North Coast 500 Tour
6 days or more
We will begin our tour by visiting the site of Culloden where the last battle of Britain was fought on the 16th April 1746. We will learn about the turbulent history of the Jacobites and walk around the battlefield. Our next stop will be Clava Cairns where you walk amongst Bronze Age burial cairns and standing stones. There is an option to explore the medieval Cawdor Castle and gardens near Nairn, inhabited by the Thanes for over 23 generations. There are various lunch options and cheese lovers should not miss a visit to the family owned Connage Diary Dairy famed for its local organic cheeses.
After lunch we will visit Loch Ness in search of one of our most elusive monsters “Nessie”. One of the best ways to experience Loch Ness is to take a boat cruise – there are several options from a 50 minute tour, an exhilarating ride in a RIB or a combined cruise and visit to Urquhart Castle. After the tour we will return to Inverness to let you explore the city at your leisure. There is a wide variety of restaurants in Inverness to suit all tastes and if you want to listen to some live music head to Hootanny’s or Gellions Bar.
Leaving the city of Inverness behind we travel north over the Kessock Bridge to the Black Isle. The Black Isle is neither black nor an isle – it is in fact a peninsula famous for its wildlife. Updale nature reserve is home to waders, ducks, geese, sea osprey from August through to April. Rosemarkie, is a long stretch of golden sand on the Moray Coast with views across to Fort George, and a walk along the beach will take us to Chanonry Point, where if we are lucky we will spot a resident pod of dolphins frolicking in the sea.
There are options to enjoy some craft beer at the Black Isle Brewery, sample whisky at the Glen Ord distillery, explore the town of Beauly famous for its Priory, excellent food and independent shops before we continue our journey towards Poolewe. Here you can visit the Inverewe gardens, or we can continue to Corrieshalloch gorge and view the magnificent waterfalls before arriving at the small fishing town of Ullapool situated on the shores of Loch Broom, our home for the night. You will have an opportunity to explore the town, stock up on supplies and perhaps sample some fresh seafood from the seafood shack.
Leaving Ullapool behind we travel northwards, there will be several photo opportunities along the way before we stop at the Knockan Crag Nature Reserve to view the Moine Thrust – a geological wonder where two continents collided. Following the A837 our next stop will be on the shores of Loch Assynt where you will admire the ruins of Ardvreck Castle and learn about its dark history. We have the option to visit Lochinver and sample one of their famous pies at the Lochinver Larder, before heading north, crossing Kylesku bridge into Clan Mackay country and an area known as the “Lonely Lands”. This part of the NC500 has some of the wildest and spectacular landscapes. There are very few houses – lovely bays, lochans, dramatic mountains and rock-strewn landscapes; we will continue to wind our way towards Durness, where we will stop for the night. Durness is Scotland’s most northwesterly village and is home to Smoo Cave, powdery white sandy beaches, dramatic scenery, Balnakeil craft village, Cocoa Mountain chocolate and for the thrill seeker there is also an opportunity to zipline across the cliffs!
Today we are going to take a leisurely drive along the North of Scotland skirting around Loch Eriboll where locals paid heed to the saying “Loose lips sink ships” across the Kyle of Tongue and hugging the coastline until we reach Thurso – this will be our base for the next 2 nights. There is an opportunity to visit Castle Mey and gardens which was owned by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother between 1952 and 1996. The castle stands about 400 yards from the seashore and overlooks the Pentland Firth with views over to the Orkney islands. Our next stop will be John O Groats to see the iconic ‘signpost’ as well as the seaman foghorn memorial which commemorates all the seafarers who lost their lives to the Pentland Firth.
A visit to Dunnet Head is a must – the most northerly point in Britain! There are lots of coastal walks in this area and you can view the lighthouse and watch the puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmars in spring and summer. Dunnet Bay is home to the Rock Rose Gin distillery, there is an option to have a tutored tasting tour of their distillery this afternoon before returning to Thurso.
This morning we will catch the early morning ferry to visit the Orkney Islands. The highlights of the tour today will be:
Late afternoon we will catch our ferry back to the mainland, passing the sandstone stack of ‘The Old Man of Hoy’ before returning to Thurso for the evening.
Today we are leaving Caithness behind and making our way back to Inverness. Our first stop will be to visit the Whaligoe Steps. This is a series of 365 steps that lead down to a natural harbour between two sea cliffs. They were built in the 18th Century and were used by fisherwomen to carry baskets of herring from the harbour.
Continuing along the A9 we will stop at Helmsdale and Brora before spending some time exploring Dunrobin Castle and gardens and watching a falconry display. Dunrobin Castle is one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland.
Our next stop is to the highland village of Dornoch where we will visit the cathedral before continuing to Tain where we have the opportunity to visit the Glenmorangie Whisky distillery before heading to the coast to visit the ‘Mermaid of the North’. From there we will continue to drive towards Inverness where the tour will end.
Is it possible to extend the tour in Orkney and stay overnight?
Yes, if preferred, there is an option to extend your tour and stay in Orkney instead of Thurso.
What type of clothing and footwear should I take?
Scotland’s weather is very changeable, we can have 4 seasons in one day! It is important to bring plenty of layers, a waterproof jacket and sturdy footwear.