2019’s top unique experiences not to miss!

NC500-Road

OK… we found this article by  Gabbi Armstrong ,  the Communications Project Manager for the North Coast 500 team. We felt it summed up some of the great ideas and shenanigans you and your family might like to get up to here in the Highlands in your hired motorhome this summer

While driving the North Coast 500 route is an adventure in itself, there’s so much to see, do and experience along the way. From water sports and hiking, to arts, crafts, history and sampling some of Scotland’s finest food and drinks, it’s easy to see why we always recommend taking at least 7 days to explore the route in detail. Build plenty of experiences into your itinerary and you’ll create a trip to remember for years to come. If you’re looking to try something truly unique, look no further than our list of some of the very best unique experiences in the North Highlands.

1.Forage for food

Scotland has an incredible natural larder, and visitors to Alladale Wilderness Reserve can explore this first hand by foraging for a meal. You may be surprised by how much of what grows on the reserve is not only edible, but delicious! Let one of the reserve’s expert rangers show you how to identify the best local herbs and mushrooms,before taking you to one of their lochs for some world class trout fishing. Chef Thomas Park will create an evening meal using all the foraged ingredients collected that day.

Gairloch Canoe and Kayak Centre also runs a popular Seashore Foraging Walk, an immersive half-day experience to collect wild sea plants, seaweed and shellfish against the ebb and flow of the tides. If you’re looking to head a little further out to sea, book a Creel Experience at Shieldaig Lodge Hotel. Join a local skipper on his traditional creel fishing boat, help haul in the creels from the clear North Highland waters, and take part in an activity that has been part of the fabric of the area for centuries. After a day on the fishing boat, your selection of lobster, langoustines and crab will be served up as a shellfish feast at Shieldaig Lodge.

Photo: Leading Lines, Alladale Wilderness Reserve by Dougie Cunningham

2. Handa Island Coastal Tour

Trips to Handa Island are a highlight for many visitors who complete the North Coast 500. The months of May through to late July is a particularly popular time to visit, to spot puffins atop these striking sandstone cliffs. Each year, more than 100,000 seabird flock here to breed. To learn more about this fascinating natural habitat, book an excursion with North Coast Sea Tours. Although these engaging, informative boat trips don’t land on Handa Island itself, the Stacks and Seabirds tour in particular is an excellent way to discover more about these birds and why they migrate here each year.

 

 

Photo: North Coast Sea Tours

3. Whaligoe Haven

Have you heard of the Whaligoe Steps? This hidden gem can be hard to find, but it’s worth searching for. During the 18th and 20th centuries, fisherwoman into their seventies would meet the incoming fishing boats at Whaligoe Steps and carry the catch in baskets back to the top – all 330 steps! – then continue their walk for another 7 miles to reach Wick. For those who don’t wish to venture all the way down the steps to reach Whaligoe Haven, surrounded on three sides by 250-foot-high cliffs, join Caithness Seacoast for a thrilling, fun and educational speedboat trip around the area.

 

 

Photo: Caithness Seacoast

4. Behind closed doors

If arts and crafts are your game, the North Highlands is definitely the destination for you! Art studios along the North Coast 500 route often have space and welcome guests to come and paint, weave, throw a pot or learn to take the perfect picture. If you are a maker, artist, designer or other type of creative individual, Golspie Gallery welcome other creators and makers to their studio space.

Prefer just looking? Not a problem – just enjoy the experience of looking around the various galleries around the route and immersing yourself in local artworks. North Shore Pottery, Patricia Niemann Design and Rhue Art are just a few of our favourites, and there really is something for everyone. For more suggestions, head over to our blog.

5. Just wing it

Did you know that falconry is arguably one of the world’s oldest field sports? The ancient practice of using a trained bird of prey to hunt, falconry experiences are now a fantastic opportunity to see these majestic birds up close. At Shieldaig Lodge Hotel, book a place on one of the tailored experiences on offer, where you’ll learn about, observe, handle and fly an impressive variety of birds, including eagles, hawks, buzzards, falcons and owls.

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Photos: Shieldaig Lodge Hotel Falconry Experience

6. Wildlife by day, stars and constellations by night

The blanket bog at RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve is one of the world’s rarest habitats. It has taken 8,000 long years for the deep peat soils to develop. Peatland waders such as golden plover, dunlin and greenshank arrive to breed along with other seasonal wildlife during May and June. Late spring and early summer is the best time to see peatland birds, while later in the summer, rare plant life and insects such as dragonflies and great diving beetles take centre stage. Keep an eye out on the boardwalk for common lizards basking in the sun! When night falls, the Forsinard Flows lookout tower is a unique vantage point for stargazing and spotting the Northern Lights at the right time of year.

RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve Lookout Tower  by Kevin Arrowsmith (rspb-images.com)

7. Retrace your roots

If you have Scottish ancestry, the North Highlands offer plenty of facilities to help trace your roots. Lots of museums are dotted about route to help you find out where your ancestors are from; take the time to speak to staff there to learn more about your family origins. Tracing your family tree isn’t always easy, but it’s a lot of fun! To make the most of your genealogy trip, why not set up a base and spend a little extra time exploring the areas where your ancestors once lived and worked? For more information, head over to our blog.

Photo: Timespan Heritage Centre, Helmsdale

8. A sensory experience

Visit Glenmorangie House and try something completely different – an absolute must for fans of Highland whisky. This sensory experience offers guests the ability to detect the aromas in Glenmorangie whiskies, with a visit to the kitchen to pair three core expressions with a scallop ceviche. Each seafood marinade has a slightly different taste profile; it’s a great way to introduce the subtleties of using whisky in preparing food. Glenmorangie House also hosts wonderful cheese and whisky pairing sessions, featuring Highland Fine Cheese made locally in Tain.

Photo: Glenmorangie House

9. Water of life

No two distilleries are the same – and to discover the subtle differences in each one, our Whisky Heritage Discovery Trail is a great place to start. Tour the NC500 whisky trail and discover how each distillery’s distinct setting and story has shaped the unique tastes within each local single malt whisky. The east coast of the NC500 route boasts most of the distilleries in the area, including Glen Ord, Glenmorangie, Balblair, Clynelish and Old Pulteney. If you’re planning to visit distilleries and sample whisky, please note that Scotland’s drink-drive limit is extremely strict. Make sure you have a designated driver.

 

 

Photo: Clynelish Distillery

10. Handcrafted brilliance

There’s nothing quite like a handcrafted souvenir to take home with you – particularly one that you can share with family and friends! Small batch distilleries, such as Dunnet Bay Distillers and Badachro Distillery, craft their spirits by hand. Both offer tastings and tours so you can see first-hand how these delightful products are created; at Dunnet Bay, gain an insight into the production of Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka, while Badachro Distillery infuses wild Highland botanicals in the creation of its small batch namesake gin.

11. Adventure Yoga Retreat

Although it’s a little further off the beaten track, this is a journey well worth the extra mileage for yoga enthusiasts. ACE Adventures & Hideaways hosts popular Adventure Yoga Retreats, which aim to use yoga, meditation, nature and adventurous activities to develop personal well-being and confidence. From white water rafting to bush craft, walks with incredible views and delicious vegetarian food, everything is included in this wonderful wellness adventure.

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Photos: ACE Adventures & Hideaways

12. West Coast Snorkel Trail

Our beautiful beaches with turquoise waters here in the North Highlands could rival the Caribbean – if only they were a little warmer! Don’t let the temperatures put you off, though; with the right equipment, you can view the coastal landscape from a whole new angle – underwater! Our snorkel trail includes nine locations around the north-west coast among all our favourite beaches. Another option is to join Liquid Footprints for a combined snorkel and sea kayaking trip to learn more about our shorelines and the best ways in which to navigate them.

13. Adventures in the Islands

The Summer Isles are a scattered archipelago of islands close to the community of Achiltibuie – and they’re just waiting to be explored with Kayak Summer Isles. Offering half and full day adventures with the unique perspective that only a sea kayak can bring, the team here are passionate about the local flora, fauna, geology and history. Explore, adventure and learn! For more inspiration, visit our ‘Adventure’ section of our website.

Photo: Kayak Summer Isles

14. Mermaids and Pirates – an activity for the kids

Travelling with younger adventure-seekers? Head off on a Pirates and Mermaids Adventure with the wee ones with Liquid Footprints. Begin by dressing up as either a pirate or a mermaid, then head out on a guided canoe trip with your instructor. Embark on a treasure hunt that will involve exploring islands and figuring out riddles and puzzles along the way. Each session is tailored to the individual family ensuring that each journey reflects the age of the children and their abilities. Visit our ‘Family Section’ for more information.

 

 

Photo: Liquid Footprints

15. Surf the north coast

The North Coast of Scotland, especially the reef breaks of Caithness, are famous for their heavy barrelling waves – the perfect climate for surfers! During the winter months, surfing is a spectacle for those travelling the NC500 as expert level surfers from all over the world descend here to try and snag one of these world-class waves. The beaches around Bettyhill, Melvich and Dunnet are also perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers. For more hints and tips, take a read through this wonderful blog kindly provided for us by Mark Boyd – Scottish National Surfing Champion!

Photo: Mark Boyd, Thurso East by Malcolm Anderson

16. Fire. Food. Beers and Bru

Settle down with Andy Waugh from Mac and Wild Restaurant at Falls of Shin , the wild chef, for a day of fire, cooking and eating.
When you arrive, get the fires roaring and start working on lunch. We’ll discuss the importance of sourcing the right produce for the job and delve into the world of amateur butchery. Depending on what’s available we’ll get a big lump of meat on the assado, cure some fish, crack open a few beers, make a couple of pickles and enjoy the incredible surroundings. Come hungry!

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