Join us in this travel blog post where we enjoy the last stage of the North Coast 500, from Garve to the finishing point in Inverness.
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 well 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".
Black Water Falls
When approaching Garve from the Applecross section of the NC500, take a left when you reach the A835 instead of heading directly to Inverness. Almost immediately, there is a small local road on the right which goes to a public carpark at Little Garve Bridge. This is the start of a great little circular walk that takes you along both banks of the Black Water river. The river is known in Gaelic as An t-Alltan Dubh (the black burn) and is the subject of a famous hunting song written by Donald Fraser, the 'Fannich Bard'. The trail takes you in the footsteps of soldiers and cows. At the northern most point of the walk is the Silverbridge, which spans the Black Water Falls. As well as giving a fantastic view of this small, but powerful waterfall, this bridge is part of an ancient route used by drovers herding their cattle.
Once on the road back towards Inverness, there is another picturesque waterfall, a mile north west of the village of Contin. Rogie Falls offers plenty of waymarked walks and seating at a viewpoint overlooking the falls. During August and September there's an excellent chance of seeing wild salmon leaping upstream. Visit after heavy rain or snow, when water gushes and tumbles from the slopes of Ben Wyvis, and the Falls of Rogie are even more sensational.
Although not on the official route of the NC500, the village of Strathpeffer is well worth a diversion. Just two and a half miles from Contin, Strathpeffer is an attractive Victorian-era spa village in the hills below the foreboding Ben Wyvis mountain, with a population of around 1,500. In the Victorian era Strathpeffer was popular as a spa resort, owing to the discovery of sulphurous springs in the 18th century. The pump-room in the middle of the village dates from 1819. Soon after that, a hospital and a hotel were also built. In 1942 the Spa hospital was destroyed by fire. The Strathpeffer Pavilion dates from 1880, and was built to provide a venue for entertainment of the visitors. It fell into disuse and disrepair towards the end of last century, but has now been restored as a new venue for the arts, weddings, other functions, and events of all kinds.
Strathpeffer Pump Room
The Strathpeffer Pump Room provides a great overview of the spa village’s history. The pump room, with its Victorian architecture and decor, is the original building where visitors took the medicinal spring waters and houses a captivating exhibition and is an historic Grade III Listed building. Find out how the Victorians experienced the Spa treatments!
Highland Museum of Childhood
The Highland Museum of Childhood is located in the old railway station in the spa village of Strathpeffer. The museum was originally based on the doll and toy collection of former Strathpeffer resident Mrs Angela Kellie. The museum now has an interesting collection of children’s toys, games, costume, books, photographs and much more. The museum shares the railway station with the Museum Coffee Shop, Small Planet Trading gift shop and True Beauty salon.
Tollie Red Kites
Before rejoining the NC500 route, you should also make another short detour to the RSPB Tollie Red Kites Natural Reserve, which is just off the A835. The reserve has stunning views across Easter Ross to Ben Wyvis and provides close-up views of Scotland's most graceful bird of prey. You can watch volunteers feed the birds every day at 2.30 pm in summer (BST) and 1.30 pm in winter (GMT). We found that we had the best view of the feeding from the outside view point, but if it is raining there is a specially-converted farmstead building where you can comfortably watch the show. Take note though, the last 800m to the site is along fairly rough farm tracks.
Glen Ord Distillery
Back to the route and it was is perhaps fitting to make our final stop before reaching the finish point at Inverness Castle at that most Scottish of attractions – a whisky distillery! Glen Ord is an excellent example of a distillery and offers public tours throughout the year with hours on a seasonal schedule. There is also a small exhibition that can be visited separate from the tour. As well as being quite a picturesque distillery, it has an added bonus for the budding whisky connoisseur - the 12, 15 and 18 year old single malt is only available for export to South East Asia, but here at the distillery, you can get a chance to taste their product. After our little tasting session, we were so impressed that it did cross our mind that maybe an Asian vacation was due, if for no other reason than to get our hands on some more of Glen Ord’s whisky!
Join us next time when our family adventures take us to some of the filming locations and inspirations for season one of the Outlander television series.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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