Driving the North Coast 500: Where and What to Expect
- 16 Aug 2022
Have you ever wanted to complete an epic road trip, similar to Route 66 but without the hassle of expensive flights or expensive car hire? Then the North Coast 500 could be perfect for you!
What is the North Coast 500?
The North Coast 500 (NC500) is an incredible road trip that takes you 500 miles around the north coast of Scotland through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – nicknamed Scotland’s Route 66 rightly so!
Where does the route take me?
*Please note, this is the anti-clockwise route for the NC500.
The NC500 starts in the northern city of Inverness where you will drive to the very top of the UK. On the way you are likely to spot a dolphin or two along with visiting some amazing castles. Did you know that around 130 Bottlenose Dolphins live in the waters off Inverness? If you fancy a stop at the most northern point of the UK, you can make a slight detour up to Dunnet Head and witness the stunning wildlife such as puffins and razorbills at the RSPB reserve.
Your next segment of the journey is westward towards Thurso, where you’ll see the Duncansby Head Stacks and lighthouse, explore the huge Smoo Cave; a combined sea and freshwater cave, and even try the infamous hot chocolate at Cocoa Mountain.
Your descent south includes otherworldly landscapes such as Lochinver and Assynt, across the incredible white sand beaches and turquoise blue seas to Wester Ross.
The final stretch of the journey takes you through the great Torridon mountains where you’ll witness fiord-like lochs all the way to Applecross Peninsula, where you will cross the NC500 finish line at the famous Bealach na Bà, a winding single track road through the mountains, named one of the toughest and longest stretches of tarmac.
How long will it take to complete?
In total, you will travel at least 516 miles, not including any additional stops you choose to add onto the trip. It is recommended you give 5-7 days to complete, depending on accommodation choices and how many stops you want to take! A way to avoid accommodation restrictions would be to consider camping as an option (if you’re brave enough, wild camping is legal in Scotland with only some sensible guidelines to follow: please note wild camping does not apply to campervans or motorhomes).
Can I complete the NC500 in a motorhome/caravan?
The majority of the route is suitable for motorhomes/caravans and many drivers have completed the route. The Bealach na Bà road should not be driven by large motorhomes or inexperienced drivers due to its sharp bends and steep gradients. An alternative, safer route can be accessed by taking the slip road up the A896. It is also recommended to avoid the B869 from Lochinver to Kylesku for larger vehicles and instead take the A837 back from Lochinver.
Tips for driving the NC500
1. Keep left – this may seem obvious but always good to check!
2. Know the speed limits and road signs – a lot of single-track roads will have varying speed limits so looks out for signs on the road and watch your speed.
3. Learn how to pass on a single-track road – always pull to your left into the passing and be prepared to reverse.
4. Acknowledge your fellow drivers – give them a wave, a thank you or let someone pass.
5. Be aware of wild animals and livestock on your journey – always slow down when approaching animals, especially livestock sheep and horse riders.
6. Take regular breaks – many hours on unknown mountain roads will exhaust even the most skilled drivers.
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