TORRIDON TO INVERNESS
It’s always a wrench for me to leave Torridon. Similar to Assynt, my heart breaks just a little bit, knowing it will be some time before I see it again. For lovers of wild, mountainous, beautiful landscapes, Torridon touches the soul.
If you have more time to spend in Torridon and haven’t read this link already then please see Torridon Favourites
If not, it’s time to head for Applecross via the superb coastal road, more than 30 miles of ocean, loch, mountain, moorland, attractive crofting settlements and with Skye on the horizon.
There are several pullover areas above the loch on route to Shieldaig which give truly incredible views of the big mountains.
Liathach in particular looks as if it will fall on top of the village one day, rearing a straight 3335 feet (1023m) above the single row of tiny houses.
A pretty little village, nice café – Nanny’s. Good walks out on the Shieldaig peninsula.
There are some absolutely gorgeous coastal properties at the end of the Loch beyond the village. Torridon has various stands of ancient Scots Pine forest but the one which cloaks Ben Shieldaig, just before the turn off to Applecross, is particularly beautiful I think.
The next stretch of road to the end of Loch Torridon is a rollercoaster, very slow but oh…..there is a new ‘wow ‘ round every corner.
Just take it slow and enjoy.
We have spent most of a day driving the loop from Torridon to Applecross, over the Bealach na Ba and back to Torridon via the inland road. It is just so incredible.Nice lunch options exist too – lunch in the Applecross Inn is always a draw.
One of my favourite spots on this road, is beside a tiny whitewashed cottage with a bright red roof. It features in many calendars, an iconic Torridon sight.
Even on a gloomy day, the big sea loch looks wonderful. This is gorgeous country. Outstanding.
We always stop at the pull over area just where the road turns a corner and leaves Torridon behind. Ahead, softer Applecross stretches as far as the eye can see. If clear, across the sea lies North Skye and far beyond that, Harris. The old crofts and lazy beds of those who worked a hard living out here are still visible. The few houses left are mostly holiday homes. The road, although single track, now has longer sightlines making for easier driving.Stags are often feeding close to the road.
It’s well worth stopping here and strolling the pinkish sands with wonderful views of the mountains of Skye across the bay.
An attractive, tiny place of a few whitewashed cottages and an excellent traditional Inn and small hotel, The Applecross Inn. Great pub food, excellent ice cream, home made. Usually good seafood options….fresh langoustines etc. A roaring fire going in winter. In fact, it’s just a great place to be anytime of year. Open all year. In summer, there’s a small terrace for eating out on, as close to the ocean as you can get.
Another option for food is the excellent Potting Shed, more of a bistro/restaurant in nice gardens and set inland. Signposted. Closed in winter.
24 hour fuel available opposite the Inn.
Lovely old church at start of village coming from the Torridon end. The burial place of St Maelrubha, though his grave is not marked.
BEALACH NA BA (2,053 feet or 625m)
Ok, it’s worth trying to get the pronunciation of the Gaelic name right . Try b -yalach nam bo. Gaelic is such a beautiful language, it’s part of the enjoyment of the West Highlands, I think, making an attempt to understand and pronounce the names. They are always very descriptive too. I have a wee head start as my husband is a native Gaelic speaker – I love listening to his pronunciations; though I’ll admit they are not always easy, even for a Scot!
This road’s name means the Pass of the Cattle (cattle being ‘bo’) Named because this is what it was in olden times, a hill pass walked by shepherds and ordinary folk moving livestock etc and connecting Applecross with Kishorn and beyond.
It’s the third highest road in the UK. Highest is The Cairnwell at the top of Glenshee followed by The Lecht, Cairngorm.
But neither road offers quite the wow factor of this one, grand though they are. Hope for a clearish day as the views at the top are magnificent. Skye sits majestically out to the west, with mountainous Rum beyond. Sensational. Good place to be at sunset.
The road is single track so take it easy, don’t block passing places by hopping out for a photo and don’t take a large vehicle over the pass unless you have double checked the size of your vehicle and are highly competent at negotiating it round very tight hairpin bends. There is plenty info online on this and a clear warning at the start of the road NOT to take caravans or very large vehicles up. I drove a 17 seater minibus, within the size guidelines, over the pass in snowy conditions and it was a little heart in the mouth in places but fine. It is also gritted in winter as it’s an important local access route.
In summer, there is no problem for cars. It’s well barriered and more passing places have been added too. You’d have to be on a suicide mission to end up careering over the mountainside!
From the summit of the Pass , a hard place to leave on a clear day, six winding miles through rugged mountain country and waterfalls, take you down to sea level again at Loch Kishorn.
Look out for (more) red deer on the Kishorn side.
If clear, it’s worth making a minor detour of a few minutes by heading along the inland route to Shieldaig to admire the wonderful mountain that is Beinn Bhan.
I’m going to part company with the official NC500 route here and suggest a much more scenic route back to Inverness, visiting some iconic sights too.
The NC500 heads inland here, taking the quickest route back to Inverness. It’s a mixture of single carriageway and single track road and to be honest, not the most wildly scenic. After what has come before, maybe even a touch ordinary.
A little longer but more impressive by far is to head for the A87 and Eilean Donan Castle , Glen Shiel and Loch Cluanie, then take the A887 to Invermoriston. Admire or visit Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness then head up to Inverness.
EILEAN DONAN CASTLE
If a side visit to Skye isn’t planned, then the next stop of real interest is this famous iconic sight just a few minutes drive from the road junction with the A87.
No matter how often we pass the castle – and we are up and down to Skye most months to see family – it stops us in our tracks. It is a beauty, a real show stopper. It’s worth a photo stop from the road or car park at least; even better, spend 20 minutes or so just wandering over the old stone bridge and walking round the exterior.
The interior tour isn’t worth it; the castle is fairly modern by Scottish standards and the inside is of limited interest. Actually, we did the tour three years ago and I quite enjoyed it. The guide was a Neil Oliver look alike with a similar , very dramatic story telling technique. But my husband Chris, who is steeped in Scottish history and knows his stuff, was not impressed. Essentially it’s the history of a family. But if the weather is ok, you can get up onto the ramparts, which would have been worthwhile taking the 40 minute tour for. We were out of luck as it was too windy on our visit.
I always read the deeply moving War Memorial dedicated to those who died in the 1st World War. There is a quote from Lt Colonel John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ on the memorial, which always leaves me very emotional.
The views north to the Skye Cuillin are wonderful from the castle.
A magnificent glen.To me, on a par with Glencoe. I enjoy driving it most, from east to west, enjoying the big mountains unveiling themselves round every turn of the road.
It’s difficult to stop in the glen and the road is quite fast; any pull outs tend to have disappeared before you have time to realise they are there!
We often stop beyond a waterfall on the left (coming from Eilean Donan direction). A sudden turn off takes you onto the old road through the glen. After parking and walking for a minute or two, the track gives incredible views back to some of the fine mountains round here – The Saddle in particular and Faochag (The Whelk).
This view is best seen travelling east to west..same two mountains….
I love the Inn’s location out in the wilds at the top of the glen. There are usually red deer feeding around here. In fact this area can be awkward to drive at night with deer moving across the road.
The Inn is ok for food, tea etc. Not fantastic but ok.
A wild loch in empty country, I love the drive round it’s dark wind whipped waters. Again, more impressive coming from east to west. Various points to stop for photos.I really know I’m in the North West Highlands when we reach Cluanie.
LOCH NESS AND URQUHART CASTLE
The landscape softens heading east, the drama drops but ruined Urquhart Castle is well worth seeing. Sitting above the loch’s dark waters, it is another of those iconic sights which Scotland delivers on so frequently. The main issue is parking; there isn’t a lot of it and this place. like Eilean Donan, has it’s fair share of tour buses and a constant stream of visitors arriving by car.
We detoured here in December 2016, headed for Skye but hadn’t visited for ages so felt we needed to see it all again. With Historic Scotland annual passes it was free entry for us.
The café was our first stop with an ok selection of snacks on the go.
I relied on Chris’s knowledge of the castle’s history (plus the info boards) as we went round the site, exploring all the nooks and crannies and climbing the various towers and up to vantage points.it was busy, even late December, but the whole experience was superb. It’s immaculately kept too, as these sites always are. It was a cloudy, showery day but that just seemed to make the loch look even more imposing. It’s not our most scenic stretch of water but it has a dark, brooding grandeur about it and the castle’s history is an important one.
We were making the most of the dry spell to see the exterior, so left the video presentation till last (the wrong way round, as this is a useful intro to the history) just as a shower began. The short film was really well done with a very dramatic final flourish at the end – which I won’t reveal!
Inverness is only half an hour away from here.And while the town isn’t somewhere the appeals to me, there are plenty more attractions close by – Culloden, Clava Cairns, Cawdor Castle, Chanonry Point for the UK’s best land-based dolphin watching, Cromarty…….to name a few.
Previous days – NORTH COAST 500 DAY 1 NORTH COAST 500 DAY 2
NORTH COAST 500 Day 3 NORTH COAST 500 DAY 4 NORTH COAST 500
8 thoughts on “NORTH COAST 500 DAY 5”
Thank you! These photos are breathtaking!
Thanks Michael – it really is such a breathtaking area, no matter how often I see it, it stops me in my tracks and I just have to get out of the car and stare (and photograph!)
I’m so enjoying your wonderful descriptions of the NC 500 and I look forward to being there come May. But, your photography is stunning. May I ask what camera you’re using and lenses? Beautiful landscapes.
Thank you so much Elaine for getting in touch – I am so pleased to hear you are enjoying the blog and photos.I use two cameras and various lenses: A Nikon D5200 with either a Sigma 10-20mm lens or the 18-50mm lens which came with the camera. I also took quite a lot of those NC500 photos on a Panasonic Lumix FZ200 super zoom.
They were all taken on Auto and some were taken in Raw format. I think having an editing programme like Lightroom really helps an awful lot too.