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NC 500 and Orkneys in May 2020

I have 2 weeks to go 500 miles so thought I could easily add in Orkney for 4 of them. I am questioning the need to stay in Helmsdale on the east side for 2 nights and where to stay for the final 3 nights near Applecross. All rooms are booked. They aren't kidding when they say to book in advance.

So far I have:
Inverness May 15 & 16 arriving via train from Glasgow late evening of the 15th. Picking up rental car morning of the 17th. (I have yet to nail down the car).
Helmsdale East side NC500 May 17 & 18
Stromness OrkneyMay 19, 20 & 21st
Ullapool May 22,23, & 24
May 26-28 ??????
Edinburgh: May 29th last night before early flight home on May 30th.
Is it too ambitious to catch ferry from Orkney and expect to get to Ullapool in one day? I will be there for 3 nights so can branch out from there if I end up driving past places to stop?
Any tips on car rental? I am meeting a friend from Britain in Inverness so she will be doing the driving. Although, I was going to do some driving to practice driving on the left. Personally, I have no desire to do the famous road on Applecross with all the hairpin turns would be taking the shorter route.
I am having a bit of confusion understanding the ferry system and which route is the best to take. I believe the Gills to St Margaret's Hope is the most economical. But Scrabster to Stromness would be more practical.

Thank you all in advance. I have yet to take a trip without gleaning a valuable tid bit of advice from this forum. I do try to pay it back and answer what I can when I return.

Kathleen

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, Kathleen,

Scrabster (Thurso) to Ullapool is a long drive, and it's single lane roads with passing places almost all the way. Plus you're going counterclockwise. Most NC500 drivers go clockwise, so you'd need to pull over for them fairly often. You also need to watch out for the drivers who are attempting to break the speed record for the 500. Believe it or not, Northern Constabulary have clocked drivers at 100 mph on some of the straighter parts of the road.

Just so that you're not rushed, I'd recommend breaking your westward journey around Durness or Kinlochbervie. But if you've already booked your accommodation in Ullapool, then be prepared for a lengthy but scenic drive. This may sound somewhat strange, as you're going to be in Scotland, but be sure to pack a pair of sunglasses, as you're going to be driving in to the sun from Thurso to Durness.

As you're travelling counterclockwise, it might be more advantageous to take the ferry from Gills Bay to St. Margaret's Hope on the way to Orkney, and Stromness to Scrabster on the way back to the mainland. That way, you see more scenery, and avoid backtracking.

If you have any qualms about driving on the left, then having a British driver with you will be a great help. She'll be able to help you on the roads, especially those single track roads. Fortunately, you most likely will not encounter any roundabouts. If you don't drive a standard transmission car in the U.S., you don't want to be learning how to on the roads in Scotland! I'd go with one of the majors (Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, etc.) for your rental. They'd be more likely to have a car with automatic transmission if you need it. Most of the majors have a kiosk at Inverness Airport. There is Europcar and also Hertz in town.

Best wishes for your holiday!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
92 posts

Mike,

Thank you for your quick response. I always appreciate and enjoy reading your posts. I learned on a manual transmission but we won't mention how LONG ago that was. I imagine my friend will do most of the driving. Side note I met her in a B&B on the Isle of Iona in 2017 and we became fast friends. We have taken 4 international trips since. Amazing to find the perfect traveling partner in the most obscure of places. One of the benefits of traveling solo you talk to everyone.
Thank you for the heads up regarding sunglasses. I live on the 48th parallel in the Pacific Northwest so sunglasses are not at the ready on the dash. I like your idea for the ferry I will check that out.

Thank you again.
Kathleen

Posted by
506 posts

Hi Kathleen,
Great advice as ever from Mike. I can only second what he recommends. If you decide to overnight near Durness, you might be interested to know about the craft village at Balnakeil just a hop and a skip from Durness. Balnakeil Craft Village

We went up there for the first time recently, as there is a musical instrument repairer there and I was getting my clarinet fixed. It's an old military base that is now home to many artisans and crafts people, and IMO well worth a visit, not least because it includes Cocoa Mountain, a chocolate maker who also has a café serving the most indulgent hot chocolate I have ever tasted (and I've tasted a lot). I see from their website that even have an Airbnb on the site, so you could even stay there.

Hope this helps
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
92 posts

Hello Jacqui (Skyegirl),

Thank you for the tips! Pretty safe to say I will go out of my way for a good cup of hot chocolate. The craft shop looks wonderful too and worth a stop.

Thank you again for your response.
Kathleen

Posted by
940 posts

Hi again, Kathleen,

I just remembered this, as I was thinking about the death of John Lennon - John and his family often spent summers in Durness, a place that he came to know and love. He would stay there for weeks at a time. In later years, he visited the village with Yoko and Julian.

The house where Lennon and his family stayed, which overlooked Sango Beach, has been demolished. However, there is a memorial plaque on the side of the new house which took its place. There is also a memorial garden just off the A838, next to the Durness village hall. There are small standing stones with Beatles' lyrics in the garden.

So if you're not in a hurry when you're travelling through Durness, it would be worth spending a few minutes visiting the garden, and remembering one of the world's great talents. If you've seen the movie Yesterday, it would be even more meaningful.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
92 posts

Love the movie Yesterday and thank you!! I will have time. I am spending 12 days to go 500 Miles. :)

Kathleen