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Adventures Along the NC500 and Beyond – How to travel the NC500 from Ullapool to Loch Ewe

Updated: Jun 21


How to travel the NC500

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Regardless of this, please be advised that all opinions expressed in this blog post are genuine and authentically my own.

Author: Barry Pickard

Join me in this travel blog post as I enjoy the stunning scenery and interesting history of the Wester Ross stage of the North Coast 500, from Ullapool to Loch Ewe and discover how to travel the NC500.   

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.   

How to travel the NC500

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.


Planning an independent trip to Ullapool or the NC500? 


All information in this post is based on my own experience travelling around Ullapool and the NC500, backed by extensive research to bring you everything you need to know to have your own amazing experience in this Highland gem.



Don't forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if travelling the NC500 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 sites along the NC500, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland. Tailor-Made Itineraries also has 5 and 10 day set itineraries that you can purchase from the online store (see below).


How to travel the NC500

How to travel the NC500 from Ullapool to Loch Ewe


Leckmelm Shrubbery & Arboretum

Taking the road south from Ullapool, along the beautiful Loch Broom, it is only a five-minute drive to Leckmelm Shrubbery & Arboretum. The location of this walled woodland garden has a surprisingly mild climate, with high rainfall, which encourages a number of exotic plants to thrive here. Leckmelm Gardens were first laid out in the 1880's by one A.C. Pirie of Aberdeen who, immediately upon becoming the owner, set about evicting his tenants in what turned out to be the last of the Highland Clearances. The gardens were effectively abandoned from around 1930 until 1985 when the property was acquired by Sir Charles and Lady Gillean Troughton, who restored them to some of their former glory and opened the arboretum to the public.

Leckmelm Shrubbery & Arboretum, Ullapool, Scotland How to travel the NC500
Leckmelm Shrubbery & Arboretum, Ullapool, Scotland How to travel the NC500
Leckmelm Shrubbery & Arboretum, Ullapool, Scotland How to travel the NC500


Lael Forrest Garden

Just a few minutes further down the road we came to Lael Forrest Garden. There are two small car parks signposted on the road on the left hand side either side of the forrest garden, but don’t drive too fast, or you will pass them. Lael Forrest Garden is part of the National Tree Collections of Scotland. You'll find around 200 species from across the globe including New Zealand, Australia, North and South America, the Far East, Europe and Scandanavia. Native British species thrive here as well. In addition to the network of paths which wind through the Forest Garden, there is also a longer waymarked trail to explore, which take you past a thunderous waterfall.

Lael Forrest Garden How to travel the NC500

Tailor-Made Top Tip: When you are ready for a little refreshment, visit the Lael Crafts Gallery. Not only can you treat yourself to a well-earned coffee and delicious piece of cake, but you can also peruse there displays of sought-after local crafts.



Corrieshalloch Gorge

Back on the road again, continue three-miles south up along the A835 until you get to the junction with the A832, signposted for Loch Ewe. Turning right, stop at the Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. You can’t see the gorge from the road, but there is now a new visitor centre on the right, which opened in 2023, so park there. There is also an overflow carpark a little further on. The centre has toilet facilities and a takeaway cafe, with undercover seating.



Take the beautiful forrest walk down from the visitor centre, along the River Droma.



You will then arrive at Corrieshalloch, which is a stunning chasm, cut into the rock by the 45m high Falls of Measach. There is a Victorian suspension bridge built by Sir John Fowler (one of the chief engineers behind the Forth Bridge), from which you get an amazing view of the waterfall. The bridge is a little ‘bouncy’, so maybe is not for everyone, but if you can get to the other side, there is another trail which takes you further down the chasm to a breath-taking viewing platform.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: Once back over the bridge, there is a nature trail that takes you on a longer walk through the rich flora, and you will be rewarded with beautiful views out to Loch Broom.

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Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve, Ullapool How to travel the NC500
Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve, Ullapool How to travel the NC500
Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve, Ullapool How to travel the NC500


The Dundonnel Hotel

There are not many options to stop for a meal on the road between Ullapool and Loch Ewe. However, I can thoroughly recommend the Dundonnel Hotel for either lunch or dinner. This traditional hotel, in the shadow of the menacing An Teallach mountain, has a great restaurant and bar.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Make sure you get a table with a view over the valley which leads into Little Loch Broom.

The Dundonnel Hotel How to travel the NC500
View from the Dundonnel Hotel How to travel the NC500


Ardessie Falls (Hidden Gem!)

Continuing towards Loch Ewe, and only two and a half miles from the hotel, is the blink and you’ll miss it Ardessie Falls. Take a minute or two and park up off the road (there isn’t a carpark available at this point) and take in the small, but powerful waterfall from the side of the road bridge.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: If you would like more of a hike, continue along the road and park at the public works building on the left and walk up the path, cross country to the start of the waterfalls.

Ardessie Falls, Dundonnel, Scotland How to travel the NC500
How to travel the NC500

Gruinard Bay

Your next stop will be the stunning beach of Gruinard Bay, with its delightful views over the water to the Coigach Hills and to Gruinard Island. The A832 road runs straight past, so the beach is very easily accessible and is also served with ample parking. The beach can boast of crystal-clear waters, rock pools, and fine sands. Unfortunately, the area is more known for the scientific experiments that were conducted on Gruinard Island. During the Second World War, scientists tested deadly anthrax here, wiping out a flock of sheep in the process. After that the island was closed to visitors for 48 years until £500,000 was spent on decontaminating the area. Sheep were reintroduced successfully, but we were not tempted to swim over and check!

Read on to discover a stunning beach off the beaten track; a piece of World War Two history; and a little corner of paradise!

Gruinard Bay, Scotland How to travel the NC500
Gruinard Bay, Scotland How to travel the NC500


Mellon Udrigle Beach (Hidden Gem!)

Blessed with exceptional scenery and an intriguing name, Mellon Udrigle is a beautiful white sandy beach. The shore offers unparalled views of some spectacular Highland mountains, including Suilven, Stac Pollaidh and An Teallach. The beach is a little off the main road to Loch Ewe, but well worth the detour. While at the beach, check out the rocky shore for some interesting rock formations.

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Mellon Udrigle Beach How to travel the NC500
Mellon Udrigle Beach How to travel the NC500
Mellon Udrigle Beach How to travel the NC500


Russian Arctic Convoy Experience

The Russian Arctic Convoy Experience is a museum on the shores of Loch Ewe dedicated to the Arctic Convoys that departed this area during World War Two. The small, but interesting museum has many original items from these convoy ships and tells the harrowing story of the seamen who dodged the German u-boats, battleships and aircraft on the way through the inhospitable seas to Murmansk in Russia.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: After your trip to the museum, you can also spend a little time exploring the gun emplacements and anti-aircraft batteries that dot the shores of Loch Ewe and which are easily accessible from the road.

Russian Arctic Convoy Experience How to travel the NC500
Russian Arctic Convoy Experience How to travel the NC500
Russian Arctic Convoy Experience How to travel the NC500


Inverewe Gardens and Estate

We had reached Loch Ewe and the end of this stage of the NC500, but there was still one significant attraction to visit. Inverewe Gardens and Estate is a geographical anomaly – a vibrant, at times colourful, botanical garden set in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. The garden was created in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie on the 850 hectares (2,100 acres) estate bought for him by his mother. The Garden covers some 20 hectares (49 acres) and has over 2,500 exotic plants and flowers.


Inverewe Gardens and Estate, Scotland How to travel the NC500

We have had great walks through the gardens and the forested area, with the scenic glories of Loch Ewe and the surrounding hills framing this beautiful estate. Make sure that you also spend time visiting Inverewe Lodge, as it will whisk you back in time to how this country house would have looked over 100 years ago.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Unsurprisingly, the estate has a well-stocked garden centre, so that you can recreate the flower beds at your own home. There is also an excellent café, which is ideal for a coffee or lunch.

If you are enjoying this post, remember and subscribe to my mailing list to receive my latest blog posts.


Inverewe Gardens and Estate, Scotland How to travel the NC500


Conclusion


The stretch of the NC500 between Ullapool and Loch Ewe is packed with stunning scenery and fascinating history, and there is something for everyone along this route. Take your time and don't rush through this beautiful part of the world. There is so much to see and do that you'll want to savor every moment. With many hidden gems waiting to be discovered along this route, don't be afraid to explore the side roads and lesser-known attractions.


Accommodation Options


Ullapool is an ideal base for this stretch of the NC500, with plenty of options to choose from. They do get booked up quickly though, so don't hang about! The Arch Inn is an good choice and their restaurant is excellent too. Further along the harbourside is The Royal Hotel with it's stunning views over Loch Broom. The Riverside is also an excellent choice.


At the other end of the route, in the small village of Poolewe, is the welcoming Corriness House and the Poolewe Hotel. There are also options in Gairloch, which is the next village, such as the Myrtle Bank Hotel.

Click on the underlined weblinks above to review these hotels and make your reservation.

How to travel the NC500

Related Blog Posts

If you are interested in finding out more about the NC500 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 travelling the NC500 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 sites along the NC500, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland. Tailor-Made Itineraries also has 5 and 10 day set itineraries that you can purchase from the online store (see below).


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.



NC500 Map


How to travel the NC500

How to travel the NC500

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