The NC 500 – Scotland’s Northern Route – Things to See

At the start of June (2019) my mate Pete asked if I wanted to go on a road trip. We originally looked at Ireland, but eventually decided on Scotland as it was a bit cheaper and I already live here! This post is a follow on from the accommodation post.

Our first leg was from Glasgow to Strathpeffer, a wee town (or it could be a village?) just to the west of Inverness. On our drive up we saw a sign for the oldest distillery in Scotland so we decided to make a detour. Glenturret is situated in the Perthshire countryside in Crieff.

Officially Glenturret was established in 1775, but was illicitly running since 1717 – the high hills surrounding the still were used as lookouts for those pesky English taxmen and is one of the only whisky distilleries that still makes malt whisky the traditional way.

Pete and I opted to do the distillery tour, which was partly accessible except for the mash room which was accessed by a flight of stairs. During this part of the tour Pete was given his own guide and was explained the process before meeting back up with us at the next part of the tour.

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The tour ended with a scotch tasting before heading to the shop. Unfortunately the lift was broken on the day we went, so it was a push up a steep, bricked path for Pete. After a few more tastings we headed into Crieff for a bite to eat. After two fails –  one wasn’t accessible and the other place was fully booked – we found a table at Craobh on James Square. A lot of the dishes were gluten free as were the fries AND they had lunch time deals!

Glenturret Distillery, The Hosh, Crieff, PH7 4HA, https://theglenturret.com/

Culloden Battlefield

Our next stop was Culloden battlefield just east of Inverness. We arrived late afternoon so only had an hour or two to explore and I would definitely recommend at least three hours so you can spend ample time within the museum.

*Hot tip – join the Scottish National Trust for access to places worldwide. Culloden entrance fee is £11, but Pete and I signed up for a joint membership for £8.50 per month. The membership includes free entry and free parking.

The museum offers power scooters to get around the field which were super helpful and made getting around a lot easier – you will need to be able to transfer independently to get on one.

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Culloden Battlefield, Culloden Moor, Inverness, IV2 5EU, https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/culloden/highlights/battlefield

Rogie Falls

Rogie Falls wasn’t that far away from our first stay in Strathpeffer and we were hopeful it would be relatively accessible. Our hosts had recommended a particular path to take that they thought would be the most accessible. The path down wasn’t too bad, I got some footage on my GoPro of Pete back wheel balancing down a muddy S bend corner in the light rain, but I’m too tight to pay for the WordPress plan that allows video uploads!

When we got to the bottom to the viewing platform we found a waist high wall in the way of the view! Not to mention that the viewing area was up a few shallow steps (doable if you can flick up curbs or have someone to help). Not sure how well Pete could see the falls over the wall – or if he could see them at all! – but I went down to the bridge over the river to take some photos. The bridge was down to the right and we noticed there was a little path to the left as well. I did a recce, and it came out right near the falls. If it was a wee bit wider and it was a drier day, it would have been a bumpy path for Pete to get down but at least he would have been able to see Rogie Falls.

Getting back up the path was a little bit harder, but luckily a lot of people offered to help give Pete a shove up the steeper bits which was good for me – I’m not as fit as I think I am!

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On our way up north we went to Chanonry Point to try and see some dolphins in the Moray Firth and past the Cromarty Light house. We didn’t see any dolphins but there were some doggos frolicking in the sea.

Rogie Falls, A835, Strathpeffer, IV14 9EQ, 

Grey Cairns of Camster

To get to this we went down a tiny single lane farm road. There were some places to pull off if a car was coming from the opposite direction but the road was deserted when we went down it. To get to the cairns, you have to traipse across boggy ground. Historic Scotland have laid down a wooden pathway, but they clearly had no input from the disability sector as it was a few inches too narrow to get Pete’s chair on it.

I left Pete in the car (with the window down for fresh air, snacks and his iPad) and traipsed off to see what these rock formations were about.
Two of the oldest stone monuments in Scotland, originally built over 5000 years ago but these have been reconstructed. There’s a wee tunnel you can stoop through which brings you into an inner chamber where rituals for the dead were performed. I took my GoPro on my little venture (again, sorry for being too stingy to upgrade so I can share) and got some footage of me crawling around.

Camster Cairns are open all year round and have free entry.

Our next stop wasn’t too far away, and by the sound of it – a hill with stones – we thought that yes! this must be accessible!

Near Lybster, Caithness

Hill o Many Stanes

Pulling up it looked decent accessible-wise. We both got out of the car and investigated a bit further. Which is when we noticed that there was a bloody kissing gate at the entrance! Apparently there must be wild livestock roaming the Highlands, trying to find their way in to nibble at the grass growing around a bunch of rocks.

Being the resourceful people that we are, we weren’t going to let a stupid gate stop us from seeing this rare grouping of 4000 year old stones.

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Pete in his wooden cage of inaccessibility – a la Ron Burgundy

Pete got his muscles out. Rolled the wheelchair up to corner, pushed himself up (not sure if I’ve mentioned that Pete has a spinal cord injury and therefore anything below his chest is dead weight), and I got my muscles out and threw his chair over the gate and then swung the gate so it was now behind him and him and the chair were inside the barrier.

I’m not good with measurements, but I think the field is around 20mx20m and there is a rough dirt track that encompasses it – wheelchair accessible if you don’t mind a slight incline and uneven ground.

A99, Lybster, KW3 6BA

Whaligoe Steps

A six minute drive up coast found us at the Whaligoe Steps. This isn’t very well signposted and to get to it you have to drive down a small farm driveway. There was a wee sign that said the steps were closed, but we made our way down a slight incline to check it out. There is a small cafe on top of the cliff that looks out over the North Sea. As it was a pretty nice day (by Scottish standards) so Pete ordered his coffee and sat at the picnic table outside while I took on man made 330 steps down the 250 ft cliff into the naturally made harbour – apparently there were originally 365 steps but nature has had her way over the years.

Back in the day (mid 18th century) fishing boats used to dock here with their loads of herring – it was the fisher wives who had to haul the loads up the treacherous in creels AND they had to haul bags of salt down as well. They then hauled the catch to the market in Wick, just a measly 7 or 8 miles away (who here had the harder job – the fishermen or their wives?!)

Whaligoe Steps are cared for by locals who have been restoring them after the neglect and vandalism.

As we made our way northwards, we saw a sign for the Castle of Old Wick and decided we needed an old castle in our lives.

The Square, Ulbster, Lybster, KW2 6AA

Castle of Old Wick

Dating back to the 12th Century, this old ruin may be one of the oldest castles in Scotland and Norse made.

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We had parked in the ‘official’ car park and made our way up a grassy hill, me pushing Pete when he needed a bit of extra help. There was a stile into the field but we chose to disregard the ‘don’t touch’ sign and swung open the gate instead. When we got to the top we realised there was another closer car park that we could have used! (a lot of Scottish attractions have closer car parks, signposted for those with disabilities we found out). The path skirts around the inlet and brings you out near the ruins. Pete didn’t have any trouble with this using the freewheel, but the path did have its ups and downs that required a little bit of extra effort. Going back down was a lot easier than getting up but grass can hide pot holes!

March Road, Wick, KW1 5TY

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Our next stop was another castle, yet again down an empty farm road.

The parking lot was across the road and then we walked down a grassy farm track, which was pretty even. This was the first place we came across that actually acknowledged disabled visitors! The path was flat and wheelchair accessible and Pete could get into the gatehouse and explore a little bit inside (not much, but better than nothing). After the construction has finished, the path should be ‘proper’ wheelchair accessible.

 

Wick, KW1 4QT

We stayed in John O Groats for two nights and made our way across to Orkney on a day trip. Our JOG first night hosts Mary and Mark had liased with a local bus company for us and we caught the ferry over. To keep this post short, I’ll do a separate post on our Orkney day trip which you can find here once I write it.

 

The drive from east to west ends up taking you across the country via the smallest single lane road ever. Luckily there are plenty of ‘passing places’ around and I think we stopped in about every second one because the views were spectacular! Take a look.

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Smoo Cave

Our next major stop was Smoo Cave. We stayed down the road from this at the Smoo Cave Hotel, so as we arrived mid afternoon we thought we would go and check it out.

There are two different entrances to either side of the cave, however neither are accessible. Possibly doable if you had a couple of burly mates to help you back up the long, uneven flight of steps though.

As your looking head on into the cave, we came up the left path, which luckily was just a track – no steps -that led us to the top of the steps down. The view from the top wasn’t bad, although nothing beats being able to see things up close and personal.

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Because we both couldn’t get down, we decided to check out the views across the ocean from the cliff top. We went down the tiniest little path and then had to push uphill in ankle deep soft grass. It was hard, but the photo op was definitely worth the effort!

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Pete contemplating the world. Wheelchairs and grass aint friends.

 

We made our way back to the hotel for dinner and a massive small alcoholic beverage.

The next morning I left Pete behind at the hotel and made my way back to the cave as on my recce the day before I saw a sign for cave tours. And being the adventurous person I am, I wanted to check it out.

 

The cave tour was £6 and they run during the summer months to pay for the cave dig that happens during winter. The cave tour includes a boat ride into the waterfall chamber and then further into the cave where you can see some really cool Scottish geology. It is over rough and slippery terrain, so may be difficult for some people.

Alternatively, if you didn’t want to partake in the tour, there is a walkway that leads into the waterfall chamber open to public access.

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A838, Lairg, IV27 4QA http://smoocavetours.weebly.com/

Heading southwards we stopped in Torridon to enjoy our car picnic and to stretch our legs. Pete also needed to water some local flora. We pulled up on the edge of Loch Torridon and wandered about. There was a decent path that went a fair way around the loch which we wandered down. You can see why the Scottish Highlands are renowned for their natural beauty!

Our final major tourist attraction stop was the famous Harry Potter bridge.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Officially known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct, this work of art was made famous by the Harry Potter film franchise(and other films I’ve never heard of). The viaduct was built in 1898 using a shit ton of concrete and is the longest railway bridge in Scotland made out of the stuff with 21 arches. It’s still in use today by the Jacobite steam train.

There are plenty of places to park, with one small car park right by the entrance. Luckily there were two spaces available and I asked the people who had just pulled onto the end to shift into the enclosed space as wheelchair trumps kids. They were kind enough to oblige which was super lovely of them and gave us space so Pete could get out the car without scratching anything.

Hello, flat even ground! This wonderful, wide path took us to the base of the viaduct and then you could either explore underneath a bit or wander up to the viewpoint. Again, the stroll up the hill wasn’t accessible due to steps which was a bit shit, but Pete told me that he managed to get some good shots from his vantage point. We wandered around a bit more and found a couple of deer eating a way at the grass on the soccer field.

A830 Road, Glenfinnan, PH37 4LT

 

That wraps it up on the attraction front, and I’ll leave you with my two favourite road side photos from the whole week.

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