Loading

Scotland 2017 A road trip incorporating the North Coast 500

Introductions

In May 2017, four sports cars and their crew went on a road trip around Scotland. Following the course of the North Coast 500, over a 5 day period, two Jaguars, a Mercedes and an Aston Martin followed the 500 mile route (with some detours) making the most of the scenery and the open roads.

This account follows the fortunes of a 2007 XK (X150) convertible, which extended the trip before and after the NC500.

Ardveck Castle
Cats on tour - Kylescu bridge (PH)
Rush Hour at Loch Carron
East from Durness
Glencoe

Getting There .......

Our journey started from Merseyside, via Carlisle to stay with family, and then up to Almuree near Dunkeld, to stay with friends. An absolute must was to go over the Forth Road Bridge, and so we took the A702 through Biggar, calling in at the Big Red Barn for lunch (brilliant home cooked pies). A brief stop off in Crieff before ariving for a most hospitable overnight stay meant that the trip got off to a flying start.

The two forth road bridges
Green Cat in the Sma Glen
The two Forth Road bridges ..... and a sneaky peak at the Sma' Glen.

The Cairngorms

Glen Shee - On the way to the start of the C500
The road through Spittal of Glen Shee

From Dunkeld (with a brief detour to see the Osprey at Loch Of The Lowes), we made our way up the A93 from Blairgowrie, through Bridge of Cally, Glenshee and to Braemar (for lunch). After lunch we pressed on through Balmoral, to Timontoul, Grantown-on-Spey and then to the A9 for the final blast into Inverness for the night. The weather held beautifully throughout the day, and the top remained firmly down. This was a lovely route, and beats the heavy traffic on the A9 up through Pitlochry and Aviemore. Our reward was a pleasant evening's walk alongside the Caledonian Canal in Inverness.

Glen Shee - On the way to the start of the C500
Braemar - On the way to the start of the C500
Braemar - On the way to the start of the C500
Caledonian Canal - Inverness
Glen Shee, Braemar and the Caledonian Canal at Inverness

The North Coast 500

Day 1 of the NC500 and we're off !

The four cars met up outside Caledonian Thistle Football club just off the A9 on the outskirts of Inverness. This is an easy-to-find location and is really good point to start the trip and make some introductions. The day dawned bright and dry, and so once again, the hoods were down. First destination for the day - Loch Carron for morning coffee

Strathcarron from the golf club

The golf club on the northern shores of Loch Carron presented a fabulous opportunity for coffee and views to die for. Not only was the scenery fantastic, but we were able to watch a golden eagle soar over his territory, probably having a far better view of us than we did of him !

Following our refreshments, it was time to tackle Bealach na Ba - a challenging but very beautiful winding road to Applecross.

The road to Applecross
Very few warnings ...... but a multitude of outstanding views

The road to Applecross is a single track road with passing places, and precipitous drops on either side of the road at times. Frequently the gradient is rather severe with sweeping hairpin bends. Happily, the XK ate these up, hardly showing any signs of hesitation. This was the right time to play with the flappy paddles and get the best out of her. I also found it was helpful to hold a lower gear (usually third) during the steep descents, as this controlled the speed well and reduced the pressure on the brakes.

View from the top of the Applecross Pass - across to Skye and the Cullin ridge

The trip to Applecross takes about 30 - 40 minutes (not including stops .... of which there will be plenty on a nice day). The views across to Skye are just breathtaking, and really do need to be seen to be best appreciated.

Applecross itself is a charming coastal village, with a lovely pub and caravan selling the freshest of fish and chips. After a short break there, we continued around the coast through Fearnmore and Ardheslaig, past highland cows and new born lambs, finally ending up in Kinlochewe for the night.

Applecross
Fearnmore
The road to Fearnmore
Applecross, Shieldaig ...... and company on the road !

Kinlochewe to Ullapool

Day 2 dawned rather damper than we would have liked ... in actual fact it was down-right wet. This meant that the hoods stayed up for the whole of the day, which was a shame but did not spoil the day.

First stop was Gairloch, with its beautiful beaches and otters playing in the sea. We were joined by our fair share of the 64 million midges which had hatched during the previous week, so a stop at the local hardware shop was in order to pick up some spray.

Our plan then was to travel to the peninsular of Cove - well defended during WW2 to protect the Russian Convoys. Our intentions had been to see the otters play, but no-one told the otters, and so we were left on our own with the birdlife in this ruggedly beautiful part of Scotland.

Cove, nr Gairloch
Cove, nr Gairloch
Cove, nr Gairloch
Cove, nr Gairloch

Pressing on through Poolewe (and past the Inverewe Botanical Gardens), we made our way towards Ullapool. In doing so, we passed the phonominal Corrieshalloch Gorge on the A832. This is a breathtaking cleft in the rock down which a significant waterfall flows. The gorge is spanned by a suspension bridge which really does add to the drama of the place. The depth of the gorge and the movement of the bridge can be quite an experience, which really should not be missed !

Corrieshalloch Gorge, Ullapool
Corrieshalloch Gorge, Ullapool
Corrieshalloch Gorge

A few miles after the gorge, we arrived in Ullapool, for a most comfortable night in the Royal Hotel, and some outstanding food at the Seaforth Inn on the harbour .... serenaded by a live performer from Wigan ! (it's such a small world at times).

Ullapool to Durness

After the damp day before, mother nature looked after us on day three, with a stunning ride to Durness. This was a day of gems - the first of which was an impromptu detour off the A825 at Drumrunie, towards the Summer Isles and Lochinver for lunch. This is a magnificently beautiful route, which was awe-inspiring (although a little difficult to find places to stop and photograph). Without doubt, this is a detour worth doing, however the roads are very narrow and peppered with blind summits with very little margin for error. However, if you can cope with that, then this is a must. Once again, the power of the jag meant that the summits and descents were coped with without any difficulty.

The oldest rocks inb the world !
Ardveck Castle

After Lochinver, a swift run along the A837, past some of the oldest rocks in the world, and a beautiful old castle at Ardvreck, took us to the Kylesku bridge, on the A894 above Unapool. This magnificent piece of engineering replaced a former ferry, and spans the sound between two lochs. This presented the ideal opportunity for a set piece shot of the cars together in formation, before we headed to Durness for a most peaceful and refreshing nigh at the Smoo Cave hotel.

Durness to Wick

The air at Durness is absolutely splendid - clear and fresh and revitalising. So after an evening spent watching the sun setting over the sea, we headed East ... but not before paying a visit to Smoo Cave itself. This sea cave has been a refuge for many things over the centuries, including smugglers and undertakers (!). If you fancy walking down a well laid out flight of stairs, it is well worth visiting.

Further east, the scenery remained stunning. Fabulous white beaches and azure seas - looked like they were straight out of a Mediterranean travel brochure. Roads here are a mix of single tracked and two way, but the views are great and they are a pleasure to drive.

East from Durness
Smoo Cave, Durness
East from Durness
On the causeway

Eventually, following a visit to the Castle of Mey and to the Rock Rose Distillery, we found ourselves at John O'Groats for the obligatory picture at the signpost at the most northerly point of mainland Britain. I have to say that this part of the journey (past Dounreay, through Thurso and down to Wick) was probably the lease inspiring part of the trip, and one which I might detour past on the A9, when I return for a further dose of Scottish hospitality.

John O'Groats

Wick to Inverness

After an uninspiring night in Wick, we were glad to be back out onto the open road heading towards Inverness, past multiple east coast fishing villages, each with their harbour, and back into top-down sunshine and lush landscapes. The run down the A9 was fairly uneventful, apart from the Berriedale Braes - a twisting and steep road through a gorge which presents something of a challenge for the larger vehicles on the road.

Just north of Golspie (a charming village) is Dunrobin Castle - the ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland. Not universally welcomed in the Highlands (owing to the historical clearances of the local crofters), the castle that remains is beautiful and sited in well maintained gardens. Well worth a stop.

Dunrobin Castle and gardens .... and the hidden gem of Rosmarkie Beach on the Black Isle

Our final hidden gem was a beach cafe on the Moray Firth at Rosemarkie. Beautiful clean sands and fresh air act as a magnet for local people who know about it. Local publicity hints at the sealife that come and play in the estuary .... just a shame that we turned up at low tide and missed them (again !). Still, with scenery as fabulous as that, it is easy to forgive as we returned to Inverness to finish the North Coast 500 element of our holiday.

Loch Ness to Onich

Having bid farewell to the rest of the cars, we decided to take a gentle drive down the south road alongside Loch Ness on the B852 through Dores. This is another single track road (but nowhere near as severe as some we have taken), and is thoroughly beautiful and picturesque. It has plenty of lay-bys alongside the loch, and at the time of our visit was really quiet.

Alongside Loch Ness
Alongside Loch Ness
Fort Augustus

That quietness (and good weather) changed when we got to Fort Augustus, and we were met by coach loads of tourists, and low cloud (neither of which we had seen much of during the trip). As a result, a roof-up and direct drive to our last hotel was in order, and we arrived in Onich for a less-than ideal last night of the trip.

Onich to Carlisle

As if sensing that he might have made a slight error, the weather god presented us with the most magnificent of days for our run through Glen Coe. A trip that should have only taken an hour or so, easily doubled as photo after photo presented themselves. And so this stretch of the journey was punctuated by regular stops as we enjoyed the jaw-dropping vistas.

Glencoe
Aonach Eagach ridge, Glencoe
Glencoe
Glencoe

But finally, the scenery did give out as we returned to reality. Crossing Rannoch Moor, passing Crianlarich and with a brief stop at Luss for lunch beside Loch Lomond, we entered Greater Glasgow and the motorway network that would take us home.

I have to say that this has been the most splendid and enjoyable road trip I have ever taken. Great company, phenomenal scenery and weather, outstanding welcomes and a brilliant car that did not miss a beat throughout the whole of the trip. So impressed are we that we are already outlining a return trip, in the opposite direction this time, as this route is an absolute must !

Final thoughts

Hopefully, this will have helped to inspire others to make the trip. If that is the case, you might like some thoughts from me ....

Luggage

Taking enough kit for a 12 day road trip in a 2 seater sports car can be a challenge. I have to say that the luggage provide by Colin Surman at BagWorld (http://bag-world.co) proved to be a godsend. It allowed us to pack and repack the car daily, knowing that the hood would go down easily. If you plan on touring with your car, I would recommend them

Fuel

Petrol is in plentiful supply in the Highlands. Most villages have a station, many of which have a 24hrs 'Pay-at-the-pump' facility. Not all garages stock the premium fuels, however we found that the 'Gleaner' franchises did stock the higher octane fuel. The only debate now is do you really need it ? Pricing is not too bad - fairly much on a par with what I am used to.

Accommodation

Can be a bit hit-and-miss at times, with some of the hotels in need of some TLC and investment. Yet in the middle of this are some real gems (such as the Smoo Cave hotel). I guess that pragmatically, you have to take the rough with the smooth

Timing

I am not sure that I would want to do the trip in the height of the season. I can see that it would become easy for the roads to be congested (which would become a bit of a pain on the single track roads, with queues for passing places etc). I would also think that avoiding the key 'midgey' season would be a good idea too. So, the first 2 or 3 weeks in May feels about right to me, as do the last 3 weeks in September, if you can do it.

Route cards and guides

I have a number of route cards and guides that I am happy to share. Please feel free to drop me a line at geoff.c@me.com, and i will make them available to you.

And finally....

How did we do ? ....... 10 days out, 1399.1 miles driven and an average consumption of 26.2 mpg. Given the roads and nature of the trip, I am really happy with that. Cheers !

The final tally
Created By
Geoff Cheshire
Appreciate

Credits:

All photos copyright of Geoff Cheshire 2017. No reproduction without prior agreement.

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.