View Full Version : A little corner of the NC500

14-08-2019, 07:24 AM
Firstly, to be clear, this isn't an NC500 review. We didn't set off to drive the whole route, or really any of it, for that matter. We were away on a long weekend break and these are just a few observations that I think are worthy of sharing.

So, firstly, I've driven in the area many times in the past but this was our first trip with the kids. We were staying at the new NC500 Pods at Achmelvich (although expect to see a couple of more sites with pods appearing in the coming years).

These are extremely well appointed with everything you could need including, what I think is, a satellite broadband link. Don't expect any phone signal as you're about as far off the beaten track as it's possible to get when you're there.

The pods are a great base for all manner of touristy shenanigans as well as being about half way up the West part of the NC500 route - which is the really interesting bit.

Achmelvich has a bit of history for me, too. Dad used to be taken there as a boy for their family holidays in the 50s, so I always feel like I'm walking in my father's footsteps when I'm in the area. It's also just a bit beautiful...

And the beach is gorgeous white sand and clear waters...

But here's the crunch, and the purpose of this post. NONE of the locals seem to appreciate the publicity lavished upon the NC500 and while that in itself isn't a shock, the fact they're more than happy to tell you they're not happy was a surprise. This led me to think why there's such an attitude problem over it...

Firstly, the "locals" aren't really ALL local. I spoke to more people who lived there that certainly weren't born and raised there than true "locals". We used to call these folk "White Settlers" - and places like Royal deeside, Skye and the far North West now seem to be full of them (they bring their own problems - see last paragraph). Maybe these folk moved to the area looking to get out of the rat race, and for quality of life. This is, without doubt, not the remote and unvisited part of Scotland that it used to be. Far from it. And it's now besieged, every summer, by two very different camps of visitor:
- The Flat-out fraternity
- The motorhomers
Two very different types of visitor who bring with them completely different, but similarly frustrating issues and this is clear to see by the traffic on the road. You've got traffic wanting to pootle around soaking up the scenery, and the other traffic is verging on using it as a race track. Inverness to Lochinver should be, at most, 1hr 45mins. I've done it in that time, in fact, I've probably done it in a bit less in my youth. I spoke to people who are now saying they expect the journey to sometimes take 3 hours purely due to dawdling traffic - and also the sort of traffic that we encountered on our way there, slow round the corners, fast down the straights. A nightmare to pass when you're 5 cars back and the lead car refuses to let the traffic behind clear by pulling in. Remember, also, that the tiny Tesco in Ullapool is the closest "big shop" for many of these communities.

Don't get me wrong, the scenery is absolutely worth looking at. The "Geo Park" as the area is now called is utterly breathtaking. But there's a way that everyone can enjoy the road, surely?


But the problem still exists, the "locals" don't like it. A woman in a van (who spoke with a Southern English accent) took time out of her day to berate my speed on a single track road (and even Gemma who is my biggest driving critic was happy I was taking my time with the family & dog in the car) this despite the fact I wasn't even keeping up with her when the road was free of oncoming cars. I was really unimpressed with that and extremely politely let her know as much as she scrabbled her tyres and shot off again! Motorhomes seem oblivious to needing to let traffic behind them clear. We did about 10 miles behind a French RV on the same single track stretch. Those needing (or wanting) to press on seem to lack patience, probably through frustration, to wait to be let past and so try to find gaps to overtake. I watched a convoy of "fast" cars trying to pass a new VW California that was making decent progress and some of the moves were a bit enthusiastic for safe progress. We seemed to be one of the few cars that had places to be, but not needing to get there as if our pants were on fire or the kettle was on the hob as we rolled along.

So, regardless of how you're planning to tackle the NC500 here's a few ideas (and this is targeted at everyone, this isn't an NL specific post).
1. Don't drive like a twat and obey the rules of the road. If you've never driven on single track stuff for any distance before maybe a quick review of the highway code would be useful. Dutch, for example, NEVER yield, which can be rather entertaining. Slow if fine, but watch your mirrors. Fast is fine, but be patient. Let the people who live there, who have lives to get on with, get where they need to be going.

2. Engage with and attempt to be friendly with the "locals" (unless she shouts at you from a van, obviously)
3. Spend some cash with local businesses. Don't just attempt to blat round it in a day. Stay at a LOCAL hotel. Have a couple in the LOCAL pub. Buy your food from the LOCAL shops. Fill up with fuel on the way around. Book a boat trip (the one from Kylesku comes highly recommended) or something.

4. Be even more wary of tourist traffic, the ones who don't signal and make last minute lunges into lay-bys, lack any lane discipline on roundabouts and simply don't use their mirrors.

Yes, I get that it must be frustrating. But, as promised earlier, these "white settlers" generally bring their own economic problems into an area. Housing is limited, but prices are being driven up because its a desirable place to live to escape the rat race that has run your life to date. A couple of schools are facing closure as the average age of "white settlers" means their procreating days are long gone. The kids that are left can't afford to stay in the area (see above house prices), so move away having their kids elsewhere. In short, pretending they haven't brought their own problems is laughable.

Finally, if it was me, I wouldn't bother with the JoG to Inverness bit via the A9... I'd head up the West and back via the same road to get the scenery from both directions. It's FAR more interesting and beautiful and there's more to do.


Dave B
14-08-2019, 08:59 AM
Great write up Findlay. (The non existent overtake opportunities are a cinch on a motorbike)
Totally agree on adding to the local economy; accommodation, fuel, food, meals, beer. I suspect many of the campervan crowd avoid chipping in to the area in many of these ?
I do wonder if there's an 'issue' with so many people being there in biggish groups, that they don't actually take time out to chat to locals? It's weird that so many people want to rush round it without stopping here and there to smell the coffee (forgive the double pun :wave: ) You see them pull over and stop, jump out and take the same photo that everyone else takes. Then get back in and drive off to the next photo stop. Almost feel that it's simply another thing on their bucket list ticked off...but they've not really experienced it.

We stayed in a Pod at Acheninver Hostel, Achiltibuie. It was great and felt special....to say it's a glorified shed. :thumb:

Steve C
14-08-2019, 09:22 AM
We're going up in October for our 3rd trip in the last 3 years. We always try to stop in locally owned hotels and eat at local restaurants. Each year we plan to do less miles each day to give us more time to take in the scenery etc.

Due to the number of large camper vans and slow moving tourist vehicles we tend to stay away from the classic NC500 roads. On the less touristy roads, I have been impressed with how many drivers do pull over into lay-bys when they see a few cars catch them up on single track roads. The large camper vans however seem to think all they have to do is stop and their vehicles somehow shrink in width. Would be much better if they pulled into a passing place or at least moved over towards their near-side verge. :lol:

Uncle Benz
14-08-2019, 10:05 AM
My stepdad and I toured last May to tick a box for his 70th birthday. There are some lovely hotels and guest houses and some brilliant restaurants. Avoid the Culag hotel in Lochinver would be my only advice :wink:, although Peets restaurant a few doors away is very good. The owner gifted me a lovely saying - "och, summer" she said "it's ma favourite day of the year".
On the whole we found the locals friendly and welcoming, although Skye seems to be home for an awful lot of miserable gits.

Neil Mac
14-08-2019, 11:57 AM
Cool story, Bro :thumb:

It's possible that I visited this area in a caravan with my grandparents 40-odd years ago, but I have no recollection whatsoever. Really must remedy that. Probably not at the height of the tourist season, though.

14-08-2019, 12:28 PM
Ive become a regular visitor now to Scotland. Made 4 trips in the last 2 years with another one planned for September.

I would agree with comments about going up the west side of this route, although if you havent done it before, the North Coast road is beautiful and worth a visit.

I go for a 'Drive', doesnt mean i drive everywhere like my cock is on fire. Drive to the conditions and road traffic.

I avoid the holiday months to try to avoid the worst of the traffic.

15-08-2019, 07:19 AM
I go for a 'Drive', doesnt mean i drive everywhere like my cock is on fire. Drive to the conditions and road traffic.

We had a clear road most of the way from Contin to Ullapool (bar the last 3 or 4 miles) and it was brilliant. Similarly Kylesku to Scourie was virtually empty, can't say the same on the way back, though. :lol:

15-08-2019, 07:55 AM
People ruin everything

I was lucky enough to get out on a boat/yacht and went up the west coast that way...That's how to do it.

Let's see those Dutch motorhomes get to Oronsay :lol:

Dave B
15-08-2019, 09:02 AM
People ruin everything

I was lucky enough to get out on a boat/yacht and went up the west coast that way...That's how to do it.

Let's see those Dutch motorhomes get to Oronsay :lol:

I sailed up around Skye and Outer Hebrides in the late 80s with a mate and his dad who'd been in the merchant navy in the war. One year we got to the chartered yacht at Uig, Skye. The owner apologised that the engine was bust and wouldn't be fixed until Monday but we could still obviously stay on the boat in the 'Harbour'. Mateys dad told him we wouldn't need to engine but we'd be back first thing Monday for the engine fix and we promptly literally sailed away. Coming back 2 days later was a proper test of his seamanship as he had to drop sail at bang on the right time for us to slow sufficiently to just get to the end of the rather substantial jetty. He timed it to perfection and the dozen or so folk watching looked a bit awestruck so I figured they were boaty types.
Brilliant area to sail and I still fondly remember us all gathering round the radio at 0545 waiting for the shipping forecast...North Utsire, South Utsire, Dogger.......

Sorry to thread hijack Findlay :shame:

15-08-2019, 12:10 PM
We had a clear road most of the way from Contin to Ullapool (bar the last 3 or 4 miles) and it was brilliant. Similarly Kylesku to Scourie was virtually empty, can't say the same on the way back, though. :lol:

I did Kylesku to Ullapool that was pretty quiet and i could make decent progress. Also did Applecross to Spean Bridge at rather spirited speed. This was in October last year with quiet roads.

19-08-2019, 06:39 PM
Lovely, I haven't been to Scotland for ages (apart from Gretna for a wedding, but that doesn't count!).

20-08-2019, 11:51 AM
Thanks for sharing.

I was hoping to make the trip up to Scotland for a long weekend this year but we have ran out of time unfortunately. Enjoyed your write up no end though.

27-08-2019, 03:13 PM
The Hermits House!

Like your Dad we used to go on holiday to Lochinver when i was younger, Just Like my Dad spent many a summer when he was a kid!

Love it up there

Vodafone gets 4G up there though :thumb:

We stayed in a Pod in Lochinver when we were up in May, Complete with hot tub, not sure id do the Pod thing again, 2 nights was plenty