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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
In a near-perfect location just steps from the cathedral, your accommodation in Dornoch is a long-established family-owned hotel carved from the shell of a centuries-old castle. With an extensive collection of whisky from around the world, a tempting menu of local quality, a large sunny garden and comfortable rooms, it’s a fine place in which to start (or end) your holiday.
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, whisky specialist, 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.
No need to rush away from Dornoch, where you’ll want to relax over the extensive continental breakfast, before returning initially to the North Coast 500 route to continue north. Along the way, perhaps stop off at amazing Dunrobin Castle and the atmospheric harbour town of Helmsdale. Here you divert inland, striking off into the Flow Country, Britain’s genuine expanse of wilderness and peatlands straddling Caithness and Sutherland. Eventually you will reach the most welcoming oasis for your next three nights.
Your Accommodation in the Flow Country
If you are seeking “remote”, then you’ve found it here. On some days, the only passing traffic will be the postie. While out and about, you’re likely to see more sheep and deer than fellow humans. Keep eyes peeled on the vast skies for birds of prey too. Your hotel has an ancient inn at its heart and is the kind of place that encourages sociability and the swapping of stories, whether in the company of fellow guests during meal-times or over a dram or two in one of the cosy lounges with your genial hosts. There is no whiff of pretension here – just good old-fashioned hospitality, home-cooked produce and the most relaxing ambience. Dinner is included on each night of your stay here. The pace of life lends itself to at least a three night stay – and if you’re anything like us, you’ll still find it hard to tear yourself away!
Like any location, it takes time to get under the skin of the Flow Country, 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 area. Your tour will cover a figure of eight route through the heart of the North Highlands. The landscapes are vast and almost entirely devoid of human habitation – it being cleared during the notorious Highland Clearances in the 19th century. There will be ample opportunities to stop to enjoy the views as well as exploring a number of locations both ancient and modern. 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 up the north-east corner of Britain for you.
Today is your opportunity to explore at your own pace, seeking out the places that didn’t quite make it onto yesterday’s itinerary. Maybe stretch your legs on the boardwalk into the heart of the magical peatlands, spotting rare flora and fauna, head out on a more adventurous hike into the hills or simply snuggle up with a good book in the hotel lounge.
Taking the direct route, it’s under an hour back to the North coast and 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 poignant Naver Valley, the staggeringly beautiful beaches at Melvich, Sandside and Bettyhill 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 wine list.
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.
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 south-west 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.
A day at leisure to do as you wish. If marine life attracts, perhaps take a 20-minute drive this morning to the tiny jetty at Tarbert and board the Handa Ferry (from April to early September) for a fun and informative three-hour trip around the island of Handa, with its spectacular cliffs and soaring seabirds. Or maybe you fancy a little time off from driving: pack a lunch, don the boots and lose yourself in the wilderness surrounding your accommodation.
Continue your journey 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.
Enjoy a two-hour-long boat trip out into Loch Broom and towards the beautiful Summer Isles, spotting wildlife and learning of local history as you go. Return to Ullapool where the Telford-lain streets 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.
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 Gairloch and Loch Maree on the way to the vast open spaces through Achnasheen, 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 your final 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 served 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.
Another leisurely day today to do as much or as little as you please while drinking in the magnificent vistas and ancient geology of Torridon, its mountains of sandstone borne out of unfathomably old Lewissian Gneiss.
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.
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 entirety of the North Coast 500 at a leisurely pace, and includes stays in Dornoch, inland in the Flow Country, Tongue, Badcall Bay, Ullapool and Shieldaig.
£2095 per person in March & November, £2195 per person for April & October, £2295 per person from May to September
Price is based on two adults sharing a double or twin ensuite room for 14 nights bed and breakfast, plus dinner included on three nights, in our hand-picked selection of small hotels and guest houses.
The holiday also includes a full-day private guided tour of Caithness & Sutherland and a two-hour boat trip on Loch Broom.
Car rental is not included, and we would be delighted to provide a quotation for you, from a range of vehicles and pick-up points.
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.
We work hard to make sure the unexpected doesn’t affect your trip. On rare occasions, changes or cancellations may occur, affecting accommodation, transport or excursions. We are committed to informing you of any such circumstances and will use our knowledge and resources to offer suitable alternatives wherever possible.
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This holiday can be arranged from April to September.
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.
Driving in either direction (anti-clockwise/clockwise) on Scotland’s acclaimed North Coast touring route brings scenic riches and some of the be...
We did 1531 miles on the trip and I enjoyed every minute of it.Peter & Christine , Hull, UK
We loved the wonderful Scottish scenery.Robert & Marylin, Lincolnshire, UK
Every day we looked forward to a stay in a lovely place with a warm welcome…the scenery was breathtaking.Graham & Blythe, California