NC500 Road Trip #yogaeverydamnday!
No words or pictures can properly do justice to the beauty that is the North Coast 500. It's an experience that allows you to connect with everything; the road, the sea, the weather, the sky, the map (yes, we had to use an actual map!), the mountains and, the soul of Scotland. It's 512 miles of unspoiled natural beauty, laced with epic viewpoints, fairy-tale castles, Caribbean-esque beaches, caves, ruins, tropical gardens, amazing seafood and so.much.more!
The NC500 has always been there, obviously. But they seem to have done a re-branding exercise and now this circular route is at the top of any list naming the 'best road trips'. There are a few different ways to go, not many, but there are a lot of diversions to take and different things to explore/do on this road trip. Our journey started in St. Andrews, then on to Perth, where my friend and I met my sister Jane and that was the beginning of the 3 of us on a living, breathing tour of The North. Instead for giving you all the details of each and every stop, or explain everything we did, I'll just give the highlights, our highlights. Not because I'm lazy, or don't enjoy writing, but because this journey, this epic journey, is one that can only be felt, it truly touches you and can only be really enjoyed by being there, doing it, driving it...doing yoga poses in it :-)
Bealach na Ba (Gaelic for “pass of the cattle”) pass towards Applecross. It's a beautiful accent into the mountains with the smallest hairpin turns that force you to go really slow, which is fine because well, it's kinda scary! Going slow and even stopping for awhile to let cars pass allowed us to really take in just how high we were going. An unexpected treat, as it felt like we experienced at least 3 seasons whilst on the pass. Be cautious, be careful, but enjoy it all.
Inverewe Gardens. Even though we were immersed in natural beauty, we still wanted to see the Gardens because we read it was a 'tropical experience'. And it was! Lush plants, extraordinary colours, beautiful ponds all alongside a gorgeous loch. I imagine in Summer, it's even more of a sensory delight.
Ardvreck Castle. A castle ruin built in 1590 by the Clan Macleod. This ruin is said to be haunted by two ghosts, The Marquis of Montrose, a Royalist who fought for Charles I against the Covenanters. I think he was held there because being taken to Edinburgh for execution. The other, the MacLeods procured the help of Clootie (the Scottish name for the Devil) to build Ardvreck Castle and in return, the daughter of one of the MacLeod chieftains was betrothed to him as payment. In despair, the girl threw herself from one of the towers and died. Her spirit is said to haunt the area, especially in and around Loch Assynt. There are more haunting stories of the Calda House, nearby. There was a bit of darkness, not just the gloomy day, but a strange feeling surrounding this ruin....
Balnakeil Beach. If we hadn't got of the car, it could have been the Caribbean! But we did get out of the car, therefore we were hit with crazy winds and frigid temperatures. But again, if you go in Summer, I'm sure you'd get to enjoy a beach day. But go anyways, it's gorgeous and wild and unspoiled.
Smoo Cave. It was nice to walk down and see the waterfall inside this deep cave. but we really enjoyed the scenery along the cave and the outlet to the sea. It was gorgeous and the layers of rocks was like looking at the creation of the earth.
Dunnet Head/John O'Groats. I'm not sure which is technically the 'norther-nest point of Scotland'? They both seemed to have claimed it. But if Dunnet Head is not on your itinerary, put it there. It's quite, unlike John O'Groats, with amazing cliffs, WWI bunkers and a lighthouse. The views, the bird watching and the cliffs (did I mention cliffs?) are epic. John O'Groats has the sign and Starbucks coffee. Enough said.
Bring a map, you know, the old paper ones? There are stretches where you won't have any service at all, so you'll need to rely on a map.
Give yourself AT LEAST 4-5 nights. We were surprised how slow we were going, one because the single track road and two, the scenery. You'll want to stop, you'll want 'hey let's see where this goes', so give yourself plenty of time to really experience stuff off the road.
Book your accommodations. We were fine having gone in April, but I imagine going in the summer, it will be hard to find a place to sleep if you haven't booked in advance.
Bring snacks. Because no matter if you've just had a full Scottish breakfast, there is something about the a car ride that makes you have an insatiable appetite.
Wake up early, walk and do YOGA.