Drive the furthest reaches of Scotland along the rugged coastline along narrow roads and through little villages to experience the well known North Coast 500.
Duration: variable (starting in Inverness).
You may wish to begin your tour in Edinburgh or Glasgow and this can be integrated into the itinerary.
Arrive in Inverness at your overnight accommodation at Bunchrew House, a 17th century Scottish mansion, offering excellent hotel accommodation and award-winning cuisine. This country house hotel is unique in its lochside setting, views of the Firth and its magnificent gardens.
Time to hit the road; follow the NC500 out of Inverness and through the towns of Beauly and Muir of Ord before heading west-bound. Stop in the little town of Beauly and the tranquil ruins of Beauly Priory. Founded around 1230AD by monks of the Valliscaulian order. They came from their mother house in Burgundy, in France, and settled beside the Beauly River, at the place where it enters the Beauly Firth. They were invited to do so by the lord, Sir John Bisset. And there their successors lived for the next 300 years, until the Protestant Reformation of 1560. Enjoy the stunning scenery as you drive, spotting the islands of Skye and the Hebrides from the west coast. Drive through Achnasheen, Strathcarron continuing on taking the famous road to Applecross, home to around 238 people, and accessed by only two roads, this is a haven from the noise and clutter of modern life. The Gaelic name for the area, ‘a Chomraich’, means ‘The Sanctuary’. It's not the easiest place to get to but you’ll never forget the journey or the time you spend here, however brief.
Over the 2053 ft road called the Bealach na Ba, if the cloud has lifted, you’ll see the kind of views normally reserved only for mountaineers. Panoramas to the Outer Hebrides and South to the Kintail mountains will keep you gazing until you need to descend to the village for warmth and sustenance. Applecross itself was one of earliest seats of Christianity in Scotland, and is a tranquil village providing a contrast to the scenery you have just come through to get there. Rest and enjoy refreshments at the great Applecross Inn. Continue around the coast and stop past the hidden gem The Potting Shed if you are in need of some fresh air and a delicious pick-me-up. Get ready to unwind at your home for the evening, The Torridon, a luxurious retreat set in beautiful grounds sitting on Upper Loch Torridon. Book yourself in for dinner at the 3 AA Rosette ‘1887’ restaurant followed by a nightcap in the Whisky Bar, which has over 350 whiskys to choose from.
You are rewarded with stunning vistas which are some of the most spectacular in Scotland, making the journey through these winding coastal roads worthwhile. Check in to your hotel for the evening; The Poolhouse. This elegant boutique hotel on the banks of Loch Ewe has an emphasis on design and you can find rooms inspired by the destinations of the HMS Naval Unit who were based in Poolewe during the Second World War. The hotel also has an accredited restaurant serving delicious local produce.
After a wonderful evening and a sumptuous breakfast, it is ready to resume the adventure. Get back on to the road following the North Coast 500 and you will find yourself immersed in amazing scenery. Follow the road alongside Loch Maree to the coast and Gairloch with its white sands and crystal clear waters. Big Sands Beach in Gairloch is a must for a stop for fresh air, a walk and of course a photograph.
A short drive away will bring you to Poolewe. From here it is a short distance to Inverewe Gardens. A lush, tropical oasis perched on a peninsula at the edge of Loch Ewe amid the rugged landscape of Wester Ross, this world-famous historic garden is one of Scotland’s most popular botanical attractions. The garden was created out of bare rock and a few scrub willows in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie and is full of colourful, exotic plants from around the world. Highlights include the most northerly planting of rare Wollemi pines, Himalayan blue poppies, olearia from New Zealand, Tasmanian eucalypts, and rhododendrons from China, Nepal and the Indian subcontinent. These plants flourish here, despite the northerly latitude, thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream and the foresight of Osgood Mackenzie, who planted over 100 acres of woodland to shelter the garden.
Take the short drive back to Gairloch to try one of the, Glass Bottom Boat Cruises if you wish before stopping in the little town of Aultbea where you may wish to enjoy refreshments at the Perfume Studio Café which boasts wonderful food from local produce and a gift shop featuring locally crafts. Spend the afternoon driving through the amazing scenery of Gruinard Bay, Loch Broom, and the An Teallach mountains and of course take a moment to explore the main town of Ullapool a small town of around 1,300 inhabitants in Ross and Cromarty and despite its small size it is the largest settlement for many miles around and a major tourist destination of Scotland. The North Atlantic Drift passes Ullapool, bringing moderate temperatures. On show today is The Bridge House Art Portfolio Course Exhibition, 'Earthly Forms and Heavenly Bodies', at an talla solais, Ullapool Visual Arts.
Your overnight accommodation is at The Albannach, a stylish boutique hotel set in a characterful 200-year-old house, and Britain's most northerly Michelin-Starred restaurant situated in the lovely village of Lochinver.
Around the corner is Ardvreck Castle. Standing on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt it is a ruined castle dating from the 16th century. The castle is thought to have been constructed around 1590 by the Clan MacLeod family who owned Assynt and the surrounding area from the 13th century onwards. Indeed Sutherland, the area in which Ardvreck is situated, has long been a stronghold of the clan MacLeod. The most well-known historical tale concerning the castle is that on 30 April 1650 James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, was captured and held at the castle before being transported to Edinburgh for trial and execution.
You may also wish to enjoy some of the beautiful scenery of the west coast which can strangely resemble the Caribbean with palm trees abounding due to the mild coastal waters and warm winds. Back on the road and just a short drive away is the picturesque Durness. Explore Smoo Caves, Britains largest sea cave and admire the sights of Sango Sands and Balnakeil Bay.
Why not also take a stroll along to see the John Lennon Memorial Garden? Did you know, John Lennon used to holiday here when he was young, so much so, that it is said that this location inspired many of his songs? Why not stop past the luxury chocolatier Cocoa Mountain and pick up some truffles for gifts or yourselves.
Back on the North Coast 500 route now, passing through the amazing scenery of Ben Loyal, Ben Hope and Loch Eriboll. Smoo Cave is located at the eastern edge of the village of Durness. It is a dramatic location and on the only primary road in the area, the A838 Durness to Tongue. Set into limestone cliffs, the Cave is quite large - 200 feet long, 130 feet wide and 50 feet high at the entrance. The cave is a great tourist attraction for people visiting the north-west coast, and is well worth a visit. After a beautiful drive east-bound you will find yourself in John O’Groats! Take a picture of yourself with official signpost with the Orkney Islands in the background. You don’t get much more north than this.
Just along the coast is the Castle & Gardens of Mey. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother first saw what was then Barrogill Castle in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband, King George VI. Falling for its isolated charm and hearing it was to be abandoned, she decided to save it. Having acquired the most northerly inhabited castle on the British mainland, The Queen Mother renovated and restored it and created the beautiful gardens you see today. Your overnight accommodation is Forss House, a delightful 1810 country house hotel set in 20 acres of woodland, below a waterfall, on a loop of the gently meandering River Forss.
The final leg travelling south and your first stop will be Dunrobin Castle, overlooking the Moray Firth, the most northerly of Scotland's great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. 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 Castle, which resembles a French chateâu with its towering conical spires, has seen the architectural influences of Sir Charles Barry, who designed London’s Houses of Parliament, and Scotland’s own Sir Robert Lorimer.
Just north of Tain is Glenmorangie Distillery where you may wish take a tour which allows access to the distillery and warehouses and with the help of an expert guide you will experience all stages of the whisky making process from mashing and fermenting to distilling and maturing - all culminating in a dram or two of your choice!
In Tain you can stop at The Tain Pottery, now firmly established as one of the largest Scottish ceramic manufacturers offers a range of products created by traditional craft technique and skill. As you travel over the Black Isle we recommend a stop at the Black Isle Brewery before travelling over the Kessock Bridge and back into Inverness. Well done! You have completed the North Coast 500! Your accommodation is at The Rocpool Reserve, an elegant, new boutique hotel, which offers wonderful luxury in the heart of Inverness.
If you do not find the accommodations mentioned suitable then please do enquire about alternative choices.
This itinerary is only a guide as other historical sites can be incorporated into a tailored sightseeing tour of your own making. The Tour price does not include your entrance fees unless stated, lunches, dinners or the drivers gratuity.
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