Day 6 & 7 – Driving the NC500 in winter – Achiltibuie

Two days for the price of one!

Some of you may have noticed from the various comments floating about that we’ve actually been on a one-day delay with the blog.

As we’ve been cooped up inside for much of the last two days we thought it would be a good idea to combine the last two days and get back to ‘real time’.

Yes, sadly, ‘cooped up’ has been our status, but between the cooping have been some moments of great fun!


Click here for… “Your Ultimate Guide to Driving the NC500 in Winter”


Yesterday was an absolute maelstrom of gale force winds (~100km/hr gusts in our area), driving rain and generally very gloomy conditions.

There was a very short break in the weather and we made the most of it, driving north from Polbain around the peninsula in a loop.

Old Dorney Harbour was in a spot of sun as we rounded the final bend, making for a nice photo. The tide was out, so many of the boats were perched on the rocks.

NC500 - Achiltibuie - Old Dorney Harbour

NC500 – Achiltibuie – Old Dorney Harbour

From here we pushed on through Altandhu…

Breaking news!! As I’m sitting here typing this, the lights went out and we had a massive clap of thunder amid the snow flurries. THUNDER-SNOW!!! We’d heard about this phenomenon but never thought we’d ever experience it. So glad the lights came back on though 😀

…and then to the end of the road at Reiff on the western edge of the peninsula. Our view was unobstructed and we simply sat in the parked car, rocking in the wind and watching the dark grey waves rolling in, white spume topping each wave like frothy icing and the rain bashing our windows incessantly.

NC500 - Achiltibuie - The view from Reiff

NC500 – Achiltibuie – The view from Reiff

As we turned back we got a different view back down the peninsula, this time of the waves crashing against the rocks and the Summer Isles in the distance. lol…’summer’.

NC500 - Alchitbuie - Looking west towards the Summer Isles

NC500 – Alchitbuie – Looking west towards the Summer Isles

NC500 - Alchitibuie - So ominous...

NC500 – Alchitibuie – So ominous…

Taking the road out east we detoured in to Achnahaird Bay, where the waves were rolling in with fierce abandon. The unmistakable profile of Stac Pollaidh in the distance added to the imposing atmosphere.

No, we didn’t stay for a swim…

NC500 - Achiltibuie - Looking across Achnahaird Bay towards Stac Pollaidh in the distance

NC500 – Achiltibuie – Looking across Achnahaird Bay towards Stac Pollaidh in the distance

And then on our return the sun broke forth once again, suffusing the hills and beaches with its warm glow…

NC500 - Achiltibuie - The view back towards Achiltibuie from Polbain

NC500 – Achiltibuie – The view back towards Achiltibuie from Polbain

So far all we were missing was snow!

But not for long…

The winds howled all night, and we woke the following morning to our second bout of snow on this holiday so far (the first being in Edinburgh on Boxing Day). Such a pretty way to greet the day!

NC500 - Achiltibuie - Greeted by snow!

NC500 – Achiltibuie – Greeted by snow!

The forecast was for a little bit of snow in the morning, with conditions clearing from around 11am onwards. With this mind we piled into the car with every piece of warm and/or weather-proof clothing we could muster to go and explore Knockan Crag.

Bad idea.

We weren’t even 300m down the road when we realised the snow was not letting up at all. In fact it was getting heavier and deeper by the second!

Never having driven in snow before, this was a unique and slightly terrifying experience! ABS kicking in every few seconds on the down hill slopes, even in first gear, under-steer on every corner, traction control on the straights…eeek!

Putting safety first we decided to pull over and wait it out. Build a snowman even!! (your wish is our command Sarah 🙂 )

NC500 - Achiltibuie - Our marvelous snow man

NC500 – Achiltibuie – Our marvellous snow man

Perhaps more ‘leafy sea dragon-man’ than snow man, we were quite proud 😀 The wind in his leafy hair lent a sense of style and panache, don’t you think?

We tried to find small pebbles for eyes, but all we could find on the beach amid the millions of boulders was a squishy lump of sheep poo.

NC500 - Achiltibuie - Our nemesis

NC500 – Achiltibuie – Our nemesis

We weren’t to know it yet, but that hill was to prove our nemesis for the remainder of the day.

The conditions were ridiculous and we were getting cold, so we decided to turn back for home.

This is as far as we got…

NC500 - Achiltibuie - You shall not pass!!

NC500 – Achiltibuie – You shall not pass!!

It didn’t matter what we tried…first gear with a heap of revs, nice and slow…third gear with a heap of speed…traction control off…traction control on…first gear as fast as she could go…by our fifth attempt we simply gave up, drove back down the hill and went for a walk along the beach to cool off!

NC500 - Achiltibuie - The calm before the next round of snow

NC500 – Achiltibuie – The calm before the next round of snow

All the way we kept seeing cars taking exactly the same route and getting to the top without any difficulty whatsoever! What were we doing wrong? To top it all off we saw a tiny old granny in a clapped out Honda Civic, smile on her face as she trundled past at a snail’s pace, all the way up and over the ridge without a care in the world.

On our return to the car our resolution was, “One more go, and if it doesn’t work…please, no…we’re going to swallow our pride and ask for help.”

This time it was second gear, high revs, as much speed as was possible around the first bend and taking no prisoners!! And it worked thank goodness.

We returned home just in time as the next snow storm struck hard and with speed!

NC500 - Achiltibuie - The triumphant view from the top!

NC500 – Achiltibuie – The triumphant view from the top!

NC500 - Achiltibuie - At last we made it to the top!

NC500 – Achiltibuie – As the snow begins to fall again…

We even saw a couple of geese parading about in the snow…their white feathers making them nigh on invisible, just a pair of orange beaks and feet floating past…

NC500 - Achiltibuie - Snow geese

NC500 – Achiltibuie – Snow geese

It was only early, but we’d had enough excitement for one day!

A hot mug of coffee for one and a cup of tea for the other were needed to calm the nerves, before considering what our options would be tomorrow in getting to Strathcarron…

For Day 8 of our adventures…click here!


If you missed our earlier shenanigans, you’ll find them here:

NC500 - Achiltibuie

NC500 – Achiltibuie

12 Comments

  1. Andrew, It wouldn’t be my first option but reversing up a snowy hill is an approach to consider too. I once had to do it to on the Drumbeg road on a particularly steep, snow covered section. It improves the traction through some physical process I’ve never bothered to fully understand, but I can confirm it does work.

    1. Hi Scott, this is a technique that someone else described to me as well yesterday. I suspect it’s to do with the fact that most vehicles are front wheel drive and therefore the greater weight over the front creates extra compaction and grab. Sounds handy, but I do hope I don’t have to use it today 😀 I think as long as we can get out of Achiltibuie and onto the main roads we’ll be fine.

    1. Ha! Trust you Dave! 😀 You’d be loving up here, there’s more whisky than water!!

      Take it easy, and go the Sea Eagles!!

  2. I have been reading your blog with real interest and enjoyment. My wife and i are doing the 500 in april, having experienced the 4 seasons in one day myself before in scotland i know what u have been going through, but i am sure it is well worth it

    1. Thanks Malcolm, much appreciated! I’m sure you’ll love the NC500, it’s such a beautiful drive. It’s also short enough that you don’t have to drive all day just to get to your next destination.

      As for the weather…well, we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we decided on January 😀 Pretty exciting!

    1. lol…total opposite to what I was initially thinking 😀 I’ve seen a few now recommending starting in second and go slow. It’s not intuitively obvious but it does make sense when you think about it.

  3. Well NW Scotland is renowned for having 4 seasons in one day. At least the gales didn’t have you over a cliff! Hope the freezing weather doesn’t completely ruin the rest of your trip.

    1. Too true Aaron! We’re loving it so far, despite the cold conditions. It’s so unlike anything we experience back home. Old news for locals I imagine, but we’re getting a kick out of it!

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