What to do on a rainy day along the North Coast 500
Don’t let a spell of bad weather spoil your trip along the North Coast 500; come rain or shine, the North Highlands is home to a whole host of sites and activities waiting to be discovered.
Part of the reason that Scotland’s scenery is so magnificent and green is because of the frequent rain – and to put another positive spin on it, if the weather isn’t great, wait for half an hour – it will probably change…
That being said, heavy rain can put a dampener on things, and while much of the scenery in the North Highlands is best enjoyed in dry weather, there’s still plenty to be enjoyed along the North Coast 500 route when the weather takes a turn. In this section, we’ll highlight some of our favourite activities to be enjoyed on a rainy day in the North Highlands…
Make a day of it in Inverness
If the first or the last day of your travels is a rainy one, why not opt to spend the day in Inverness and visit the many attractions in the capital of the Highlands? Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is the perfect starting point for learning all about the city. The beautiful architecture of Inverness Cathedral is worth visiting, and take time to visit Inverness Castle, too – the official beginning and end point of the North Coast 500 route.
While you’re in Inverness, why not take a cruise on Loch Ness with Jacobite Cruises? With 10 different cruise and tour experiences available, you’ll be sure to receive a warm, Highland welcome! As you sail down the loch, you’ll learn more about the history, mystery and myths of perhaps Scotland’s most famous loch – and who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of Nessie herself! Loch Ness by Jacobite runs excursions seven days a week, 363 days of the year.
Hop over to the Black Isle Brewery
Make time to explore the Black Isle, too! The Black Isle is famous for the quality of its malting barley, so stop in past the Black Isle Brewery and learn how their fabulous range of organic craft beers are made. After your tour, browse the shop and choose bottles to take home with you, or to enjoy back at your accommodation. During the summer, tours run on average twice an hour. Did you know you can purchase your very own NC500 beer?
While you’re in the area, why not visit the rocpools at Rosemarkie beach? For more information, see our Black Isle guide.
Step back in time at museums and heritage centres
To learn more about Pictish times in Scotland, visit Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie, home to an impressive collection of Pictish carved stones, dating back more than 1,200 years. The museum always has activities for children, so it’s ideal if you’re travelling as a family.
Further up the east coast, Tain Through Time helps to preserve and interpret the colourful history of Easter Ross. Over on the west coast, make sure to visit Ullapool Museum, housed in a Category A listed building, while Timespan in Helmsdale has a virtual reality app which takes you back in time, allowing you to retrace your family history. Great fun for a rainy day! Visit our history section or see how you can get involved with the family
Get crafty at Aurorabearealis
Situated at North Kessock on the Beauly Firth, Aurorabearealis is the creative hub in North Kessock is the studio gallery of both artist and craft maker Susan Phillips (Aurorabearealis) and wildlife photographer Charlie Phillips. Charlie is a well-known, award-winning professional wildlife photographer, and a marine charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation Field Officer (he studies dolphins for a living!) while Susan practices many different crafts; hand-making a diverse range of items for the gallery, jewellery and bead crafts, felting, fabric and textile work, fine art, cards and even miniature artist bears. Take shelter from the rain and get creative! Speak to Charlie and find out some hints and tips on finding the dolphins.
Enjoy some of Scotland’s very best food and drink
From a gourmet feast at The Torridon Hotel to embarking on Glenmorangie’s whisky heritage tour, including a fabulous lunch at Glenmorangie House, the North Highlands has numerous options to delight foodies of all ages, tastes and appetites. Visit the Storehouse and sample their fabulous farm produce, or savour a seafood bonanaza at Kishorn Seafood Bar. The choice is yours!
Warm your cockles with a dram at a whisky distillery
What better way to wait for the rain to pass than by learning about Scotland’s national drink, and the importance that rain has in the whisky distilling process? Just make sure that you have a designated driver, or plan to stop overnight near a distillery.
Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain offers a range of tours daily, all of which allow you to visit the tallest copper stills in Scotland. If you opt for a Heritage Tour, you’ll be served lunch at the iconic Glenmorangie House, too – as well as enjoying a tasting of three key Glenmorangie expressions.
If whisky isn’t your drink of choice, why not pay a visit to Dunnet Bay Distillers in Caithness? Producing Rock Rose gin and Holy Grass vodka, using locally foraged botanicals, Dunnet Bay Distillers is owned by husband-and-wife team Martin and Claire Murray.
For more information, check out our whisky itinerary.
Explore the villages and towns off the beaten path in your car
No matter what the weather decides to do, the scenery in the North Highlands is just as beautiful – even with moody skies and rain-soaked landscapes. Achiltibuie and Kinlochbervie on the west coast get our vote for their stunning scenery! Enjoy the beautiful landscapes, stop off in book shops and cafes, and have a relaxing journey.
Likewise, if you’re looking to get off the beaten path..why not get better acquainted with the fishing villages of the east coast, from the comfort of your car? Did you know that Portmahomack on the east coast only gets just over 600mm of rain a year, compared to the west coast which gets over 2,000mm?
Explore Rockfield, Portmahomack, Tain, Invergordon and Dornoch – and don’t miss Alness, with its pretty floral displays. Read up on our article about the fishing villages of the east coast before you depart.
Why not explore the interior areas of the North Coast 500 on a rainy day, rather than sticking to the 516 miles of coastline? A particular favourite activity of ours on a rainy day is Forsinard Flows lookout tower – visit the Dubh Lochan pools, rich with wildlife, and learn about the peat bogs which make up this natural landscape.
Warm up with a hot chocolate at Cocoa Mountain
Sometimes the best thing to do on a rainy day is just to curl up with a hot drink and just enjoy being indoors! In Balnakeil and Dornoch, Cocoa Mountain’s famous chocolates and truffles are made using as many organic ingredients as possible. Warm up with a decadent hot chocolate or ‘Mountain Mocha’ in Cocoa Mountain’s cosy café – best enjoyed with a couple of their artisan truffles, too.
Discover the secret tea garden
Surrounded by remote unspoiled white sand beaches, breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery and magnificent coastal views, Assynt Aroma’s Secret Tea Garden is nestled in the tiny picture-postcard hamlet of Drumbeg. Coffees, tea and cold drinks, including their deliciously refreshing homemade lemonade, are all on offer, plus their ‘famous’ fully loaded hot chocolates, piled high with whipped cream and finished with a chocolate flake and chocolate sauce – a must for you chocoholics out there! Don’t forget to browse and smell your way around the wee Candle shop. The perfect way to spend an hour out of the rain.
Enjoy art galleries, craft shops and experiences
Join a studio and paint – or simply visit some of the numerous events held along the North Coast 500 route, such as Golspie Gallery and Lyth Arts Centre. For more inspiration, read our dedicated arts and crafts feature. Why not try your hand at jewellery making or print making?
When the weather outside takes a turn, take the opportunity to indulge in a little ‘me’ time! Enjoy a treatment at the Aspen Spa at Links House at Royal Dornoch, or indulge in a spa break at the Royal Marine Hotel Brora.
Indulge in afternoon tea
Treat yourself to afternoon tea along the North Coast 500 – the perfect rainy day activity for foodies in the North Highlands! Opt for The Torridon’s take on this classic experience, served in their plush library, in front of a roaring log fire, or stop in past Ackergill Tower for a traditional Highland afternoon tea. In Beauly, The Priory Hotel serves freshly-prepared sandwiches and cakes, while at Chanterelle Kinkel, on the Black Isle, you can choose a Chanterelle Cocktail Afternoon Tea. Alternatively, visit the seaside town of Dornoch for a traditional afternoon tea at Links House.
Browse Picaresque Books and Gallerie Fanoosh
Bookworms, rejoice! The North Coast 500 is dotted with numerous libraries and bookshops, and there’s no better place to begin than Picaresque Books. This charming shop and gallery in Dingwall is home to an eclectic and extensive selection of books on all kinds of subjects. Antiquarian books and first editions can be found here, as well as a wide choice from Dingwall’s own publisher.
In the adjoining Gallerie Fantoosh, you’ll find a mix of modern and unique arts and crafts, glass, ceramics, jewellery and accessories.
Wander through the gardens
On a rainy day, you’ll be able to enjoy the most amazing smells in some of the gardens along the North Coast 500 route. Attadale Gardens by Strathcarron is a delightful hidden gem – and if the weather deteriorates further, stop by their house café for tea and cake.
Take a wildlife tour
Book an experience with Caithness Wildlife Tours from the comfort of their minibus – whether it’s for a full day or just a couple of hours, you’ll be sure to see a variety of wildlife. Invercassley Cottage B&B also offer guided wildlife trips in their Land Rover, and Mey House also offer tours locally.
Create your own fragrance
The Fragrant Mind is a small family run business on the north-east coast, by Wick, with a mission to deliver high quality, unique, handmade perfumes, personal care products, toiletries, candles and everything else aroma-related. All products are formulated and created by Olga, who can help you create your own signature scent – the perfect indoor activity for a rainy day!
Take a walk on the wild side
The Bone Caves are a delightful walk, even when it’s raining – at least you’ll be in shelter for part of the time! Walkers here have previously found bones of species such as lynx, reindeer and polar bear which once roamed here centuries ago. Likewise, Smoo Cave, around a mile east of Durness, is set into Sutherland’s limestone cliffs and can be explored on foot or why not take the 20 minute cave tour with the local guide. The area’s weather affects the water levels in the cave..in warmer months you may not be able to see the waterfall.
Visit a castle
On a rainy day, why not take shelter and learn more about Scotland’s history? Dunrobin Castle by Golspie dates back to the 1300s and is one of Britain’s oldest consistently inhabited houses. Did you know it was used as a naval hospital during the First World War, and latterly as a boy’s boarding school? Further up the coast, The Castle of Mey by Thurso was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1996.
Look for cruise ships in Invergordon
Why not tie in a trip to Invergordon, where you can spot cruise ships from around the world? Find out here, what cruise ships are visiting in 2018: Invergordon Cruise Liner List 2018
Take part in a water-based activity
Well, you’re going to get wet anyway! Ace Adventures & Hideaways offer the best white water rafting in Scotland. It’s a good thing Scotland is blessed with plenty of rain!
Why not try out canoeing or sea kayacking with Hamlet Mountaineering or Liquid Footprints – or learn how to gorge scramble with The Torridon activities? Gairloch Canoe Centre also allows you to go sea kayacking around Gairloch and canoeing on Loch Maree.
If you’re not a fair weather golfer, get stuck in to the numerous top quality golf courses along the North Coast 500 route. With courses at Wick, Brora, Alness and Muir of Ord, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Reay Golf Club is particularly special, as Britain’s most northerly 18 hole links course.
If golf isn’t your game, why not visit one of the numerous leisure centres and indoor sporting facilities along the route?
Hit the shops
Rain – the perfect excuse to go shopping! The Jail Dornoch is a spacious, contemporary store housed in the country of Sutherland’s former 19th century jail, offering a superb selection of unique Scottish gift ideas, jewellery, accessories, luxurious cashmere and quality country wear. Riverside Interiors combines traditional Scottish gifts with an exclusive collection of contemporary and design led gifts – from watches, handbags, designer jewellery, scarves and homeware, to high quality furniture, sofas and lighting.
For more inspiration as to where to shop, why not visit our feature on retail experiences?