The North Circular 500 (NC500) is a scenic road in the far end of the UK that has become increasingly popular among travellers the last few years. I first heard about it last year when someone who knows that I'm always very keen on a road trip shared a post about this route on my Facebook page. It was first advertised in 2015 as « the road 66 of Scotland » to promote the North Highlands region.
One of the many iconic NC 500 roads
The NC 500 starts and ends in the North of Inverness bringing together more than 500 miles of stunning coastal scenery. As you drive along this road you come across some of Scotland's most beautiful beaches and mountains but also a great number of old castles and lighthouses that makes this trip really exciting! So as the pandemic washed away our most exotic summer trip projects, it didn't take much to convince my mate Andrea during one of our evenings out at the pub to head off on this local adventure. In this article I thought I would introduce some of the sights we encountered on the road during this week long road trip. If you are into hiking, you'll have to wait for my next article that will focus on some of the best hikes from the NC 500.
Let's start with a castle, Dunrobin castle which must be Scotland's most fairytale like castles! It's definitely more impressive from the outside than the inside with its distinctive towering conical spires.
Dunrobin Castle view from the garden
You can also walk around the gardens at the back of the castle which are really beautiful too. The castle is the historic home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland and it still belongs to the family nowadays.
Dunrobin Castle's garden
This is definitely one of the highlights from the East coast, just South of Wick! The Whaligoe Steps is a man-made stairway (365 steps that can be slippery so watch out!) that descends to what was a naturally formed harbour between two sea cliffs.
Fishermen used to bring back the fish they caught and unload their boats at Whaligoe. The views from the top are really stunning!
Dramatic view from the top of the steps
Castle of Old Wick
You will come across lot of ruined castles during your drive and you might not have the time to visit all of them so you will have to be selective! I would totally recommend you to spend some time exploring the Castle of Old Wick.
Castle of the Old Wick
Its ruins are more preserved that most other castles from the routes and its location on the edge of a cliff is quite picturesque. It will give you the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful sea stacks of the region! The castle was probably built on the 1100s which makes it one of the oldest in Scotland.
One of the impressive stacks seen from the castle
Smoo Cave's entrance
This spectacular limestone cave on the outskirts of Durness combines a chamber formed by the action of the sea with inner chambers created by freshwater. Unfortunately when we went in late August, the access to the chambers was limited because of the pandemic but it's still well worth the visit. It has the largest sea cave entrance in Britain and was thought to have been large enough to shelter and repair Viking ships ! If you stop at Smoo definitely take so time to wander on the cliffs around the cave.
Inside Smoo Cave
There is really not much left from Ardvreck Castle but its location is really iconic.
Dating from the 16th century it stands on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt with Quinag mountain as a backdrop. The ruins really invokes visions of the battles fought in the area. It was built by the Macleod Clan but then attacked and captured by the Mackenzies.
We saw a couple waterfalls near Inverness but they where definitely not as impressive as this one. You can very easily access this spectacular 15 meters waterfall with a short walk from Clashnessie Beach.
At the bootom of Clashnessie Falls
You have to walk along a stream to reach this beauty spot so the ground can be slippery and buggy so make sure you wear your waterproof pair of shoes!
The steam that takes you straight to the falls
Would you like more info about this itinerary or some help to make your own? Please don't hesitate to get in touch. I can also assist you to get the best deal for your accommodation and car rental!