Seaside Special - NC500 part 3: south-west Highland, Argyll and Bute

Ullapool was a real destination hub. The absence of any other settlement for miles around that could boast a ferry terminal, half a dozen pubs/restaurants and a supermarket meant that tourists, visitors and explorers (that’s me and Mrs A, obviously) made their way here in droves. For a village of only 1,500 souls, Ullapool punched above its weight. We sat with a beer in the bar of the Seaforth pub/restaurant, waiting for table to become free for dinner. This was a substantial establishment on the harbour road, and was packed. Even the outside tables under a giant awning were full. The bar was a good place to people watch. All shapes, sizes and tribes of people – adventurous families, hairy bikers, cozy motorhomers, island-hopping residents, discerning travellers (us again, obvs) and even a few small groups of lairy young adults. A cosmopolitan mix that showed how convincingly Ullapool had hit NC500 paydirt. Food quality standards remained impressively high. As a purpose-built 18 th

Seaside Special - NC500 part 2: north and north-west Highland

Day four was a dog-leg day: north from Staxigoe to Duncansby Head in the far top right of mainland Scotland before swinging west along the top of the world as far as Bettyhill. We passed close to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe again before skirting the bay beyond with its pristine yellow-white beach which we had glimpsed from the castle’s ramparts yesterday.   First stop was Duncansby Lighthouse, where we were lucky to find a park. For the first time, we had hit a populist bit of the NC500 tourist trail. Camper vans of all shapes, sizes and nationalities packed onto the verge parking. The lighthouse held a prominent view (as you would hope, to be fair) towards the Orkneys, Dunnet Head – Scotland’s most northerly point - and in the near distance John O’Groats where the sunshine glinted back from rows of yet more camper vans docked by the famous sign post. Their number was a shock at first, but we soon got used to the idea and it was really only at the most popular stops where they grouped i

Seaside Special - NC500 part 1: North Lanarkshire, Falkirk, Stirling, Perth & Kinross, east Highland

Bucket lists. Do you love ‘em or hate ‘em? I’m firmly in the first camp. But then I love lists full-stop. I’ve got a gig list going back to my first concert at Hammersmith Odeon in 1984. I’ve got a list of all my Cheltenham Festival winners since 2000 (that’s a micro-list to be fair). Maybe I should have a list of lists? And yes, I have a travel bucket list. The NC500 is on it. Tick. A circular tour around the top of Scotland, beginning and ending at Inverness, the NC500 was only officially launched and hawked as a tourist route in 2010. It had existed long before that of course, as a loose, undefined journey along deserted, barely serviced coastal highways and byways known best by crusty camper-vanners and belligerent bikers. The success of the marketing has changed all that. The journey is now venerated as an ‘epic road trip’ up there with Route 66, South Africa’s Garden Route and the Iceland Ring Road. Rightly so. Jumping on trends is something I rarely do, but when it came to t