Day 10 – Driving the NC500 in winter – Applecross

It’s a sad day today, and our tear-streaked cheeks are wetter than a dreich Sunday…

Well…perhaps that’s a little melodramatic, but is IS our last full day touring driving the NC500 in winter 🙁

Today’s update is brought to you by the colour…grey!

We were hoping for something similar to yesterday, but all we got was drizzle, mist and rain interspersed with a dash of fog, just in case we weren’t damp enough. Have we just been lucky? Or is this unusual for a Scottish winter? We suspect the former 😀

Retracing our steps from yesterday, we drove up towards Gairloch again but this time turning left just before town, taking the narrow, winding road (aren’t they all?) out to Red Point.

First we had pass the local sentries.

NC500 - Applecross - Guarding the road to Red Point

NC500 – Applecross – Guarding the road to Red Point

NC500 - Applecross - Punk sheep

NC500 – Applecross – Punk sheep

With a minimum of eye contact and much kow-towing, we ducked past the surly guards and found ourselves above the beach of Red Point.

In the distance we could just make out what we think was Rona Island, with the fog obscuring the Isle of Skye from view. On a good day we wouldn’t be surprised if you could actually see ‘our’ bothy at Staffin!

NC500 - Applecross - Red Point

NC500 – Applecross – Red Point

From Red Point we drove back to Gairloch and then north to Melvaig where we were hoping to get some sort of view from the headland.

Cool story bro’.

The mist and fog and rain and general moistness increased exponentially the further we drove.

After a bite to eat, sans view, our plan was to drive back into Gairloch and do a 2 hour hike into Flowerdale Waterfall. However we did the sums and worked out that if we did the hike then we’d be driving back over Applecross Pass in the dark.

This was unacceptable, and so we forego the exertions for another stint in the car.

Along the way we stopped again at the Glas Leitre car park where Andrew took an image that shows how much the loch had changed in temperament since yesterday. Higher water level, a lot more mist, and of course rain.

NC500 - Applecross - Loch Maree

NC500 – Applecross – Loch Maree

NC500 - Applecross - Loch Maree water drops

NC500 – Applecross – Loch Maree water drops

It did make for some great monochromatic images though!

NC500 - Applecross - Loch Maree in B&W

NC500 – Applecross – Loch Maree in B&W

With all the rain we had overnight and during the day, the landscape had completely changed. Scotland should be known as the land of 1000 waterfalls! They were everywhere we looked, with the snow melt swelling the streams and rivers to levels far surpassing what we had seen less than 24 hours before.

NC500 - Applecross - Swollen rivers

NC500 – Applecross – Swollen rivers

Andrew also managed to get his photo of a stag in the wild!

NC500 - Applecross - Stag

NC500 – Applecross – Stag

Turning right at Kinlochewe and driving on past Torridon and Shieldaig, we took the (surprise, surprise!) narrow and windy road to Applecross.

What an epic piece of Scotland this is! Sweeping sea views, interspersed with dank, lichen bedraggled orchards and copses. The local highland coos were in their element!

NC500 - Applecross - Highland coos!

NC500 – Applecross – Highland coos!

Among all the various shades of grey, this cottage by the water’s edge stood out like a beacon!

NC500 - Applecross - Red cottage

NC500 – Applecross – Red cottage

NC500 - Applecross - Lone tree by the red cottage

NC500 – Applecross – Lone tree by the red cottage

It’s a long drive to Applecross, but the reward is worth it.

NC500 - Applecross - The view across to Applecross

NC500 – Applecross – The view across to Applecross

Applecross Inn (voted one of the best in the nation!) was a warm sanctuary from the elements, and a pint of local ale between us went down far too fast!

NC500 - Applecross - Applecross Inn

NC500 – Applecross – Applecross Inn

NC500 - Applecross - The rocky beach at Applecross

NC500 – Applecross – The rocky beach at Applecross

And then…the big kahuna, the mystical allure of the (occasionally) inaccessible (as it was yesterday), the reason for our very existence (but not really), the peak of our whole road trip…Bealach na Ba!!

With Applecross slowly receding, in no time at all were climbing the (say it with us now…) narrow and windy road to the ‘Pass of the Cattle’. In this case though you do need to throw ‘steep’ into the mix!

We had been building up this part of the journey for so long. What we would see from the top? Would there be snow? Would it cap off our road trip in the best way possible?

We saw nothing except a hint of a car park. We blinked and we missed it in the gloom. Thinking there may have been more climbing to come we pushed on. There was no way we were trying to do a U-turn on these roads either! But alas, that was it.

With a fizzle and a whimper it was all over. But there was snow and snow makes everything all right for anyone from Australia!

While it wasn’t quite the finish we had hoped for, it was still a unique and very amusing way in which to remember this iconic section of Scotland’s NC500!

There’s only a tiny stretch of NC500 for us to cover tomorrow, so never fear, there will be one final update. Sadly, we can hear the rather rotund lady doing her vocal warm up side of stage…


EDIT: And she has sung her last song 🙁

What an experience it has been over the last 11 days! There has been laughter, tears, maniacal sheep, insane weather, frustrations, joy and just about every other emotion under the Scottish winter sun!

Thank you to everyone that has joined us on this voyage of discovery, and particularly those who contributed so much either on Facebook or through comments on each of the individual blog enries. It made our travels so much easier knowing there was a community of like minded individuals out there who were so willing to share their knowledge of the local regions and towns. There are many places we simply would have missed if it wasn’t for your input!

What this trip has also made very clear is that while it may be only 500 miles, the NC500 offers so much more to the discerning traveller. We could have driven 5,000 miles and still not seen everything! In recent days we’ve both said the same thing…we need to come back one day and drive it again! Driving the NC500 in winter? Probably not, but only so that we get to experience it during a different time of year next time. Maybe surrounded by the flowers of spring…or perhaps the golden foliage of autumn…?

So what’s next?

We’re off to the Isle of Skye for four full days of hiking and general no-holds-barred frivolities 😀 Articles will be forthcoming, so stick with us. You can also expect us to start publishing some articles from our time in Edinburgh, London and Glasgow, with many being from a ‘foodie’ perspective. We’ve also got a stack of articles to write about our home state, Tasmania!

And then there’s Cyprus!! We know this is a massive destination for the Brits, so we’re keen to unearth some great locations and even more reasons for you to take a break in the warmth of the Mediterranean! Perhaps even their own version of the NC500…? Who knows what we’ll find!

While all that is going on we’re also going to be putting together a series of guides for anyone thinking about driving the NC500. We learnt so much from all of you and our own experiences, and we suspect this will prove really helpful to others (not just the good either, but some of the aspects of the NC500 that in our opinion need improvement!). These blog entries have been a pretty casual way of describing the route, with the new guides to be a more professional and polished approach to helping out the community. Watch this space!!

Thanks again, and happy travels from the two of us!

Andrew and Karen.


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

12 Comments

  1. Have been following your journey with interest, enjoy your great photos and commentary. My husband,our dog Molly and I traveled the NC500 in September last year,in a clockwise direction, missed out the Bealach na ba road to Applecross though, stopped at Sheildiag for lunch,great food. Was a lovely warm sunny day,blue sky, this continued for a few days until our second day at Durness. Headed for Skye 28th September, rain and strong winds, couldn’t see the scenery until we left the island! Stopped at Sligachan overnight, horizontal rain and 60mph wind, van rocking but stayed upright! less wild in the morning ventured out in the rain to take photos of the river. On to Dunvegan weather improved, stayed four nights on a site overlooking the loch, was beautiful and within walking distance of a good resturant, shops cafes and woodland walks,one of my favourite places. Am looking forward to your account and experience on Skye

    1. Sounds like we’ve got your Sligachan weather today Karen, minus the winds! Grey, wet and not much visibility…Let’s see what we get tomorrow though! 😀

  2. I am looking forward to your next adventure! I don’t know many that would choose a journey such as this so I thankyou for bring it to us all. Beautiful photography and wonderful wit.

    1. Thanks heaps Natala 🙂 The travels continue, so stay with us for more frivolities (without the nightly updates though…it’s killing us 😀 !). It’s the Isle of Skye next, and then Cyprus!

  3. Really enjoyed your blog, there was some stunning pictures, we did the NC 500 the same direction in Oct. The coo looks familiar LOL! Shame that you missed the view from the top of the pass across to Skye etc. Something to do again perhaps.

    1. One day Steve, it’s such a stunning location that we can definitely see ourselves returning 🙂 Here’s hoping Skye is just as good!

    1. We had to google that one Christina!! 😀 Thank you so much for the kind words. Stick with us because there will definitely be more articles to come from our time in Scotland (both pre and post NC500) 🙂

  4. I have thoroughly enjoyed your images and thoughts and this will be the go-to travelog that I’ll point to when people ask me about the NC500. I can’t help but feel that you approached the pass from the wrong direction but that’s probably the fault of the NC500 guide.

    1. Oh, wow! Thanks Scott!

      Regarding direction, it ended up being a decision based on our itinerary for the day rather than anything else.

      I was keen for a beer at Applecross, so an early morning crossing wasn’t going to work from the south side. That meant we had to do it from the north. In the end it didn’t matter either way 😀

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