Great Scottish Drives: Durness to Ullapool
One of my most common occurrences in helping people decide on the details of their trip to Scotland is the issue of whether or not to drive. All of this wrong side of the road caper that discourages a lot of people from other shores is an unfortunate deterrent for many drivers. Don’t be put off is my response. It may be a worry at first but the chance to find your Scottish freedom and explore off the beaten coach-tour track is an opportunity that would be tragic to miss. The drive from Durness to Ullapool down the far-north coast of Scotland is one example of why having your own wheels adds huge value. This is another one of the great Scottish drives.
I’m not knocking coach tours by the way. There are some excellent ones in Scotland that do go further than the well-travelled tourist paths, I recommend them often in fact. If though, like me, you are the kind of traveller that needs to explore, needs to unearth new paths, considers motorways to be too easy, wears aviator sunglasses (not essential), pulls over whenever it takes your fancy….release your inner Ryan Gosling and Drive.
The journey can be done in as little as an hour and a half if you follow the most direct route. Do not do that. Take your time and factor in as many side attractions as you can.
Heading south on the easy and quiet A838, your first optional stop comes in the form of Sandwood Bay and one of Scotland’s more celebrated and remote beaches. A 4 mile walk each way is required to reach the beach so be prepared. Returning to the main route, the road continues south west in the direction of Scourie. The next optional stop is Handa Island, one of Scotland’s leading opportunities to observe seabirds. You can get a boat out to the nature reserve via Tarbet Pier.
You could potentially have filled a day’s worth of activity already, but in truth the journey is only just getting interesting. Next up you will reach the Kylesku Bridge. After miles of remote scenery this is one that you probably would not expect. Built by the Sydney Opera House designer, it’s an impressive splash of civilisation in an unlikely spot. After the bridge, be brave. Turn off the easy A894 and head west onto the B869, and certain death. It’s not that bad, really. Just go slow and appreciate some of the best landscapes you may ever see.
Follow this route all the way round to Lochinver, where you can stop for food. There are more beach options along the way at Achmelvich and Clashnessie. At Lochinver a big decision awaits. You can head east on the A837 or continue south on the more rural path into Coigach. This will likely be decided by home tumultuous you found the B869. Both drives have much to offer and both will put you back on the main route to Ullapool eventually. I take the easy way out this time because I’m a big fan of Loch Assynt and particularly the ruins of the haunted Ardvreck Castle.
After this all that remains is the final stretch to Ullapool, and a well-deserved fish supper. The descent into the coastal town is marvellous and you may be tempted to jump a boat over to the Western Isles to keep the Scottish rural dream going for longer.
Things to know for great Scottish drives:
Petrol. Ah ha. The scourge of many a Highland driver. If you have the chance to fill up, do so. If you do not you will come to a tragic stop in the remotest spot imaginable and will be eaten by bears. Or midges, which is worse. For this route, both Durness and Ullapool have petrol and Scourie is a useful stop along the way too.
Road conditions. The Durness to Ullapool route is generally in good condition and pretty straightforward as long as you are OK with single track roads and passing places. The stretch after the Kylesku Bridge can be a little daunting for first timers and should most definitely not be attempted in anything other than full daylight. The same applies for the stretch into Coigach. The roads are quiet and you will find plently of solitude here. Just watch out for animals in the road.
Durness to Ullapool is one of the truly great Scottish drives. For the wildlife, the beaches, the seafood en route and the sheer awe of Assynt and Coigach in particular this is one of the most special regions of my country.