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Scotland - Ullapool to Scabster In One Day - doable?

Scotland - Ullapool to Scabster In One Day - doable?

Old Oct 20th, 2021, 02:00 PM
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Scotland - Ullapool to Scabster In One Day - doable?

My wife and I are planning a trip to Scotland for late May. One portion of the trip involves driving from Ullapool to Scabster (the coastal route via Durness) to catch the 1900 ferry to Orkney. Is that drive doable in a day with a few short stops along the way, ie Smoo Cave, Ardvreck Castle, plus a stopping at a few viewpoints for pictures and maybe a quick lunch? We're early risers and efficient in our travels; we'll probably leave Ullapool at 800 in the morning. Or is that route worth driving at all or is it better to take the faster route up the A9? We're driving from Portee along the coast up to Ullapool the day prior if that makes any difference.

Last edited by CooperMurphy; Oct 20th, 2021 at 02:05 PM. Reason: changed Title
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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 09:41 AM
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I think it's doable, but recognize that the estimated times from the likes of Google maps are (sometimes laughably) optimistic. Google says the coastal route should take around four hours; I'd be more inclined to allocate six hours for it, which means time for stops and sightseeing (and lunch) could take the total to seven or eight. If you're on the road by 8, then that would put you in Scrabster comfortably ahead of your 19:00 departure.

Nonetheless I'd monitor my progress closely and if you seem to be falling behind, consider skipping a stop. Smoo cave is interesting, but - just IMO - not worth a lot of time. I haven't been on the A836 east of Tongue for some time, so don't know if the old lengths of single-track road (VERY slow-going) have been widened in anticipation of the hordes of "NC500" visitors. Certainly the scenic impact of the route diminishes the farther east you go, and the road widens, so you can probably pick up some time on that part of the drive.

This might be contradictory, but I have to mention it anyway. A couple of miles after leaving Loch Eriboll you'll see an un-numbered side road signposted for Altnaharra. This is possibly my fave road in the north of Scotland as it leads past the foot of Ben Hope to a prehistoric broch, or fort, that's been sitting by the side of the road, alone, for at least 2000 years, maybe 3000 or 4000. It you have time (and be conservative about this - there are plenty of prehistoric things in Orkney) it's well worth the short drive down to Broch Dun Dornaigil and back.





Happy travels!
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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 01:03 PM
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You don't say when you are planning on doing this but you must bear in mind that the route is part of the North Coast 500 and extremely popular and busy much of the year. Some of it is (or was a couple of years ago) still single track and full of people who don't know how to behave on them, especially people in huge rented mobilehomes.
We did it in a 6m campervan, and regularly struggled with drivers not pulling 7m+ MHs far enough in to passing bays, or just not pulling in to them at all. They also tend to dawdle along completely unaware of the number of vehicles behind them. I feel sorry for the residents, I really do.
I also happily admit I did not actually enjoy that corner of Scotland much, whereas I did like the east coast. But horses for courses of course.
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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by hetismij2 View Post
You don't say when you are planning on doing this but you must bear in mind that the route is part of the North Coast 500 and extremely popular and busy much of the year.
The OP says they're coming in "late May."

I was going to include this map - https://goo.gl/maps/zrPLHNjKjurvfo9g8 - but forgot to post it. Again, take the times with considerable salt.
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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 06:46 PM
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I sure wouldn't want to do this. In the 'old days' you'd basically have the roads to yourself. But as heti says -- the North Coast 500 has been an insanely effective marketing campaign. While the May Bank Holiday Has been moved from May 30 to June 6 next year (for the Queen's jubilee celebrations) - May 'staycations' will likely be very popular. Just short stops at smoo cave and Ardvreck Castle would make this a 6 hour drive (not counting a lunch stop or any other photo stops). And that's if you don't run into slow caravans, road construction, sheep on the road or anything else..

With all the great sites near Ullapool like Inverewe Garden, Loch Maree, Loch Assynt/Ardveck Castle etc . . . this isn't a part of the country one should /can really rush through.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2021, 01:24 AM
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Sorry missed the late May - peak NC 500 time I'm afraid, with hopes of better weather and less chance of midges. It will be even worse if the UK is more easily accessible to Europeans next year without the need for tests etc.
That is exactly the time we were there in 2019, and that drive was the least enjoyable part of our trip, and we took a few days over it.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2021, 12:28 PM
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We did that drive in late August once, but when we got as far as Tongue, the fog rolled in. We left the coast and went straight down to Ullapool.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2021, 02:39 PM
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We drove this road in 2016 as part of a much longer journey, and did it over three days, which is not what you wanted to hear! With much guidance from Undiscovered Scotland, we deliberately took a side jaunt off the A894 towards Lochinvar and around the coast ending up in Kylescu where we stayed the night in the hotel. Back to that in a sec. The next day we had rejoined the main road and kept on to Tongue, stopping again - lovely hotel and meal. Our destination from there was Thurso, not Scrabster, but I don't remember it took very long from Tongue - perhaps 1.5 hours as most. So, yes, I think you can do this in the time you have, although it will be a looonng day. I want to suggest Kylescu and the hotel as your lunch stop - our dinner was the freshest, most delicious and perhaps most memorable we experienced in 20+ years of roaming around. You would need to book ahead probably. We did not stop at Smoo Cave, but at many other places on our coast side road and just stops along the road - because how can you not? And the Orkneys are magical - enjoy.
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