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Adventures Along the NC500 and Beyond – How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool

Updated: Mar 25


How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool

Author: Barry Pickard

How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool
Clashnessie Falls

Contents




Join me in this travel blog post where I enjoy the stunning scenery of the Assynt-Coigach stage of the North Coast 500, from Kylesku down to Ullapool.  

Over the years, I have explored the sections of the NC500 route several times, although not necessarily the complete route in one single journey. Indeed, my travels in this area began well before it had been called the North Coast 500. My travels have opened my eyes to the beauty of the route and has given me 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".  Most visitors tend to do the route anti-clockwise, but there is no right or wrong way to do it.


At Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if travelling the NC500 appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the sites along the NC500, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland. We also have 5 and 10 day set itineraries that you can purchase from our online store (see below).

How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool


Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area

On this section of the North Coast 500, the route leaves the main A894 road and winds round the coast from Kylesku, through Drumbeg and Stoer, down to the fishing town of Lochinver. The route then heads back inland, along Loch Assynt, before rejoining the A894 and heading south to Ullapool. The route is around 80 miles long, taking at least three hours to drive, so, although you could arguably see all the attractions mentioned in this post in one day, it would probably be advisable to take two days, or cut back on the stops made.


This part of the route travels through the Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, the western region of Sutherland, and I find that this must be the most spectacular drive in Britain. The area has many distinctively shaped mountains, including Quinag, Canisp, Suilven and Ben More Assynt, that rise steeply from the surrounding "cnoc and lochan" scenery. Meanwhile, on the coast, there are some of the most spectacular small beaches which could be mistaken for somewhere in the Caribbean.

Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, Scotland
Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, Scotland
Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, Scotland

Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area is one of 40 such areas in Scotland. There is a tradition that the name Assynt comes from a fight between the two brothers Unt and Ass-Unt, (meaning Man of Peace and Man of Discord). I can attest to the fact the it must have been a mighty tussle, judging by the dramatic scenery, with Ass-Unt having been declared the winner. It could be, however, that the name Assynt may derive from an Old Norse word meaning 'ridge end', which would be equally appropriate.

Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, Scotland. How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool
Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, Scotland
Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, Scotland

Kylesku

The start of this stretch of the NC500 begins with a drive over the stylish Kylesku Bridge. It is worth stopping at one of the vantage points to really appreciate this curved bridge, which was opened in 1984, saving travellers many miles of a diversion around the loch.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: If you are stopping, you may as well make the most of it and enjoy a meal at the Kylesku Hotel. Perched on the shores of Loch Glendhu, I had a fantastic meal at this historic hotel. The original building was a coaching inn dating from around 1680.

Kylesku Bridge
Loch Glendhu, Kylesku
Kylesku Hotel

Drumbeg Viewpoint (Hidden Gem!)


The village of Drumbeg is stretched out along the B869 road and as you drive through it, you will come across a carpark on the coastal side. Stop here and enjoy the breathtaking views over the Atlantic Ocean.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: There are public toilets at the carpark and this is one of the few chances to access facilities before getting to Ullapool.



Clashnessie Falls


Clashnessie Falls is a picturesque waterfall nestled amidst the rugged beauty of Assynt-Coigach. The waterfall, cascading down a steep rock face into a tranquil pool, is fed from Loch an Easain on the plateau above.


There is a carpark on the shore of Clashnessie Bay and from there, walk up the main road, past the red post box on your left and then look out for the wooden sign post signalling the start of the walk to the waterfall. Follow this path and you will receive spectacular views of the falls. There is a steep rugged path that also climbs up to the lip of the falls.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Waterproof shoes are recommended and for the best views of the falls, I would suggest visiting during the Spring or end of Autumn, when the water is in full flow. I visited at the start of December, and the waterfall was an absolute torrent!


Read on to find out about the routes illuminating lighthouse, gravity defying sea stack and two of the best beaches in Britain.


Clashnessie Bay

Stoer Lighthouse

After driving through the picture postcard crofting village of Drumbeg, I arrived at Stoer Lighthouse. It’s amazing to think that Stoer Lighthouse, built in 1870, could be constructed in such a remote spot. The lighthouse overlooks The Minch, which is one of Britain’s most dangerous stretches of water, and it has prevented the deaths of countless seafarers. The lighthouse is quite short, but its location means that the light is actually 54m above sea level. If you are lucky like I was, you may catch a glimpse of a pod of minkie whales – whales and dolphins are regular visitors to this stretch of water.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The lighthouse has been converted into self catering accommodation, so if you have ever wanted to stay in a lighthouse, this could be your chance!


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Stoer Lighthouse
Stoer Lighthouse
Stoer Lighthouse

Old Man of Stoer (Hidden Gem!)

About two miles north of the lighthouse, across open countryside, which is often a little boggy in parts, is the Old Man of Stoer (not to be confused with the more famous Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye!). The Old Man of Stoer is a 60 metres (200 ft) high sea stack of Torridonian sandstone.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The path to the sea stack starts at the lighthouse, but is not well defined. However, stick to the coastline and you will get to several excellent viewpoints. Make sure to wear waterproof shoes.

Old Man of Stoer How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool
Old Man of Stoer
Old Man of Stoer

Clachtol Beach

Just south of Stoer drive to the glorious white sands of Clachtol Beach. If you time your visit in August, you may also be able to participate in the sand sculpture competition as well. Don’t forget your bucket and spade!


Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is ample carparking at the beach, with toilet facilities available, and there is also a small convenience store which stocks some essentials.


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Clachtol Beach
Clachtol Beach
Clachtol Beach

Achmelvich Beach

Further south, Achmelvich Beach is one of Britain’s most beautiful beaches, as well as being one of the most difficult to reach by road. About five miles north of Lochinver, along a single-track road, Achmelvich Beach is a stunning collection of small, white sandy beaches, punctuated by rocky bays and headlands.

Read on to discover the Highland's busiest harbour, an isolated and idyllic waterfall, a historic ruined castle that will take your breath away, and a little known geological marvel.

Achmelvich Beach
Achmelvich Beach
Achmelvich Beach

Lochinver

The port of Lochinver is the largest settlement on the west coast of Scotland north of Ullapool. Its heart is the main street running along the eastern end of Loch Inver. This contains the main shops and services and is focused on the striking war memorial on the shore of the loch. At the southern end of Lochinver is its harbour, the busiest of the 102 harbours and jetties in the Highland Council area.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: For pottery enthusiasts, a visit to Highland Stonware Lochinver is a must. On the northern shore of Lochinver, just off Baddidaroch Road, you will find this pottery and store, selling a wide selection of colourful creations.

Lochinver
Lochinver
Lochinver

Falls of Kirkaig (Hidden Gem!)

At this point, the route of the NC500 heads back out of Lochinver’s north entrance, however, there is one area well worth checking out just south of the village. If you take the ten-minute drive to the small hamlet of Inverkirkaig, carry on through to the car park near Achins Bookshop (which is currently closed for refurbishment).


The hiking trail goes past the bookshop and follows the River Kirkaig inland and is a return journey of just over 4 miles. Despite the short distance, the walk will take the casual hiker around three hours to complete.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: the final descent to the falls is quite tricky and not for the faint hearted, but the reward is a beautiful waterfall and a chance to have a little dip into the river below.

Falls of Kirkaig
Falls of Kirkaig
Falls of Kirkaig

Ardvreck Castle

Head back to Lochinver and along Loch Assynt. At the end of the loch, you will probably see the tourist buses and cars before you see Ardvreck Castle, but don’t let that put you off. There is little left of Ardvreck Castle, but what there is proves to be a magnet for travellers to Sutherland. All that is left is a finger of stone, perched on a small nub of land, almost cut off in Loch Assynt. The castle dates back to about 1490 when the lands were owned by the Macleods of Assynt and has had a bloody history, especially during the conflicts with the Mackenzies.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: While at Ardvreck Castle, check out the small waterfall at the other side of the road and take note of the derelict Calda House, just to the south, which superseded the castle in 1726, and took many of the castle’s stones for building material.

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Ardvreck Castle
Ardvreck Castle
Ardvreck Castle

Knockan Crag

Continue travelling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK, but make sure that you don’t drive past Knockan Crag. This dramatic line of rocky cliffs is celebrated internationally because of an important geological feature that is known as the Moine Thrust, which was originally identified here. Amazingly, the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs are actually younger than those at the top. It was during a study of these rocks at the start of the 1900s that the theory of tectonic plates crystallised.


There is an excellent display at the site explaining this geological marvel and from there a well-maintained path takes you up the cliffs, pointing out the geological history of the land as you go. You will also be rewarded with a stunning view when you reach the top, as well as being able to check out some interesting stone art pieces.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: You may be lucky, like I was, to witness a flyby from RAF fighter jets, which use this area of the country quite regularly for training. See keep your eyes and ears open!

Knockan Crag
Knockan Crag
Knockan Crag

Ullapool

The short drive from Knockan Crag to Ullapool continues to be inspiring. Make sure that as you approach Ullapool that you slow down and prepare to pull over. You will understand why, when you reach the brow of the hill just north of Ullapool, as you will get possibly the best view of Loch Broom and the village sitting on its shores.

Ullapool
Ullapool

Where to Stay


Accommodation options tend to be a little limited along the NC500 and can be booked up very quickly, sometimes more than a year in advance, so I would always advise you to make a reservation as soon as possible.


There are a number of Bed & Breakfast and self-catering properties along this section of the route, as well as campsites such as the ones at Clachtol and Achmelvich beaches. However, If you want to stay in a hotel, your options are really limited to the aforementioned Kylesku Hotel at the the start of this route, the Culag Hotel in Lochinver, or there are a number of hotels in Ullapool, such as the Caledonian Hotel, the Ceilidh Place and Royal Hotel.


Conclusion


As you reach Ullapool, I hope, like me, you feel a sense of accomplishment wash over you. You've traversed a landscape of breathtaking beauty, discovered hidden gems, and created memories that will last a lifetime. I hope that you agree with me that the NC500 is more than just a road trip; it's a journey of self-discovery, a celebration of natures's artistry, and an immersive experience into the heart and soul of Scotland.


Related Blog Posts


If you have enjoyed discovering how to travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool and are interested in finding out more about the route, please view the Tailor-Made Itineraries posts below:


Comment below and let me know what was your favourite NC500 attraction.

Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these attractions appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the amazing sights of the NC500, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland itself.

Tailor-Made Itineraries posts every two weeks, and you can subscribe to the latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.

Barry

Tailor-Made Itineraries creates one-of-a-kind bespoke self-guided travel itineraries for adventurous and curious travellers.

These self-guided tours deliver a personalised and exciting holiday experience that takes the effort out of trip planning.


How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool
How to Travel the NC500 from Kylesku to Ullapool

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