The North Coast 500 is the road trip of a life-time. And what's more it's pretty much right on our doorstep. It's a 516-mile expedition taking in the wild and glorious scenery of the Highlands of Northern Scotland - rugged mountains, moorland, blue seas and white sand beaches. You can keep Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway, for our money the North Coast 500 is even more breath-taking.
The route can be driven in about a week, but it isn’t a race. The North Coast 500 is a journey that deserves to be taken slowly, with time to pause and drink in the incredible views, taste the mountain air and watch the sunsets over the Western Isles.
Colonies of Bottlenose dolphins live in the brisk and chilly waters of the Moray Firth off the coast of Eilean Dubh, the Black Isle, which isn’t actually an island but a peninsula on the east coast. Slightly off the North Coast route, it's worth taking a detour to this world famous dolphin spotting location. North Kessock and Chanonry Point are two prime places to get a look at these amazing creatures, especially during spring and summer. Chanonry Point is probably the most well known place on the Black Isle to see dolphins and has its own dedicated dolphin shuttle bus service running from Inverness. The best place to see them is from the strip of shingle beach beside the lighthouse and the best time is when the tide's coming in and they start surfing the incoming waves on the hunt for food. Less crowded than Chanonry Point is the village of North Kessock, where you can settle on one of the waterfront benches and spot dolphins and maybe other local wildlife like orca, pilots whales, otters and seals.
One of the largest sea caves in Europe, Smoo, near Durness, on the northern coast, is a huge 50ft high space carved out of the limestone rock by both the sea and freshwater. Inside you’ll find a magical waterfall, created when the Smoo burn overflows and pours from above down into the caves. The best time to see the waterfall is after periods of heavy rain when the burn above is in full spate.
Built in the 16th century, Old Keiss Castle has been a dramatic ruin since the 18th century, when the Earls of Caithness abandoned it for a newly built mansion house a safer distance from the clifftops. Perched on the very edge of a sheer cliff face, overlooking Sinclair’s Bay, Keiss looks permanently on the verge of slipping into the sea. Needless to say it's much too risky to go inside and is best enjoyed from a panoramic distance. Also keep a look out for seals bobbing in the waters below this beautiful site.
On the north western tip of Scotland, the remote Sandwood Bay beach bears the full brunt of the wild Atlantic. You'll be glad you made the four mile moorland hike from the car park to find it, because Sandwood is reputedly one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain. It has a mile and a half of almost pink sand, flanked by dunes and the spectacular Am Buachaille sea-stack rising out of the sparkling turquoise waters. Its hidden location and lack of road access means it's never crowded and sometimes if you're lucky you can have this stunning place all to yourself.