Scotland North Coast 500 (NC500) adventure | Australian Frequent Flyer
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Scotland North Coast 500 (NC500) adventure

Flashback

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Having being conned by @VPS, it seems I'm on hook to write up another TR..... even though my Nepal TR isn't even close to being finished ;)

Having booked this some time ago, we were left with ~2 days between arriving back from Nepal and heading off to INV to start our NC500 route. Just enough time to get some clothes washing done, a few days of work (i.e. catch up on e-mails and run from meeting to meeting) and repack for our Scottish adventure.

The trip sat nicely over the Easter long weekend and routing was as follows: LHR-INV-LHR. Much less flying than our trip we had just got back from.

Originally we were due to arrive in INV around lunchtime on the Thursday and pickup our car from Hertz, the plan being to drive out towards Applecross and see the first of (many) nice beaches; however BA increasing the LHR-INV flights to 2 a day meant a complete reschedule with flights now leaving very early in the day, or very late in the day. We had no desire to try and get to LHR for a flight around 6.30am so opted for the later flight which meant a slight shift in the route we had decided to take and eventually meant we would have to skip Applecross.

Inspiration for this trip came from @Denali, having done similar a year prior. After having seen the TR, I duly locked in flights ~10 months out from take-off.
 

craven morehead

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I'm having a me-day on Sunday while Mrs Flashback and our friends from Ireland go to Chessington World of Adventures for the day. I'm hoping to get through a good chunk of the Nepal TR and this one!
For the uninitiated there is a fair effort involved in putting a TR together. A bit of me-time won't go astray. Keep up the good work.
 

Flashback

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I am massively behind, having been slightly unwell again and then a last minute work trip to Delhi. Efforts will be focused on finishing the Nepal TR next weekend and then this one hopefully after that.

This weekend though....... it's 2 days off (i.e. Saturday/Sunday!) and the Spanish F1 GP for me.
 

Flashback

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After a hectic 4 months of work and several trips to Delhi and Cairo, my Nepal TR is now completed so next job will be to complete this one. I think it'll be a bit more of a short and sweet TR, pictorially driven but hope it gives a good feel for the area and inspiration for anyone else thinking of visiting the area.
 

Flashback

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So picking up from where we left off........ we had an afternoon flight up to INV due to the reschedule, so after a short stay in the BA F lounge we arrived in INV. As we were HLO it was straight off the plane to find the Hertz shuttle driver, their office is a few minutes drive away in a business park but fortunately he was there and ready to go. Initially we were going to wait for other passengers, but after a few minutes and no one else showing up (as they were likely waiting for their bags) he decided to drop us off.

INV is a tiny airport, although it does have a handful of gates!

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It was a fairly short drive to our B&B for the night and we arrived just in time to see a nice sunset.
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We went out for a quick drive in the evening to grab some dinner (Fish & Chips, of course!) and stumbled across our first Highland Coos.
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As we were both still recovering somewhat from the illness we contracted in Nepal, it was back to the B&B for an early night and some decent rest.
 

Flashback

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After a hearty start to the day with a Full English (Scottish? Although there wasn't any haggis....) breakfast, we jumped into the car and set out for the day's sightseeing. We had a lot of crowd to cover, not necessarily in miles but certainly in driving time. As you get onto the NC500 loop single lane roads become the norm and there's lots of pulling in and letting other cars past etc. It wore thin pretty quickly......... but it's all part of the fun!

Our route:
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Our key stopping points for the day are on the map, below are some photos from some of the places we stopped along the way.

Rogie Falls
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Somewhere random along the side of the road, a nice view into the highlands.
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Corrieshalloch Gorge
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Our wheels for the journey - Kia Ceed Estate (or Station Wagon, to Aussies!), nice upgrade from the group A I booked (knowing that as a Hertz President's Circle member an upgrade would be forthcoming) and it was automatic too, so that was a win!
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Our first beach (of many) - Little Gruinard Beach, absolutely stunning and you could be mistaken for thinking you were something OTHER THAN Scotland! We were very blessed with the weather too, especially as the Easter Long Weekend often tends to be cold, wet and miserable. We averaged 20 degrees for most of the trip, so it certainly improved our mood a lot.
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It was by this stage that another illness then hit me - all of a sudden I couldn't balance properly amongst other things, slightly worrying given the bug we had picked up in Nepal. We found a GP in Gairloch but unfortunately it was closed. Being up in the highlands, health care centres are few are far between.... we decided to push on anyway.

I found a place selling pies and thought I'd give it a try, hoping it would rival a nice Aussie pie...... unfortunately it was not to be!
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Flashback

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We sat down and enjoy the view while eating lunch......
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..... then pushed on to the next beach, Mellon Udrigle, which had been recommended.... and boy what a treat it was! Even the cat thought it was a nice day for a stroll at the beach. Alrighty then!
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Who knew such amazing looking water and beaches existed in Scotland? Don't let the looks full you though, I can confirm it was still freezing cold!

As I wasn't feeling well, after resting on the beach for an hour or so it was back in the car to head towards our B&B in Ullapool to enjoy another fantastic sunset. I didn't notice quite as much tweed furnishings in the places we stayed, but took a photo of the lamp in our room for @Denali.
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A quick call to the NHS and a teleconsult given the closest A&E was miles away, gave a diagnosis of Vertigo. Drat, not the best but easy enough to work around.

After a busy day we had a dinner right on the bay and then called it a night.
 

Flashback

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After yet another hearty full English/Scottish breakfast, it was back onto the road. Our main goal for the morning was to hike up Stac Pollaidh, unfortunately the weather had turned slightly and there was very low cloud/fog, but in a way it was welcome as we worked up a bit of a sweat hiking up! While we didn't have sweeping views, it was still kind of cool and had an eery feel as we looked out over the highlands.
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After the hike, we decided to head to Achnahaird Beach - Mrs Flashback will never let the weather stop her visiting beaches! It's an Irish thing....... I suppose. As we got further into the Highlands it felt more and more relaxed, these animals will certainly attest to that.
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Flashback

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We drove around the coast to Achiltibuie for lunch, the sights continued to be a feast for the eyes.
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After lunch we started to make our way towards our accommodation for the night, stopping enroute at Calda House...
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Ardvreck Castle.....
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..... before arriving at our accommodation for the night at Achmelvich Beach, it was a hostel but we had a private room and it was recommended by a lot of people for staying in the area. As continues to be the theme for the trip, it sat on a lovely looking beach. Unfortunately the short time we spent there the weather stayed a little miserable so we didn't get to enjoy it much. It was quite cosy in the common area with the fire roaring away and a perfect spot to unwind after another busy day and enjoy a bottle of Australian Shiraz (thanks, Tesco!).
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Flashback

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The next day we left as we started our drive towards Balnakeil...... there was some pretty stunning scenery on the drive.
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It was a Geologist's dream. I feel like @RooFlyer might enjoy the area from an academic perspective.

As we approached Balnakeil, we decided to stop in at another beach located there ...... why not, eh. Yet again, a visual feast for the eyes.
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The weather had turned again to a more favourable sunny and warm, which would end up holding for the remainder of the trip..... mostly!

Who would have thought you were in Scotland? Warm weather (relatively speaking, of course), stunning beaches...... to think also that if this NC500 trip hadn't been pointed out to me, I may never have experienced the delights it had to offer.
 

Flashback

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After we left Balnakeil Beach we headed to the Balnakeil Craft Village, which used to be used as a barracks for Air Force spotters I believe and now houses local artists offering their wares. We bought a few things and had fun wandering around. If you do stop in, you absolutely MUST stop in at Cocoa Mountain. The hot chocolate is the thing dreams are made of........ yummo!
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It was then off to Smoo Cave, it's free entry but donations are gratefully accepted. The tours are staffed by local caving volunteers, our guide was an absolute hoot and I'd thoroughly recommend it. It's a bit of a walk down (and therefore, back up!) but I wouldn't hesitate to go again.
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We left Smoo Cave and started to head towards Thurso, where we were staying for the night. We were covering quite a few miles in today's route.

One of many passing zones.....
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More stunning scenery as we drove along......
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Kyle of Tongue crossing. The wind was whipping across here, it wasn't very well protected! Hang on to your hat!
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Flashback

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Wandering around Thurso and the surrounds took us to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of Mainland Britain.
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Dinner was at a local pub and a nice relaxed night to kick back and take in the journey to date. My vertigo was still knocking me about a bit, but fortunately not enough to stop me from enjoying the holiday.
 

Flashback

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We had a fair bit of driving to do on our final day (of the NC500 route, anyway) to end up back in Inverness, where we would spend 1 more night.

The end of the route......
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We drove out to John O Groats, but all the shots have my ugly mug in it so no pictures to show!

Onwards to Duncansby Head Lighthouse.....
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Our first proper stop for the day, Dunrobin Castle. Well worth a stop and if you time it right you can enjoy a Falconry show.
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I love that he's wearing a neck tie. Totally unnecessary but so British!
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A quick nip into a well known Whisky distillery.
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Flashback

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Finally, onto Cromarty which was our final stop prior to Inverness. It's a bit off the path back to Inverness, but again is worth a visit.

The drive enroute to Cromarty...
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Cromarty itself is a rather quaint little village, set on the bay close to a lot of heavy industry.
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Cromarty Courthouse Clock
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Pretty fancy looking building for a primary school!
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A nice juxtaposition of a tiny boat versus the heavy industry that exists in the area.
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Flashback

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And with that done, the end of our trip was upon us. Once we departed Cromarty, we drove straight back to Inverness and spent a night there - I caught up with an ex-colleague (he sat on the customer side of a programme I delivered) and we went out for a few beers. It only felt right to finish off the night and thus the trip, with a bag of these.......!

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I hope you've enjoyed and it gives you some inspiration for exploring the wonderful Scottish highlands!
 

VPS

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Ah wonderful memories. You certainly covered a lot of ground in only a few days. I can still remember that hot chocolate at Cocoa mountain.
 

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