The North Coast 500, Also Known As Home

There is a road I see from the front door of my home in Caithness that forms part of the North Coast 500. As kids, we knew it better as the road ‘up west’, a passage imbued with the promise of beaches, picnics and sand between our toes. These days, the route has a new title and a reputation as one of the UK’s most iconic road trips. Starting in Inverness and covering 500 miles of the North Highland’s most scenic landscapes, this enviable status has attracted visitors from all over the world, keen to experience the North Coast 500 for themselves.

Inverness in Spring
Inverness, the start and finish point for the North Coast 500

For those of us who live on the North Coast 500 (also known as the NC 500), this new found fame is simultaneously joyous and disconcerting. We’re suddenly the best-kept secret we’ve all known for many years. Our natural inclinations keep us from shouting loudly from the rooftops. We let others sing our praises and share pictures prefixed with the quiet caption ‘home’.

Orkney View
My home, Scrabster, in Caithness
View to Scrabster
The weather is often better than people might assume
John O Groats Sign
The famous John O’ Groats sign

For many of us here, there is a deep connection with the landscape. That sense of wholeness brought on by an expanse of beach and a vast and open sky. This is a land of legend – of selkies, mermaids and fairies. This is a place where dragons open their mouths and breathe fiery sunsets across a never-ending sky.

Sunset Salute
Saluting the sunset at Dunnet Beach
Caithness Sunrise January
Caithness sunrise
Pink and Blue Sunrise Caithness
The skies are often most dramatic in Autumn/Winter
Dec 17 Pink Sunrise
Winter morning looking towards Orkney

This is a place, where in the summer, darkness seems to virtually elude us, and in the winter, storms rage and echo like an angry Giant’s roar. It’s a place where parts of the land remain untamed and wordless. It’s a place that pulls you like a magnet and makes you homesick before you ever decide to go away.

Blue Skies Thurso
A Caithness scene
Thurso East
Thurso Castle

It’s a land where the beaches seem to go on forever and the sight of a looming castle can convince you that fairy tales are worth believing in. Where going off the beaten track for a while can see you stumbling into the Secret Garden, or wandering to find a beach left untouched and largely unnoticed by the world. It is a place which, in growing up, some have sought escape from. And yet, for others, the place itself is the escape – a quiet haven to find retreat and refuge from a restless, changing world.

Ceannabeinne Beach
Ceannabeinne Beach, Sutherland
Dunrobin Spire
The fairytale setting of Dunrobin Castle, Golpsie
Blubell Woods
Bluebell Woods, Dunrobin
Wick Memorial Gardens
Memorial Gardens, Wick

Further afield, you’ll find many other treasures along the North Coast 500. You’ll find places of tranquillity – like Applecross, aptly meaning ‘The Sanctuary’ in the Gaelic tongue. You’ll find dramatic drives where cattle once treaded relentlessly along winding dusty tracks. You’ll find Monarchs of the Glen and stalwarts from above who soar across the sky.  You’ll find Highland hospitality, measured and gentle local spirits. You’ll find ruined castles, haunting landscapes, and a sense, perhaps, of being nothing but a tiny speck upon the world.

Applecross – ‘The Sanctuary’
Bealach Na Ba
The Bealach Na Ba, near Applecross (‘Pass of the Cattle’)
Stag pictured near Durness
Sandy Toes Achmelvich
Highland hospitality at Achmelvich Beach
Beach Freedom
Adventure awaits

And when your journey takes you back to the pretty city of Inverness, you’ll have come full circle. And hopefully you’ll have taken some part of the Highlands to carry forever in your soul. For those of us who live here – or who have wandered –  that feeling of home can be both profound and powerful.

For in the words of the writer Harry W. Paige, ‘home is not a place only, but a condition of the heart.’

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like these blogs on Reasons to Plan a Scottish Road Trip, Movie Locations to Visit in Scotland, Scottish Outlander Locations, Surviving the Scottish Midge and this guest post I wrote for travel website Venture North.

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NC 500 AKA Home