Route 66 and Highway 1 in the US; The Garden Route in South Africa; and The Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia – the idea of named routes in scenic and culturally significant parts of the world is nothing new. Now Scotland has three of its own, showcasing the very best of the country’s diverse scenery, history and culture.
North Coast 500 (NC500)
Lovers of dramatic mountain scenery will quickly be drawn to the first named route in Scotland, North Coast 500 (NC500). Beginning and ending in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, the route encompasses 500 miles of the most breath-taking scenery in Scotland. Heading west towards Kyle of Lochalsh, the road turns north hugging the coast line and passes over one of the highest mountain roads in Scotland with 180-degree hairpin bends. Further on you will discover stunning view points, secluded sandy beaches and parts of the road where causeways take you across sea lochs towards the next coastal surprise. Peppered along the way are luxury hotels, up market bed & breakfasts, quaint, cosy pubs with rooms and plenty of opportunity to sample the freshest seafood which this part of Scotland is renowned for. Artisan food producers selling cheese, preserves, smoked fish and other local foods, together with small businesses specialising in luxury products like cashmere, sheepskin, luxury candles and fragrances, all of which are inspired by the flora and fauna of the area, will ensure that you finish NC500 with plenty of mementos and gifts to remember your trip by.
South West 300 (SW300)
The North’s iconic road journey is matched by another at the opposite end of the country. South West 300 (SW300) is a circular route of just over 300 miles focused around the tranquil landscape of the south west of Scotland. Starting in Alloway, birth place of Robert Burns – Scotland’s National Poet, this route takes you past famous championship golf courses, along vast expansive coast lines with stunning castles and even up an ‘electric’ hill. Quaint harbours, around which small fishing communities once thrived, still remain today and are a haven of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of central Scotland. Culture is high on the agenda over SW300 with the town of Wigton designating itself as Scotland’s Book Capital – with its annual book festival attracting book lovers from all over the UK and beyond. Similarly, Kirkcudbright has become a haven for artists and has styled itself as Scotland’s Artist’s Town. Galleries, cafés and quaint streets all make for a relaxing experience on any drive along this relaxing route. Further along the coast you reach Sweetheart Abbey before arriving in the market town of Dumfries. Leaving the Solway coast behind you will head inland through rolling valleys and small villages which owe their heritage to mineral mining. Some of them, like Leadhills, where the name is the clue! Scotland’s highest village awaits before you continue west, passing through Scotland’s Dark Sky Park and then into the Galloway Forest Park; the largest Forest Park in the whole of the UK. Soon the Clyde coast will reappear, signalling the end of your SW300 journey.
North East 250 (NE250)
Lovers of whisky, castles and seafood will be easily drawn towards North East 250 (NE250) an epic journey around the corner of Scotland which has Speyside at its heart. Starting from Glenshee, the ancient village of Braemar on the banks of the River Dee, the trail follows this most famous fishing river, through the Queen’s estate of Balmoral and on to Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, known as the Granite City. Spectacular sand dunes, golf courses and tiny fishing villages are scattered remotely along this eastern coast. Bram Stoker is thought to have drawn inspiration from New Slains Castle. NE250 will have ornithologists swarming to the area with several notable RSPB reserves along the way. The cliffs of Troup Head are a famous seabird haven with many of them breeding along the coast. Soon you will reach Banff, and no trip along NE250 could be complete without a visit to Duff House, one of the most majestic classical houses in Scotland, designed by William Adam. A magnificent art collection, exquisite furniture and relaxing walks through the grounds will make for the perfect journey break. No trip to Cullen would be complete without a bowl of delicious creamy Cullen Skink – a Scottish soup of smoked haddock and potato. Having been fortified by this, you will then begin to head south and inland towards the heart of Speyside and Scotland’s whisky industry. Distilleries are numerous and tours are available at most of them. Towards the end of the trip, you’ll need to make sure the brakes are still in good order as you descend the 1:4 gradient into the tiny hamlet of Cock Bridge before the road winds back to Braemar and the conclusion of NE250.
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