This is a series of articles about the North Coast 500, a 500-mile road trip through the Scottish Highlands. Associate Editor Graylyn Loomis is making the journey and will be posting here every day of the trip. Follow along on the website and on LINKS social media as he drives ever-further into rural Scotland! Click here to view posts from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5.
Sadly, today was my final day on the North Coast 500. I am writing from my comfortable and modern hotel room in Inverness, a place that seems continents away from the rural roads and mountain passes of this morning.
Gairloch Golf Club
My morning started with a round of golf at Gairloch Golf Club. I was joined by a member who showed me around the nine-hole parkland layout that sits beside Gairloch Beach. The course is routed over a small footprint and at multiple points in the round holes cross and zig-zag to squeeze in all nine.
To maximize views and course length, multiple tee boxes are actually artificial turf on the hillside above the course. It makes for a fun and different challenge and I already want to play the course again. There are multiple blind shots where, if I wasn’t guided by a knowledgable and very friendly member, I would have been at a loss.
I classify the round as another surprise gem on this trip. It’s not a links course that will draw people from afar, but I wouldn’t visit Gairloch and not stop for a quick round. Combine the course with the charming village and you’ve got a winner! My accommodation at the Gairloch Highland Lodge was walking distance from the course, but also very close to the picturesque harbor and walking path that climbs a hill above the town. I walked the hill last night before dinner and recommend it to anyone visiting.
As funny as it sounds, today was the only day of the trip where I actually feared the drive. All along the journey I was warned about the infamous “Bealach na Bà.” As a non-Gaelic speaker, we’ll just call it by it’s other name, Applecross Pass. The pass climbs over 2,000 feet in a very short distance with switchbacks straight out of an alpine scene. There is even a sign at the bottom banning large vehicles and warning new drivers not to attempt the drive. The entire pass is single-track with passing places dotted throughout.
The pass was the perfect climax to the North Coast 500 and I am so glad that I opted to include it in the drive (there is an easy bypass the cuts off the pass). It was a challenging drive (particularly because I don’t drive a manual car very often), but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Because the driving was so technical, there was no opportunity to stop and take a photo of the road. Instead, here is a selection from Google.
Prior to driving the Applecross Pass, I stopped in the village of Applecross for lunch at the local inn. It has become famous for its seafood (particularly fish and chips), and in what seems like the middle of nowhere there was a wait for a lunch table. Fellow drivers, bikers, and motorcyclists swap tales of the drive over a beer and enjoy the expansive view of Scottish islands in the distance. The Applecross Inn is a must-stop on the journey.
Since the North Coast 500 is a loop, you have the choice of starting up the east or west coast of the Highlands. As you will have read, I started up the east and there is no question that it was the right choice. Starting via Dornoch means the drive crescendos steadily until the final day at the Applecross Pass.
The quality of the golf on the North Coast 500 is consistently high, but the experiences vary greatly from the grandeur of Royal Dornoch to the humble and jaw-droppingly beautiful Durness Golf Club. Even with all of the golf that I played, I drove right pass courses in Wick, Ullapool, and other places along the way. For the golfer that enjoys driving and wants to get away from the tour buses and five-hour rounds elsewhere in the world, bring your clubs to the North Coast 500. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
I hope that all of you have enjoyed my daily posts from the road and I appreciate all of the encouragement and feedback that I’ve received in the comments and on social media! There will be a large story in the July issue of LINKSdigital on the North Coast 500 and a feature in the Fall Issue of LINKS Magazine. Enjoy!