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Photograph: Getty

A perfect weekend in the north east Highlands

Visit this remote corner of Scotland for empty roads, rugged beaches and feeling wild

By Emma Vince

Catch the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness to feel a world away from London. The Highlands are made for a four-wheeled adventure, and the North Coast 500 is Scotland’s answer to Route 66. Hugging the coast, the road checks off rainbow-laced lochs, deserted beaches and castles. It’s remote, but you won’t mind a patchy signal or sudden downpours when you’re passing through some of the UK’s most atmospheric scenery.

A perfect weekend in the north east Highlands

Dolphins at Chanonry Point

First up

Pick up a car in Inverness and hit the road. Your first stop? Chanonry Point. The narrow peninsula is the best place to spot bottle-nosed dolphins. The playful mammals can be seen in the wild from land, but there are plenty of boat trip options too.

Dunrobin Castle
Photograph: Targn Pleiades/

Stop for lunch

Lunch like a lord or lady at Dunrobin Castle. It looks like a French château plonked on the Scottish coast but this fairytale-looking castle has been the home of Clan Sutherland for centuries. Wander in the walled garden, before eating sandwiches and homemade cake in the tea room.


Drink like a local

It wouldn’t be a trip to Scotland without a wee dram or two. Visit Old Pulteney Distillery to sip single-malt scotch whisky and take a tour to see how it’s made. They’ll even bottle up samples so the designated driver doesn’t have to miss out.

Duncansby Head

Soak up the vibes

Reach the end of the earth – well, the northernmost inhabited spot in mainland Britain – at John O’Groats. Take a blustery walk along Duncansby Head to marvel at its fang-like stacks and jagged coastline. For the actual end of the road, spot puffins at sea-scuffed Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the mainland.

Smoo Cave

Get back to nature

All along the north coast you’ll discover beach after beach sitting pretty like a string of pearls. Thanks to their remoteness, chances are you’ll have them to yourself. The stretch between Bettyhill and Durness is particularly picturesque. Stop at Smoo Cave – a 50ft-high sea cavern carved into the limestone cliffs.

North east coast Scottish Highlands

If you only do one thing

Enjoy the ride. This is one road trip where the journey is just as fun as the destination. You have the freedom to stop and pull over as much as you like. So buckle up, crank up the playlist and enjoy those breathtaking coastal views.

Ackergill Tower

And if you stay the night...

There are so many fairytale castles in the Highlands, why not stay in one? Ackergill Tower is right on the coast. Drive down the long approach to the fifteenth-century tower, and you’ll start to feel like clan nobility. Once you’ve checked in you’ll think you’re a cast regular on ‘Outlander’. Expect opulent four-posters and a wood-panelled great hall for fine dining, as well as Smugglers Inn, the perfect pitstop for a cosy drink by the fire. Amble from the castle to find a private, stunning swathe of talc-white sand with postcard-worthy views of Sinclair Bay and your new home. It’s one bonnie beach. From £99 a night. 

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