Most of the now world famous NC500 route, following the coast of the North East/North and North West coast of the Scottish Highlands, is stunning to say the least.
But there is a danger in sticking only to that route and whizzing past some truly superlative landscapes and experiences.
I’m going to add to this list but I’ll start with one detour which if the weather is half decent, is a must before the fast A835 finds you at Ullapool if travelling south or Lochinver if travelling north. The detour offers two wonderful experiences: a walk round (or even onto) one of our most famous mountains, Stac Pollaidh (Stack Polly) and a stroll on a great sweep of beach with a backdrop of the inselberg mountains of the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve. An unforgettable mountain-beach combo!
For STAC POLLAIDH see: THE HILL I THOUGHT I’D NEVER CLIMB – STAC POLLAIDH
After our brilliant walk up and around Stac Pollaidh (pron. stack polly) and with the sun now shining and the biggest showers gone, it had to be a jaunt along the single track road to beautiful Achnahaird Bay.
It’s worth it just for the drive alone, in this most stunning of areas.
Yet it is technically NOT on the famous North Coast 500 – which is a prime lesson in why enough time should be devoted to the route, to allow for overnights and detours as that is often where the very best lies.
We drove around 10 mins beyond the Stac Pollaidh car park on the single track road, taking a right turn to the signposted beach.It is possible to park at this turning too and walk over the flats to the beach – a bit longer on foot and the river inlet would need to be crossed.
A few minutes later we’d reached the beach’s small car park with a few campervans in it , but we got parked easily. Stepping out of the car, the cold northerly wind had whipped up in the past hour. It felt like a blast from the Arctic (which was exactly what it was!)
The area was almost deserted – the few people that were around were all huddled in their vans; maybe they’d braved the blustery weather earlier and were now re-heating. It had been a chilly early May to say the least.
Chris , I knew, was quite tired after the walk and also we had a good 90 min drive back to our lovely wee cottage in Badralloch, near Dundonnell. AND we had dinner to pick up at Tesco in Ullapool. Time pressures – there’s rarely a day goes by without these!
But I persuaded him to come with me, both of us wrapped up in duvet jackets and hats as we strode out along the track to get a better view of the bay.
The backdrop to Achnahaird (which means field of the high point, very apt) is superb – the Inverpolly/Coigach peaks in all their glory: Suilven, Cul Mor, Stac Pollaidh, Ben Mor Coigach – fantastic hills despite their relatively lowly size and rising out of the some of the world’s oldest rock.They LOOK ancient, just as the whole landscape does.I’m sure there is something in the human mind that recognises that ancient quality and responds to it. No wonder Scotland has been termed ‘the auld country.’ Yes, it is that for many whose ancestors left centuries ago for the New World; but I’m sure the phrase also describes how old it is geologically too.
This was a quick visit – I could have spent ages just wandering along the beach and out to the other headland for more of those Assynt views but this wasn’t the time for it.I am also quite obsessed with these iconic mountains and how the light changes all the time.
We will be back, with more time and perhaps the tent or – even better, if I can finally secure a booking in one of the nice looking holiday cottages a short distance inland – they are always booked up and no wonder!
There are superb sunsets to be had here and also by driving a little over to Reiff where there is a formal campsite. It’s a magical area altogether, 13 miles out from the main Ullapool road – about 35 -40 mins drive all in. But on a decent weather day, a drive and destination not to be missed.