Touring the Highlands of Scotland - Hints & Tips
1. Book accommodation early. I was quite shocked this year to see every single B&B sign north of Fort William showing 'No Vacancies'. Friends did book 2 places on booking.com, releasing one nearer the time, so some vacancies will likely come up, but certainly if you are keen on certain places, book well in advance.
2. Plan your route - but be open to changes. Tips from locals, as well as inclement weather are good reasons to tweak, or even abandon, your initial route plans. The NC500 is now very well known, so this does mean that it is also busy. Roads just off this can be just as spectacular and quieter. Having said that, I would recommend the roads north of Ullapool, up to Ardveck Castle - a fast, flowing road, where you pray (dream) of light traffic.
3. Fill up on petrol before you need it - there can be areas where limited fuelling opportunities, so don't run dry.
4. Plan out places to eat/ stop en your route (and maybe a spare). There are some lovely places to stop, but they can be as few and far between as petrol stations and we stopped at 2 this summer which we couldn't into as full. In the height of summer, places can struggle with the sheer number of tourists.
Some highlights that I have enjoyed:
The Crask Inn, on the A836 north of Lairg is part time church, full time as well as fully licenced, inn. A warm welcome from the pub dog as well as the couple who run the Crask greets you at a point in the road, where there is very little else around. We popped in for coffee, as recommended by locals in the village we were staying in, but I wish we had been a little later as the home cooked soup and bread looked great. The road this is on is a really well kept single-track road with very little traffic and was a highlight of my last visit.
The Lochinver Larder is a well known treat in Lochinver, renowned for its pies - sweet and savoury - to eat in, take away or even have delivered by post. A friend's father alerted me to 'the pie shop in Lochinver' and it appears in many of the 'best of' guides for Scotland. Though a little dated inside, the quality of pies and service is excellent and makes it a good stop. The road to here from Ullapool is one of my favourites, so this is a win win.
The Inverewe Garden, managed by the National Trust for Scotland is an unlikely oasis just outside Poolewe. What started as a windbreak, by planting tall trees, turned into a stunning example of a Victorian garden, full of exotic, foreign species.
Above all, enjoy the ride!