John Maguire: It’s the drive of a lifetime on the North Coast 500

Loch Carron is one of the highlights of the NC500 route
Loch Carron is one of the highlights of the NC500 route
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We all know that Scotland has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. From the Grampian Mountains in the Highlands to the rolling green hills of the Scottish Borders; stunning beaches; endless forests; and a landscape with a kaleidoscope of colours.

Several years ago my wife and I decided to do some exploring, and see something of Scotland for ourselves. We spent most of our time in the North Eastern corner of Scotland, and overnighted at hotels or B&Bs without pre-booking in advance.

Earlier this year some good friends told us about the North Coast 500 route, a suggested coastal road trip of more than 500 miles around Scotland’s north coast which begins and ends in Inverness. Having done our research we decided to do the trip in early June, driving the anti-clockwise route, booking our hotel accommodation in advance to ensure we always had somewhere to stay.

The first stage of our trip, driving north from Inverness to John O’Groats, mirrored the previous journey we’d made in the mid-1990s, but it was very noticeable that there was a great deal more traffic on the roads.

We travelled across the very North Coast of Scotland, taking in lovely towns like Thurso and Tongue, before turning south and driving down the West Coast. There were lots of places to visit, and the scenery along the way was breathtaking. Some of the beaches – set amongst sand dunes – were just beautiful and comparable with the best beaches in the world. But without crowds of people – and, sadly, also without the sunshine.

For us, the highlights of the journey were the Glen Leirg/Loch Assynt peninsula around Lochinver, and the Wester Ross peninsula taking in Shieldaig-Applecross-Lochcarron. Both sections of this part of the NCS500 route are single-track roads, with passing places every 50 yards or so.

Every driver and motorcyclist we encountered respected the rules of the road, even the motor homes, and everyone acknowledged a safe passing with a polite wave. It was impossible to drive at any speed on these roads, which was just as well as the scenery was some of the best that Scotland has to offer.

We saved the best to last, as our absolute favourite drive is from Applecross and over “the Pass of the Cattle” to the town of Lochcarron. The descent into Lochcarron is down a steep, winding, and at times narrow road, with amazing views of Loch Carron appearing and disappearing with each twist in the road. This road trip often features in motoring articles as one the best drives in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. It is an exhilarating and beautiful drive, but not for the faint-hearted.

Judging by the number of visitors, both international and domestic, the promotion of the NCS500 route by Visit Scotland would appear to have been a major success. If you want the experience of a lifetime, and if you want to see something of the beauty of Scotland, then consider taking the NCS500 drive. You won’t be disappointed.

John Maguire lives in Kelso. He’s a retired UK diplomat.