My next stop along Scotland’s North Coast 500 was Lochinver. After two relaxing nights in Gairloch it was time to pack up the wigwam and continue our journey. I was sad to leave. I wasn’t sure any of the other accommodations would be able to beat this location, luckily I was wrong! After carefully squeezing a weeks worth of stuff into my wee micra we checked out, bought some souveniers from the brilliant little gift shop and headed off. We actually done a little of this road the day before, to visit Inverewe Gardens and Mellon Udrigle Beach but if you are just spending the one night in Gairloch you can visit these on the route up to Lochinver.
Along the whole of the North Coast 500 there are landscapes which wouldn’t look out of place in a huge blockbuster film and the road from Gairloch to Poolewe is one of those. Driving inland, away from the coast, you are transported to another world of jurassic rock, sea lochs and dramatic mountains. This area has some of best scenery Wester Ross has to offer so keep the camera handy. As the road winds up hill look out for an amazing photo op at the top. The parking space is on the right hand side right before a bend so be extremely careful if you are attempting it. If you don’t want to risk it get whoever is sitting in the back to open the window and snap away as you turn the bend.
The road then winds down into the pretty village of Poolewe and hugs the coast around Loch Ewe, before passing Inverewe Gardens and heading back up to give more stunning views across Loch Ewe. The road from Gairloch is in excellent condition and isn’t single track although it does wind and have sharp bends so don’t relax too much.
After a quick stop off in Aultbea for some more photos we left the coast and crossed some hilly country to Laide. Here you can turn left to visit Mellon Udrigle or carry on up one of the most scenic roads on the trip. If the sun is out here you are in for a hell of a treat as the turquoise waters of Gruirnard Bay, the rocky torridon hills and white sandy beaches tucked in below are jaw droppingly beautiful and look out over the little islands of the bay to the Coigach Hills. Further on there are more pretty special mountain vistas as you drive along the banks of Little Loch Broom.
A little insight into Scottish weather – When I said Gruirnard Bay is beautiful in the sun, that’s because when I drove that part the sun was blazing, hitting the water and making it shimmer in the sunlight. By the time I got past Little Loch Broom the rain was so heavy I had to keep stopping as I couldn’t see in front of me. It was battering off the windows and it seemed almost dark outside. You know how they say expect all four seasons in a day? By the time I got up to Ullapool the sun was back out and were eating fish and chips on the bench watching the ferries. To put that into perspective the drive from Gruirnaird Bay to Little Loch Broom is 20 minutes, from there to Ullapool is 44 minutes. So four seasons in just over an hour really.
Ullapool was a welcome stop for lunch, so was the phone signal and 3G. We stocked up in tesco and filled the car with petrol. We had read that from then on in petrol wasn’t easy to find. There are plenty of shops in the villages for food but as you can imagine Tesco is a little cheaper. Restocked and refuelled we rambled on towards Lochinver, weaving through mountains such as Stac Pollaidh, Beinn an Eoin and Cul Beag. As we entered Sutherland we came across the ruins of Ardvreck Castle which was built by the MacLeods of Assent in the late 15th century.
We got to Lochinver just in time for a jaunt along the main street before indulging in a rather amazing pie at Lochinver Larder. We watched the sun set over Loch Inver from the patio of our B+B. Simply Red were playing in the background courtesy of a group of German bikers who were savouring the fading light and local beer on the picnic benches nearby. I couldn’t resist switching on the TV that night as it was the first one we had found since we left. It didn’t stay on long though – after the roads we had just travelled the tv just didn’t cut it and with the harbour lights twinkling outside there were far better things to watch. Sitting outside listening to the happy chatter of the Germans I was once again reminded of what a truly amazing wee country we live in
If you visit Lochinver you must try one of Lochinver Larder's famous pies. I had been dreaming about this pie for three days and it did not disappoint. The restaurant , Riverside Bistro, is situated right on the banks of Loch Inver and the service is top notch. The pies are made on site using as much local Scottish produce as possible.
The delicious flavours include savoury bolognaise mince, haggis with neeps and tatties and steak and ale. If you fancy something a bit different you can try venison and cranberry, spiced butternut squash with goats cheese or saag paneer. They even do sweet pies such as chocolate with pear and almond or rhubarb and strawberry. I absolutely loved my steak and ale pie with fluffy mashed potatoes and peas, which we ate in the conservatory. If you really want a pie and aren’t doing the North Coast 500 they even deliver!
We spent the night in the lovely Rose Guest House, situated on a hill overlooking the village and the Loch. The couple who run it were great and filled us in on what to do in the area. Although the walls were a bit thin (drunk bikers) it was a welcome stay after two nights in a wigwam. We never ate there but the breakfasts looked fab and the dinner the night before smelt heavenly. It’s in a really gorgeous area. We were even greeted in the driveway by a family of deer! The room has everything you need and the shared bathroom and toilet is spotless. Another place i can highly recommend. I booked through Booking.com for a very reasonable price, I’m sure it was around £60
You can read the other sections of my North Coast trip here. To find out more about the route visit the official website North Coast 500