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The NC500 – the ultimate road trip?


The NC500 is a 516 mile route around the northern coast of Scotland, starting and ending in Inverness, taking in some incredible roads and amazing scenery. It’s the perfect excursion for anyone who appreciates beautiful landscapes, likes to drive (or be driven) and fancies the challenge and satisfaction of exploring somewhere new.


When did we do it?

Four of us drove the NC500 in July 2022, choosing a Porsche Boxter S and VW Golf GTi – both perfect for these particular roads: comfortable enough for the miles but with the capability to handle the bends, speed and care and attention that some parts of the road require. That said, you can do the NC500 in any vehicle you choose, including a push bike, if you’re well prepared. There are charging stations along the route for electric cars and also roads to avoid if you’re in something larger like a motorhome. This essential information can be found at the NC500 website (link below).


How long does it take?

As long as you like! We spent eight days and took time to see the area but of course you can flex the miles and stopovers to suit your timings. We approached the route in an anti-clockwise direction and stayed over in Inverness, Durnock, Wick, Bettyhill, Scourie, Ullapool and Loch Maree. Something to bear in mind – the NC500 is a suggested route around northern Scotland, there’s hundreds of miles off the route to explore, it’s not a race! We’d say this is where planning comes in as you or your co-driver might wish to deviate from the route for a night or two to see particular places.


Our highlights:

  • Driving the alpine road

  • The incredible scenery on the west coast

  • The beaches – often deserted

  • Visiting the Russian North Atlantic convoy museum – my goodness, the crews were so so brave – we recommend this

  • The outstanding food at the Cote Du Nord near Bettyhill

  • Dinner and stay at Loch Maree Hotel

  • The Secret Tea Garden in Drumbeg

  • Lunch at The Shores in Plockton (fish restaurant)

Are you tempted yet?

What did we learn?

  • That midges are evil b…….s! Take midge spray, cream and be on your guard! The NC500 website actually has a whole article on how to deal with them!

  • Passing places are thankfully signalled well ahead

  • That many of the roads were single carriageway and had broken surfaces often with poor visibility, crests and blind bends which were a challenge to drive, it’s good to be mentally prepared for this

  • Book your accommodation in advance

  • Book your food/evening meals in advance

  • Support local businesses – coffee shops, lunch stops and shops, they’ll love you for it

  • Take a navigator/second driver for help, support and to share the experience with

  • Plan your fuel stops – we always filled up when we were at half full because you just never know!

  • Take your time, especially on some of the trickier sections and build in plenty of rest stops/overnight stays

  • Use printed maps as mobile signal is often non-existent

  • If taking more than one car take walkie talkies so you can stay in touch and look after each other

  • We’d recommend taking a small/medium sized car with plenty of ground clearance. Taking a supercar would be very brave!

  • Pack light as you’ll be forever lifting/moving your suitcase!

  • Plan for all weathers – we were incredibly lucky

  • You can buy NC500 merchandise should you want to

Conclusion

If you are a petrolhead, enjoy driving and visiting lovely places this is a ‘must do’ trip. But please bear in mind that Inverness is a long way north (and that’s just the start). In our opinion you need to allow at least a week to do it properly. We drove from Harrogate to Inverness in one day (stopping at Tebay services (you just have to! It’s a service station unlike any other, opened by a farming family after the M6 was built through their farm) and Fort Augustus/Loch Ness on the way up) and stayed in Edinburgh on the way back. All in, we did 1,600 miles and loved every minute. Do some research, read up and pack yourself a guide book. The NC500 website is really useful and has valuable information, phone numbers and insider information you’ll appreciate. Also, drop me an email at andrew@drivennet.com and I’ll be really pleased to share my thoughts.


 

References:

NC500

Guide book

The Rough Guide

NC500 Collins pocket map

NC500 The big map

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