Darren Calpin explores the Scottish Highlands – taking a sneaky peek at the Isle of Skye – as he samples the iconic North Coast 500 route
LAUNCHED IN 2015 as a way takes drivers on a grand tour of encouraging tourists to visit the north Highlands of Scotland. Scotland’s more remote regions, via some of the most scenic roads the North Coast 500 touring route along the spectacular eastern, northern and western coastlines. So, with a full tank of fuel in my trusty Fiesta and more provisions than Scott took to the Antarctic, I
set off from Inverness Castle – the de-facto starting point – feeling very excited. Going against the grain (from travellers I spoke to, at least), decide to drive the route in an anti clockwise direction, my main reason being that I want to leave the west coast, widely considered the most striking leg of the journey, until last. This decision seems justified as I head up the east coast along Cromarty Firth in drizzling rain, motoring past the brooding oil rigs and industrial platforms that symbolise eastern Scotland’s THE DRAMATIC economic prosperity. Further along,
join the A99 to the old fishing port NORTH COAST the landscape becomes prettier, of Wick. It’s evening time now and with picturesque rolling green fields I realise I could easily get to John After a brief stroll along Duncansby and handsome little towns making O’Groats within the hour. So I do, Head’s 200ft-high cliffs to view it somewhat Blyton-esque, rather passing through an increasingly sparse its menacing, Mordor-esque sea like Dorset or Somerset. The A9 is landscape of intermittent dwellings, stacks, I’m back in the car. For this leg a breeze to drive along and it’s not abandoned crofters’ cottages, I’m heading west along Scotland’s long before the refined town of Tain and windy, open heathland on the dramatic northern coast on the and its famed Glen orange whisky way, eventually easing through theA836. The road hugs the coast distillery are in my rear view mirror’s diminutive’s settlement at John O’ tightly, wending its way gently past Groats to reach Britain’s real most heather-topped headlands and THE EDGE OF THE WORLD north-westerly point, Duncansby around sheltered bays with deserted
Following a quick pitstop at Dunrobin Head. With a fierce wind blowing, rain sandy beaches. The vistas are Castle, the landscape becomes thrashing down, and only a lighthouse sensational, with what seems to be more rugged, with intimidating hills for company, (save some hardy
almost the entire north coast splayed replacing the rolling green fields, and sheep), this desolate spot has a real out across my windscreen at times.winding roads with sharp gradients edge-of-the-world feel to it – a fitting. Eventually the beautiful, unspoilt now the norm. The going gets easier place to end my first day of driving beaches of Farr Bay and Torrisdale however when I leave the A9 and adventure. Bay drift into view either side of Bettyhill, before turning inland again, cutting a brief dash south before arcing west once more, across the breathtaking Kyle of Tongue sea loch by way of a causeway which offers the kind of mountain/water shots amateur photographers dream of.