North Coast 500 (by car)

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  • North Coast 500 (by car)
  • Premier Icon CHB

    My wife and I are planning to do the north coast 500 by car in late August. We will probably do the main loop in three days, and possibly divert to Campbeltown before heading back to Yorkshire over a 5 day period. Looking for suggestions of where to stay that is nice, and possibly a few miles off the beaten track to support the less obvious places. As well as the drive, any suggestions on what to make an effort to stop and see is most welcome. Thanks!

    Three days isn’t long if you want to stop & see stuff.
    I did what is now called The NC 500 waaay back in 1977 ish when the roads were a bit primitive compared to now. I think I took 2 weeks, but that included getting to & back to our start point in Ft William from Durham.
    Nice places? Too many to mention but Plockton, Lochcarron, Applecross, Torridon, Loch Maree, Gairloch, Lochinver, Scourie etc etc.
    We got a wee ferry across The Kyle of Durness & jumped on the minibus to Cape Wrath, which was nice.
    The north East coast isn’t as nice or as dramatic as even North Yorkshire though.
    Accomodation wise, we just stopped off at any handy B&B with a ‘vacancies’ sign outside. No online booking back then!


    Prepared to be surprised by how busy it can be compared to available facilities along the route. You might have left it too late to book accommodation.


    We did it a couple of years back – took a week over it, which is about right. If I was going again, I wouldn’t bother with the eastern, or to be honest much of the northern end. The West side was fantastic though. First time I’ve been up that far and I need to go back with a bike.

    I believe it’s become a victim of its own success recently, coupled with some flagrant disregard of the rules of the road and the police are taking an active interest in the route. Your call if this will bother you or not. Middle of summer holidays, you’ll also have caravans & campers to deal with in large numbers which can get a bit irritating on some of the narrower roads.

    Premier Icon stwhannah

    If you’re going to go all that way, you really should take the time to stop and walk up Balnakeil Beach at Durness. Preferably sit on it, have a swim, take in the quiet. It’s absolutely stunning. When I was up there (for a week, in one place!) in June, the locals seemed to think that the NC500 hadn’t done that much for the local economy – lots of people just passing through, campervans don’t even need to stop at a campsite, folks just do their shopping in Inverness and bring their supplies with them. So, maybe try and stop a bit more often, have an extra biscuit with your coffee, that sort of thing?

    I’m told Sandwood Bay is even more out of this world than Balnakeil, but we didn’t get there (an hour driving from Durness, then another 7 mile walk to get there). The roads are pretty slow going (especially with children in the back), so you might want to adjust your mileage expectations in order to have time to stop and look at everything that’s worth seeing?

    160 odd miles a day driving on those roads, during the summer hols?.

    Er, naw.


    Its a long way from Campbeltown to the NC500. If you want to go to Campbeltown, could spend a few days driving around Kintyre, or a trip to Islay, Mull or Ardnamurchan.

    Premier Icon felltop

    No way is 3 days enough. If that is all you have, choose which part of the Highlands you want to spend time in, and enjoy your time there. Otherwise you will only catch glimpses through a window.


    I’ve spent a good few holidays on various parts of the route and wouldn’t bother. If you do then try to get off the actual route. There’s what could be a lovely if basic campsite at Talmine but the woman that runs it is completely hatstand.


    My Mrs and I recently spent 3 days on the bit between Inverness and Kylesku then back to Inverness. Despite all the horror stories the roads are still fine. Just try not to rush things. 3 x 160 mile days and you’ll see nothing but your steering wheel. The best bits are when you get out of your car. FWIW I still reckon cycling it is a better pace. You see more, experience more, and can stop wherever takes your fancy.


    5 hour slow train from Glasgow to Mallaig (Harry Potter viaduct etc), check out the trawlers etc, take bikes on ferry to Noydart (offroad course being developed, nearest road is 18 miles), eat the best smoked salmon ever, drink real ale. Come back. Better for the environment, less stress for you, fabulous scenery, wntl? Those roads looked small to me, I’d be driven nuts by caravans and codgers and overtaking looks risky.
    Oh and Glasgow’s Station Hotel is a real treat.

    Premier Icon duncancallum

    It’s ruined the area the nc500…


    As above 3 days not enough. East side wouldn’t bother, North is desolate but that’s it’s beauty, West is stunning.

    Last time I was up there was 10yrs ago and was busy enough then, and that was before the invention of the NC500. Not sure I would want to do it now. Not that we did the ‘proper’ route then.

    3 days certainly not enough unless you are literally wanting to just sit in a car driving

    Premier Icon matt_outandabout

    3 days certainly not enough unless you are literally wanting to just sit in a car driving

    It seems that many people do that when they visit Scotland.


    Did it 3 years ago in our camper. The north eastern section I wouldn’t bother and would go from Kyle of Tongue to Lairg. Use the time saved to go across the Black Isle to Rosemarkie and watch the dolphins at Chanonry Point. Worthy variations are the Inverpolly Road to Lochinver – one of the best bits. We stopped at Applecross, Clachtoll and Durness. Balnakeil beach and Smoo Cave is nice, but miss the ‘visitors centre’ unless you like post-war apocalypse chic and ridiculously overpriced hot chocolate. If you like seafood, the Shorehouse at Tarbert, north of Scourie is worth a detour for fresh lobster, follow the signs for the ferry to Handa. Also stop at Drumbeg Stores and stock up on local produce – favourite stop for those riding the HT550.

    Premier Icon terrahawk

    I rode a lot of the NC500 route last week and while the scenery was at times incredible, the amount of cars and motorhomes on the narrow roads were a complete pain in the arse.


    Had a week in Plockton about 3 years back, in September, so not peak season. I’m going to add my voice to the chorus!

    On those roads you might average 30mph (if it’s not too busy). So that’s six hours of driving a day. Throw in an hour for lunch and a few stops to jump out and take photos, you’ve basically got a 9-5!

    (also the nagging feeling that you’re a poncy tourist that’s getting in the way of the locals whenever you meet on a singletrack road. You can spot the locals because in the time it takes you to look back and see if there’s a passing place you can reverse to, they have already hurled their car into the hedge and are drumming their fingers on the steering wheel)

    Personally I would certainly go back and I would also take a car – but I’d pick a base and just explore the surrounding area again. There’s certainly enough within an hour of e.g. Plockton to keep you busy for a week 🙂

    unless you like post-war apocalypse chic

    what is this? Sounds right up my strasse

    I pretty much did the NC500 before it was called that on a motorbike and agree 3 days isn’t enough so would go with the “base yourself someplace and explore” suggestions rather than spending all day every day driving and not seeing anything.
    I would suggest a visit to and try and catch a game – games are all over the highlands yet missed by most tourists

    Premier Icon CHB

    Love STW advice!!! All good stuff and I think this is one of the rare times I have heard consensus on this forum! Well you put us off doing the NC500. I think instead we are going to do a 5 day trip and take in the west coast and I have a strong urge to visit the distillery in Campbeltown ever since seeing it on a BBC documentary. Will Check out some of the diversion suggestions…. lobster ans dolphins sounds great (though not both on a plate). Any other suggestions for a way up to the top and back down again? Things to see (more scenary, beaches) and places to stay and stop of for scran. Ta!

    and places to stay and stop of for scran.

    We called in at The Old Inn at Appin on the way from Ft Willy to Inverary in May this year. Fantastic scran & a good choice of drinkies, very quirky inside & very welcoming staff. Dunno if they have rooms though. Mrs wanted to go to Inverary castle (which was like every other lived in castle) but I wanted to go to the jail, which was an eye opener even for an ex screw like me!

    I need to get to Ben Cruachan power station next year….
    Some fab places down that end but you’ll need weeks to explore properly!

    Premier Icon richmtb

    I think people underestimate how big the Highlands are and the time it takes to get from place to place without a motorway. If you are going to Kintyre then try and stop in Carradale. It’s a lovely little village with a nice beach and great views over to Arran. How long do you actually have in Scotland and are you flying up and hiring a car or driving up in your own car?

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