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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Historical Sites
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Scottish Castles
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Towns & Villages
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