We had booked a couple of nights at Bunchrew House Hotel, just outside Inverness, as we had missed Inverness out at the start of our trip. Turned out to be a very good choice – excellent food, comfortable room, great service etc, but the highlight was the choice of gins in the bar. Upwards of 50, all Scottish, and many I hadn’t even seen before let alone tried! Just had to try the recommended ‘gin flight’ – 3 different ‘island’ gins and a bottle of tonic, all served with the recommended garnishes etc. With a couple of other pre and post dinner drinks over the two days, I think that took my tally of new gins for the trip up to about 15… Great views from the hotel over the Beauly Firth, including a spectacular sunset. Definitely recommend this hotel!
Next up was Rogie Falls – half an hour outside Inverness, with a pleasant mile or so woodland walk down to some pretty, if not particularly high falls. A handy wooden footbridge across the falls gave the best view, even if it did make me feel sick looking down (there was worse to come later that day!)
Not strictly on the NC500 route, we were keen to see Glen Afric, as it was touted as one of the prettiest glens in the Highlands – perhaps a little oversold, it was indeed beautiful (even in the rain, our first for quite a few days) but maybe not the very best views we had seen. Someone had also recommended we visited Plodda Falls, which we found after quite a long diversion, the last mile of so over an extremely rough forest track – not at all comfortable in a very low car with hard suspension… Fortunately the rain abated and we took the short walk through the Douglas Firs down to the falls – very pleasant I thought, but not exactly exciting, until I heard the roar of water and realised there was more a further few yards away. OMG! – walking out onto a cantilevered viewing platform you are right over the edge of the main falls which drop some 40metres – talk about scary! The whole structure was shaking (or was it just me?) Absolutely incredible, and there are several other falls all coming into the same point, before the river rushes on. If you’ve got time, you can follow a path all the way to the base of the falls, but when in full flow (as they were when we were there) the spray will soak anyone on the path.
No visit to Inverness would be complete without a visit to Ffordes – the largest seller of used camera gear in the UK. Very tempting, and most helpful staff, but I managed to get out with my wallet unscathed, but there is always on-line…
That really was the last of our journey on the NC500 proper, so the next day we headed south along the shores of Loch Ness, making the usual stops in search of Nessie – no sightings, but lots of tourists out and about by now. As we’d not had chance to stop there on an earlier trip to the Highlands, we visited the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge – erected in the early 1950s as a tribute to the commandos who served in WW2. An imposing 5m high monument on a small hill, the bronze statue of 3 commando comrades looks out towards Ben Nevis and has a sombre but uplifting atmosphere.
And so down through Fort William and into Glencoe with a brief side trip along Glen Etive in search of more deer (no luck, just some crazy kayakers shooting the rapids). As it was Saturday, and the sun was shining, the A82 was unbelievably busy, with every car park/stopping place rammed, so we just headed straight on without further stops to the hotel on Loch Lomond where our whole adventure began. A beautiful late afternoon stroll along the loch into Luss – such a pretty little village. Woke next morning to the best sunrise we had seen all trip – and all from the comfort of the balcony outside our room. A great finish to what had been a fantastic trip.
I had done quite a lot of research before our trip, but here are a few points which may help if you plan to do the NC500 any time soon:
1. The ‘best’ bits for me were along the west coast, so try to allow at least 3-4 days to cover that part of the trip, even if you do from Tongue/John O’Groats to Inverness in 2 days. We went clockwise around the route, but going the other way would be just as good!
2. Consider going in April/early May to avoid the worst of the crowds and the infamous midges (I guess mid-October/early November would be good too.) Book hotels well ahead as they are busy even at that time the year.
3. Don’t miss out the Bealach Na Bar/Applecross or Lochinver ‘circuits’ – for me they were the best bits!
4. Keep your car well-filled with fuel – there are some long stretches without service (gas) stations. Likewise if you need to eat during the day, plan ahead – it wasn’t always easy to find places for lunch.
5. If you like a ‘wee dram’ remember that the drink-drive alcohol limits in Scotland are much lower than the rest of the UK. Likewise, watch the speed limits, especially on faster main roads like the A9 and A82 and around towns, and do give way to following traffic on the single lane with passing place sections.
So thanks for sticking with me – what was going to be a two part blog ended up being five, but then it was almost a two week trip, and the 500 mile advertised route ended up almost 1700 miles door to door for us! But boy, was it worth it! We had a great time, saw some amazing scenery, stayed in fab hotels, ate some fantastic food, and met some really welcoming and friendly people, and a few Highland ‘coos’ too!
Here are a few last photos for now – when I get round to editing them all, I’ll add them to the relevant posts.