FIRSTLY, IT REALLY IS AS GREAT AS THE HYPE AND NOTHING QUITE PREPARES YOU FOR THE SHEER SPECTACLE OF THE NORTH WEST HIGHLANDS.
THIS IS THE DRIVING ROUTE WITH ONE OR TWO ADDITIONS:
This is my personal guide to driving the route, how I would plan the days and what there is to see and do.Give it more time than you think you need – it’s a stunner. Some favourite areas are in the photos below, for a quick overview:
Firstly it IS one of the world’s great drives. I’ve been lucky to enjoy a few – Western Norway and the Lofoten Islands National Scenic Routes; Canada’s Icefields Parkway; South Africa’s Chapman’s Peak drive ; Big Sur ; South and West Iceland; the Namib Desert; the Amalfi Coast; Cinque Terre; the Cote d’Azur; crossing Botswana and the Kalahari; driving through the USA’s Desert States.
But not for nothing has Scotland been voted the world’s most beautiful country and this 500 miles will blow your socks off.In my opinion – and I may be accused of home bias – this one tops the lot.
Go up the east coast and down the west because the west coast from Durness to Torridon / Applecross is the most amazingly scenic section, where the splendour of the Highlands truly kicks in.
The east and north coasts have other delights but they are different ones and landscape wise you want to build up to the magnificent west.
The roads are much narrower than you may be used to (especially if you hail from the USA) and though 50 miles may not seem much, in these parts of Scotland , that could take 2 hours. Not just because of single track road driving (where it’s start – stop and you may not get much above 25mph) but because throughout, you will want to stop and stare and get some iconic photos round almost every corner.
For example, the coastal route from Torridon to Applecross and back – a circular trip of 60 miles – has taken us 6 hours on occasion. And that’s despite having travelled it many times.It’s just SO outstanding and looks different every time given time of year, time of day, season and the ever changing weather.
Yes you can rush through it all in a few days but like a fine Malt, it should be savoured slowly. Plus the main NC500 route doesn’t take account of the endless options for detours which reveal truly stunning hidden gems.You would be mad to miss them, if you’ve come this far. I’d suggest 7 days as a minimum and ANY amount of time beyond that if you want to do some hiking or savour more slowly, some of the world’s great landscapes.
I do understand just ‘seeing’ somewhere though. Better to see it in the time you have than not at all. Or just bite off part of it.My husband and I did a whirlwind tour of a big chunk of Iceland in 4 days of mega driving – nearly 1000 miles all in.That was all the time we had. Was it worth it? Yes! Although we do hike a lot, we also enjoy a great driving tour and simply sightseeing along the way.
Bear in mind that the weather doesn’t always play ball in Scotland (well, it has to have something going against it.) So those stunning views might well reveal themselves a few hours – or the next day – after you’ve raced through a particularly special spot. Factoring in a bit of extra time will maximise your chances of actually seeing what all the fuss is about and getting those jaw drop photos.
There are hotels en route but also many privately owned Bed and Breakfast places – usually of excellent quality and decent value; around £40 – £50 per head per night, offering en -suite bathrooms, often a residents lounge with good books and a fire and a superb breakfast next morning; the traditional Scottish cooked breakfast as well as muesli/cereals/yoghurt fresh fruit and the like.A treat! There are also fine campsites, hostels and some very special upmarket hotels.