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Day one – North from Inverness to Historic Dornoch
In reality, you can choose which direction to set off from the Highland capital – and we can even facilitate your arrival there – but we’ve illustrated an ‘anti-clockwise’ circuit here. It’s a short hop from Inverness, around the shimmering Firths of Beauly and Cromarty, maybe stopping at an historic distillery on the way to the pretty Highland town of Dornoch.
Your Accommodation in Dornoch
A mile or so from town, this 150-year-old former grain store has been transformed in to one of the Highlands’ most appealing and stylish B&Bs. As lifelong hospitality professionals, the hosts have a rare grasp of how best to look after guests and are always full of great advice, their knowledge of the surrounding area second to none.
Enjoy a dram from the bar while relaxing in a squishy sofa, taking in the view from the vast windows across the Dornoch Firth to Struie Hill, the great Caledonian pinewoods and mountain ranges beyond.
And with just eight beautifully presented bedrooms, each perfect for a great night’s sleep, there’s little danger of overcrowding.
Day Two – Out and About in Dornoch
Probably most famous for its Royal Dornoch links golf course – prefect for a bracing stroll to the white-sandy beach – Dornoch is one of the Highlands’ prettiest towns. Blonde sandstone seems to glow in the northern sunlight – remember, in high Summer, daytime here can stretch to 11pm – with the historic cathedral standing watch over the neat high street, where ‘scratch’ bakery meets antique shop, chocolatier, museum and gift shops.
Further afield, there’s great driving routes to Spinningdale, Bonar Bridge and hidden Loch Migdale. Take a picnic and you’ll likely have the place all to yourself.
Day Three – Along the East coast to the UK’s Northernmost Town
No need to rush away from Dornoch, where you’ll want to relax over the extensive continental breakfast, before getting back on the North Coast 500 route to your next base in Thurso. Along the way, perhaps make stops at amazing Dunrobin Castle, the atmospheric harbour town of Helmsdale and bustling Wick before arriving at your accommodation on the north coast.
Your Accommodation in Thurso
In what has to be one of the town’s most impressive private residences, your accommodation in Thurso is an imposing Victorian villa set in gorgeous private gardens. Your hosts are effervescent locals, with an easygoing charm and a knack for making guests feel immediately at home.
Each of the four en-suite rooms features period-correct high ceilings and typically huge windows, plus every possible convenience to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
Day Four – A Private Tour of the Best of Caithness
Like any location, it takes time to get under the skin of Caithness, and there’s no better way to start your discovery than in the company of an expert local guide. Leave the car behind today, because after breakfast you’ll be collected and whisked away for a day-long private tour of highlights of this deeply historical and fascinating place. Of course, the tour can be tailored to your exact wishes before you set off, or simply sit back and allow your guide to open Caithness up for you.
Day Five – A Day in and Around Thurso
With its labyrinth of ancient streets filled with traditional shops, cafés and bars, the colourful gardens of Sinclair Square, 17th-century Fisher Biggins and a wide, sandy beach with views across the Pentland Firth to Orkney, there’s plenty to see and do in Thurso, almost all accessible within a short stroll of your accommodation. Or you may elect to take the car out to explore further the interior of Caithness, a wild place of rolling hills and intimidatingly stark moorland.
Day Six – Along the North Coast to the Village of Tongue
Taking the direct route, it’s a short 45 miles along the North coast to your next stop in the village of Tongue. But this holiday is not about ‘direct’. Along the way, spend the day exploring some of our favourite hidden corners of Scotland: the staggeringly beautiful beaches at Melvich, Sandside and Bettyhill, the unnerving fast breeder reactor at Dounreay and the sleepy hamlets of Totegan, Achtoty and Skerray, each with its own distinct identity.
Your Accommodation in Tongue
A longstanding coaching inn, your hotel in Tongue is a family owned gem at the heart of this Highland community. The unassuming exterior gives way to a newly refurbished guest lounge, a lively and popular bar and a stylish restaurant serving some of the best food in the Highlands alongside a tempting winelist.
Spacious rooms achieve a perfect blend of traditional features – Victorian plasterwork and fireplaces, for example – with modern furnishings and large, stylish en-suite bathrooms.
Day Seven – the Kyles of Tongue, Ben Loyal and Surroundings
You’ll find world-class walking on the doorstep of your hotel, around the evocative Kyles of Tongue, to ‘the Queen of Scottish Mountains,’ Ben Loyal and the high-set ruins of Castle Varrich. Or take the car out for the day and explore the vast interior of Lairg, and perhaps learn something of the turbulent and bloody history hereabouts.
Day Eight – Around Loch Eriboll to Scotland’s Vast Northwest
Another easy day on the road through stupendous scenery. First travel the high-set roads around Loch Eriboll on the way to Durness, for more fabulous beaches and a spooky descent in to Smoo Cave. Here, the road spears southwest and traverses the great Highland sporting estates, with tributary routes trailing off around Loch Inchard to Kinlochbervie and Oldshoremore before arriving at your hotel in a glorious spot overlooking Badcall Bay.
Your Accommodation at Badcall Bay
This former manse has enjoyed life as a hotel for some years, but only when the current family took over was its potential fully realised. A programme of refurb and upgrade has seen appealing improvements made throughout, from the gorgeous gardens to the glass sunroom and the ancient dining room with two-foot thick walls. Upstairs, several of the en-suite bedrooms feature quite staggering views across the bay and, on a clear day, to the ‘Big Island’ of Lewis.
Dining here is a treat, the Scandinavian roots of the lady of the house giving the menu of finest local produce a Swedish twist.
Day Nine – By Boat Around Handa, then South by Road to Ullapool
Take a 20-minute drive this morning to the tiny jetty at Tarbet and board the Handa Ferry for a fun and informative three-hour trip around the island of Handa. A site of special scientific interest and nature reserve in the hands of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Handa rises some 400 feet above sea-level and is home to an abundance of wildlife, particularly puffins during Summer, as well as guillemots, razorbills and great skuas. The local skipper has spent a lifetime sailing these waters and delivers a uniquely Northwest-Scotland experience.
Later, continue south, crossing the curving Kylesku Bridge and taking the twisting, pitching Drumbeg loop by Stoer Point and the wonderful beach at Achmelvich before arriving at the classic Wester Ross fishing village of Ullapool.
Your Accommodation in Ullapool
A family owned guest house of rare quality awaits in Ullapool, this gorgeous property having been given a thorough makeover by its talented artist owners. Vivid colours, mid-century modern furniture and an eclectic collection of books and records (with turntable for your enjoyment) make the ground-floor guest lounge a lovely spot from which to plan your day. Upstairs, each of the six en-suite rooms is brightly decorated along its own local theme, some with freestanding baths, each with fabulously comfortable beds in to which you’ll sink after a day’s exploration.
Day 10 – Around Ullapool and Wider Wester Ross
The Telford-lain streets of Ullapool feature galleries, shops and cafés, and one of its corners hides a seafood shack acclaimed as serving the UK’s best street food – a treat not to be missed. Further afield, perhaps don the boots and take advantage of the quite superb walking opportunities around the shores of glistering Loch Broom and out towards the vertigo-inducing bridge across Corrieshalloch Gorge.
Day 11 – To Your Final Base on the Shores of Loch Shieldaig
Another wonderful day on the road today, as your route pitches and bends around Loch Ewe – where Inverewe Garden, the Cove Anti-aircraft Battery and Russian Arctic Convoy Museum are must-sees. Further south, marvel at breath-taking Lochs Maree and Gairloch on the way to the vast open spaces through Achansheen, to your accommodation in the cutest of lochside villages.
Your Hotel in Shieldaig
A whitewashed row of classic former fishermen’s cottages makes up your hotel for three nights at one of the most peaceful locations in Scotland. Help yourself to a beer or a dram from the well-stocked honesty bar and choose a comfortable pew with views across the gleaming waters towards enigmatic Shieldaig Island. Dinner is serve either in the calm restaurant or more lively bar – the choice is yours. Either way, each menu majors on the best of what’s available from the huge local larder.
Upstairs, many rooms enjoy views of the loch that genuinely take the breath away and feature all you’ll need to enjoy your last few nights away.
Day 12 – Take to the Water on a Shellfish Safari
A distinct holiday highlight today as you join Ian and Jess, the only inhabitants of Dry Island, as they take you on a shellfish safari. You’ll be given the chance to catch your own supper of langoustine, crab or squat lobster, while hearing stories of life here and how the delicate ecosystem has changed over the years
Day 13 – Applecross and Around Loch Carron
We’ve possibly saved the best ‘til last today, as you take to the roads around your hotel for some of the best driving experiences the UK has to offer. Chief among these is famous Bealach na Ba ‘the pass of the cattle’, one of the country’s highest mountain passes. At its summit – weather-permitting – you’ll enjoy views West across the Isle of Raasay to Skye, and south across Loch Carron and Loch Alsh. North from your hotel, try Bealach na Gaoithe ‘the pass of the wind’ (somewhat unfortunately!) a hauntingly beautiful route to the tiny village of Lower Diabeg.
Day 14 – Onward Journey Home
Snake your way either south towards Fort William, Glencoe and Glasgow, or east to connect via Inverness – either way, this is superb way to round off your trip.
This holiday covers the entirely of the North Coast 500 at a leisurely pace, and includes stays in Dornoch, Thurso, Tongue, Badcall Bay, Ullapool and Shieldaig.
£1385 per person in April, £1475 per person from May to September
Price is based on two adults sharing a double or twin ensuite room for 13 nights on a bed and breakfast basis in our hand-picked selection of small hotels and guest houses.
The holiday also includes a full-day private guided tour of Caithness and a shellfish safari around Dry Island. The boat trip around Handa is not pre-bookable. The shellfish safari and Handa boat trip may be affected by adverse weather.
Before your departure, you will receive personalised holiday information including full directions and recommended routes from your specified starting point, 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.
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.
Driving in either direction (anti-clockwise/clockwise) on Scotland’s acclaimed North Coast touring route brings scenic riches and some of the be...
This holiday can be arranged from April to September.
To check the latest availability for this holiday complete the form below or call us. We will respond to your availability check within one working day if at all possible. Please bear with us on this - we work with a hand-picked selection of smaller hotels, guest houses, and other independent businesses, ensuring that you have the chance to explore off the beaten track and really get under the skin of the destination.
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