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What to do along Scotland's North Coast 500

Jenna Maxwell

Contributor

Scotland has been the stunning backdrop for films and TV shows such as Outlander, Braveheart and Skyfall and it’s easy to see why. A trip along the North Coast 500 will be sure to satisfy the thrill-seeker, the explorer and history buff (just maybe not the sun-worshiper) among you.

House of History

Dunrobin Castle is a stately home in Sutherland in the Highlands and, with its majestic turrets and spires, looks like something straight out of a Disney film. History buffs will love learning about its origins in the Middle Ages and the many additions made to the building since. The French Châteaux style building is counted as the largest house in the North of Scotland and was, until fairly recently, a boarding school. It even served as a hospital during the First World War. The castle has been home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century. The Earldom of Sutherland is one of the seven ancient Earldoms of Scotland and the family was once one of the most powerful in Britain.

As well as the castle itself, there is a museum to learn even more about Dunrobin’s history. There are also fine gardens and even a falconry.

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland

Photographer: Georgi Djadjarov

Surf’s Up

If you're looking to catch some waves, stop by at Balnakeil Beach near Durness in Sutherland. Although you won’t find yourself basking in Caribbean warmth, the beach is renowned for its pristine white sands and is a hot-spot for surfing as well as sea-fishing.

The beach is listed as a good place for learner surfers with its long stretch of exposed, west-facing beach that takes wind from the North. Balnakeil Beach is also known for its spectacular sunsets so after a day of riding the waves, pack a picnic (and a warm sweater) and enjoy the view.

For the more experienced surfer, the reef breaks of Caithness are famous for their heavy barrelling waves and during the winter, you can watch the experts at work as pro-surfers from across the globe put their skills to the test.

Balnakeil Beach, Scotland

Photographer: Helen Hotson

Discover Dolphins

The Moray Firth is home to around 130 bottlenose dolphins that can often be seen leaping out of the water to say hello. The firth is a roughly triangular inlet of the North Sea, North and East of Inverness in the Highlands. The area is known as one of the best places in Europe to see the creatures in the wild and the coastline of the North Sea offers numerous wildlife-watching opportunities. Dolphin spotting boat tours operate during the summer.

The area is also home to harbour seals and, further out, porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, pilot whales and even killer whales. Animal lovers will not be disappointed.

The most popular viewing area is at Chanonry Point as well as visitor centres at Spey Bay and North Kessock run by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. The area is such a well-known spot for sea-life that Fort George Point even has a Dolphin Research Centre. Who needs Sea World when you have the real thing?

Bottlenose Dolphins, Moray Firth

Exciting Explorations

There’s nothing more exciting than the feeling of going on a real adventure and exploring Smoo Cave in Sutherland is the biggest adventure of all. The mystical limestone sea cave has a staggering 50ft entrance and cascading waterfall – a dream location for any photographer or to create an awe-inspiring Instagram post!

The name ‘Smoo’ is thought to come from the Old Norse word ‘Smuga’ which, very aptly, means hiding place.

The outside of the cave has been carved out by the sea over the ages but the inner tunnels and caverns have been formed by the freshwater streams that weave throughout the grotto.

Guests can visit the cave on foot or there are paid boat tours available to properly explore this natural wonder.

Smoo Cave in Sutherland

Photographer: Katarina Tauber

Climbing High

It wouldn't be Scotland without a hill or two to climb and the North Coast 500 has plenty. For stunning views, Stac Pollaidh in Wester Ross is a mountain to behold and offers views across the picturesque Assynt from the summit.

Because of its low height of just over 2000 feet and ease of access from the road, it’s a popular one suitable for the less experienced climber.

For those who want more of a challenge, look no further than the jagged ridge of An Teallach which rises above the town of Dundonnell. Known in English as ‘The Forge’, it is described as one of the finest Munros in Scotland. The mountain is complex and has ten distinct summits over 3000 feet. An Teallach is mostly made of Torridonian sandstone and has terraced sides with a sharp, rocky summit. The steepest section is Corrag Bhuidhe and rises above Loch Toll and Lochain. The section is famous for the overhanging pinnacle known as Lord Berkeley’s Seat – not for the faint of heart!

Stac Pollaidh, Wester Ross

Photographer: Joe Dunckley

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