By Gabbi Armstrong
Communications Project Manager for the North Coast 500
Published: 8th January 2019


23rd April- 29th April 2019

As the final prize in our winter advent calendar campaign, you can now win a seven-day trip for two people around the North Coast 500 this April (+ an NC500 Explorer Membership). This adventurous prize includes six nights’ accommodation in a wide range of properties – from glamping to B&Bs, and country lodges to self-catering.

This is a trip bound to thrill foodies from start to finish: not only will you enjoy evening meals in restaurants which serve some of the finest local produce in the North Highlands, you’ll also take part in food and drink experiences along the way, including a canoe foodie trip, and a springtime boat tour complete with lunch and luxurious hot chocolate from world-famous Cocoa Mountain.

While this is just a taster trip along the North Coast 500, it’s also a brilliant introduction to some of the areas less travelled in the North Highlands, taking you off the beaten path and into Scotland’s wild, rugged countryside. Even if you don’t win the prize, why not use this itinerary as inspiration for planning your own trip? Each of these overnight stays can be extended if you wish, to let you explore each region of the North Coast 500 in greater detail.

Find out how you can enter the competition at the end of the itinerary!

Day 1: Tuesday 23rd April

Arrive in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands and the official start and end point of your North Coast 500 adventure, and collect your complimentary car from Arnold Clark’s Car and Van Rental in Inverness.

Arnold Clark Car Hire

Arnold Clark Car & Van Rental has over 35 branches throughout the UK, offering a range of competitively priced vehicles for hire, including 4x4s, automatics and nine-seaters. The company provides a range of additional services that you can add to your booking to make the most of your North Coast 500 adventure, such as child seat hire (at a cost of £1 per day), satellite navigation systems, local pick up and drop off, and insurance for additional drivers. Visit their website here:

North Coast 500 members receive a 15% discount on all Arnold Clark car and van rentals – so if you haven’t signed up to be a NC500 member yet, why not do so here?


Your day

It’s time to hit the road! Your journey will take you through the villages of Beauly and Muir of Ord, then on to the market town of Dingwall. Follow the roads along the edge of the Cromarty Firth before venturing off the beaten path as you explore Tain and the historic market town of Dornoch.


Cocoa Mountain, Dornoch

While exploring Dornoch, sample ‘the best hot chocolate in the world’ at Cocoa Mountain, along with a complimentary lunch.

Owners Paul and James founded Cocoa Mountain in June 2006, with a simple aim: to produce the most delicious, fresh, and innovative chocolates on the planet. This independent café’s hot chocolates are the ultimate comfort drink!


Evening Meal

Mac and Wild

Showcasing the best of Scotland’s produce with a little Highland fun along the way, Mac and Wild specialise in wild venison, beef, steak, seafood – as well as a whole lot of whisky, craft beer and gin! The restaurant was opened by Andy Waugh and Calum MacKinnon in June 2018, who took the Falls of Shin restaurant back to its Highland roots, following the launch of two award-winning venues in London.



Arda Glamping

Disconnect from technology, unwind in nature and reconnect with yourself – you’ll feel like you’re playing a starring role in your very own Highland fairy tale at Arda Glamping. Arnor is an off-grid cabin situated on the edge of a clearing in a 130-year-old Caledonian pine wood – an ancient and almost extinct landscape that reveals how Scotland would have looked 400 years ago. The area is abundant with wildlife, and perfect for watching moonrises, stars and – if you’re lucky – the Northern Lights.

Arnor has been lovingly created using reclaimed and recycled materials to provide an authentic hutting experience; an aspect of our Highland heritage all but lost. The hut sleeps two people in a king size bed with a memory foam mattress. It has a compost toilet, premier size shower and cold water on tap, with a kettle and a camp stove for heating. The hut is well equipped with pans, crockery and cutlery to make light meals. Towels, bedding, sheets, extra blankets and hot water bottles are all provided, along with a small gas fire for colder mornings.


Day 2: Wednesday 24th April

Your day

Enjoy the journey northbound up the east coast of the North Coast 500, twisting and turning across the Caithness landscape. With its seaboard villages, Easter Ross is full of history and romance – an area blessed with a fabulous Pictish past, unsurpassed views, scattered fishing communities, award-winning golf courses, fairy tale castles, archaeological wonders, quaint harbours and, of course, whisky! Easter Ross is home to three malt whisky distilleries. If you’re planning to partake in a distillery tour and tasting, just make sure to have a designated driver for the rest of the day – or take samples home to enjoy once you’ve reached your accommodation for the evening.

There are endless things to see and do while exploring the east coast, though our must-visit is Dunrobin Castle, gardens and falconry.

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands, with 189 rooms. Dunrobin Castle is also one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses, dating back to the early 1300s and home to the Earls, and later, the Dukes of Sutherland. The castle is open to tours, and has a museum which you can visit.

Falconry displays take place at 11:30am and 2pm. Complimentary entry has been arranged for you to take a self-guided tour, with an expected arrival time between 11am-12pm.


As you travel towards the stark sea of the north, to the north-eastern region of Caithness, you will notice that much of the land becomes gentler and encompasses rolling expanses of peatland and low-level fertile farmlands. Known as the flow country, this area is rich in archaeological remnants of a bygone age. Explore the history of Caithness, from hidden brochs and standing stones, to ruined castles and cairns scattered throughout the region. The geological features of the Caithness coastline feature soaring sea stacks, raucous colonies of sea birds, and vertically faced headlands jutting out into the wild waters of the Pentland Firth.

Accommodation and Evening Meal

Forss House

Forss House is a gem just waiting to be discovered – a delightful country house hotel set in 20 acres of woodland, below a waterfall, on a loop of the gently meandering River Forss. Dating back to the year 1810, this is the perfect venue in which to recharge your batteries under the big Caithness skies.

Forss House Hotel is home to the only restaurant in Caithness to be awarded two AA Rosettes for culinary excellence, making use of the finest local produce from the neighbouring estate and area. Its reputation as one of the finest dining experiences in the North Highlands is richly deserved. Following your evening meal, retreat upstairs to your accommodation for the night, with a stay in one of Forss House’s 14 distinctive, characterful and comfortable bedrooms.


Day 3: Thursday 25th April

Your day

A journey along the roof of Scotland awaits you! As you continue to wind your way west along the North Coast, the spectacular drive to Lochinver shows you how the land and geology dramatically changes from the wild flatness of Caithness, to the stunning coastline of north west Sutherland. Watch out for farm life and wildlife who also share these roads!

Passing a string of settlements, stretch your legs and admire the north coast’s stunning seascape at Strathy Point, or dip your toes in the pristine waters at Melvich beach. As you travel around the Highlands, you’ll find many wee hamlets and villages to explore off the route.

Spend part of the morning exploring the village of Durness, one of few villages along the way which can only be reached by single track road, home to large farming and crofting communities. Further south, venture off route to Kinlochbervie – a scattered harbour village, home to Britain’s most remote beach. Looking inland from Kinlochbervie, the skyline is dominated by the mountains of Foinaven, Arkle and Ben Stack. Much of the coastline is rocky, but there are also many sandy beaches and bays, such as Oldshoremore and the tiny village of Polin, complete with its own beach.

This whole area is often referred to as ‘Europe’s last wilderness’. From viewing nesting birds at Handa Island, to kayaking, climbing and photography, opportunities abound to get out and about into the wilds of Scotland. This area forms part of the North West Highland Geopark – and you don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the amazing landscape! Not only this, but you’ll be exploring some of Scotland’s best beaches along this section of the North Coast 500. Drive 22 miles of single track road as you meander around the B869 Assynt coastal route. This is a challenging road to drive, with hairpin bends and steep gradients. You may be used to traffic jams at home, and the North Highlands is no exception – although here you’ll need to be prepared to give way to sheep, so drive carefully!

Accommodation and evening meal

Glencanisp Lodge

Just over a mile past the idyllic little fishing village of Lochinver, this gorgeous old Victorian hunting lodge was bought by the community of Assynt and is now run by an enthusiastic, local young couple, Sam and Rachael Hawkins.

Right at the heart of the North West Highland Geopark, Glencanisp Estate encompasses 44,000 acres of community owned land. Glencanisp Lodge provides the perfect base from which you can explore the wild and rugged Assynt wilderness.

The path to the iconic mountain Suilven starts right from the lodge’s front door, with breathtaking views over Assynt. White sandy beaches skirt the coastline just five miles away – so whether you’re looking for a break that includes hiking, biking, fishing, hunting or just relaxing, Glencanisp Lodge is the perfect Highland getaway.


Days 4 and 5: Friday 26th April and Saturday 27th April


Your journey will take you down the west coast through Wester Ross – a land of breathtaking landscapes, secretive hill lochs, mist shrouded mountain peaks and Mediterranean style beaches. Drive through these thriving communities, each with a vibrant culture spanning thousands of years, back to the Neolithic ages. Descend into the picturesque fishing town of Ullapool, then on to the bustling seaside village of Gairloch before journeying around the Applecross Peninsula. As with all the North Coast 500 route, there are ample opportunities to venture off track – from the twisting single track road out towards the Summer Isles and Achiltibuie, to the former fishing village of Badachro, and the small settlement of Red Point Beach.


Spend your morning in the delightful Attadale Gardens in Strathcarron.

Before you pass through the quaint wee villages of Kishorn and Lochcarron, you’ll descend the spectacular Bealach na Ba, Gaelic for ‘Pass of the Cattle’. This is an adrenaline filled drive and not for the faint hearted! Take in the stunning views of Raasay and the Isle of Skye from the summit of this iconic Scottish summit.

Attadale Gardens

Late April is a wonderful time to explore Attadale Gardens, the daffodils will still be out and the huge collection of rhododendrons will be beginning to flower so it should be a perfect opportunity to wander round and enjoy the collection of nearly 20 different sculpture from the heron near the entry Gatehouse to the eagle landing above the old rhododendron dell at the other end of the gardens. Or it may even be snowing! You will receive free entry for two people plus a free guidebook. The winner can explore the gardens themselves or they may opt for a free guided tour around the gardens.


Spend the remainder of your day exploring the Applecross peninsula and the wider Torridon area, including Shieldaig. Or if you didn’t get a chance to explore Gairloch and the surrounding area, head back towards Kinlochewe through the stunning Glen Torridon and spend an hour or two exploring the Beinne Eighe National Nature Reserve.


The Jam Factory

The newly renovated Jam Factory, just 20 minutes’ walk from Applecross offers extremely comfortable self- catering holiday accommodation for two people. This natural stone property is situated privately with its own driveway and separate parking. Inside, you’ll find a warm and welcoming open plan room with a cosy wood burning stove – the perfect place to base yourself for two nights. This secluded, romantic getaway is ideally located for exploring the scenic west coast of Scotland and all it has to offer.


Jam Factory is one of Cottages and Castles favourite cottages for two and one of their most popular for those looking to take a break and reconnect. They love this part of Scotland as we have lots of hidden gems along the route of the NC500. You can pick the length of your stay from a minimum 2 nights to a full week all depending on how much you want to experience in each stop on your personal itinerary. They are there to help you find that perfect holiday home.

Day 6: Sunday 28th April

Back behind the wheel! Drive a short distance back towards Garve before meeting Chris from Liquid Footprints this afternoon for Afternoon Tea and a canoe trip along the picturesque Loch Achility.

Your Day

Afternoon tea and canoe trip with Liquid Footprints

Liquid Footprints is a small family-run business focusing on bespoke personal tours in the Highlands. Traveling by either canoe, sea kayak or your own feet they offer you the chance to explore the stunning landscape, history and food of the Scottish Highlands. Their journeys offer a little extra with the option of luxury hampers or BBQ’s, with all food sourced from the Black Isle. Or maybe try exploring under the sea during one of their Sea Kayaking and Snorkel days. Whatever and however you want to explore the Highlands, Liquid Footprints is your doorway to the Highlands:

Setting off from Loch Achilty, just by Contin, discover the amazing landscape and history of the Scottish Highlands by taking the path less travelled – across the water. All sessions are tailor-made to you and your group’s requirements. Discover the North Coast 500’s lochs and glens – your way!

Following your trip, head back to dry land with them and enjoy afternoon tea with cakes from the local bakery in Dingwall. You’ll spend the remainder of your NC500 travels on the Black Isle. Despite its name, the Black Isle is a peninsula, not an island. This region is best known for its rich farmland and increasingly popular food and drink scene. It’s also one of the best spots in Scotland for spotting dolphins – head to Chanonry Point to be in with a chance of seeing these graceful mammals in the wild.



Old Drynie House

Alasdair and Deirdre will be ready to welcome you warmly to Old Drynie House, a luxurious bed and breakfast on the Black Isle. Found at the end of a long lime tree-lined downhill drive, Old Drynie House was built in a traditional style in 1993, on the site of a ruined mansion house. Surrounding this charming property you’ll find gardens, three paddocks and 20 acres of beautiful parkland – ideal for exploring this spring.


Day 7: Monday 29th April

While this is the final day of your trip. Before returning your car and departing from Inverness, take a boat trip out to sea with EcoVentures.


Eco Ventures

Based in the beautiful town of Cromarty at the heart of the Cromarty Firth, EcoVentures specialises in marine wildlife watching trips using a custom built 9.5 metre RIB. These trips often encounter bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises, seals, minke whales and a wide variety of seabirds. An informative commentary is given throughout the trip, with refreshments provided, as well as waterproof clothing, lifejackets, headbands and goggles.

Enter the competition

To enter the competition, check out our Social Media Channels from 17.30 on the 08/01/19 for instructions:


Please only enter the competition if you accept our Terms and Conditions.

Personal Membership From £15/Year

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