Where has the last month gone? If you’ve noticed my absence from the blog in recent weeks, I offer a humble apology. I launched my first novel at the end of last month (you can check it out here) and that, along with writing the sequel, getting two separate stories ready for anthologies and my freelance work has meant I’ve been spending way too much time in front of my computer screen. But I’m back! And I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s article which is all about the North Coast 500 (NC500): Scotland’s premier touring route.
I have frequently raved about Scotland’s beauties on these pages, and the North Coast 500 takes in some of the most beautiful and (until now) undiscovered parts of this fantastic country. Dubbed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, it starts and finishes in the Highland capital of Inverness and loops for 500 miles around the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland. You’ll pass towering mountains, pristine white-sand beaches and ancient castles as you wind your way through the stunning scenery.
Although I’ve visited many of the places along the NC500 route, I’ve never linked them all together. But it’s on my bucket list to either take a leisurely drive in our campervan or cycle the route. If you’re looking for some inspiration for a cycling challenge, check out the Adventure Syndicate ladies who completed a non-stop team trial around the full 500-mile loop in 36 hours.
Raring to go? Great! Here’s what you need to know about the North Coast 500.
The route: You start in Inverness and wind your way through the mountains to Applecross on the west coast. From there you head north through Torridon, Gairloch and Poolewe, and up to Ullapool. Continuing north, you visit some of the most northerly coastal areas of Scotland, including the famous John O’Groats, before returning down the east coast to Inverness.
Transport options: Car, campervan, motorbike or bicycle — the choice is yours! Whatever option you choose, be courteous to other road users and remember that many of the roads are single track and weren’t designed for the volume of traffic they now experience. If you need to swot up on your passing place etiquette, check out this useful summary.
How long does it take?: How long is a piece of string? The NC500 is not a speed race. If you rush, you’ll miss the beautiful sights and hidden secrets that this part of Scotland has to offer. Most official itineraries suggest a 7 or 8 day trip, but if you can spare the time, I’d recommend taking two weeks (or three!). This will allow you to spend a couple of nights in different places and explore the surrounding countryside.
When to go: This really depends on what you’re after. If you want good weather, then May, June and July tend to be the driest months. May and September are good months to avoid the midges and still get some decent weather, and if you’re willing to take a risk, April can be beautiful. (But can also be wet or snowy.) Just remember, you’re not in the Caribbean, so whenever you choose to visit, bring a warm jumper and a raincoat. If you don’t like other people, winter will be quiet, but be prepared for the roads to be icy and most tourist amenities and sites to be closed.
Where to stay: There’s plenty of accommodation available in most of the main towns to suit all budgets. It does pay to book ahead, especially in summer, when a lot of campsites and B&Bs get fully booked.
Essential kit: Midge repellent and a tick remover!
More information: Check out the official North Coast 500 website for more information on the route.