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Six reasons to drive the North Coast 500

Carlton Boyce / 26 October 2015

Take the ultimate UK roadtrip with our guide to six must-see locations along Scotland's new North Coast 500 route.

Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle in Autumn

The North Coast 500 is billed as ‘Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66’ showcasing fairy tale castles, beaches and ruins.’ 

Featuring 500-miles of deserted roads, in some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery the UK has to offer, it’s the ideal place to take a week-long road trip.

While the North Coast 500 website has a variety of itineraries on its website designed for every kind of traveller, here are our six must-see locations!

Want to venture further afield? Read our guide to the ultimate road trips.

1. Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle has been home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland for more than 700 years, making it one of the oldest inhabited houses in Scotland. With 189 rooms, it’s also one of the largest in the Scottish Highlands and features a museum as well as castle tours.

If that wasn’t reason enough to visit, it’s surrounded by formal gardens that were laid out by Sir Charles Barry, the architect behind the Palace of Westminster, in addition to miles of dog-friendly woodland walks.

2. Old Pulteney Distillery

No visit to Scotland would be complete without whisky and The Old Pulteney distillery has a history stretching back to 1826. Located in Wick – a town with the distinction of being the former herring capital of Europe – the distillery is the perfect place for a first night stop on your North Coast 500 road trip.

Tours take place throughout the year and with plenty of accommodation nearby, you’ve got no excuse not to get acquainted with the range of malt whiskies on offer…

Planning a long journey? Read our tips.

3. Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head, four-and-a-half miles north of Dunnet itself, is the most northerly point in mainland Britain. Managed by the RSPB, the area is home to puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, shags and cormorants, making it a wonderful place for bird lovers to spend a couple of hours with a pair of binoculars or a camera.

Entry to the reserve is free – although donations are welcome – and the Seadrift Visitor Centre is well worth a visit too.

4. Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave is the ideal place to indulge your inner hermit, although at 200 feet deep, 130 wide and 50 feet high there would be plenty of space to invite friends and family to come and stay…

Access is relatively straightforward (although those with restricted mobility might struggle) and a short boat trip is necessary to reach the third chamber. Featuring a river, underground waterfalls, a deep sinkhole and links to the supernatural – including the Prince of Darkness himself – why not find out for yourself why Smoo Cave attracts more than 40,000 visitors a year?

5. Sandwood Bay

While the North Coast 500 attracts keen drivers by the thousand, Sandwood Bay is the ideal place to take a day off to go rambling.

The beach itself is a four-and-a-half-mile walk from the road, so is rarely crowded. With many believing it is the most beautiful beach in the UK, if you happen to catch it on a sunny day you’ll wonder why anyone bothers to travel abroad! It’s also a good place to try and spot marine mammals, such as dolphins and seals.

Read our top five summer drives.

6. The Bealach Na Bà drive in Applecross

Listed by National Geographic magazine as one of the Best Driving Roads in the World, the Bealach Na Bà is an 11-mile stretch of tarmac that winds its way across the Applecross peninsula.

While it’s not suitable for caravans due to its steep inclines, sharp bends and single-track road (there is a low-level route for that’s suitable for all), everyone else will have a ball wending their way along it.

Popular with bikers, there are enough hairpin bends and sweeping curves to satisfy even the most ardent driver or rider, although care needs to be taken in places where the only thing between you and the valley below is thin air. Nonetheless, it’s a stunning drive and one that should be on every keen motorist’s bucket list.

Have you driven the North Coast 500? If so, what was the highlight for you?

For more motoring articles and tips, visit our Saga's motoring section.

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