With travel restrictions ever-changing, and countries moving between the red, amber, and green lists with alarming frequency, many Brits are opting to holiday closer to home this year. Scotland has been a popular destination, offering vast mountain ranges, untouched wilds, and world-famous lochs.
Scotland is renowned for its breath-taking scenery and natural beauty and offers hundreds of potential destinations for those looking to get out and explore. Following a pre-planned route is a great way to ensure that you’re getting the best experience in your limited time away, and there’s one route that has been particularly popular with Brits this year: the North Coast 500.
The NC500 is a 516-mile route around the coastal scenery of Scotland, lauded as one of the most beautiful road trips in the world. It begins in Inverness, before heading up to the village of Muir of Ord. From there it’s your choice if you want to follow the route around clockwise or anti-clockwise. The online guide encourages holiday goers to step off the beaten path and visit the many areas around the trail to stop at and explore.
The Black Isle
Despite its name, the Black Isle is neither black, nor an island. It’s actually a peninsula located in the north of Scotland, just above Inverness. The region is famous for its locally crafted food and drink – it’s a craft beer enthusiasts dreamland. World-renowned food and drink aren’t all this peninsula has to offer; it is also the best place in Scotland to go dolphin watching. Better have those binoculars ready! Speaking of binoculars, the Black Isle is also a great place to go bird watching, if you’re so inclined. Keep an eye out for species such as the great spotted woodpecker, the tree sparrow, and the Eurasian siskin. The Black Isle also hosts other cultural attractions such as the Groam House Museum, a centre dedicated to Pict and Celtic art, and Glen Ord distillery where visitors can watch distillers at work creating the famed Glen Ord single malt whisky.
Caithness is located on the most north-eastern part of the NC500, and contains the most northernly point of mainland Britain, Dunnett Head, as well as the most northernly village, John O’Groats. The vast wide-open landscape of Caithness is also known as the flow-lands and is one of the most archeologically rich sites in the world. The north coast offers a view out on to the rugged waters of the Pentland Firth, the towering sea stacks dotting the coastline, and the majestic sea birds that make them their home.
Caithness is also home to a wealth of activities. North Coast 500 Alpacas sits just two miles from the route and allows visitors to meet alpacas, go on a coast-side trek with them, and take a photo. Or, if local history is more your thing, you can visit the Wick Society which contains a selection of artifacts and photographs showing the local history of the town of Wick.
This region sits on the east coast of Scotland and is touted as the most romantic part of the route. Easter Ross is full of Pict history and amazing views alike. The coastline is home to herds of seals, which can be seen basking along the shore, as well as beautiful highland wilderness and forestry inland. The Pictish Trail winds through the area, allowing travellers to discover the ancient beauty of the Pict sculptures dotted through the region.
Easter Ross is also home to no less than three malt whisky distilleries. The Glenmorangie Distillery offers visitors two tour options: the original tour, and the signet tour. The original tour takes whisky enthusiasts through the distillery, showcasing the entire process of making their Glenmorangie 10 Year Old Original whisky. The signet tour shows the production of their single malt whisky and allows visitors to sample three different whiskies in the signet room at the end of the tour.
As the name might suggest, Inverness-shire contains the cultural hub of Inverness, a lively city which marks both the beginning and the end of the NC500 trail. In the city you can try Scottish cuisine, check out the city’s live music scene, or take a stroll along the river. Inverness Castle sits on the edge of the city and overlooks the River Ness. While most of the castle is closed to the public, the ground and the viewing tower are open and offer incredible 360-degree views of Inverness.
Inverness-shire is also home to Loch Ness and its famous (probably fictitious) monster. Hop on a boat and join the hunt of the monster (or Nessie, as she is sometimes known). Loch Ness is the UK’s largest body of water, spanning seven billion m3 in volume, so it could well hide a monster or two.
Sutherland makes up the largest part of the NC500 and is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who travels there. Known as Europe’s last great wilderness, the north-west of Sutherland is a vast area of unspoilt mountain ranges and natural landscapes. The peaks of Suilven, Ben More, Foinaven and Arkle offer suitable challenges for budding mountain climbers, not to mention spectacular views for those who ascend.
Hopping on a ferry, Cape Wrath is a popular destination. The most north-westerly point in Britain, the cape is known for its historical lighthouse which was built in 1828 and still runs to this day, and for its array of wildlife. Lucky travellers will see red deer, hooded crows, rock pipits, golden eagles, cormorants, and gannets. Aquatic life also abounds, the cape giving home to porpoises, seals and bottle-nosed dolphins, as well as species such as sea squirts and sponges.
Lochs hidden in hills, mist-shrouded mountains, and magical white sand beaches, Wester Ross has it all. The region has a huge network of paths, making it an ideal place to stop for avid walkers, and those who want to get out and about in nature. The many lochs of Wester Ross make it an ideal place for fishing, salmon and sea trout being the main catch in the area, while freshwater mussels can be found in the fast-flowing rivers of the region.
If more active pursuits are your preference, the area offers plenty of options for canoeing and kayaking. Whether you’re an old hand at water sports or a complete novice, there’s an experience here for everyone. In Gairloch you can also find glass bottom boat tours, which will take you out to see the local sea life such as whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals, and even the occasional leatherback turtle or walrus.
To plan your own NC500 trip visit Northcoast500.com