There is a road I see from the front door of my home in Caithness that forms part of the North Coast 500. As kids, we knew it better as the road ‘up west’, a passage imbued with the promise of beaches, picnics and sand between our toes. These days, the route has a new title and a reputation as one of the UK’s most iconic road trips. Starting in Inverness and covering 500 miles of the North Highland’s most scenic landscapes, this enviable status has attracted visitors from all over the world, keen to experience the North Coast 500 for themselves.
For those of us who live on the North Coast 500 (also known as the NC 500), this new found fame is simultaneously joyous and disconcerting. We’re suddenly the best-kept secret we’ve all known for many years. Our natural inclinations keep us from shouting loudly from the rooftops. We let others sing our praises and share pictures prefixed with the quiet caption ‘home’.
For many of us here, there is a deep connection with the landscape. That sense of wholeness brought on by an expanse of beach and a vast and open sky. This is a land of legend – of selkies, mermaids and fairies. This is a place where dragons open their mouths and breathe fiery sunsets across a never-ending sky.
This is a place, where in the summer, darkness seems to virtually elude us, and in the winter, storms rage and echo like an angry Giant’s roar. It’s a place where parts of the land remain untamed and wordless. It’s a place that pulls you like a magnet and makes you homesick before you ever decide to go away.
It’s a land where the beaches seem to go on forever and the sight of a looming castle can convince you that fairy tales are worth believing in. Where going off the beaten track for a while can see you stumbling into the Secret Garden, or wandering to find a beach left untouched and largely unnoticed by the world. It is a place which, in growing up, some have sought escape from. And yet, for others, the place itself is the escape – a quiet haven to find retreat and refuge from a restless, changing world.
Further afield, you’ll find many other treasures along the North Coast 500. You’ll find places of tranquillity – like Applecross, aptly meaning ‘The Sanctuary’ in the Gaelic tongue. You’ll find dramatic drives where cattle once treaded relentlessly along winding dusty tracks. You’ll find Monarchs of the Glen and stalwarts from above who soar across the sky. You’ll find Highland hospitality, measured and gentle local spirits. You’ll find ruined castles, haunting landscapes, and a sense, perhaps, of being nothing but a tiny speck upon the world.
And when your journey takes you back to the pretty city of Inverness, you’ll have come full circle. And hopefully you’ll have taken some part of the Highlands to carry forever in your soul. For those of us who live here – or who have wandered – that feeling of home can be both profound and powerful.
For in the words of the writer Harry W. Paige, ‘home is not a place only, but a condition of the heart.’
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like these blogs on Reasons to Plan a Scottish Road Trip, Movie Locations to Visit in Scotland, Scottish Outlander Locations, Surviving the Scottish Midge and this guest post I wrote for travel website Venture North.
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