How To Do a Scottish Weekend Getaway – North Coast 500
Autumn has come and is almost gone. As we sit at our desks, pondering what excuse to give the boss to leave a bit earlier today, we can’t help but wonder where all the time has gone.
It feels like summer was only yesterday. You can still feel the sun’s warmth on your face and the grit of the sand between your toes. You look up from your desk and realise, although it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s almost night time. In the blink of an eye, autumn has delighted us with a splash of colour and crispier mornings and almost vanished entirely, leaving trees naked and one thinking about the better days.
But fret not, my dear reader, because, with every leaf that drops, we are getting closer and closer to the holiday season. This can mean a lot of things to different people. It can mean joy, laughing with the family, snow sports, going sideways at each roundabout in the snow because you are a child or, it can mean time for a break! It’s been an intense 5 months since you had some time away and you feel like you deserve a little break. With work, friends and family commitments, things that all of us tend to busy ourselves with every holiday season, it can be difficult to find time to go on an adventure and recharge our batteries.
Enter the short weekend break and the myriad of destinations Scotland has to offer! In this article, I will endeavor to give you an idea of what a really good weekend getaway would be like for the keen driver in this beautiful country called Scotland. This is something that I attempted myself a while ago and it proved successful. You don’t need a lot of money to do it and it doesn’t take very long to plan. All you need is your car all ready and a thirst for adventure and driving thrills.
As crazy as it sounds, my idea of a good weekend getaway for someone who really enjoys driving and travelling is doing the North Coast 500 tour. Its start and finish points are in Inverness, it’s a little over 500 miles in length and it would normally take a week to complete. Now, after hearing that, I know what you might be thinking. I am not mad, so please hear me out!
You don’t have to do it like it says in the books. Don’t do it like everyone else! Be a little creative! You are passionate about driving and exploring, so it should be a good opportunity for you to get some serious miles under your belt and enjoy the beautiful roads up north.
I personally started in Glasgow, given that that’s where I am based, but you can start from anywhere you want in Scotland. If you live further south of Glasgow, then it would probably be a good idea to find a place to stay closer to the route.
For the first stint, I chose to do Glasgow to Ullapool, with an overnight stay in Ullapool. It’s a total of 8.5 hours of driving and you’ll be covering 317 miles! It’s business as usual, initially, as you make your way up north from Glasgow on the A82. Going past Fort William, you will turn left at Invergarry and follow A87 towards Applecross. The roads here are absolutely breathtaking. Plenty of corners of varying degrees and lots of opportunities to overtake, should you feel the need to. I say that because, given that it’s way after the touristy season, the roads up north are pretty much empty, with the exception of a few locals so you won’t have anyone hindering your progress and you will be able to enjoy your drive to the fullest!
Now I have to give the Applecross Pass a mention because it will arguably be the highlight of your first day of driving. The Pass starts in Tornapress and takes you up and over the morven into Applecross. It is a spectacular drive, on a single track road, with lots of tight, blind turns and absolutely no safety barriers! It is not for the faint of heart, and I mean both car and driver!
On the way up, you will most likely not go past second or third gear, even if you drive something more potent. My little fiesta screamed all the way to the top in 2nd gear and when we stopped at the viewpoint at the top, the fans were still hauling in an effort to cool the engine down for a good few minutes. Do not attempt this if you have any reservations about your car! This is truer when it comes to going down to Applecross. You lose altitude ridiculously quickly and for the majority of the time, engine braking will not suffice to keep you rolling down at a constant speed. Your brakes will definitely be put to the test and if they are not in tip-top condition, they will fail! My rear brakes are drum brakes and were squealing for dear life by the time we reached the bottom of the hill! If you do it though, it is a rewarding bit of drive, one that you will remember forever!
You can then carry on northwards, alongside the coastline of the Applecross peninsula, until you reach Ullapool, your stay for the night.
The second day of driving will be slightly shorter, albeit a lot more picturesque, with loads of opportunities to stop and admire the scenery. This time you will follow the coast line, from Ullapool, all the way to John o’Groats. This stint is only roughly 180 miles but can take just as long to complete as day 1.
A highlight for me, on day two, would have to be Strathy Point Lighthouse and I wholeheartedly recommend you stop off and go for a walk through the farm and have a look at the vastness of the ocean in front of you. It will make you feel like you are on top of the world! And while you are there, you might want to stop and say hello to the lovely resident chickens!
After a good night’s sleep at John o’Groats, it will be time for the final stint of this weekend getaway, back down to Glasgow. This is a very scenic drive on the east coast of Scotland and, for the first time in your trip, it will be a normal A road with fewer bends and more fast straights.
For me, the highlight on this third and final stint would have to be Dunrobin Castle, just outside Golspie. It is an amazing place to stop off and have a look around the beautifully appointed gardens and estate. The castle itself will be closed during this time of the year unfortunately, but there is plenty of exploring to do outside.
If you have more time, or if you would rather do other things than the ones that I mentioned above, here are a few honourable mentions: walk to the Fyrish Monument, Castletown, the Flagstone Trail and Battery, Black Rock Gorge and many others!
During winter, there are also amazing opportunities for star gazing and also spotting the Northern Lights!
There are a few pointers I feel obliged to give though, if you are travelling at this time of the year.
During the winter months, the Highlands can be a very unpredictable place when it comes meteorological conditions and snow can always be just around the corner, especially at higher altitudes. Therefore, you should keep an eye on the weather forecast, make sure you have all your accommodation booked in advance and, most importantly, make sure your car is properly equipped for winter. I know this is a bit of a taboo topic in the United Kingdom, but I highly recommend you have winter tyres put on your car. They not only work a million times better should you get snow, but they also provide better performance in wet conditions if the ambient temperature is below 7 degrees centigrade.
Another important aspect of driving up north is fuel. Petrol stations are few and far between so it’s best that when you find one to take the opportunity to fill the tank up, as you might not find another one for many hours.
And lastly, make sure your car is roadworthy. If you aren’t mechanically minded, take it in to your local garage and have them give it a once over so that you are 100% sure the car is capable of tackling the grueling 500 miles ahead.
So there you have it! This is my idea of a weekend getaway for the keen driver in Scotland! I hope you enjoyed it and if you have any comments, don’t hesitate to leave them down below!