The Scottish Route 66: The North Coast 500 road trip
As American as the fourth of July, the road trip is a proper institution across the pond; a rite of passage and the subject of countless movies. But you can enjoy a coastal route to rival any on the planet right here in Scotland. So good, in fact, that the North Coast 500 was recently named among the world’s best. Here’s how to travel it in sumptuous, Scottish style.
Beginning and ending in Inverness, The North Coast 500 is a 516 mile circuit around the north coast of Scotland which, in our opinion, should be enjoyed at your leisure punctuated with Michelin starred pit stops and Instagram friendly scenery along the way. And every such journey should start with a full belly. If you can throw in a view for starters, better still. With a vista of the River Ness and Castle, the superb Kitchen Brasserie offers a great value lunch to prepare you for a day on the road; try the pan-seared fillet of sea trout. Then, with driving gloves on, head west out of the city on the A832 for the first attraction on your five-day journey, Bealach Na Ba. Named ‘one of the best drives on the planet’ for good reason, the challenging Applecross road rises a few thousand feet with hairpin bends and breathtaking views – a keen driver’s dream. Your destination for the evening is the Torridon with a dram on arrival in their world famous whisky bar. If you’re clever you’ll have reserved ‘Room 2’ where you’ll find a handmade wooden bath in the room looking out over Torridon Loch and on to the mountains.
Back on the A832 the next day, you’ll head north east towards Kinlochewe before joining the southern bank of Loch Maree and your first eye-candy pit stop for the day. Once your belly starts to rumble, push on to Gairloch for a spot of lunch at the Shieling Restaurant with panoramic views across the loch before bedding down for the night at The Pool House in Poolewe, a 300-year-old hunting and fishing lodge, transformed into a luxury B’n’B packed with character with plenty to do and some first class seafood.
Day three is a great driving day; you’ll head north on the A832 again, tracing the coast and enjoying some of the best scenery on the route. First stop today is some otherworldly wilderness and the fascinating Bones Cave at Inchnadamph. Here you’ll find an eerie cave decorated with the bones of ancient polar bears and other animals, up to 47,000 years old. Pop into the renowned West Coast Deli for lunch, made with incredible local produce, but be sure to keep it light because tonight’s menu and lodgings come courtesy of Britain’s most northerly Michelin star at The Albannach. The menu changes daily, dependent on the seasonal produce available and the catch-of-the-day, but rest assured, you’re in for a six course treat of magnitudinal enjoyment. Round the day off perfectly by taking in the sunset and mountain views from the hot tub on your private terrace in the Byre Suite.
Kick off day four with some geographical discombobulation at Achmelvich Beach. While the road signs clearly say Lochinver, if the sun’s out, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d taken a wrong turn to the Pacific with its stunning white sands and azure waters. When you’re ready to drag yourself away, carry on to Drumbeg for some lunch at the Kylesku Hotel and one of the finest seafood platters you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Try not to leave lunch too late as there’s a long drive across the top of Scotland, you’ll head as north-easterly as you can without your car turning into a makeshift boat. The destination is the unexpected oasis of Natural Retreats John O’Groats; the eco-friendly, uber- contemporary wooden lodges offer views across to Orkney that’ll take your breath away. Stump for the Jan De Groot Penthouse, part of the original 1875 John O’Groats hotel, which has 180 degree views of the Pentland Firth and a free standing brass bath.
Relaxed and recharged for day five, you’re in for a trip down the east coast to your final destination, Dornoch. World famous for its beach and golf courses, Dornoch has a full day of food, fun and activities so enjoy the drive and head straight there. On arrival, book yourself into the multi-award-winning Links House, it’s the perfect luxury base for enjoying any of the eight courses nearby or, if you’re feeling like some ‘me time’, enjoy the Links spa. The dinner menu at the Links is a fine dining daily surprise with the menu changing dependent on ‘seasonal delicacies, locally sourced from a selection of speciality suppliers’, best enjoyed with something from their spectacular wine cellar. Take your glass outside to the terrace and outdoor fireplace to recline and enjoy the sunset as the credits fall on your ultimate road trip.
Of course, you can't head out on this epic road trip without a suitably awesome playlist, featuring some belting driving favourites, new and old. Have a listen right HERE.
Words: Dean Newton
North Coast 500, Steve Carter
Near Applecross, Iain Sarjeant
Achmelvich beach, Saskia Heijltjes
Kylesku, Richard Wiseman
Kitchen Brasserie, Inverness, IV3 5PR, www.kitchenrestaurant.co.uk; The Torridon, Achnasheen, IV22 2EY, www.thetorridon.com; The Shieling Restaurant, Gairloch, IV21 2BH, www.shielingrestaurant.com; Pool House, Poolewe, IV22 2LD, www.pool-house.co.uk; West Coast Delicatessen, Ullapool, IV26 2UB, www.westcoastdeli.co.uk; The Albannach Hotel, Baddidarroch, Lochinver, IV27 4LP, www.thealbannach.co.uk; Kylesku Hotel, Drumbeg, Lairg, IV27 4HW, www.kyleskuhotel.co.uk; Natural Retreats, John o’ Groats, Wick, KW1 4YR, www.naturalretreats.com; Links House, Dornoch, IV25 3LW, www.linkshousedornoch.com.