Top 5 Scottish Highlands – North Coast 500
I’m always surprised when people claim to have “seen Scotland” once they’ve visited the (admittedly wonderful) cities of Glasgow or Edinburgh – when just a few hours’ drive north, is some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Where beautiful bays, craggy snow-dusted mountain peaks, peat-stained streams and heather-clad moors scattered with golden gorse and wild deer, are linked by quiet single-track roads dotted with passing places. Where you can drive from bright sunshine to a swirling snow-flurry in just a few miles or a few minutes. And best of all, where you can experience one of the world’s last wilderness areas without giving up any modern comforts, enjoying luxurious accommodation, delicious food, true Highland hospitality and, of course, a warming dram or two of excellent whisky. Scotland’s North Coast 500 (NC500), a loop route covering 500 miles of the most spectacular highland scenery, has been named among the planet’s top coastal roads, alongside the likes of the Amalfi Coast in Italy and the USA’s Pacific Coast Highway. Add it to your bucket list now! My preference is to drive up the west coast and down the east, picking up these highlights along the way.
Views – Applecross Pass, Wester Ross
For the most spectacular views on this route of fabulous scenery, climb over the high mountain pass, Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle), through misty hairpin bends and down to the remote village of Applecross, then follow the coast for beautiful views of the Hebridean islands of Raasay and Skye.
Pub – The Caberfeidh, Lochinver
This wonderful old stone pub has a cosy front bar and a light-filled back dining room overlooking the River Inver. With the same owners as the nearby 1-Michelin The Albannach, it’s not surprising that this is some of the best food in the Highlands, including local seafood and game.
Hotel – Forss House, Forss, near Thurso
Built in the early 1800s, this heritage-listed Georgian Manor set in 8 hectares of garden and woodland, has a lovely outlook from the large comfortable rooms. Full of memorabilia from the original owner (a keen adventurer and fisherman) and with a whisky bar offering over 300 single malts.
Restaurant – The Captain’s Galley, Scrabster
This wonderfully atmospheric 28-seater restaurant in an old stone salmon icing station and bothy (sleeping quarters), is home to some of the best seafood in Scotland. Jim & Mary Cowie buy from the boats literally at their front door and let the freshness shine, from razor clams with vermouth to Asian-flavoured braised oxtail with monkfish.
Distillery – Clynelish, Brora
Clynelish distillery, dating back to the early 1800s, makes a picturesque stop on the east coast to Inverness. Tours include the chance to try drams from the long-closed cult Brora distillery and distillery-only bottlings, as well as to see the stills running and sample direct from the cask.
See some of my favourite Scottish scenery at Franz Scheurer Photography.
A few more spots to consider along the way: windswept Stoerhead Lighthouse north of Lochinver for the views and a cuppa and homemade cake from the quirky Living The Dream Tea Van; the beautifully located and very hospitable Ben Loyal Hotel in Tongue on the wild north coast; Dunnet Bay Distillers, where Martin & Claire Murray use local botanicals to produce their Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka. For more information, visit North Coast 500.
And you might find my Top 5 Glasgow city guide and Top 5 Scottish Breakfasts useful too.