NorthCoast500 Day 1 – Edinburgh to Beauly

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Back in late May, North Coast 500  (NC500) was quietly launched in Inverness.  It is billed as Scotland’s answer to Route66.  NC500 is a 500 mile loop starting at Inverness, taking in some of the most scenic coastal scenery in the most remote corner of Scotland.  I had planned to drive NC500 in June, but snow fell on 1 June, so that put me off and I went to Jamaica instead!  However, I was still mad keen to drive this amazing route before the short days arrive, so this morning I set off from Edinburgh.

First stop was Pitlochry to visit Wild Spaces Visitor Centre for the John Muir Trust.  The best part of dropping by was to see the manager Jane Grimley, who is a former colleague – we both served together in the Royal Navy. Jane opened this centre a couple of years ago and she is rightly proud of it and the fabulous book choice:DSC_0001

John Muir was a Scots born Naturalist who was one of the founders of the American National Parks through his work to conserve Yosemite from developers early last century. In Scotland the John Muir Trust looks after some stunning and remote estates and places, and the Wild Spaces Visitor Centre is a place to find out more.  Aside from catching up with Jane, I wanted to find out more about Sandwood Bay, just off NC500.

Pitlochry itself is worth a stop off on the road north.  For me, it is where the Scottish Highlands start. It is famously home of Bells whisky and has a number of coffee shops and places to get into the holiday mood.  It is also very typical of Scottish Highland towns …DSC_0007

I sped through the Cairngorm National Park – a great place for a holiday and centre for Scottish winter sports.  Next proper stop was Carrbridge. Travelling on the A9 north you’d miss it altogether unless you knew about it, which I did as it was one of these places I used to visit as a child.  The bridge itself is the oldest in the Highlands and it is pretty striking.  The water following below may well end up in a bottle – it’s the River Dulnain and a feeder for the River Spey – famous for its whisky. DSC_0108

As a child, a weekend treat was a drive over Dava moor to the Landmark Forest Adventure Park .  40 plus years ago it was just a woodland boardwalk and cafe, so I was keen to see how much it had changed.  Quite a few things had been added on, such as an adventure park with a Tarzan trail and the Runaway Timber train.  I however just kept to the boardwalk and took the red squirrel trail – and was thrilled to see several around the feeding area – and a few birds…
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I had a very nice lunch there and was very happy to have stopped off – it was a good place to have lunch and stretch my legs.

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After another hour of driving, I made it to Inverness.  The official starting point for NC500 is Inverness Castle and the tourist information centre is close by.  The tourist information centre is also the only place you can pick up the official road map for NC500, although it can be downloaded here.  So I headed to both.  Now, perhaps I am being a bit pedantic, but given this is billed as a great driving route, I though cars could get to the official starting point.  But they can’t.  This is the closest public parking to the castle and tourist centre – maximum 1 hour, payment by meter (I forgot – and got away with it!)…

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And here I am “officially” starting the NC500 at Inverness Castle – looking for my Bonnie Prince Charlie, just like Flora Macdonald behind me!

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I didn’t hang around Inverness.  Partly because I forgot to put the money in the parking meter, but also because there really isn’t too much to the town centre. So I set off on NC500.  The first place of notable interest was within 10 minutes of leaving – crossing the entrance to the Caledonian Canal at Clachnaharry.  Then you hit the first piece of coastline on this route – the Beauly Firth.  I was heading to Beauly for my first night on the NC 500 and was there within 25 minutes of leaving Inverness …

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Beauly is another former childhood haunt – my mother and I often had day trips here as she had her suits made at Campbell’s of Beauly – and amazingly it is still going!

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Stepping inside was like stepping back in time…

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Who knew corduroy trousers came in so  many colours…

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Shops like Campbell’s of Beauly thrive because of Scottish country life still goes on, although old and new money now sit side by side. Anne Gloag, co-founder of the Stagecoach empire now lives at nearby Beaufort Castle, former ancestral home of the Clan Fraser and Lovat family. Mohamed Al Fayed, former owner of Harrods, also has the nearby Balnagown Estate.  I have no idea if they use Campbell’s of Beauly, but if they don’t, their neighbours must do!

Finally I made my way to my Bed and Breakfast.  I found it on the NC500 interactive map, which shows all the accommodation on the route.  I chose the Chrialdon House, and I really lucked in – I received a lovely welcome from Isobel and the place is fabulous …

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I strolled back into town for something to eat.  Isobel recommended the Priory Hotel so headed there and had something I haven’t experienced for years – a Traditional Scottish High Tea.  This should not be confused with an afternoon tea.  A high tea is taken later and is tea and toast, a hot meal followed by cakes and scones.  So basically a hot meal AND an afternoon tea.

Tomorrow I am heading to some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery in Scotland, so will blog as long as I can get internet – which might be a challenge.

4 thoughts on “NorthCoast500 Day 1 – Edinburgh to Beauly

  1. Great blog Sheen, hubby and I are planning to do this next year. Love the sound of it so far and will look forward to your next installment. Thank you.

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    • Many thanks Christine. I have now published 4 posts – you can click on the Scotland Section on the tabs, under NC500. My advice is to spend at least a week to 10 days. There is so much to see and do! It’s one of the best holidays I have had for ages – you’ll love it!

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