Scotland

The highs and lows of the North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 has some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption The North Coast 500 has some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe

A new four-part BBC Alba documentary takes a tour on the North Coast 500.

At times lonely, often enchanting, but almost always surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Stunning deserted beaches, deliciously fresh seafood, picture-perfect lochs, old golf courses, proper hospitality, a diverse array of wildlife and enough outdoor activities to tire out even the most active of adventurers.

But what could I be talking about?

The Amalfi Coast in Italy? Côte d'Azur in France? The Great Ocean Road down under? Nope, it's our very own Bonnie Scotland and the country's answer to Route 66 - the North Coast 500.

Torridon Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption Torridon is one of the many places Anne drove through on her trip

It forms a loop around the whole northern tip of Scotland, from Inverness venturing round the capital of the Highlands, up the West Coast and back via the rugged north coast.

The itinerary was designed by the North Highland Initiative, a non-profit organisation established by Prince Charles to spread the love across less-visited parts of the northern Highlands.

The North Coast 500 follows a route around the north of Scotland Image copyright North Coast 500
Image caption The North Coast 500 follows a route around the north of Scotland

As an islander, I'm fairly well travelled.

I'm very fortunate to have visited many places all over the world for both work and pleasure - but what is sitting on our doorstep here is unrivalled anywhere I've ever been on this earth.

I'm a bit biased when it comes to the islands.

The thought that anywhere else in Scotland could be as beautiful and spectacular in terms of scenery, isn't a notion that we often entertain.

The mainland comes pretty close though - and this route certainly does not disappoint.

Anne Lundon Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption Anne says the driving experience was "pretty spectacular"

For one, the driving experience is pretty spectacular.

Many of the roads encountered on the route are not for the faint-hearted.

For example, the sign at the foot of Bealach na Bà leading to Applecross reads "not advised for learner drivers".

The weather turned on me a bit here - but I survived to tell the tale.

Loch Erribol Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption Sun glare driving by Loch Eriboll

Narrow, single-track country roads are commonplace for many parts of the route.

Blind summits, hairpin bends and vertiginous edges are commonplace.

Throw in the odd sheep, cow or deer at the side or in the middle of the road, and, of course, increased traffic, with a mixture of cyclists, motorbikes, cars, and campervans, and it is certainly a drive unlike any other.

Ullapool Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption Ullapool is one of the towns on the North Coast 500 route

I would say that activities, and facilities along the way cater to quite a diverse variety of tastes and budgets.

From campsites and dormitories to hostels and B&B's and hotels.

Food can be as luxurious as you like. From grabbing something on the go to some serious fine dining.

If you're into seafood - I can say that I've never tasted seafood so fresh and delicious as I did on the west coast.

Loch Assynt Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption Loch Assynt was another pleasant place to stop

We were very fortunate with the weather.

We travelled in September because we thought the route would be quiet.

I'm not sure it's ever that quiet though these days.

We met many people along the way.

But do be aware that beautiful weather may not last. This is Scotland after all, where four seasons can be experienced in one afternoon - or even in one hour.

And we've had hail and snow in May this year.

Gairloch Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption Gairloch is another of the spots along the way

Therefore it is essential that you pack for (and mentally prepare yourself) to have some rain and potentially 'dreech' weather while on the route.

Strong winds and sideways rain are common for coastal areas of Scotland.

Although coming from the Isle of Lewis - this doesn't faze me in the slightest.

I would say that not having to beg "Mrs Macdonald" in a B&B along the way to dry my clothes in her tumble dryer from getting soaked to the skin in sideways rain would mean that we were pretty lucky.

And, I'm happy to say, that this trip more than lives up to the hype.

John o'Groats Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption John o'Groats is the northern extreme but there is still the whole eastern section to come

Perhaps my favourite thing about this whole route was the limited phone signal and lack of 4G.

In a world where many people rely on the internet or telephone as part of their daily lives; what better way to get away from it all than on one of the best road trips you'll ever see in your life?

With many people choosing a "staycation" over travelling abroad these days - I would highly recommend the route.

Perhaps a word of warning - or advice.

Bikers Image copyright BBC Alba
Image caption These bikers at the Badachro Inn were from Caithness and doing the route anti-clockwise

Be prepared for all weathers. From a bikini and sunscreen to a midge net and a rain jacket.

Ah yes, the dreaded midges.

I did actually meet some foreign travellers setting out on their journey as I was finishing, who had never heard of them. Oh dear.

I still wonder how they got on, or how they coped with no repellent or midge net.

I would love to do the route anti-clockwise - just to see everything from a different perspective - and I would also spend more time.

We had eight days to do it and although still made the most of the whole experience - I would have liked more time.

But if you are lucky enough to have good weather when you visit - and even if you're not -- I'm quite sure that you will leave with no doubt that this is one of best road trips in Europe, perhaps even the world.

North Coast 500 with Anne Lundon is on BBC Alba for the four weeks from Tuesday 16 May at 20:30.

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