North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

I’ve written about our North Coast 500 road trip in the Scottish Highlands here, but this is a more detailed look at what we did each day (aside from drooling at the scenery and playing AND I WOULD WALK 500 MILES). An old school travel diary if you will... 

Day One: Inverness – Lochcarron

North Coast 500 Travel Diary
Aaaaaand we’re off! After landing, grabbing the hire car and stopping at the nearest Tesco to stock up on crisps, sweets, nuts; all the essential car snacks, we drove out of Inverness and over to Rogie Falls. And what a place to start our trip; it was magical. There was the most beautiful forest that practically glittered in the sunlight. We had a little picnic whilst gazing at the super tall trees and then took a short walk to the waterfall. It felt like we were walking into some kind of fairy tale; through a magical forest with epic valley views and then emerging to the twinkling water frothing over rocks and gorges; creating lots of mini-waterfalls. We wandered over the suspension bridge (which had great views) and did a bit of clambering over rocks to see the waterfall from above. It felt like a really special place. 

I had my first taste of driving the hire care on some single-track roads and didn’t break the car or myself so win win. We spent our first night in Lochcarron in the loveliest little B&B. There were breath-taking mountain views, tasty seafood and a lil night cap in the local pub. 

Miles driven: 72

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

Day Two: Lochcarron – Gairloch 

We tackled the famous Bealach na Bà, the terrifying road through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula. We also did this on a day where the clouds were ridiculously low so visibility was poor – which I really feel adds to driving some of the most dangerous roads in the world. We climbed to 2,500ft above sea level and all we could see was, er, mist. Not quite the spectacular views we were promised but certainly atmospheric. Had our first glimpse of a highland cow; we turned a corner and it was just wandering down the road right in front of us! We weren’t really in the best place to stop and get a photo but everyone had assured us we’d see plenty more. We stopped in Applecross briefly, ate sandwiches on a hilltop, mooched on the pebble beach of Loch Maree and took a walk on Opinan Bay, which had some epic sand dunes (the first of many along our trip). Our B&B for the night was in Gairloch and I really loved this little village surrounded by mountains. We arrived to glorious blue skies and, after over 3 hours of driving, we were very happy to sit on the terrace and admire the spectacular view over Gairloch and out to sea. After dinner, we walked back along the beach and were fascinated by the hundreds of purple jellyfish that had washed up onto the sand; they were everywhere!

Miles driven: 94

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

Day Three: Gairloch – Ullapool 

We started the day with a wildlife boat trip. There were a few seals, a lot of jellyfish and a little hint of porpoises. I was also v fascinated by the Auk bird which make these eerie whistling noises around the cliffs and can ‘fly’ underwater – up to depths of 200ft. It was quite a serene way of spending the morning; just bobbing on the water, staring at the mountains. I swear I’d feel 100% more inspired and motivated if that were my view every morning. We grabbed sandwiches from a little place called ‘Crumbs’ and ended up just sitting in the car park to eat them because it had an amazing view of the mountains. There were also two cute stray cats sat in the undergrowth so naturally I had to gaze at them for a while. Wandered into a California-themed café for cake – G’s cake was really good but my scone was so not the one and I might have had a little strop over it. Drove around the corner from Gairloch to Big Sand beach just as the sun came out – perfect white sands and twinkling turquoise sea. We spontaneously parked up in the sand dunes and spent a couple of hours paddling, reading and napping. Again, bizarrely, there were thousands of jellyfish washed up on the beach! 

The drive to Ullapool was truly epic; around every corner was a breath-taking landscape and we were constantly amazed by them. We stopped at Ardessie Falls along the way – you’d be forgiven for thinking the bit of the waterfall that’s fenced off on the side of the road is all there is to see but G decided we were going to clamber up alongside it which I would highly recommend. You see so much more of the waterfall and can jump about between the rocks and the water (safely obvs, no one wants to fall down a waterfall). It just kept going up and up into the mountains so we eventually had to accept we couldn’t see it all and headed back down to the car. 

Ullapool had fairy lights, bunting and a lively vibe (for rural Scotland anyway). We stayed in a pub along the front, overlooking the harbour and mountains. We ate fresh fish n chips on the beach and stumbled across a freestyle folk night in a nearby pub, which was an utter gem. There was a California woman singing folk songs about the midges, a guy from Newcastle jamming on the guitar, a woman in the audience who sang a solo and had the most incredible voice plus a guy who suddenly whipped out some Swedish pipes of all things. 

Miles driven: 69

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary


North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

Day Four: Ullapool – Lochinver 

We skipped breakfast offered at the pub and allowed ourselves a lie in as we had a day of walking ahead of us and the previous day had knackered us out. We spent the majority of the day walking into the mountains to see the Falls of Kirkaig. I say walking, it was more clambering over rocks and hoping we didn’t slip and fall of a cliff. It kinda felt like we’d climbed to the top of the world and if that doesn’t clear your head, then I dunno what will. Yet another epic waterfall; apparently the highlands are full of them. We had a sneaky caramel shortbread at the little café at the bottom of the mountain before heading to Lochinver for the evening – another day, another tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere! We had a gorgeous meal and a twilight walk along the water before crashing. 

Miles driven: 33

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary


Day Five: Lochinver – Kinlochbervie

Our last day on the west coast! We started the day by learning a little local history at Ardvreck castle before heading back into the mountains; this time to check out the Bone Caves. So called because the remains of animals such as lynx, reindeer and polar bears have been found there in the past. The openings are part way up a steep side of a sweeping limestone valley and, despite the sweaty, extremely rocky climb, they were beautiful (and maybe kinda creepy?). We had a leisurely drive in the afternoon, taking plenty of photo stops along the way, including the famous Kylesku bridge. G managed to persuade me to change our dinner reservation time so he could watch the football semi-final so I lay on the bed looking at the glorious view from our hotel room nursing a sticky toffee pudding food baby whilst he watched the match.  

Miles driven: 56

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

Day Six: Kinlochbervie – Melvich

My favourite day so far. Had a traditional Scottish breakfast before heading to explore Smoo Caves (more here); definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We walked along Balnakeil beach which was a beauty – potentially the best beach of the trip (although it had substantial competition). It was very damp under foot so I gave up playing Russian roulette with the ‘dry’ patches and kicked off my shoes, getting my tooties in the water. Looking over the beach was Cocoa Mountain café where we sat outside and I had the most glorious coconut fudge brownie. Seriously, drooling just remembering it. We pulled over at the viewing point at Ceannabeinne beach and I noticed a zipwire stretching across the bay, between two cliffs. And I thought why the heck not?! And then suddenly I was strapped up and flying through the air, 100ft high! We also finally saw another highland cow – and calf! I excitedly pulled over and crept up as close as possible. I absolutely love their funny fringes and was thrilled to finally get a picture; considering everyone said they were super common, we’d gone several days without seeing any! We drove over the famous Kyle of Tongue and finished the day in Melvich. Our hotel that night was one of our favourites; we sat on a hillside with a glass of wine before enjoying – bold claim – perhaps the best pizza of my life? Highland brie on a pizza; s’all I’m saying. 

Miles driven: 78

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary


Day Seven: Melvich – Lybster 

The climax of our trip if you like; we hit the edge of the UK! We ticked off Dunnet Head, the furthest point north of mainland Britain. Then John O’Groats, the northernmost settlement of mainland Britain (and saw the famous sign of course). And then Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point of mainland Britain. Basically, WE’RE NORTH. Duncansby Head is home to the Duncansby stacks which were very striking. The thing that stays with me though is the nesting cliffs – essentially a narrow groove between two cliffs where thousands of birds were nesting. The echos of the bird calls were so loud and so eerie. It was strangely fascinating. We also went to Dunnet Bay Gin Distillery and did a tour which was a big surprise and another highlight of the trip (read more here). Our accommodation for the night was an adorable little wooden cabin and we spent the evening sat out in the sun, drinking gin and admiring the sea view. 

Miles driven: 83

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary


Day Eight: Lybster – Inverness 

The long road back to Inverness; the home stretch down the east coast! Before that though, we had fresh eggs from the local chickens for breakfast and paid a lil visit to Camster Cairns – some of the oldest structures in Scotland. We also pulled over for the moment we hit 500 miles (to get a picture obvs) – right next to a field of highland cows which felt appropriate! We all know what song I insisted on playing next…. 

We made it to the Black Isle in time for a late lunch on the beach before driving into Inverness for our final night. I’m going to do a separate post all about our accommodation but let’s just say, our final night was the most interesting! The official start and end of the North Coast 500 is Inverness castle so of course, we had to pay a visit. There are great views over the city from up there as well. We had enormous glasses of gin in a little cute restaurant on the river side and ended up staying there for several hours, having dinner and more gin. We finished the holiday with a final drink in the castle tavern – right in the shadow of the castle. 

Miles driven: 140

Total miles driven: 625

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary

North Coast 500 Travel Diary


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