Take a Scottish Road Trip: The NC 500

the NC 500

The NC 500 (F Grahame)

The Orkney News loves to report on the amazing places in our own islands that we can all visit but sometimes it is good to get out and explore parts further Sooth. The NC 500 is Scotland’s answer to Route 66 and it is a great way to explore our ancient and beautiful landscape.

Most people (Soothers) will start in Inverness but in Orkney, taking a car or other vehicle, you will start in Scrabster/Gills Bay: depending on which ferry operator you use. Once on the mainland of Scotland you have a choice between  taking the route clockwise or anticlockwise. Having done it twice I have done it both ways.

The scenery in the North West of Scotland is spectacular. Every turn in the road reveals an ancient landscape rugged and simply awesome. The rocks and mountains thrust majestically from the earth. You are the intruder. And you soon begin to feel how insignificant you are in this wonderous land.


Applecross in the rain (F Grahame)

But you are not alone because some parts of the NC 500 have become very busy. At Applecross the Bealch-Na-Ba (Pass of the Cattle) has become something to be crossed off many a bucket list and traffic is quite heavy on this tiny twisty road in the spring and summer. And ,of course, being Scotland the weather can be dreich or glorious – just be prepared for it all.

North West Scotland

Stunning views on the North West of Scotland (F Grahame)

There are several B&Bs and hotels to stay in but being on a tight budget I resort to camping but I have a good tent and it allows you to be more independent. The route is also very popular with increasing numbers of mobile home owners. I was surprised at the poor state of many public toilets (some were not even open) and cafes that were shut and this was in late May. Considering how much promotion the NC 500 has had I find it strange that there are still limited places to eat.

The places you do eat ,however, are very good – upholding Scotland’s excellence in the Food and Drink industry.

All the campsites I have stayed at have been very good to excellent although it is also good to do something a bit more adventurous when you carry your home with you. Camping in Glen Affric in May is fabulous but be aware that you can wake up to find your tent frost encrusted.

Caithness Brochs

Caithness has many brochs (F Grahame)

And mention of Glen Affric is a good reminder that it is good to stray off the NC 500 and explore some of the other roads (few as they are). The brochs of Caithness and the stunning beaches of Sutherland are well worth any detour or delay on your journey.

Whether you do all of the NC 500 or just part of it you will not be disappointed by the beauty and grandeur of the scenery around you.

You can also view the short video on The Orkney News YouTube Channel


Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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2 replies »

  1. We, by chance, did quite a bit of this route, last month. We were heading for Kilmartin Glen, so we crossed from Stromness to Scrabster, and headed off along the North Coast of Scotland, in the snow – in late April! Good place to stay – The Craggan Hotel, Talmine, (see Tripadvisor review). Visited friend Eilleen in Skerry, wishing her “Happy Christmas” , as we’d got there in a white -out! Then did the stunning, stunning route along the rest of the North coast – snowy, mad mountains – something of Caradhras, defying us to get through! – diverting a bit to Achiltibuie – Summer Isles Hotel v. disappointing – see Tripadvisor again. Then down the West coast – across to Skye for a shot time – too short a time – then carried on down and across to Kilmartin Glen.
    A week in Kilmartin – telling many, many people we met, that, if they like Kilmartin, they must come to Orkney!
    Then, across and up the East coast, heading home. The Fairy Glen in Rosiemurkie – pure magic – no sign of Neesie in the loch – on to Helmsdale – a small place with much to it – and on to John O’Groats – in blazing sunshine! – where we met a group of bikers from Liverpool who were “Doing the 500” – and had diverted a bit off the route, as we had, to visit John O’ Groats. I get the impression that the 500 is going to become a classic biker route to ‘do’.
    Then we went home.
    This route is bringing a lot of business to many places on the way, as well as introducing a lot of folk to Scotland. A GOOD THING!

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