03 June 2020
Vast mountain plains, deep dark lochs, soft white sand beaches and the occasional Highland cow –Scotland’s remote northernmost reaches are a land straight from folklore.
Pack the car, strap yourself in and prepare to explore this mythical landscape as you pass through quaint villages, untouched landscapes and thriving ecosystems that brim with all sorts of creatures, great and small.
Passing through over 500 miles of magnificent, untouched scenery is a bucket-list-worthy experience in itself. However, the North 500 is much more than just a drive. Along its route you’ll find countless reasons to stop off and experience the local culture or get out and explore the natural landscape. To help you build your activities list, we’ve compiled our top suggestions.
The region encompassed by the North 500 is a valuable ecosystem, rich in wildlife. The waters of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, that border Scotland’s coast, play host to a number of marine creatures at seasonal intervals throughout the year. The prime time for spotting marine animals is through the summer months – between May to September you can spot dolphins, minke whale, basking sharks and even orcas. White-beaked dolphins come a little later in the season, often making their first appearance around July time, while harbour porpoises can be found around Scotland’s most northerly coasts all year round.
Whilst you’re on the coast, keep an eye out for the bird-life that inhabits these ocean bordering regions and hunts on the ocean's bountiful collection of fish. Seabirds such as cormorants, puffins, razorbills and guillemots can all be seen either soaring above head or nesting on a sheltered rockface. For the ornithologists among you, Dunnet Head Nature Reserve is a safe bet for spotting at least a few of these magnificent seafaring birds.
Should you decide the venture off the route and take a detour inland or visit a few of the islands (something we would highly recommend), then you’ll likely come across the majestic red deer as they graze their way through the grasslands. The best place to spot the deer is far from any nearby settlements as they avoid any noise or potential threats.
There are a number of castles adorning the route, in all manner of states. From those that have succumb to the ravages of time such as Ardvreck and Sinclair Girnigoe Castle and others that stand as grand today as the day they were built like Cawdor and Dunrobin Castle. These magnificent structures provide an insightful look back at the past of the highland region.
Speak to your Travel Counsellor about living the regal lifestyle by staying over in one of the real-life castles along the route such as at Kincraig.
As you glide along the route, you’ll pass any number of beaches, many of which would look more at home in the Indian Ocean than the British Isles. Our favourite stretch of the journey for beach hopping is on the north-western coast, where you’ll struggle to go more than a couple of miles without feeling the irresistible urge to pull over for a photo op. Particular highlights here include Melvich Beach and Sandwood Bay Beach, but ask around in the local villages and you may just find your own hidden gem.
The Scottish Highlands are world-renowned for their distilleries producing real Scottish whisky, and each distillery has its own unique approach to producing the brown spirit which they will swear to.
While the west coast may lay claim to housing the best beaches, the undisputed king of the distilleries is the east coast. Here you can sample the produce of Balblair Distillery, take in the ocean views from Clynelish Distillery, or learn about the whiskey-making process at Glen Ord Distillery, Scotland’s oldest whisky distillery.
Spending so much time hugging the coastline, you’d be amiss not to try the seafood. The coastal regions of northern Scotland pride themselves on making full use of the deliciously fresh produce that they have access to, with much of the fish you’ll eat on your route being caught and cooked that very same day.
Langoustines, mussels, clams and turbot should all be on your list to try as they are plucked straight from the North Sea and the local restaurants here have generations of experience behind them in serving up the crustaceans and fish to the highest standard.
After hours of sitting in the car as you swoop through the winding coastal passes, you’ll be happy to get out and get active. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of ways to blow off the cobwebs along the North 500.
If you have space to carry your mountain bike, arrive at your accommodation early and head out on an adventure on two wheels. Either stick to the roads or head off-piste and test yourself along the designated mountain biking routes. If you don’t have space to pack your bike, just make sure to include your walking boots so that you can tick off some Munros and marvel at the stunning panoramic views from the top. A Munro is a Scottish name for a mountain measuring over 3,000ft is altitude.
Brave enough to conquer the chilly North Sea or the Atlantic Ocean? Hop in a kayak and explore the Summer Isles at your own pace or zip up your wetsuit and head out surfing. Some of the areas you’ll be passing through are excellent surfing spots for those not afraid of the welcoming bite of cold when you first enter the water. The town of Thurso is the place to be, where long barrelling waves create a playground for experienced surf enthusiasts in the early autumn months when water temperatures are at their highest.
Speak to your Travel Counsellor today about creating an itinerary that is tailor-made to include everything you want to see and do on your road trip through the north of Scotland