Pat has probably already mentioned this in his posts on Scotland’s North Coast 500 (Part 1 and Part 2), but it’s important that if you put it on your bucket list – and you absolutely should – definitely check it off sooner rather than later. The North Coast 500 is being heavily advertised and the days of the lightly traveled, single-track roads are quickly disappearing in the rearview mirror. Rooms are already difficult to come by and rental RVs, much too large for many of the roads, are not an uncommon sight.
*** The map below is interactive. Zoom and pan controls can be used as usual.***
Our days on the North Coast 500 were spent going not very far over a long period of time, stopping every few minutes for a photo op, sheep in the road and, at mid-day, for lunch. In fact, if you believe Google Maps, the leg from Kinlochbervie to Ullapool can take as little as an hour and a half and the same for the leg from Ullapool to Lochcarron. Of course, those routes don’t meander up and down the fingers of rugged, crumbling land that makes up the coast. It’s hardly a straight line.
A Worthwhile Detour
Officially, Kinlochbervie wasn’t on the North Coast 500, but it was close enough to make the diversion. The Kinlochbervie Hotel offered comfortable accommodation, stunning views, and delicious food. We probably should have spent more than one night there and taken advantage of the nearby walking trails and beach, but we had already made reservations for the remainder of our time in Scotland. By the way, if you go in the summer months, reservations at least a couple of weeks in advance are highly recommended.
The next morning we shoved off after a big Scottish breakfast that included smoked salmon, haggis and blood pudding. We pointed the “Scottish Porsche” in the general direction of Ullapool, well, not so much in the direction of but not entirely in the opposite direction either, and got underway.
Land-locked Lakes Don’t Have Tides
Between Kinlochbervie and Ullapool, quite a bit of single-track was left to explore along the coast and lochs. We never tired of the heather-covered hills, the old stone buildings, the ocean or the narrow winding roads. Yes… especially the narrow winding roads. “Sixty?” Pat asked as we passed a speed limit sign. “That must be in kilometers per hour, right?” Even 60kph seemed a bit nuts to us. I assured him that the signs were in miles per hour. “That’s crazy!” he said. I suppose if you post a speed limit that common sense says is too fast – or counter to the laws of physics – you really wouldn’t need to enforce it, would you? Was it a cost-cutting measure? Maybe there was a tow truck driver union or something that lobbied for the signage. I’m not sure how that whole buying-off-a-government-official thing works in Scotland but, don’t be fooled. The speed limits posted are Ludicrous Speed.
When breakfast wore off we popped into a small grocery store and picked up some snacks and a bottle of wine for lunch. The weather wasn’t ideal so we pulled into a parking area overlooking a lake with a small island sporting castle ruins and ate our lunch in the Scottish Porsche. We were entertained by a group of people who made multiple unsuccessful attempts to cross to the island on foot through a shallow section of water. After each failed attempt, they would return to shore, wait a bit and then try again. Maybe they were waiting for low tide. Maybe they didn’t know it was a lake and low tide wasn’t going to arrive any time soon. Maybe they needed to wait for their feet to thaw. Who knows?
Should Have Stayed Longer
Eventually, we arrived at the Ladysmith Guesthouse in Ullapool. Ullapool was a quaint little town with the main street running right along the harbor. Mountains embraced the town right up to the water. Simply charming. Yet again, we booked only one night and could have spent more. The guesthouse was outstanding and breakfast was made to order. Why is it that we don’t eat more mushrooms, tomatoes, and salmon for breakfast in the States? The owners were very friendly and we had a nice long chat before we boarded the Scottish Porsche for the long-short ride to Lochcarron. We waved goodbye and put her in gear.
Stay on the Left
We had a beautiful day for a drive and photos. Surprisingly, the weather behaved and we were able to sit outside along the route for our lunch break. The highlight of the drive was the Applecross pass. It was a bit of white-knuckle-inducing, drop-offing, winding, single track. You never wanted to be the car having to reverse if you met a traveler coming from the other direction in between pull-outs. In that respect, we were lucky but wound up in a bit of a jam very close to the summit. It was a little sketchy but once the American – or tourist hailing from a drive-on-the-right country – put their car back on the left side of the pull-out where it belonged, all was well. We admired the view from the summit then trundled down into Lochcarron where our B&B for the next two nights was located.
Once we settled into our room, I checked emails. Oops, there was an email from the B&B we stayed at the previous night in Ullapool. Apparently, after our long farewell, we skipped out without paying them. That’s not totally out of character for us, we stole the British Porsche too – just for two days. Oh, settle down. Both were accidents and we made sure we paid our debt.
After obtaining directions from our host, we ran down to the Bank of Scotland to make a deposit in the previous night’s B&B’s bank account. I handed the teller the account number but she screwed up her face and said with some animosity, “That is a Royal Bank of Scotland account number. This is the Bank of Scotland. We were founded in 1695!” Apparently the new kids on the block, The Royal Bank of Scotland – founded in 1727 – still had to prove themselves.
Heed Our Warning
The stretch of Scotland between Kinlochbervie and Lochcarron was amazingly beautiful and relatively quiet. Keep in mind that it isn’t going to remain so quiet for very much longer. As we got closer to Lochcarron – and in turn closer to Glasgow – there were many more vehicles and quite a few of the vehicles seemed to be driven by people new to the left side of the road. The most frightening drivers were the wide-eyed folks in the huge RVs that just hit the single-track for the first time. (Please forgive the distinct lack of distilleries in this post. We will fix that in the next post!)
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