Adventures Along the NC500 and Beyond – Loch Eriboll to Durness
Updated: Jun 23
Join us in this travel blog post where we enjoy the most North Westerly stage of the North Coast 500, from Loch Eriboll to Durness.
Over the years, we have explored the sections of the NC500 route several times, although not necessarily the complete route in one single journey. Indeed, our travels in this area began even before it had been called the North Coast 500. Our travels have opened our eyes to the beauty of the route and has given us the opportunity to also find hidden gems off the beaten track.
Commonly known as “Scotland’s Route 66”, the North Coast 500 has quickly become an iconic, must-do tourist route, having only been formally marketed as such back in 2015. The NC500 is actually 516-miles long, starting and ending at Inverness Castle, running along a mainly coastal route through the traditional counties of Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness. It has become so popular that has been described as "Scotland's Route 66".
Loch Eriboll & Lotte Glob Sculpture Croft
Loch Eriboll is a 16 km (9.9 mi) long sea loch has an interesting history which matches its beauty. While checking out the loch, we made sure that we visited Lotte Glob’s Sculpture Croft, which is on the western side, near Laid. Lotte Glob is a Danish Ceramist, but she has lived and worked in the North West coast of Scotland for the past 50 years. The sculptures are colourful and fun, and you are encouraged to wander through Lotte’s workspaces and yard to admire her work.
The loch itself have an interesting history. The name comes from the Norse "Eyrr-bol", or "Farm on a beach" and for a number of centuries, the loch was used by the Royal Navy as a deep-water anchorage as it is safe from the often-stormy seas of Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth. Interestingly, the largest island in the loch, Eilean Choraidh, was used as a representation of the German battleship Tirpitz for aerial bombing practice. Also, of note is that the surviving 33 German U-boats formally surrendered at the loch in 1945 and the end of the Second World War.
We just had to visit this cave, if only because of its name! It turns out that "Smoo" is a name thought to derive from the Old Norse Smuga which means "hiding place". What a hiding place it is, as this spectacular sea cave boasts a 50 ft high entrance. Within Smoo Cave, there are three chambers, with the first and biggest having been carved out by the sea and the second and third chambers having been created by the action of the freshwater Allt Smoo stream, which runs through a sink hole down into the cave. It is here that you can find the 60ft waterfall caused by the river dropping into its sinkhole. The first chamber and part of the second are accessible by foot and are free to visitors. If you wish to go further into the cave, there are regular boat tours during the summer months.
While at Smoo Cave, take the time to take the short hike up to the top of the eastern headland. You will be rewarded with some stunning seascapes.
Further along the coast from the cave is the beautifully formed cove of Sango Bay. With golden sands, rocky formations and plenty of sheltered outcrops, Sango Bay offers visitors the best of everything. If you don’t mind the cold, the beach offers good surfing! There are various car parks servicing the beach. We used the carpark at the Durness Visitor Centre, which gave us a great overview of the history and natural fauna of the area.
Sutherland is blessed with many beautiful beaches, and perhaps if the weather was warmer, this area of Scotland would rival the beach resorts of Spain. Balnakeil is one such beach. This wide, white beach with large dunes, is known for its spectacular sunsets. When you visit the beach, you will immediately notice the large building at the entrance to the beach. Balnakeil House was built between 1720 and 1744, on top of the remains of the earlier summer palace of the Bishops of Caithness.
On the other side of the road is a gate leading to the churchyard and remains of Balnakeil Church. The church itself was built in 1619, on the site of a much older church. The church went out of use in 1814 and is now roofless and ivy-clad, but we found that it was a great location to get shots of the beach.
Balnakeil Craft Village
Balnakeil Craft Village is situated next to the village of Durness and is home to a range of local artists & businesses including a chocolatier, hairdresser, art galleries, paintings & prints, ceramics, woodwork, glass work & more unique crafts. Our favourite was Cocoa Mountain Balnakeil - a fantastic stop for chocolate lovers. The chocolates are to die for, as is the hot chocolate, which is often very welcome in this northerly climate!
Join us next time when our family adventures continue along the North Coast 500.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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