WEST COAST ROAD AND NC 500
Petit Futé's opinion on WEST COAST ROAD AND NC 500
It is far up there, in this Scottish Wild West, that we find the magnificent and unexplored soul of the Highlands. For miles and miles of landscapes from elsewhere, you feel alone in the world and very small, facing the immense wild and dramatic beauty of nature. You may not have time to do the entire itinerary, but choose at least one section to capture the infinite size of this small country. You are free to shorten, cross-reference or modify them. Some are much longer than others and will probably require cutting in two days. In any case, a good card will be the key to your success.
From Kyle of Lochalsh to Loch Torridon: the first stop is Plockton, a small idyllic village where pretty houses line up facing a bewitching and wooded bay. It announces the beginning of the Loch Carron, which the road follows until the village of Lochcarron, a long street open on the banks, where beautiful photos are to be taken. The path then climbs up to the heights to reach Ardarroch and dive into the heart of the Appelcross peninsula, as beautiful as it is wild. In Tornapress, you can cut towards Shieldaig and cross sublime and desert expanses of wide open spaces, surrounded by peaks, or continue towards Applecross via the Bealach na Ba pass. The landscape will be even more grandiose as you climb. Feel free to turn around and look back as you climb up Loch Kishorn in the foreground and Loch Carron in the background. You will then enter an absolutely magical place with the threatening appearance of a canyon. On either side stand huge grey and black rocks that stand vertically, while the road winds towards a breathtaking view of the Cuillin de Skye. It then descends to the coast, along high plateaus covered with moors. The rest of the route to Torridon follows the charming coastline, which is bordered by the island of Raasay and the Trotternish Peninsula.
From Loch Torridon to Gairloch: Loch Torridon (separated between Loch Torridon and Upper Loch Torridon) is definitely one of the most beautiful and surprising in the country. Even by Scotland's standards, it is incredibly exotic, which is no small thing to say. Its rocky chaos, its noble peaks, its flat vegetation and its shimmering waters are not without evoking the Mediterranean, when the sun is present. But the powerful Glen Torridon that follows reminds us that we are in the Highlands, with its imposing walls of black mountains, as beautiful as they are dramatic. The road turns off at Kinlochewe to follow the admirable Loch Maree, which is full of charm and reliefs with a strange silhouette. The area is a nature reserve and you will find the Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre just before the log (www.nnr.scot), then a car park on its banks with self-service documentation on possible hikes in the area. The path then continues quietly to Gairloch.
From Gairloch to Lochinver: the section to Poolewe is quite typical of the west coast but it is on the heights of Loch Ewe that the show is perfectly stunning. The view over this real small sea and Ewe Island is unforgettable, especially at sunset. Guinard Bay to follow is also very romantic and Little Loch Broom has impressive waterfalls at Ardessie Waterfalls. The road then leaves the coast and announces a return to the heart of the Hilghlands, sinking again into deep glens. Before turning onto the A835 for Loch Broom and Ullapool, eventually stop at Falls of Measach Falls. Then you have two options to get to Lochinver: the coast and the land. The coastal route turns at Drumrunie and runs along two lochs, passing as close as possible to Stac Pollaidh (613 metres), a curious mountain in the air of the Far West. It then zigzags to its destination between water and rock. The path across the land remains on the main road, the A835/37. It is just as sumptuous and has the advantage of gaining more altitude, between the plains and the northern mastodons, such as Suilven (731 m), Quinag (808 m) and Cul Mor (849 m), in the distant shadow of the colossal Ben More Assynt (998 m). Just before turning on the Loch Assynt, it crosses the very photogenic ruins of Ardvreck Castle. If you run out of time, you don't have to make the detour to Lochinver and can head north without going by the coast.
From Lochinver to Durness: you have the choice between retracing your steps to catch the A894 or following the coast on the B869. If you choose the latter, you can eventually go through the Point of Stoer and enjoy a hike to its impressive stack, the Old Man of Stoer. You will catch up with the main road just before Unapool and Eas a' Chual Aluinn, the highest waterfall in Great Britain (200 m) is not far from here, but requires a long and hard 10 km round trip from Loch na Gainmich. You will then follow the superb seafront dotted with lochans (small lochs), via the small bay of Scourie and Laxford Bridge. The final stretch between Rhioconich and Durness is enchanting with its vast meadows bordered by mountains to the east. In this region, if you have some time, don't miss the magical Sandwood Bay, which is often on the list of the most beautiful beaches in the United Kingdom. You will have to take the B801 west to Blairmore, where a small parking lot and toilets mark the beginning of the trail. Leaflets with a map are normally present and will give you details on how to get there. It's a 13-kilometre walk back and forth to a breathtakingly beautiful beach, whose white sands are surrounded by cliffs and guarded by a majestic stack to the south (www.johnmuirtrust.org).
North Coast 500
If you have time and pleasure to pursue, the above itinerary is part of the longest North Coast 500, a route that follows the entire north coast of Scotland and is intended to be, in a way, the answer to the American Route 66. As its name suggests, it is 500 miles (830 km) long and follows the entire coast north of Kyle of Lochalsh (west) and Inverness (east), before closing its loop via the A832 inland. If its most beautiful section is undoubtedly between Kyle and Durness, the beaches, cliffs, hills and vast expanses of the entire route are certainly superb too. The NC 500 now has a solid reputation and is becoming more and more attractive. Accommodation, amenities and gas stations are very rare, so you will have to prepare your stay well.
More information: www.northcoast500.com
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Itinerary of 400 kilometers maximum, between Kyle of Lochalsh and Durness.
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