We did a 1-mile circular walk through varied forestry down to the Blackwater River. The impressive Rogie Falls are well seen from a dramatic suspension bridge. There is an artificial channel that allows salmon to bypass the main cascade. If you have a chance, I highly recommend visiting this place. 

I didn’t have a tripod with me on this trip. There would just not be time for setting it up with my impatient companions. The bridge was swaying a bit (to my delight) by people walking on it so I couldn’t rest my camera with my big lens on it to avoid a camera shake. Instead, I put my camera on the railing at the side of the bridge when I still had a good view of the waterfall.

We didn’t have to wait long to see the leaping salmons in action. Cedric got very excited and was shouting: “Now! There! There! I can see it! It’s gone!”. It was not easy, as I had to keep looking at the camera’s viewfinder and patiently wait for the salmon to decide to leap in a speed of light and at the same time watching my son and our puppy not to fall in the river. 

The fish are incredibly fast. It’s just a split second before they land into the water again. In the end, I managed to get this photo which I am quite proud of. Cedric was getting fed up with me saying “don’t move” while I was taking pictures so we carried on with the walk.

What an incredible end to our holidays. Thank you salmon, you made me very happy

leaping salmon at Rogie Falls in Scotland. Martina Hardiman Photography

 

leaping salmon

Glen Ord Distillery

We realised we don’t have any present for daddy so we stopped by the Glen Ord Distillery to get him some whisky. We only went to the shop quickly as the puppy was in the car. Being in Scotland a few times before we had visited a few distilleries in the past. Although I think this one is worth a visit.

The Singleton of Glen Ord is the only remaining single malt scotch whisky distillery on the Black Isle. They produce a 12-year-old, 15-year-old and 18-year-old single malt that’s available for export only to Southeast Asia.  Back home, Oliver was very pleased with his present indeed 🙂

 

The Singleton of Glen Ord on route North Coast 500

The Singleton of Glen Ord whiskey bottles

 

 

Beauly

Our last stop of the entire North Coast 500 before we headed back to Kinloss (or Inverness for you) was the little town of Beauly and its Beauly Priory. The ruins of 12th-century Priory are set in pretty grounds. We also had a celebratory coffee, cake and ice cream at The Square at one of its cafes. It’s only about 20 min by car back to Inverness where the North Coast 500 ends.

Conclusion

What an amazing trip! I am so glad we did it. The truth is though that I am always blown away by Scotland! 🙂 It was really nice to have a ” me and my son” time. I am not going to lie it wasn’t easy though. Despite relatively short distances from one accommodation to another, we were busy from 9 am to 6 pm every day. The day went quickly by driving slowly on the windy and narrow roads at times and so much to do in between. But we had such a great time and that counts. 

Not Easy

Because I was the only adult I basically had to do everything starting with driving and assisting Cedric and the dog all the time, planning, map reading, cooking – you get the idea. I felt like I was constantly doing something and at 10 pm when all were quiet I felt exhausted. One thing I really didn’t like was constantly packing and unpacking the car as we stayed at a different place every night. I fantasised about doing this trip again with an adult-only at times! 😀

Dog Friendly?

Even though we stayed in dog-friendly accommodation, they are still not allowed into the communal areas most of the time. You can’t have breakfast all together. Sometimes the receptionist kindly looked after the dog while we were having our breakfast. Luckily he was a puppy but would they be ok to look after some big dog? 

Not being with another adult and not having a possibility to alternate it was logistically quite difficult and really annoying for me at times. Either my son or the dog didn’t want to stay in the room by themselves not even for a minute. Him being 7 you can’t really trust him with the dog. Sometimes we ate outside, in the room or in the car. But hey ho we managed. 🙂

Single track road on the North Coast 500 in the Scottish Highlands in the UK

North Coast 500 is a must

But we had 5 days out of 9 of truly fantastic weather. That is not bad at all for Scotland! I really enjoyed the Highlands’ rugged, raw and empty landscape.

It’s such an amazing feeling to drive through it. I do have to admit that there were a few moments when I felt a bit uneasy and slightly anxious though. But that was mainly when I let the thoughts of for example car being broken in the middle of nowhere with no mobile reception and being stuck there with a small child enter my brain. :-D. That luckily didn’t happen.

We experienced the pesky midges probably about 3 times. We were usually inside at the dawn when they come out. Again we had superb weather too for most of the journey which helped.

One more thing. Without a doubt, Scotland has some truly spectacular beaches. Absolutely amazing. 

Clashnessie Beach on the North Coast 500 route

Clashnessie Beach

Just Do It

Even though we completed the North Coast in 9 days, every day was full-on of activities and we will treasure the memories forever. If you have a chance driving the North Coast 500, just do it. It has so much to offer. You won’t regret it. 

 

 

Have you travelled the North Coast 500? Is it on your list?

Let me know in the comments below. 


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AMAZING NORTH COAST 500 IN 9 DAYS, SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS (DOG FRIENDLY)