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The perfect pairing of wilderness and wonder: drive Scotland’s answer to Route 66 and combine with the magical islands of Orkney.
The North Coast 500 has garnered an enviable reputation as one of the world’s great touring routes – known as Scotland‘s answer to ‘Route 66’ – and offers keen drivers challenging roads and breath-taking scenery, while Orkney – just a 90-minute ferry crossing away – is like another world, where ancient Neolithic history meets unique landscape and more terrific driving.
Our unique road trip itinerary combines both with alluring, comfortable accommodation.
Designed to begin in Inverness, though we can tailor your holiday to suit your individual requirements, your first stop is at a breathtakingly beautiful location in wild Wester Ross. You can choose a route from Inverness that traverses the shores of Loch Ness, passes much photographed Eilean Donan castle and includes the Bealach na Bà on the Applecross peninsula, one of the most exhilarating roads in the UK.
Your Hotel in Wester Ross
Nestled in the heart of Wester Ross, with its spectacular sunsets and golden sandy beaches, your hotel offers a fabulous location with stunning, panoramic views across the loch to Skye and the Hebrides. Stylish and comfortable, in contrast to its rugged surroundings, it’s the perfect location to explore the local area. You must experience the conservatory, it’s the ideal place to sit and enjoy the stunning vistas after a day on the road.
Heading north today, you can afford to ease off the gas a little and make as many stops as you wish, taking time to soak in the incredible scenery in this part of Scotland. Deep sea-lochs, endless sandy beaches and towering mountains combine to put on a spectacular show around every bend.
One of the area’s more unusual hotels, we love this most interesting property, its setting and ethos. An amalgam of coffee bar, restaurant, bookshop, art space and hotel, the place has been moulded over the years by its owners, and established as the prime social centre of arts and crafts for miles around.
The relaxing guest lounge upstairs features a collection of the most comfortable couches, from where the array of books and games can be enjoyed over a never-ending supply of free tea and coffee or a drink from the honesty bar. There’s every chance you’ll strike up dialogue with locals and travellers alike, while the sound of traditional music and poetry drifts in from the bar. Food served here is of good quality local produce, with seafood and vegetarian dishes dominating the menu.
The in-house bookshop carries a unique selection of books on Scotland, Scottish writing, art and history, while rare publications and special editions are a feature of the available stock. A selection of books from the shop feature in each bedroom too, and guest are welcome to purchase on check-out.
Your route today takes you through some of the last genuine wilderness left in Europe, featuring vast stretches of uninhabited land interspersed with the odd isolated crofthouse, ruined castle or humble bothy. Scotland’s north coast boasts some of the country’s best unspoiled beaches and dramatic landscape, as well as a wealth of fascinating history just off the thrilling roads you’ll find here. Your destination at Thurso is a relatively bustling town, with authentic bars, a couple of terrific restaurants and a rich history.
A warm welcome is assured here at this locally owned guest house, whose host is only too happy to impart her vast knowledge of the surrounding area. The house blends traditional and modern elements and is conveniently placed for Thurso town, its bars and restaurants and historic centre, while the stunning Caithness coast is right on the doorstep.
This morning cross by ferry from Scrabster – a mere 90 minute crossing – and find yourself in the evocative and atmospheric landscape of Orkney, which you can now explore for the next three days.
Steeped in ancient history, the Orkney Islands (or ‘Orkney’, but never ‘the Orkneys’) make for an extraordinary holiday destination. UNESCO has designated parts of Orkney Mainland a World Heritage site, including the Standing Stones at Stenness, some of which stand 6m tall, while the nearby Ring of Brodgar is accessible at any time, and especially enchanting near dusk.
Dating from 3000BC, the dwellings at Skara Brae beautifully illustrate how ancient communities thrived on these islands, while the impressive chambered cairn of Maeshowe is another must-see.
Reminders of Orkney’s role during two World Wars are dotted around and throughout the islands, the Italian Chapel constructed by POWs is a particularly poignant relic.
Of course, there’s no shortage of wildlife here, birdwatching being of particular appeal, while you might be lucky to spot seals and various other sealife – dolphins, porpoises, minke and even killer whales are often seen frolicking. Back on land, there’s no shortage of fresh seafood, while local craftspeople produce an array of world-class products including knitwear and jewellery.
Located on the outskirts of Kirkwall, the hotel is traditionally furnished, offering you the chance to find out just how comfortable Orkney chairs really are! The owners have put tremendous effort into creating a genuine feel throughout the hotel. All rooms are individually styled with Orcadian names.
Boasting an excellent reputation as a destination for locals, the restaurant features menus packed with local produce, including lamb or mutton with its distinctive flavour, due to the seaweed diet of North Ronaldsay sheep, plus local seafood including mouth-watering prawns, succulent salmon and delicious stir-fried squid. The hotel has ample lounge areas and a whisky snug, where you will be tempted to try a dram or two from a very wide range.
Your journey south begins with a different ferry, from St. Margaret’s Hope to Gills Bay close to John o’ Groats. You will probably want to stop here to record your visit to the most northerly UK settlement – and maybe venture to Dunnet Head, the northernmost point on the UK mainland. From here you’ll drop down the east coast, with plenty of fascinating stopping points along the way as you head to your last destination, the pretty Highland town of Dornoch.
Steeped in Scottish history and fascinating legends, this 15th century Castle is now well established as a comfortable hotel in this attractive historic town.
It firmly stands its ground opposite the inspiring 12th century Cathedral. Rooms are divided between the old castle and a tasteful modern extension, which enjoys views to the garden.
It’s a fairly short hop today towards Inverness via Dingwall and Beauly, though there are a number of terrific whistle-stops you may wish to make as you head to the Highland capital; Glenmorangie distillery visitor centre is very close by, for example. As you ease in to the city, steer towards Inverness castle, park up and give yourself a pat on the back, as you have just completed the North Coast 500 – with added Orkney!
This self-drive touring holiday will take you around the north coast of Scotland, with your first two nights’ accommodation in Shieldaig, followed by two nights in Ross-shire and two in Thurso. You will then travel by ferry to Orkney for three nights, and finally finish back on the mainland in Dornoch.
£1265 per person in March, £1295 per person in April & October, £1375 per person in May through September.
Price is based on two adults sharing a double or twin en-suite room for 11 nights on a bed and breakfast basis in our hand-picked selection of small hotels and guest houses and return ferry crossings to Orkney.
Before your departure, you will receive personalised holiday information including full directions, recommended routes, and suggestions on places to visit depending on your interests and our local knowledge to help you get the most from your holiday.
All itineraries and room types are presented subject to availability at specific hotels.
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This holiday can be arranged from March to October.
Availability is individually checked for a hand-picked selection of smaller hotels, guest houses and other independent businesses, so please bear with us and we will respond in 1-2 working days.
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All our holiday prices include a service charge of £9 per person per night towards the costs we incur in researching, planning and designing your holiday.
We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.
Drive the North Coast 500, Scotland’s acclaimed 516-mile touring route around some of the country’s remotest parts, and chances are you’ll end u...
Every day we looked forward to a stay in a lovely place with a warm welcome…the scenery was breathtaking.Graham & Blythe, California
The scenery was quite spectacular on the West Coast!Julie & Timothy, UK
The view from Bealach na Ba on a perfectly sunny day was a highlight.Susan & Iain, Bedfordshire
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