WESTER ROSS NC500
Image composites by Mike McBey/ Flickr/ licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
and David Conner / Flickr/ licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
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The Wester Ross NC500 section is one of Scotland’s most wild, isolated and least understood. Visitors will frequently travel to the Isle of Skye, complete a broad circuit, and then come back. Most turn right and head back south. Those who go the other way and turn left however, will enter Wester Ross, a rugged landscape of intimidating mist shrouded peaks, deep moody lochs and brutal fjords, as well as clean washed Caribbean looking beaches of white sands and aquamarine sea.
On the Faraway Fairways wilderness tour the Wester Ross NC500 leg will usually begin around the town of Kyle of Lochalsh which is just across the bridge from Skye. Anyone who has toured out to Skye can also pick things up from about here too since there’s only one bridge
Eilean Donan Castle
The picture postcard Eilean Donan castle has graced many a shortbread tin and is only a few miles from the Kyle of Lochalsh sitting in Loch Dulch. If you haven’t visited it already, you might consider a sunrise event. Even if you only spend 15 minutes snapping a few photographs it’s still justifiable before backtracking slightly to begin the traverse
We mentioned the left turn into Wester Ross, the road in question is the A890, but you might choose instead to use a local road to visit the small village of Plockton which sits on a sheltered bay with stunning views overlooking Loch Carron. Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Highlands”. A National Trust for Scotland conservation village, Plockton has carefully preserved its heritage
For all its agreeable charm, Plockton needn’t be somewhere to hold you that long so you now begin the journey proper as you follow the south shore of Loch Carron to its head water, turning left again. This is where things begin to interesting
This particular section of the A890 is part of the NC500 (north coast 500). The North Coast bit is self-explanatory. The 500 bit is the mileage, but label of NC500 has stuck well, it’s become something of a success story for those who love the wilderness and the road. The route is Scotland’s truly magnificent long distance road trip. It’s a beguiling circuit of solitude and beauty that flows through Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Inverness-shire, and Easter Ross, following the coast. To describe it as Scotland’s premier long distance road trip is to understate it. The NC500 is the best the UK has to offer, and should really be spoken about in the theatre of a European context, and the Wester Ross NC500 stretch is arguably the best of the lot
Plockton can leave you questioning whether you might have missed something in life
Anyway, you’d be on the Wester Ross NC500 now, and we’re about to enter one of its most challenging sections (should you wish to take the break-off). It goes by the name of Bealach na Ba, which translates into the ‘Pass of the Cattle’ (also called the ‘Road to Applecross’). Now we might laugh about this, but it has a serious side too. Bealach na ba -is notorious for three things; the steep gradients and sharp turns… and the simply breath-taking scenery! Driving the Bealach na Ba requires skill and complete attention to the road ahead. If you cannot accurately reverse your vehicle several hundred yards on a narrow single track if needed, then you probably cannot safely drive over the Bealach. However, the Bealach na Ba is a simply breath-taking drive, and one which should be experienced if you are able to do so.
Every time the road threatens to forgive you, another tricky section emerges A well powered car is probably best.
It isn’t necessary to take-in the Bealach however, Applecross sits on the coast and isn’t a non-negotiable continuation. You can by-pass it by simply carrying on and declining the spectacle for you’ll soon be at Loch Torridon with the village of Torridon sitting at the head of the majestic glen that bears its name. Glen Torridon is as spectacular as any in Scotland. Only Glencoe can rival it for awe, and a pick part of the appeal there of course is its particularly bloody history. Glen Torridon is characterised by near vertical rock faces that tower over the road that weaves its way along its floor. The ice really got to work here.
The name of Loch Torridon just rolls off the tongue and is another that will usually make a top-10 list of Scottish lochs
After about 20 miles though you bear to the left and begin the descent into the valley in which sits Loch Maree, providing one of the most arresting vistas in all of Scotland
Loch Maree regularly features in the top 10 lists of Scottish lochs that travel guides are keen to promote. It has legitimate claims. Faraway Fairways would probably give the #1 spot to Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye, but we wouldn’t be so churlish not recognise Loch Maree’s claims
The road into Loch Maree A tranquil Loch Maree, capable of many moods though!
As the road begins to flatten out and head through a forested section you’re well on your way to Gairloch now and a well deserved breeze around one of the best nine hole golf courses you’ll find anywhere. It’s difficult to imagine that Scotland has a more stunning drive into a golf course? Durness might have a claim for its rugged beauty, but this particularly nomination probably has it beaten for sheer majesty
The next leg sees you pulling around a coastal section to Ullapool. Again high mountains and secret unexplored coastal coves pepper the journey. You might very well begin to feel isolated and as if you’re in the middle nowhere. Well in truth, you are
It’s worth noting that none of the attractions on this section of NC500 are paid entrances dependent on opening times. If you’re tackling this in the summer (and surely you must be!) then at these northern latitude’s you’ll benefit from extended daylight. The sun typically rises at about 04.00 and sets at about 23.00. It’s certainly a consideration when trying to plan your day and just how much you can fit in