Driving the North Coast 500

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Currently reading work emails in a bleary-eyed fashion. Not sure if my brain isn’t working properly or people have stopped making sense. The third load of washing needs to go on, the fridge is empty and I just checked the bank balance – oh god make it stop.

Yup, hi, I’m back.

But, like, I really don’t want to be.

I know, I know, holiday blues and the like. But it’s hitting me really hard I’m telling you. My laptop screen is too bright, the noises from the city are too loud and it’s too hot. All compared to the Scottish highlands anyway.

What a trip. I don’t even really know where to begin apart from THAT WAS REALLY FUCKING AWESOME AND MAYBE ONE OF THE BEST TRIPS EVER AND I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY.

Yeah, that’s a pretty accurate summary tbh.

We started our North Coast 500 road trip around the Scottish highlands by flying into Inverness and picking up a hire car. Naturally a lot of faff came with this – has anyone ever got on an airplane and picked up a hire car at an airport without some level of faff? I dunno.

I think our car was a Peugeot 308 but I know bugger all about cars and could be wrong; but meh *shrugs*. Anyway, when I got in it, I kinda freaked out. As I’ve said before, I was already pretty nervous about driving the notorious roads on the NC500 and doing so in an unfamiliar car, so what I really did not need was a car so full of technology that we spent a good five minutes wondering where the hell the hand break was (it was a button btw). We’d brought the satnav with us as well as iPod speakers but, lol, what old school folk we are. All of that shit was in built into the car (needless to say, our current car does not have any of these things. Does have a CD player though soooo). It had anti-stall, parking sensors, automatic lights and a whole host of other jazzy technological accompaniments; and I was all ready to march back in Europcar and be like, oi pal; give me a bloody hand break and something I know how to drive.

You know what though? By the end of the week, I was all for taking the car back with me. I am alllll about those parking sensors. Never thought I’d say the words ‘omg what a smooth drive’ but whaddaya know, miracles do happen.

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

We waved goodbye to dual carriageways the moment we left Inverness and it was either single carriageways or single-track roads with passing places from there on out. The road through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula (the famous Bealach na Bà) was just as bonkers as described, twisting around in ways you wouldn’t really have thought possible (we also did this on the day where the clouds were stupidly low so could barely see anything – which really added to the fun). But this mad stretch of road aside (which G drove), I quickly realised that the roads were totally manageable as long as you adapted your driving style.

Put it this way; if you want to do the North Coast 500 because you have visions of speeding through the mountains and really putting your car to the test; then this ain’t the trip for you. On some of the single carriageways, we did nudge 60mph but that wasn’t a regular occurrence. The average speed in the area is about 45mph and there were many times we were really only doing 30mph.

The dips, summits and hairpin bends on many of the single-track roads make it impossible (and bloody dangerous) to go any faster and there’s a lot of stop start as you have to pull into passing places to pass other cars or let locals overtake. You usually got a sense when someone was a local but, when in doubt, always best to let people pass – locals actually have shit to do. The passing places were incredibly frequent though – minimum every 100 yards – and, whilst there were the occasional roads where this wasn’t the case, I think we only had to reverse back to one twice in the whole trip.

This is all before you’ve even considered the wildlife. Cows, goats, deer, sheep, wild horses – they own the roads, not you. Oh and those sheep do not give a shit. They literally just nap in the middle of the road, are not scared of the cars and never seemed to have any intention of getting out of our way. We had one incident where there was an enormous highland cow just wandering down the narrowest of roads and I genuinely wondered if there was room for both car and cow or whether we were about to get trampled (good story I suppose).

Anyway, driving fast is just not what the trip is about. Even if you could get up to the speed limit, you wouldn’t want to. You have to pull over every five minutes (not an exaggeration) to splutter at the jaw-dropping views. The emphasis is on enjoying the ride, not hurrying towards your destination (wasn’t intending that to sound like a cheesy quote…).

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Before we set off, I did wonder whether I was going to get fed up of staying somewhere different each night; not having the chance to settle in. And yeah, first thing in the morning, having to pack the suitcase up again and having to get up at a certain time because we had to be checked out by such-and-such might have momentarily felt a bit tiresome. But then I’d step outside and bam, that spectacular view would hit me (everywhere had a view) and the pure fresh air and countryside smells would wake me up. We’d get into the car, stick on some good tunes and wind our way along the roads and I would be filled with this enormous sense of adventure.

You never knew what was around the corner (again with the cheesiness) and I bloody loved that. We could go round the bend to be greeted by the sight of a beautifully white, sweeping beach at the exact same time that the sun broke through and we’d spontaneously decide to spend the rest of the afternoon sat on that beach. We could pull up to a random gin distillery to nose in the shop and end up on a tour drinking the best gin and vodka I’ve ever drunk… and then spend £80 on said gin and vodka *shrugs*. We could turn a corner and find a zipwire stretched across a beach between two cliffs and think why the hell not and yep, suddenly flying through the air.


I barely looked at a screen, picked up a book or checked the news (lol picked a hell of a week to do this); we were pretty much outside constantly. We saw unforgettable sights, stayed in some gorgeous places and, of course, ate/drank a fair bit too. I now have a new love for gin and highland brie pizza fyi. Feel free to bring me some any time.

The North Coast 500 was honestly one of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever done. The landscape was bleak and a little bit otherworldly. And yes, I was prepared for it to be gorgeous; I've been to Scotland, including into the highlands, countless times. But this was just different somehow. Constantly being on the move, travelling through 625 miles of Scottish countryside and every single inch looking like something out of a painting; it was mind-boggling, breath-taking and truly bloody wonderful.

Tips for driving the NC500 can be found here.

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland



No comments