Lucie Loves... Travel // A family trip to Scotland exploring the Scottish Highlands and part of the North Coast 500

A Scottish road trip has been on my to do list for many years. I'd heard rumours about some insanely scenic driving route called the North Coast 500 and knew that I just had to see it for myself.

This year I got to experience a small, but very picturesque, slice of the North Coast 500 on a trip to the Scottish Highlands with my family. I don't know about you, but come August bank holiday weekend I was exhausted. I craved a break away from my busy little life in London and away from technology. Which is pretty fortunate really as, as it turns out, the little Scottish retreat that my parents had booked was located in a very remote part of Scotland. It was like a digital black hole. Perfect for what I needed.

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Over the last 5-years, my parents have visited this part of Scotland on several occasions, this was to be their third visit. I took a train up from London to Warrington, with the plan being for us to set off by car very early the next morning, with an overnight stay at Laggan Locks, on Loch Laggan to break up the journey, before we made out way up to Achmelvich, near Lochinver the next day.

The journey from Warrington to Laggan Locks is 335 miles and takes between 5.5 hours and 7 hours by car. It's a longgggg way! But the scenery, driving through The Lake District, The Pennines, Loch Lomond National Park and Glen Coe is well worth the numb bums.

Our first night was spent at Braw Bothy, which has breathtaking views of Loch Lochy (Yep! That's its real name). The Bothy was originally listed on Canopy & Stars (one of my favourite places to find unusual tree houses, converted gypsy caravans and what-not to sleep in), but the listing has since been removed and can now be found on Airbnb.

The Bothy has two bunk beds and sleeps 4. It also has a gorgeous wood-burning stove (which we lit... in August... and nearly melted alive! You do not need to light a fire in August. Even in Scotland!) It was like something from George Clark's Amazing Spaces or Shed of the Year. We loved it!

That evening we had dinner at The Eagle Barge Inn. A pretty converted Dutch barge which sits on a stretch of the Caledonian Canal, masquerading as a pub and restaurant and serving decent beer and hearty food. It's worth noting that due to its tiny size you do need to to book a table in advance, if you're planning to have a meal there. The best thing about Eagle Barge is that it's stumbling distance back to Braw Bothy! Delightfully convenient, eh? We can definitely recommend the seafood platter and the slow-roasted lamb.

The next morning, after one of the hottest nights sleep ever (see above note about the log burner...) We woke up, grabbed a coffee and hot chocolate from the little cafe overlooking the Loch and set off on our way to Achmelvich. Shortly after leaving Loch Laggan, we drove past the famous Loch Ness, which stretches for a whole 23 miles!! It is vast!

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The next morning we carried on our drive from Loch Lochy up to Achmelvich, stopping off for fish 'n chips for lunch in Ullapool. Ullapool is a pretty fishing town, and also the last big town before you hit John O'Groats. It's got a few gift shops selling traditional Scottish wares – tartan, whisky, etc, a vintage shop, a couple of book shops selling homewares and art supplies (I bought a watercolour sketchbook), several charity shops and a large Tesco supermarket (where we did our big food shop).

How long is the journey from Ullapool to Achmelvich (via Lochinver)

The drive from Ullapool to Lochinver is only an hour, but extremely scenic. Be prepared to stop off along the way as you'll be sure to want to snap a few photos.

 Our little caravan at Hillhead Caravan Park, overlooking Achmelvich Bay

Our little caravan at Hillhead Caravan Park, overlooking Achmelvich Bay

Where to stay in Achmelvich

We rented a caravan from Maisie at Hillhead Caravan Park. The caravan was a 6-berth and cost £350 for the week (approx. £50 per night) If you book tell her Joanne & Mike Lloyd's daughter, Lucie, recommended her caravan park!

Our caravan was facing the sea – perfect for enjoying golden hour and watching the sunset on the beach, as it just a 1-minute wander across to the white sands of Achmelvich Bay. 

Eating out and Restaurants in Lochinver

We decided to make the most of our caravan's self-catering facilities and cook a lot of our meals ourselves. However, when we did pop into Lochinver, we enjoyed the food at Lochinver Larder (especially their fantastic selection of home-made pies!) It's worth noting though that this place gets very busy.  So, if you're only planning to sit down with a cuppa and your laptop to catch up on emails (or like me, get a bit of blogging done) they're not a big fan of you taking up a table that could be used to feed a few people. The food isn't cheap, but it is great quality.

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Best walks, beaches, and mountains in North West Scottish Highlands

  • Quinag
  • Stac Pollaidh - This is one we climbed, with my 7-year old nephew. Midge nets are a must in summer. It took around 3.5 - 4 hours total, with a stop off for lunch to climb up and back down again.
  • Suilven - also known at Sugarloaf Mountain
  • Benmore Assynt – One of only two Munros in Assynt ( *Munros are the mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet high.)
  • Conival - The other only Munro in Assynt
  • Cul Mor - My stepdad, who is an experienced mountain man, climbed this one on his own and it took him around 8-hours in total.
  • Cul Beag
  • Canisp

We also took a walk to a neighbouring beach, Clachtoll. The walk from Achmelvich to Clachtoll is a couple of miles along a coastal path and takes around 2-hours each way, this was with a small child in tow. Clachtoll Campsite has a small shop where you can buy refreshments and also freshly caught langoustines and Rock Lobster (it was about £6 for a couple of dozen) we enjoyed these on the BBQ for lunch when we got home!

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Top 10 things to do before you go walking or climbing mountains

  1. Wear the right clothing  – it can get cold near the top! layers are key!
  2. Take a map and compass – and know how to use them first!
  3. Check the weather conditions before you walk  – Mountain Weather Information Service is a great resource for checking the forecast
  4. Take lots of water or fluids to stay hydrated
  5. Pack some lunch and snacks – you'll get hungry!
  6. If walking in summer, pack a midge net or you'll be bitten to death!
  7. Be wary of sitting down on rocks or patches of heather as there's a risk of tick bites
  8. Take portable charger for your mobile phone – you'll want to snap lots of pics
  9. If you're an avid photographer, pack a decent camera, but be sure to protect your lenses when clambering over rocks
  10. If you're walking alone, let other people know which walk you are doing and how long you expect it to take you

For more information about hiking in Scotland, check out the WalkHighlands website. If you have anything to add to this post or have any questions, please get in touch.

Photography © Lucie Kerley