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06 January 2022
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Kim Pierce

Our Top 10 Experiences Along the North Coast 500

Our business is built on our passion for the Scottish Highlands and the incredible experiences we’ve had driving the NC500. We’re always finding new little hidden gems along this stunning route and we’ll keep sharing them with you so you can enjoy your road trip to the fullest.

For the New Year we’ve put together our top 10 experiences around the North Coast 500 for you to put on your 2022 bucket list. Don’t forget to tag us in the pictures when you do! #highlandoverland

1) Drive the Bealach na Ba (Applecross) Road

This renowned and tricky to drive road passes through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula and is one of the UK’s toughest but also one of the most spectacular.

Originally it was used to move the cattle from Applecross and nearby homesteads to other parts of the Highlands and the name Bealach na Ba means ‘pass of the cattle’.

This single track road has Alpine esque hairpin bends with steep gradients of almost 17%, rises to a height of 2053 ft and can often be covered in low lying cloud so don’t try it if you’re new to driving, not a confident driver or if it looks like theres difficult conditions such as snow, ice or low lying cloud (there is an alternative route). The roads not suitable for caravans, or large vehicles so the Highland Overland trucks are the perfect vehicles to handle the difficult terrain as well as small enough to easily manoeuvre the bends.

If you can brave the hairy bends and reversing the dizzying heights to allow someone to pass then it is an unforgettable drive that you with incredible views across to Skye and the Outer Hebrides.

Our top tip… find a spot at the marked parking area and then walk a few hundred meters back which has a track on the left which takes you up to a transmitter station. You may have thought the view couldn’t get better but it does!

And don’t forget to book a meal at the Applecross Inn a great spot to have some well deserved lunch or a drink after your challenging drive.

Driving the Bealach na Ba road – Image curtesy of Thibaut Marquis via Unsplash

2) Eat at the Seafood Shack in Ullapool

A simple catering trailer with exceptional food and a great atmosphere, based on West Argylle Street in Ullapool and open Monday to Friday 12 – 4 pm, there’s no pre-booking, it’s on a first come, first served basis.

Started by two locals, Kirsty and Fenella create a simple yet delicious menu using local seafood cooked fresh. menu changes daily depending on what has been dropped of by the fishermen that morning. Some dishes that have appeared on the menu are ‘creel caught langoustines with hot garlic and thyme butter served with bread’ or ‘hand dived scallops, pan fried with herb butter, served with salad and caramelised red onion and sweet pea quinoa’. Our mouths are watering just writing it!

Not only is it a delicious menu but the team try to be as green as possible by using biodegradable and recyclable packaging with recycling bins on site.

They also have an impressive number of awards and nominations to their name including winners of the “Best Eating Experience 2018” in the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards and featured in a number of articles and TV series including Vogue, Lonely Planet, BBC good food and Mary Berry’s “Everyday Life” series.

They even have a recipe book for sale if you want to replicate the tastes of Ullapool at home.

The Seafood Shack, Ullapool. Photo by Clair Irwin photography

3) Swim in the crystal clear waters of Dornoch Beach

This beautiful blue flag beach with its miles of golden sand is ideal for families with its gentle shallows or for those not wanting to brave the brisk Scottish seas, enjoy a scenic stroll along the sands or some wildlife watching from the dunes behind.

It’s been awarded a Seaside Award status as a clean bathing beach and is backed by sand dunes with rock pools for the kids to explore. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, seals and seabirds.

Dornoch Beach – curtesy of Twenty20 images

4) Wild Camp at the Shenavall Bothy or Hike the Shenavall Circuit

If you’re looking to be immersed in remote wilderness with spectacular views or looking for a hiking challenge, then a stay at the Shenavall Bothy or wild camping nearby is a must!

They Bothy itself is located in Fisherfield Forest, the land between Gairloch, Dundonnell, Gruinard Bay and Kinlochewe, also known as the “Great Wilderness”. The A832 is the only road in the area, the interior is a web of ancient tracks left by stalkers and drovers and kept visible by the hikers and mountaineers who now follow them. Park your car at the Corrie Hallie lay-by and from there you’ll have to hike the 4.5 miles to the bothy. It is well worth the effort.

It’s a popular bothy so make sure to take a tent to wild camp nearby if it’s full.

The views from the Bothy are incredible, the area truly feels like the Great Wilderness.

The Shenavall bothy has three rooms, basic with sleeping platforms and can accommodate up to 11 people. It also lies at the start and end point of the “Fisherfield Six” Scotlands most remote munro’s, Ruadh Stac Mor, A’Mhaigdean, Beinn Tarsuinn, Maullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Sgurr Ban and Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh and a challenge for the extreme hikers and mountaineers.

For those looking for a slightly easier trip than a popular summit is Ruadh Stac Mor, a 9.7 miles and 820 metres of ascent from the Shenavall Bothy.

It’s a privilege to be able to stay in these remote mountain Bothies which are carefully maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association so please respect the buildings as well as the surrounding areas and familiarise yourself with the Bothy Code before staying.

If you’d rather not wild camp but want to enjoy this beautiful area then a another great option is the Shenavall Circuit, 11.5 mile hike which takes between 4.5 – 6 hours with 740m of ascent.

A Scottish Bothy outside of Aberdeen – Image by Robin Williamson via Unsplash

5) Fishing for Salmon on the River Alness

One of the most picture postcard worthy salmon rivers in the Highlands. The mountains of Kildermorie Forest in Easter Ross feeds the River Alness, the water flowing for some 10 miles going through flat moorland, then onto a fast paced boulder area and finally onto Loch Marie.

Visitors can enjoy the lower reaches with permits available through the Alness Angling Club or join a guided tour with professionals who have access the private Novar beats of the River Alness. TroutQuest have day trip salmon expeditions to the area for both experienced and first time salmon fishers and will provide a pick up and drop off service from your accommodation or will arrange a meeting place.

An angler examines fly fishing flies on the River Tay, Dunkeld – Image Curtesy of Visit Scotland

6) Hike Stac Pollaidh

Also known as Stac Polly, this hike is one of the most popular in the Highlands and for good reason. This snow-tipped mountain rises from small lochs and rocky outcrops with its distinct rocky ridge which is featured in many a photo of the Highlands can be seen for miles around and it makes for a perfect half a day hike of between 3-4 hours and is a fairly easy hill walk with a good path so enjoyable for most.

The walk starts from a dedicated car park along a single track road to Achiltibuie, parking is limited and fills up around lunch so get there early for a beautiful morning walk and then you can enjoy a much deserved lunch.

The Stac Pollaidh ridge and circuit walk takes you around the mountain, you can enjoy stunning views out over Assynt to the north and the Summer Isles and Achilitibuie to the west and south, for the best views you’ll have to scramble to the true summit.

Canisp, Cul Mor and Cul Beag seen from Stac Pollaidh – Image by Kenny Lam via Visit Scotland

7) Go to the Oyster shed on Skye (and then onto the Tallisker distillery below it)

This local family business produces some of the highest quality pacific oysters, harvested daily from the waters off their farm in Loch Harport on the west coast and served freshly shucked or cooked overlooking the beautiful views of the Cuillins.

The Oyster Shed is open Monday – Friday from 12pm – 5pm for you to shop some of your seafood favourites such as fresh crab, smoked salmon, mussels, scollops, Scottish game such as venison and a selections of cheese and chutneys.

The seafood van which serves hot and cold food with a patio area and bring your own bottle policy. If you haven’t bought a bottle then not to worry as the world famous Talisker Distillery is at the bottom of the hill, so head down for a tour and tasting after your lunch.

This working distillery which produces a sweet, full bodied single malt is open almost year round and provides tours so you can learn all about the history behind the liquid. If you want to see more enjoy their online virtual tour.

Talisker Whisky – Image Via Twenty20 images

8) Take the ferry over to the Outer Hebrides

The perfect getaway for the adventurous traveller and a chance to get even more off the beaten track, the Outer Hebrides offers white sandy beaches, mountains, moors, Gaelic culture and undisturbed wildlife and nature.

For those looking for an active challenge then the Hebridean Way, 186 mile cycle route or a 156 mile walking route is the perfect way to see the area and an inspiring trail where you will be cheered along by the helpful and friendly locals.

The Outer Hebrides are a chain of inter-connected islands with breathtaking scenery, an untouched history comprising of ruins and standing stones dating back thousands of years, lovingly cooked local food and thrilling outdoor adventures including surfing, kayaking and open-water swimming.

Wildlife enthusiasts will love the sea life tours where you have the chance of spotting sharks, whales and dolphins as well as great bird life such as Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatchers, Curlew and must more.

Take your Highland Overland vehicle across to the islands with you on one of the vehicle ferries that run between Ullapool and Stornoway.

Seilebost Beach, Lewis, Outer Hebrides – Paolo Chiabrando

9) Drive the NC500 in style with our Highlands Overland trucks

It’s not just the destinations but the journey which makes a holiday and especially a road-trip, one to remember. With our Highland Overland Premium 4×4’s you’ll be travelling in style and comfort.

We have kitted our trucks out with everything you need from roof top tent, cast iron double gas burners, Alu-Cab canopy with gullwing kitchen, Mummut 3-season sleeping bags, torches, pillows and kitchen equipment. Our team will meet you at Inverness airport on pick up and drop off and be on hand should you need any assistance while you’re away.

Highland Overland Premium 4×4 Trucks Available to rent for your North Coast 500 Adventure

10) End Your NC500 Experience with a day of River Tubing and Cliff Jumping!

If you’re spending some time in Scotland, the chances are you’ll be getting wet at some point and what better way then an adrenaline pumping river tubing and cliff jumping experience. The guys at ACE Adventures offer adrenaline pumping half day tours on the River Findhorn with staff who are trained and qualified through the International Rafting Federation.

Test your balance and control floating down the rapid and if you can, make sure you look around and enjoy the beautiful scenery that’ll be passing you by including one of Britains tallest trees. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll then be jumping from gorge walls, tube over a drop of 1.5 metres and then swim into a waterfall spa. What better way to finish off your North Coast 500 roadtrip. Just remember to take the GoPro!

For more information on the North Coast 500, what to see, do and experience, take a look at more blogs in our journal.

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