Heading out on the North Coast 500

Looking for spectacular rugged landscapes and not afraid to escape to the true wilds of Scotland? Well, The North Coast 500 route (NC500) is perfect for you! This is a Scottish road trip to rival Route 66.

ore part of the NC500, or do the full loop around the very top of Scotland. And here lies some of the most beautiful coastal scenery, and spectacular cliffs, stacks, and seascapes. And you will find plenty of areas offering peace and solitude to gather your thoughts and absorb the beauty surrounding you.

But one of the most stunning locations is Duncansby Stacks and Duncansby Lighthouse, which lies near John o’ Groats on the North Coast 500 route. But, don’t try and do it all in a day, take an overnight stay in Wick. This will ensure that you have a wonderful trip to this area of Scotland known as Caithness. And where better to base yourself than the famous Mackay’s Hotel. A little gem of a find, set in a historic building by the Harbour, this hotel is famous for its great food and homely hospitality.

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The Iconic Duncansby Stacks

A sight to behold, these natural formations can be viewed from the rugged cliff tops or from the sea by boat...

Visit the Duncansby Stacks

Jutting out of the sea at the northeast tip of Scotland are the incredible Duncansby Stacks. A perfect place to take your drone, and a popular influencer selfie location, these magnificent sandstone stacks jut out of the wild seas of Caithness. Through thousands of years of rough seas and erosion, they have been separated from the mainland to form points of rock coming out from the water. If you look closely you will see that there are three stacks. Two are completely separated from the mainland. The third one is still attached and has a little archway that you can walk under. This is called Thirle Door. With erosion constantly eating at the rocks, one day the arch will no longer exist. Then, the third stack will be isolated in the sea too.

The stacks are handy for local wildlife, especially nesting seabirds. Grab your binoculars and watch them fly out to the sea to fish. If they are nesting you might even see them feed their baby chicks. Or get a little closer to the structures on rib boat ride and explore the history of the area by tour guide.

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Things to see on the NC500

Just along the coast from the Duncansby stacks is the famous Duncansby Lighthouse. It is well worth the 40-minute walk to explore. It was originally built in 1924 and in its time has seen plenty of drama, including being machine-gunned by a German bomber during World War 2. From here you can enjoy some more magnificent views out over the North Sea. Nearby the lighthouse is another geological formation called the Geo of Sclaites. This is like a slice of the earth has been taken out and in its place, hundreds of loud, squawking seabirds have been added!

Visit the Whaligoe Steps

But before this, on your way up to Wick and Caithness, you must visit the Whaligoe Steps! These flagstone steps lead down 250ft cliffs to the most extraordinary harbour in Scotland! And if you don’t fancy climbing the 330 steps, surrounded by cliffs, then explore this historical Scottish site by boat. But apart from these dramatic cliff steps, you will also find a remarkable harbour at their foot. And here was a base of successful fishing for herring, salmon, shellfish and whitefish boats. But the site was originally turned down as a “dreadful place!” by the famous engineer Thomas Telford. And as such, they were built later built at a cost of £8 by Captain David Brodie. As such, they became the successful home to some 20 fishing boats. Here fisherwomen would carry baskets of fish up the Whaligoe Steps, before walking all the way to Wick for sale.

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Getting there...

And where to stay in Caithness

North Coast 500 Castles

And if it’s Scottish castles you’re after. Be sure to visit the Castle of Old Wick when you arrive in Wick and Dunrobin Castle on your travels up the north coast.

Old Castle Wick

So, Old Wick Castle is one of Scotland’s oldest castles! And its ruins, perched on top of the cliffs of Wick are spectacular to this day! What’s more, the walk to the castle takes in epic sea views from the massive cliff tops. This Scottish Castle stood approximately 10 metres tall, with walls 2m thick. And with only a single window per floor, perched upon cliff tops, it was spectacularly protected from attack. But you must have a head for heights! This castle isn’t for the faint-hearted! As it’s protected on 3 sides by 30m sheer cliffs with only the crashing wild seas below.

Visiting Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle, on your way up to Wick and Caithness from Inverness, however, is still very much intact. And it is quite a spectacle to behold!

John O’Groats Brewery and Distillers

And if you need a tipple to revive you after all your exploring, John O’Groats (the most northerly tip of Scotland) is home to John O’ Groats brewery. So pop in for some craft beers and a tour. Or if you prefer a distillery then Dunnet Bay Distillers offer tours and shopping for their Scottish Gins and Vodkas. So pop in to sample some refreshing Rock Rose Gin and seasonal spirits.

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Exploring the North Coast 500

Where to stay in Wick

It sounds like this is all happening in the far reaches of an inaccessible landscape. In fact, getting to Duncansby Stacks is simple! That’s because you can follow the North Coast 500 route.  Whilst you can certainly do a day trip from Inverness to Duncansby Stacks, it might be more relaxing to stay overnight. A particularly welcoming place is Mackays Hotel in Wick. It is family-owned and often has deals if you can book in advance. As an added bonus, it is also situated on the world’s shortest street, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records! Here you can relax after a day of exploring Duncansby, and have a lovely dinner in their No. 1 Bistro. Highly recommended.

There’s so much to see north of Inverness, and the North Coast 500 route is a great way to do it. It offers a whistlestop tour of the coast including sites like Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse. And of course, if anything takes your fancy inland, there are plenty of other road trips and opportunities to explore the untamed Highlands of Scotland!

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Explore The Beautiful Divach Falls

If you are looking for a quiet escape near Loch Ness, then a walk to Divach Falls (pronounced “Jeevach”) is the perfect activity. This is a gentle stroll through some beautiful oak-tree woods. Whatsmore, it’s suitable for everyone with a good level of mobility and offers an experience immersed in nature. Plus, the path takes you to a viewing area from where you can see the stunning Divach Falls, sometimes written as Dhivach Falls. The falls change in strength depending on the weather, but they are truly beautiful at any time of the year. A real must on any Scottish bucket list. It takes an hour to get there and an hour to walk back. So, it offers a good hearty walk for those looking to explore Scotland’s great outdoors.

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Exploring Divach Falls

...and the beautiful walks around

Spectacular Walks to Divach Falls

With so many areas of beauty and history around Inverness and Loch Ness, it can be hard to narrow down where to spend time. And this is especially true when you are only here for a short vacation. However, if you want to get away from it all and have some quiet time in one of Scotland’s less-known beauty spots, then you must visit Divach Falls. And these are much more hidden falls, so you can enjoy the tranquillity of the waters in peace.

They are not quite as dramatic as the waterfalls of Plodda Falls, but the walk is much more spectacular! And you can enjoy these Scottish waterfalls all to yourself, as this is a true hidden gem of the Highlands. The falls are combined with a lovely oak forest walk with the opportunity to spot Scottish wildlife, as well as a huge array of fungi and flora, it makes for a great day trip out. The waterfall at the end of the walk is just the icing on the cake!

About the Divach Falls

The falls begin where the Divach Burn tumbles over a cliff before falling down 30m to a plunge pool below. The burn then joins the River Coiltie before continuing to Urquhart Bay where it finally flows into Loch Ness. In dryer summers, it the waters can be a gentle cascade. However, after stormy weather, and in the depths of winter, the falls flow fast and its roar can be very loud indeed!

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Enjoy a woodland walk

And a waterfall at the end

Where to find these Highland waterfalls

There’s no real dedication to the footsteps or any useful markers, so finding them for the first time can be tricky. If you use what3words, then input trickling.replying.bids to find the location precisely. From the car park, a signed path off to the right descends through the woods to reach a fenced viewpoint for the falls. 

If you are hiking and looking for directions, then cross Torgyle Bridge and head east for a quarter-mile. You’ll come across a small parking area, with a gate. Go through and you should see the cairn and Glenmoriston footprints straight away. 

Wondering what Divach Falls look like?

 

Divach Falls are especially impressive after heavy rains. Here the waterfall swells the 30m cascade. And below you can see just how exciting the waters are in flood. This is news footage of the falls glowing red after an epic flood in the summer of 2012.

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Where to find Highland Cows near Inverness

The Scottish Highland cow is such a beautiful animal, it is known all over the world. With its shaggy mop of hair, gorgeous rounded horns, and dark mysterious eyes, it’s a must-see for visitors to Scotland. But where to see Highland cows near Inverness? That’s a good question, and one we’re happy to help with!

Fortunately, there are plenty of places to see Highland cows for those visiting Inverness. So get a moo-ve on and hoof your way to see them! In the Highlands. you’ll often hear them referred to as Heilan coos. For those interested in the Gaelic language, they are called Bò Ghàidhealach.

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Highland Cows come in a range of colours

Including red, ginger, black, dun, yellow, white and grey

Camerons Tea Room

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to get close to a Highland cow whilst also enjoying some tea and shortbread is at Camerons Tea Room and farm shop. Just outside Foyers on the east-coast of Loch Ness, this tea shop offers everything you might need for a break in your day. But as well as delicious cakes and lunches, it is also home to some Highland cows who like nothing more than to come and say hello (from behind the safety of a fence, of course. You don’t want them nabbing your scone!)

Cardhu Distillery

How about combining a search for Highland cows with a nice dram? At Cardhu Distillery to the east of Inverness there are Highland cows in the fields around the buildings. This is a great opportunity to have a distillery tour and see these beautiful animals in one morning or afternoon.

Hairy Coo Land Safaris at Rothiemurchus Estate

If you fancy getting a bit dirty on your cow trek, then visit the Rothiemurchus Estate, about 40 minutes south-east of Inverness. Here you can join others on a quad bike ride around the grounds where you might meet the estate’s herd of long-horned Highland cows. There’s also a chance of seeing wild deer here too!

Culloden Battlefield

Perhaps one of the easiest places to spot Highland Cows is at Culloden Battlefield. This is especially true if you don’t have access to your own transport. There are many tour busses which will take you to Culloden from Inverness city centre. In the fields around the battlefield, you’ll find a herd of Highland cows. Did you know that Highland cows provide benefits to the land? As such, they were put next to this iconic Inverness visitor attraction to help preserve the ancient moorland at Culloden battlefield. And here you can enjoy a small group of Highland cattle as well as Shetland cattle, goats and Highland ponies. This mix of Scottish natives all play an important part in conservation grazing on the battlefield site near Inverness. And they are all beautiful animals for you to enjoy whilst learning about the Jacobean uprise. Find out more about this Scottish battlefield below:

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Holidays with Highland Cows

Yes! We have a few special locations for you to enjoy a Scottish Holiday with Highland cattle on your doorstep...

Highland Cow Holiday Locations

And if you want to take your Highland Cow experience a little further, why not book a holiday location with their own coos? Yes, holidays with Highland Cow’s near Loch Ness are the perfect way to enjoy these fluffy beasts. And, there are a few holidays around Loch Ness that offer you Highland Cows right on your doorstep! From Cameron’s cottage on Glenlia Farm to Eagle Brae (with their famous herd of wild deer also roaming amongst their cabins) with their own herd of black Highland’s. Cameron’s Cottage is situated on the wild side of Loch Ness on a farm between Loch Tarff and Fort Augustus. And Eagle Brae is set in the Wild Scottish glens! Here their five-star wilderness log cabin village sits high up in a natural habitat north of Loch Ness, near Glen Affric and Beauly.

Did you know that Highland Cows were originally black? However, the Victorian’s wanted ginger cows and as such began a selective breeding program to change the common Highland Cow to what we know and love today. Another place to enjoy some hairy highland cows on your holiday is at Drumbuie Farm (pronounced drum-bew-ee) bed and breakfast, situated in the lovely village of Drumnadrochit near Inverness.

Wild Highland Cows

Also, wild Highland cows can often be seen roaming around the wild Scottish Highlands. And, if you are lucky, you can spot them if you take a trip through the Cairngorm National Park. Do be aware that although they look cuddly, you shouldn’t approach them as they are most definitely wild animals! This is especially true if you happen upon a baby Highland cow. They are the most adorable little cows but their mothers can be fierce!

Highland Cow Gifts

If you don’t manage to find any cows, perhaps a souvenir will have to do instead. You can find cuddly Highland cows in most tourist shops. More upmarket stores like An Talla by Loch Ness can also be a great place for Highland cow gifts. So if you are looking for where to see Highland cows near Inverness, we hope you are successful but if not, there’s always a cuddly toy waiting instead!

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Discover the Cairngorms National Park

The spectacular Cairngorms National Park is easy to reach from Inverness. You can travel to Aviemore on the west side of the park by train or car in around 40 minutes. This is the largest National Park in Scotland and the UK and there is so much to do here! Walking and cycling, watersports and outdoor activities, family attractions, historic landmarks and so much more.

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Walk or cycle

Lots of paths and trails to explore in an exquisite part of the world

Cairngorms Walks and Cycle Routes

Walking and cycling are very popular activities in the Cairngorms National Park. The towns and villages across the park have several paths and trails, which are ideal for walkers and cyclists. Abundant wildlife, rich history and magnificent views are aplenty, with many walking and biking trails to choose from. If you’re looking for a challenge, you can take on one of the rugged Cairngorms Hill Tracks, climb a Munro, or venture on a long-distance route such as The Speyside Way or Deeside Way.

Outdoor Activities in The Cairngorms

The Cairngorms is the place to go for outdoor activities in Scotland. It has two excellent watersports centres at Loch Insh and Loch Morlich. Here, you can enjoy fishing, sailing, swimming, rafting, windsurfing and much more. Along with the Cairngorm Mountain activity centre, which offers snowsports, adventure play and guided walks. Other popular outdoor activities in the Cairngorms include dog sledding and bungee jumping. There’s everything from family adventure parks to extreme sports for thrill-seekers.

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Stunning views

Snowcapped mountains, glistening lochs, moorland and so much more!

Cairngorms Scenery and Wildlife

The ranges of the Cairngorms National Park offer some of the most stunning views in the world. Snow-topped mountains, rugged hills, glistening lochs, crystal clear rivers, heather-clad moorlands and ancient forests make up this beautiful and diverse Scottish landscape.

And within this landscape live a multitude of wild trees, plants, animals and insects. Home to creatures such as the red squirrel, osprey, wildcat, golden eagle, badger, red and roe deer and pine marten. So a visit to the Cairngorms is a truly magical experience for wildlife lovers!

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Reelig Glen Highland Walks

Reelig Glen is an ancient forest, known locally as Fairy Glen. This old woodland by the Moniack River historically belonged to the Fraser family, until the Forestry Commission bought it in 1949. In the 19th century, James Baillie Fraser planted many of the trees here. It is now a popular walking area, with two waymarked trails. And these walks are ideal for spotting red squirrels in the Highlands, pine martins, birdlife and many other fantastic creatures.

The glen is famous for its grove of Douglas firs. And four of the tallest trees in Britain grow there .. a Douglas fir, Norway spruce, larch and lime tree. All measuring higher than 45m!

It is often called Fairy Glen, due to its secluded setting with magical glades and atmospheric waters.

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Ancient trees

The tallest tree in Britain at over 200 feet

Tall Trees Trail and Upper Reelig Trail

Both walks start from the Forestry Commission car park at Moniack Burn.

The glen’s woodland is a mixture of old conifer and broadleaved trees, but its real glory is, of course, its Douglas Firs. The Tall Trees Trail takes you past these ancient trees, well over 100 years old and standing to magnificent heights. Explore this beautiful route and search for “Dughall Mor” (Big Douglas). Measured the tallest tree in Britain in 2000, at over 200 feet (64 metres). The route is 1.7 km and takes around 45 minutes to complete.

Walk through the woodland above the glen on the Upper Reelig Trail. This is a demanding walk with long steep slopes and some uneven rocky steps. It offers a fairly wide but uneven surface, with sections of exposed tree roots and mud. Proper walking wear is advised. The route is 1.9 km and takes around 1 hour to complete.

How To Get To Reelig Glen

Reelig Glen is to the west of Inverness, around a 20-minute drive via the A862. Visit Forestry and Land Scotland website for driving instructions and further information.

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Explore Glen Affric and Strathglass

Glen Affric is a magnificent glen and national nature reserve, located within the Strathglass valley in the Scottish Highlands. Ancient forests of Caledonian pinewood, heather moorland, sparkling lochs and towering mountains make up its stunning landscapes. The glen is known as the most beautiful in Scotland and is popular for walking, climbing and mountain biking.

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Explore Glen Affric

An array of spectacular sites to behold in this magical area

Visiting Glen Affric

A single-track road from Cannich village is the only public route into Glen Affric, with car parks at Dog Falls, Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin and River Affric. There is plenty of holiday accommodation in Cannich, including hotels, B&Bs, self-catering cottages and a caravan park and campsite. There is a local pub, village shop and post office. Tomich, Beauly and Struy are also popular places to stay nearby.

 

Dog Falls

The first car park you’ll come to in Glen Affric is Dog Falls. A series of waterfalls, so-called because they resemble the shape of a dog’s leg. There are three walking trails here with wonderful views.

 Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin

This is a great picnic spot with car parking, looking out to Loch Beinn a’Mheadhain. Although there are no waymarked routes, there are some smaller paths, which will take you down to the loch.

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So much to see

Tumbling rivers and cascading waterfalls - a site to behold

River Affric

At the end of the public road, River Affric is a great stopping point. There are two walking trails and you can also walk around Loch Affric or go up into the mountains  … if you’re looking for more adventure! This is a good place for wildlife spotting, home to creatures like golden eagles and red deer.

Plodda Falls

You can access Plodda Falls from the nearby village of Tomich. The car park is sign-posted from there. This is the highest waterfall in the area and there is an amazing viewing platform at the top. You’ll find two walking trails with waymarks here.

Cycling at Glen Affric

There are many different biking trails around Glen Affric and the Strathglass area. Cycling and mountain biking guide.

Affric Kintail Way

This is a cross-country walking and cycling route, which starts in Drumnadrochit and ends in Morvich, passing through The Glen Affric National Nature Reserve. The Affric Kintail Way is for experienced walkers and bikers who enjoy a challenge.

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