10 unique experiences to try along the NC500 in 2020
Whilst driving the North Coast 500 route is an adventure in itself, there’s so much to see, do and experience along the way. From water sports and hiking, to arts, crafts, history and sampling some of Scotland’s finest food and drinks, it’s easy to see why we always recommend taking at least 7 days to explore the route in detail. Build plenty of experiences into your itinerary and you’ll create a trip to remember for years to come. If you’re looking to try something truly different, look no further than our list of some of the very best unique experiences in the North Highlands.
Canyoning is the more adventurous form of gorge walking, usually having steeper, deeper terrain with longer drops into pools. Join Ace Adventures for an experience like no other as you climb down a 45 foot corkscrew waterfall followed by short jumps into pools, slide plunges, caving under ancient trees that have blocked the canyon, scrambling, climbing and swimming through narrow channels.
Or you could explore Britain’s deepest box canyon, Corrieshalloch Gorge, as Kayak Summer Isles take you on an expedition along the bottom of the gorge to the base of the spectacular 45m high Falls of Measach.
2. Surf the North Coast
The North Coast of Scotland, especially the reef breaks of Caithness, are famous for their heavy barrelling waves – the perfect climate for surfers! During the winter months, surfing is a spectacle for those travelling the NC500 as expert level surfers from all over the world descend here to try and snag one of these world-class waves. The beaches around Bettyhill, Melvich and Dunnet are also perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers. For more hints and tips, take a read through this wonderful blog kindly provided for us by Mark Boyd – Scottish National Surfing Champion, and get out on the water with fellow Scottish National Surfing Champion Iona McLachlan at North Coast Watersports! Be sure to check out their Swell Weekend packages with the Melvich Hotel.
3. Go Wild in the Woodz!
Could you live off the land if you had to? See how much you know by the end of one of Wildwoodz bushcraft courses. Experience the delight that comes with successfully learning the ancient skills that are becoming fashionable again fast. Ray Mears and Bear Grylls have got nothing on you! Bushcraft is not only really great fun but it is also a collection of knowledge that could just save your skin some day. Did you know you could eat that? Did you realise you shouldn’t sleep there? Could you make one of those? With a range of bushcraft sessions to suit ages 8 and up, there’s even a chance to learn how to survive the undead! (WWZ Zombie Survival experience suitable for ages 16+).
4. West Coast Snorkal Trail
Our beautiful beaches with turquoise waters here in the North Highlands could rival the Caribbean – if only they were a little warmer! Don’t let the temperatures put you off, though; with the right equipment, you can view the coastal landscape from a whole new angle – underwater! The West Coast Snorkal Trail includes nine locations around the north-west coast among all our favourite beaches. Another option is to join Liquid Footprints for a combined snorkel and sea kayaking trip to learn more about our shorelines and the best ways in which to navigate them.
5. Forage for Food
Gairloch Canoe and Kayak Centre run a popular Seashore Foraging Walk, an immersive half-day experience to collect wild sea plants, seaweed and shellfish against the ebb and flow of the tides. If you’re looking to head a little further out to sea, book a Creel Experience at Shieldaig Lodge Hotel. Join a local skipper on his traditional creel fishing boat, help haul in the creels from the clear North Highland waters, and take part in an activity that has been part of the fabric of the area for centuries. After a day on the fishing boat, your selection of lobster, langoustines and crab will be served up as a shellfish feast at Shieldaig Lodge.
6. Soak in a Hot Tub!
Imagine soaking in a hot tub under starry skies, surrounded by breathtaking sea and mountain views! Each of West Coast Hideaways‘ three luxury shepherd’s hut has it’s own outdoor relaxing area, complete with a wood-burning hot tub, whilst Braseide Retreats on the North Coast offers private hot tubs where you can relax and recharge whilst watching the sun set over Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the Scottish mainland – bliss.
7. Experience a Traditional Family Run Hill Farm
For a truly unique rural experience, why not get off the beaten track (literally!) at Kirkton Farm with Farm Buggy Tours? Explore this traditional, family-run hill farm in an all terrain, four-wheel-drive buggy, learn about sheep and cattle farming, meet the farm’s famous Highland Cows, discover the natural environment and, at the end of a busy day in the hills, overnight in Kirkton Farm’s fully equipped caravan – all within wandering distance of beautiful, unspoilt sandy beaches.
8. A Garden on the Edge
Located on the shores of Loch Ewe, Inverewe Garden is full of exotic plants from around the world. Wollemi pine, the ‘woodland glory’ erythronium, daisy bushes from New Zealand, Tasmanian Eucalypts and rhododendrons from China, Nepal and India flourish here. Discover a world of unusual and wonderful plants as you meander through the gardens, and be inspired by their museum with a twist and adjacent art gallery.
9. Scotland’s first Global Geopark
The North West Highlands have some of the oldest rocks in western Europe, some of the earliest fossils anywhere in the world and a mind boggling variety of different rocks and geological processes for visitors to explore. Add to this the unique landscapes, cultural heritage, and warm and welcoming communities, and you have the North West Highlands Geopark.
Explore the amazing rocks and landscapes along the Rock Route as you travel through the Geopark; discover the oldest rocks in Britain, fossils of early life and evidence of a massive asteroid impact as you follow the Coigach Geotrail; or join expert Geopark staff for a Weekend Geopark Geotour where they will help you to interpret the geology of this wild and remote highland landscape.
10. Wildlife by day, stars and constellations by night
The blanket bog at RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve is one of the world’s rarest habitats. It has taken 8,000 long years for the deep peat soils to develop. Peatland waders such as golden plover, dunlin and greenshank arrive to breed along with other seasonal wildlife during May and June. Late spring and early summer is the best time to see peatland birds, while later in the summer, rare plant life and insects such as dragonflies and great diving beetles take centre stage. Keep an eye out on the boardwalk for common lizards basking in the sun!
When night falls, the Forsinard Flows lookout tower is a unique vantage point for stargazing and spotting the Northern Lights at the right time of year. They occasionally run star gazing events with the local astronomy group. Alternatively, The Torridon on the west coast has launched an exclusive astronomy experience with local astronomer Stephen Mackintosh.