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I’ve been away for the last two weeks (not that any of you will have noticed) – me and the Mrs went on a road trip to Scotland (in the car), on the North Coast 500 route. The route is (about) 514 miles and starts in Inverness, either going clockwise or anti-clockwise North along the coast and goes through some stunning scenery along the way. Although we did it in a car, my hope is that this account of the trip will in some way entice you up here to sample it for yourself – by bike, car, or RV

There are many stock pics of the route, just Google NC500, but the ones in this post are mine (unless stated otherwise) - for the most part, I had to concentrate on the road (which takes no prisoners)

We took ten days, and every opportunity to go “off piste” that presented itself - though the whole thing seemed like we were “off piste” most of the time such is the nature of the roads …….

We had opted to run the NC500 clockwise, meaning we first had to scoot across Scotland (at that point, a matter of no more than an hour or so), before turning to the North, and our first destination — Shieldaig

Saving the Applecross pass for tomorrow, (more on that later), we went along a single track for miles, the only way into Shieldaig - we came to know this road well over the two days we spent there. But first, we made to descent into Shieldaig, a memorable introduction to the magnificent scenery of the West Coast of the Highlands

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Nice relaxing two lane black top — the last we we’re to see for the next few days ….

A quick word about Shieldaig — easy to miss driving through, but if you take the turning, you’ll find yourself in a Hamlet consisting of two dozen houses, one hotel, one shop, and one café — and perfect serenity. We had booked into a log cabin (behind the smoke house) for the next two days, and found the café ideal for breakfast, the hotel excellent for dinner, and the cat (which had adopted the smokehouse as “home”) very fat, and very friendly — all in all — a “purrfect” set-up

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Not sure what the “No Puffins” bit is about, but it seemed impolite to ask …..

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We set out the next day for the infamous Bealach na Ba – you’ll find the link here https://www.dangerousroads.org/europe/scotland/60-bealach-na-ba-scotland.html

We chose to take it heading North to Applecross, and within five minutes, the phrase “Oh Shit” crossed my mind. Seriously single track this time, and with the passing places on the outside of the track, the single miss-placement of a wheel could spell disaster. You’ve seen the footage of that well known mountain road where if you fuck up, you end up 500ft below – well, this is where if you fuck up, you only end up 250ft below. And all this is before you have to factor in the uphill “switch backs” – so severe that you have no idea of on-coming traffic – you have no idea of whether you are about to meet a convoy of motorbikes, a convoy of motor-homes, or whether you are about to be greeted by “Captain Testosterone” in a rented car, (desperate to return the car before he over-runs his rental agreement) - and all this taking it up-hill, with one rear wheel scrabbling for traction.

The mix of traffic is chaotic, but doable, primarily because the relative obscurity of the route – once more people realise the route, that will change. Currently seen as a “rite of passage” on the NC500, and with the old “Top Gear crew” having done it recently, the Applecross Pass is likely to become terminally overcrowded, so grab it while you can. You’ll have to forgive the lack of personal pictures on this stage, but I had better thing to things to grip than a camera, and most of the parking places were taken up by RV’s ………
 

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The road surfaces are pretty good considering where we were, no huge potholes, but if you go off the edge of the road (which is perfectly possible with no kerbing or markings), it can all go a bit pear shaped very quickly. Most of the route was narrow single track, but the Applecross pass was barely even that, just a thin ribbon of tarmac heading up the mountain – 0 to 2000ft in short order. There is of course absolutely nothing to stop livestock from wandering around – the sheep were the worst, unpredictable buggers - though the distinctive Highland cattle seemed to have their wits about them, posing for photos (like they do)

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Dodging sheep, cows, hens, locals carrying rifles and the occasional Stag added to the entertainment value – the RV’s (mostly hired or from Belgium curiously enough) was easy by comparison

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As we made our way up to Ullapool, around every bend was another photo, but with nowhere to pull over, we had little opportunity, committing most of it to memory – but here’s a taster ….

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Ullapool was bit of a disappointment, catering to the ferry terminal and the odd small cruise ship, and geared up to take advantage of the passing trade – so I just took a pic of the car instead – it seemed to remind me that we (just like the rest of Ullapool) were just passing through, and that tomorrow was another day



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From here we went up to Durness, with a short side trip to Cape Wrath. I’ve always been curious about this place since reading about it. It seems the MOD (Ministry of Defence) use part of it for target practice — low level bombing to be precise. They seem to pick on one rocky small Island, and dump as much ordinance on it as their jets can carry just for shits and giggles. There are enough unexploded bombs on and around that Island to completely level it. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) regularly kicks up a stink about it, but as the MOD says, “Damn stupid place to build a nest” — it’s easy to see both sides of the argument

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We stayed the night at an “Air b&b”, which turned out to be on what can be realistically described as a “hippy commune”, with a discarded MOD camp repurposed to house various “artists”. The place we ended up staying in was attached to a “gallery”, and the Norwegian owner was busy cutting someone’s hair when we turned up — guess when you live in the middle of nowhere every little thing counts …..

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From Durness to our next stop over — Thurso — was rather a short journey, so it was supplemented by a few detours down various logging roads. Again, well worth it just for the scenery, but if you come across a logging truck coming the other way (they’re bright red and fully loaded), it’s best to pull over and let them through — it’s their road after all. We stopped briefly in Thurso to renew supplies (I was running dangerously low on Claret at the time), and noted with some relief, that the accommodation we had booked was actually a mile or so down the road in the port of Scrabster.

Quite unlike the urban sprawl that was the town, this turned out to be a quiet charming place, full of friendly faces that were just happy to see you, and turned out to be the ideal place to gather your thoughts, and generally regroup for the next round. In my experience, more than two dozen houses and one pub, takes something away from the experience of the NC500 — why go to the Highlands of Scotland and stay somewhere with a population of 20k ? — Scrabster was a perfect moment of calm, and provided somewhat of a respite after the chaos of Ullapool and the isolation of Durness


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The scenery just kept on coming ...

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From there, we went on to John O Groats

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and headed down the East side of Scotland towards Durnoch, our next stop. Apart from a few unexpected switchbacks on the main road, a largely uneventful journey despite the views out to sea.

If you take the NC500 clockwise as we did, you get the best of it from day one — by comparison, although it’s still stunning scenery, there’s little to compare the East coast to the West coast. There comes a time when if you’ve seen one Loch you’ve seen them all, and pulling out of Durnoch the next day, despite cruising alongside Loch Ness and taking in Loch Lomond on the way to Kendal in the lake district, the hordes of tourists eventually take over, and the magic once again disappears.

I’ll probably do it all over again, but not bother going further North than Scrabster — the isolation of the West coast mixed with the smaller hamlets is the perfect combination for me.

A final note (on the weather) - there was not one wet day or dry day — each being a combination of both. This is fine (if you’re in a car), but may take some of the fun out of it on a bike. If you try to look up the weather for the next day, the site is likely to say “we have no idea, what did you expect” - “unpredictable” just about covers it - the cloud cover is so low that it blows over fairly quickly. Temperatures drop fast the further North you go, we left in 20C, by Stirling it was 15C, and by Inverness it was 11C — goes with the territory.

On the question of “midges” — the scourge of Scotland — in nine days I got bitten three times — the first two on the same day. The bites are small, and disappear the next day, and any insect repellent just seems to attract them — if you smell like a tourist, the little bastards will take you for one and go into “attack mode”. The wind is your friend, and if your hair is being blown about, so are the midges

There was one place where I stopped for a slash — I’d recommend keeping an eye on your tackle at this stage, as there was one “bandit” in the air — thankfully, it didn’t land - (you’ll have to forgive the lack of pictures of said event due to certain “modesty” issues) .......
 

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If you want to see the pics at original size - right click on picture - "open in new tab" .......

Enjoy .....
 

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We loved our time in Scotland. Many small friendly towns. Linda was not impressed when our GPS took us on the single tracks, but to me it was an adventure and by that time I had become comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road in our rental standard transmission Peugeot. Some of the normal roads in the UK are so narrow that it becomes a "dance" when 2 large vehicles meet.
 

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Rhodetrip – your camera work far exceeds mine. These days, my initial choice of a 3.5 megapixel camera, although state of the art nearly 20 years ago, has since been surpassed by most mobile phones.

I’ll probably give it another 5 years and then “upgrade” – until then, my pics can only give “some idea” of what the NC500 has to offer ……
 

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Those pictures are plenty good enough. I favor this one: purple.jpg
I like that our Super Moderator can use the colorful vocabulary that so well describes things, even if maybe not 100% "family friendly". Reminds me of the old boss once caught loudly exclaiming: "No more god damned swearing, you DickHeads!" :p

Great vacation tale Purple. Thanks.


EDIT: I think this is a rather good photo Purple. Features nice composition with scenic elements of land , vegetation and water feeding in from the sides alternatively as things extends into the distance, all under a dramatic sky. Evokes a sense of what it hopefully was like in person.
 

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Those pictures are plenty good enough.
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Agreed.
Purple, I don't think I've seen any pictures that do the place justice... I've been disappointed with mine, too.

Rhodetrip – your camera work far exceeds mine. These days, my initial choice of a 3.5 megapixel camera, although state of the art nearly 20 years ago, has since been surpassed by most mobile phones.

I’ll probably give it another 5 years and then “upgrade” – until then, my pics can only give “some idea” of what the NC500 has to offer ……
 

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Yes Purple & Rhodetrip, no doubt about it, it's beautiful in the north of Scotland. It's been too long since Mrs P and I ventured up there; think it was 1992 and we were in a Land Rover Dormobile and the wee tag of NC500 hadn't been thought of.

Cheers
Potski
 

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Other than you capturing this photo of my ex-wife, the NC500 looks like a wonderful trip. I think I just heard my other personality just say "jealous"! :p


 

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For what amounts to a “wild beast” (although I know they’re not quite that wild), they can be counted as one of the most docile horned animals I’ve ever met – (other than the Oryx that roam the New Forest). Quiet small too, not that that would matter if one of them did take offence somehow …

There was one mad German tourist, who was taking photos (from no more than 15ft) of an insanely large Stag as we left Applecross. Try that at the wrong time of the year and see what you get. I just drove quietly past – (my cars first aid kit just wouldn’t up to the task) ………
 

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Very nice Purple. I'm glad you had a good time. :)
 
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