The North Coast 500 circuit also referred to as NC500 is hailed as Scotland’s Route 66 and it's a fine costal route. It helps tourists explore parts of northern Scotland that have long been overlooked and no doubt local businesses along the route have benefited from the increased tourism. We would also expect that many of those taking the route will deviate from the circuit to find what might be lurking around the bend or over the hill. Likewise, we expect that to reach the start and end point at Inverness that most will traverse other parts of Scotland to experience both Lowlands and Highlands to see more of what Scotland has to offer. However, if you need some help in doing that then this is the tour for you.
This Scottish motorcycle tour is not that north coast route although this tour embraces the best of the north coasts 513 mile long route we omit some of the less interesting roads, such as the east coast run along the A9, replacing with more interesting less travelled roads further inland in some of the most remote areas of Scotland. Naturally we also chose some of our favourite roads south of Inverness to take you to and from the north coast circuit and no trip to Scotland would be complete without visiting at least one island and so we include parts of Skye.
We hope you will agree that this circa 1100 mile trip makes a more interesting motorbike tour and allows you to see a bit more of Scotland although you may have to return again and again and take part in other motorcycle tours we operate if you really want to see all Scotland has to offer the biker!
N.B. NC500 and North Coast 500 are registered trade marks of North Coast 500 Limited. McTours is not affiliated with this company in any way.
Look at this itinerary and discover some of the most interesting motorcycle routes in Scotland
Edinburgh to Aviemore 185 miles about 5 1/2 hours riding
We depart our hotel, Carberry Tower Mansion House and Estate, taking the Edinburgh City Bypass the onwards to the Forth Crossing where we break shortly for those wishing to photograph the bridges. We then make our way west along the north shore of the Forth to the conservation village of Culross where we take our first refreshment break of the day.
The route then progresses north to Crieff where we shall stop for lunch before crossing Glen Quaich to Loch Tay, when we deviate east past Aberfeldy on onwards to Pitlochry where we take another refreshment break.
As we leave Pitlochry we shall make our way along the north shore of Loch Tummel to Tummel Bridge before turning north to Dalwhinnie where those interested in Scotch whisky can take a distillery tour. The last leg of the journey continues north to Aviemore where we stop for the night at the 4 star MacDonald Hotel.
Aviemore to Dornoch 170 miles about 5 hours riding
We depart Aviemore heading north along the course of the River Spey to Boat of Garten and Nethy Bridge before reaching Grantown-on-Spey. We then head towards to coast and on reaching Nairn to alter course to the west to reach our first stop of the day at Inverness.
Departing Inverness we south to Loch Ness as far as Drumnadrochit before turning north to Beauly and on to Strathpeffer a leafy Victorian spa town. These towns are not really scheduled stops but we will make a short stops for photographs before progressing through Dingwall and along the Cromarty Firth onwards to Portmahomack where we break for lunch. The village dates back to AD975 when St Colmac established a priory. By the 19th century it had become a major fishing port. Although this is on the east coast of Scotland the village it on a peninsula and so faces west towards the mainland.
The next section of the route is just under 20 miles and will take about 30 minutes where we reach our hotel Dornoch Castle. After check in we shall take a brief trip up the coast to Dunrobin Castle, the home of the Earl of Sutherland. The restyling was the work of famous Scots Architect Robert Lorimer the building is more akin to a French Chateau at first glance but on closer inspection you will find it is an interest blend of Scots Baronial and French Renaissance. After the castle tour we make the 12 mile trip back to Dornoch Castle a 500-year-old converted Scottish castle that is now a 3 star hotel and whisky bar.
Dornoch to Scourie 170 miles about 5 hours riding
The first major habitation we pass through is Lairg after which we shall mainly be riding single track roads. There will be very little traffic but when we do meet other vehicles especially travelling in the opposite direction it can prove challenging because many cars don't realise that most bikes have no reverse gear so pay added attention when passing other vehicles. We shall make our first stop at The Garvault which claims to be Britain's most remote hotel. We are not staying but we shall get a refreshment break here because they serve lovely cakes.
The next section of our route takes us up to Scotland's north coast at Melvich where those who really must add John O'Groats to their bucket list head east and the rest turn west either way traversing the north coast. We shall all regroup at Bettyhill where we break for lunch. The beaches in this part of the world are quite spectacular and generally have very few people on them so we may well take a wanted down to Farr Bay which is a short stroll from Bettyhill whilst waiting for the John O'Groats group to return.
We complete our days journey by travelling towards Britain's most north westerly town, Durness, where we shall refuel because our hotel is in an isolated spot 25 miles to the south of Durness. If you want to see what is one of Scotlands nicest beaches then you could make the trip along the coast passing Kinlochbervie and going as far as you can where you must park at the end of the road. From here it is a hike across the hills to Sandwood Bay. It is very remote and well worth the walk.
Scourie to Gairloch 150 miles about 5 hours riding
You will notice another significant change in scenery now we are on the west coast. Here the coastline is more rugged as will become apparent when we make our way south to Kylesku and then west to Nedd. Along this road at the Assynt Crofters Lodge we come close to the Old Man of Stoer a 60 metres high sea stack but we do need to hike a few miles to see it so I?ll leave that for you to decide if you are up for the walk. We continue our route to Lochinver where we take a refreshment break.
After tea break we continue on the single-track roads with a mixed landscape offering mountains, sea views and fresh water lochs all the way to our lunch stop at the Summer Isles Hotel in Achiltibuie. From here you will have great views south to the Summer Isles.
After lunch we make our way to Ullapool then hug the coast around Little Loch Broom and Loch Ewe where you will see the Isle of Ewe then on to where we stop for the day.
Gairloch, Applecross, Plockton, Dornie, Glenelg, Greshornish 180 miles 6 hours riding
We depart Gairloch heading alongside Loch Marie to Kinlochewe then on to Torridon and Shieldaig. From here we hug the coast all the way to Applecross. Along this route you will have great views across to Rona and Raasay with Skye lying beyond. We shall take a refreshment break in Applecross before crossing the Bealach na Ba Scotland’s third highest road and Britain’s steepest climbing 624m with 20% gradients and multiple hairpin bends. The road is also single track so be ready for a challenge! As the road drops back down to Loch Kishorn we make our way around the Loch and on to Loch Carron where we find our next stop at the village of Plockton. Although on the West Coast, Plockton faces East and so is sheltered from the prevailing wind. The surrounding waters are warmed from the Gulf Stream allowing tropical plants to grow. Depending on our rate of progress we might break for lunch at Plockton or our next stop.
The journey from Plockton to Dornie is short. Here Loch Alsh, Loch Long and Loch Duich converge and one of Scotland’s most photographed castles can be found; Eilean Donan Castle. There are recordings of a structure on this tiny island as long ago as 580AD but for centuries all that remained was a ruin until the current castle was rebuilt in 1932. We shall stop here for photographs and if we didn’t dine in Plockton we can grab a bite to eat in the castle visitor centre.
If we were to proceed down the road to Kyle of Lochalsh there is a bridge to Skye but a far more novel way to reach the island is by travelling along the old military road to Glenelg where we will find the last operating manual turntable ferry in the world. This small ferry crosses the 600m sea between the mainland and Skye approximately every 20 minutes. When we reach the Isl of Skye we continue to our hotel the former Manor House of the MacLeod Family on the remote and unspoilt Greshornish peninsula.
Isle of Skye Circuit 170 miles about 6 hours riding
This day circuit of helps you see much of the Island. There are many dramatic and scenic spots in Skye and on this journey, we will stop at some of the islands best. Our first stop is at Dunvegan Castle. The seat of the Clan Macleod and the only castle in Scotland that has been continuously occupied by the same family for over 800 years. The building has significant architectural importance because it contains work from ten different periods ranging from circa 1200 through to the 1850’s. We shall stop to tour the castle and gardens and enjoy a coffee break in the castle café.
We continue to the Fairy Pools. We cannot ride all the way so a little walking is necessary if you want to see the beautifully crystal clear blue pools on the River Brittle that are famed for Wild Swimming.
The next section passes through Pottree and onwards to an area of Skye much favoured by hill walkers “The Quiraing” a landslip on the eastern face of Meall na Suiramach, the northernmost summit of the Trotternish. The whole of the Trotternish Ridge escarpment was formed by a great series of landslips; the Quiraing is the only part of the slip still moving, indeed the road at its base, near Flodigarry, requires repairs each year. Parts of the distinctive landscape have earned particular names. The Needle is a jagged 120-foot (37 m) high landmark pinnacle, a remnant of land slipping. As you might gather it is a most dramatic area.
A short distance further on we come to another of Skye’s landmarks, the dramatic waterfall at Kilt Rock so named because the vertical basalt columns form the pleats along a sea cliffs that resemble a kilt. The Mealt Waterfall freefalls 60 meters from the cliff into the Sound of Raasay below. When there is a strong northerly wind the water can be blown away and so it doesn't actually reach the bottom at all! Care must be taken in this area and you are advised to stay inside the security fencing at the viewing point.
After stopping for photo taking we will make our way to Portree, the largest town on the Island, stopping this time in the town for lunch. Along the way we pass the Old Man of Storr a large pinnacle of rock that stands high and can be seen for miles around. The town is relatively modern having been established about 200 years ago when Lord MacDonald formed a fishing village. The name Portree means “Kings Port” or “Port on the Slope” in Gaelic and as such the area name predates the town. It is known that King James V (of Scotland) visited the area in 1540.
We leave Portree and cross to Elgol near to where the cave the Bonnie Prince Charlie hid before his escape following defeat at Colloden.
We double back towards Broadford then make our way to Armadale where we catch the ferry back to the mainland and out hotel in Mallaig.
Mallaig to Carberry 200 miles about 6 hours riding
We depart Mallaig and will make brief stops for protographs at Morar, Glenfinnan and Ft William before progressing to Glencoe when we make a refreshment stop. The journey to the south east then continues through the Trossachs National Park to Callander where we break for lunch.
After lunch we cross the Campsie Hills and make our way to Callander House an interesting Museum of 14th c. origin and later redesigned in the style of a French Renaissance chateau. We can also visit nearby the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, and also the Kelpies, 30-metre-high horse-head like sculptures depicting kelpies (mythical sea horses and origin of Loch Ness Monster).
Our journey then continues to the east passing Linlithgow Palace until we join dual carriageway that circumnavigates the south side of Edinburgh as we make our way back to the motorcycle rental depot and our hotel