There’s nothing I love more than a road trip. It’s partly the sense of adventure, the unfurling scenery, and the anticipation of where we’ll be staying next. I love the kind of intense conversations that are possible when you’re facing forward, looking out on the world as you explore the emotional landscapes of your mind. Also, I have to confess, I’m a bit of a petrol head. I feel happy behind the wheel of a wonderful car - which is not to say I would have the faintest idea how to fix it, if it broke down.

My partner and I have been on some wonderful road trips, up and down the West Coast of the USA, through Utah, Colorado and Nevada, through the Southern States from Georgia, Florida and Louisiana. We’ve driven across Norway, through Rajasthan in India, and we’ve even done a road trip from Invercargill to Auckland in New Zealand.

I’m telling you all this so you’ll take me more seriously when I say that one of the most enjoyable road trips I’ve ever experienced is one of rugged landscapes, majestic castles, tucked away in the northern reaches of Scotland. Known as Route 500, a scenic road trip that offers drivers immersion in the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, winding along the country's northwestern coast.

As the name suggests, the circular route is 500 miles, and I didn’t feel like adding a 1200 mile round trip journey by car to get to Inverness, for the tart of the route, so we decided to fly into Inverness and rent a car. However, the romance of road trip depends a lot on the wheels you’re in. Thelma Louise in a 1994 Suzuki X-90 would not have been quite the same as in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird. Luckily 4x4 Hire Scotland were able to supply a late model Range Rover which we picked up at Inverness, known as the gateway to the Highlands. After exploring its historic landmarks, including Inverness Castle and the picturesque River Ness, we hit the road northward, with the landscape gradually transforming into a kaleidoscope of breathtaking vistas.

The Torridon Hotel

Nestled amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, The Torridon Hotel, where we spent our first night, is an architectural gem that harmoniously combines elements of Victorian, Scots Baronial, and Arts and Crafts styles. Originally built in the late 19th century as a private shooting lodge for William King-Noel, the 1st Earl of Lovelace, the hotel's façade showcases striking towers, turrets, and crow-stepped gables, characteristic of the Scots Baronial style, which was popular during the Victorian era.

The hotel's public rooms, including the drawing room, library, and dining areas, areequally captivating, with large windows that offer panoramic views of the stunning Highland landscapes. These rooms showcase the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, characterized by simplicity, craftsmanship, and an integration of nature into design. The use of natural materials, such as wood, stone, and textiles, creates a warm and inviting atmosphere that complements the surrounding wilderness.

The hotel offers a range of room types, including classic rooms, deluxe rooms, suites, and cottages, complete with a cozy living area, a well-appointed kitchen, and stunning views of the rugged landscape.

The Torridon Hotel's kitchen and restaurant reflects the hotel's commitment to using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients ensures that every dish is a celebration of Scotland's bountiful produce such as fresh seafood, game meats, and locally grown vegetables. . Each plate is artfully presented, reflecting the kitchen's dedication to both taste and aesthetics.

The wonders of Wester Ross

Leaving Inverness behind, the road meanders through Wester Ross, an area renowned for its wild beauty. My partner photographed iconic sights such as the dramatic peaks of Torridon, reflected in the mirror-like waters of Loch Maree, before stopping off at the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve with its ancient Caledonian pine forest and diverse wildlife.

Red deer roam freely across the reserve's expansive woodland and moorland habitats. We spotted several of these majestic creatures, Scotland's largest land mammal, can grazing on the slopes. The elusive and charismatic pine marten also find shelter in the ancient Caledonian pine forests, while Mountain Hare thrive in the higher elevations, their camouflage allowing them to blend seamlessly with the snowy landscapes. The rivers and lochs here provide a home to otters. often seen hunting for fish or playing along the water's edge.

Golden Eagles patrol the rugged cliffs. with wingspans reaching up to seven feet. Beinn Eighe also hosts the magnificent osprey, soaring above the lochs, scanning the water's surface for fish. Their dramatic dives and successful catches make for captivating viewing.

The Kylesku Hotel and bridge

The Kylesku Hotel: Situated on the banks of Loch Glendhu, The Kylesku Hotel offers glorious views in a laid back setting. The rooms are cozy and well furnished, featuring comfortable beds. The hotel's restaurant specializes in seafood, serving delicious dishes made from fresh catch, locally sourced.. The staff are knowledgeable about the area and provided recommendations for exploring the surrounding landscape, including the iconic Kylesku Bridge, a symbol of Scotland's engineering prowess and artistic vision.

Prior to the bridge's construction, a ferry service operated, but it was often unreliable, particularly during harsh weather conditions. The idea to build a bridge gained momentum in the mid-20th century, and construction began in 1982. The bridge was officially opened to the public in 1984, marking a significant milestone in the region's transportation infrastructure. It is both a functional structure and a work of art.

The bridge's superstructure is supported by a central, slender concrete pylon rising from a base on the eastern shore of the loch. This pylon acts as both a visual focal point and a structural support, with cables radiating outward and attaching to the bridge deck. The use of cables not only ensures the bridge's stability but also adds a sense of lightness and grace to the structure.

The deck consists of a slender, curved concrete girder, providing a smooth and continuous flow for vehicular traffic. The carefully designed curves and angles of the bridge enhance its visual appeal, mirroring the undulating contours of the surrounding landscape.

Ardvreck Castle

Continuing along Route 500, we reached the remote village of Ullapool. Nestled on the shores of Loch Broom, this fishing town serves as an ideal base for exploring the region. Although we didn’t make it, you can take a boat trip to the Summer Isles, an archipelago said to breathtaking views and the chance to spot seals, dolphins, and sea birds.

As you leave Ullapool, the road takes you past the fascinating ruins of Ardvreck Castle. This ancient stronghold stands proudly on the shores of Loch Assynt, serving as a testament to Scotland's turbulent past.

From its humble origins as a defensive fortress to its current status as a cherished tourist destination, the castle has weathered the tests of time, preserving the stories of those who once lived within its walls. Its architecture, a reflection of different eras and influences, showcases the evolution of Scottish castles, captivating all who set foot within its storied halls. A visit to Ardverik Castle is a journey through the annals of Scottish history.

Throughout its history, Ardverik Castle has witnessed numerous conflicts and power struggles. It played a significant role in the tumultuous conflicts between the MacLeods and rival clans, including the MacKenzies and MacDonalds. The castle witnessed sieges, battles, and political maneuverings, reflecting the turbulent history of Scotland.

The castle initially consisted of a simple tower house, a common architectural feature of medieval Scottish castles. As time passed, subsequent generations expanded and modified the castle, resulting in a unique blend of architectural elements.

The tower house at the core of the castle remains the focal point, rising majestically above the surrounding landscape. Its sturdy stone walls, narrow windows, and imposing battlements evoke a sense of strength and resilience. The castle's defensive features, including arrow slits and a drawbridge, hark back to its original purpose as a fortress.

The far north

Heading further north, we reached the northernmost point on mainland Britain, Dunnet with rugged cliffs and sweeping sea views. Nearby, the historic town of Thurso offers a warm Highland welcome, with its charming harbor and a chance to indulge in delicious local seafood.

Route 500 continues along the east coast, unveiling hidden gems at every turn. Sandside Bay, with its golden sand and turquoise waters, is the perfect spot for a relaxing stroll or a refreshing dip. For history enthusiasts, the village of Golspie is home to the enchanting Dunrobin Castle, a fairytale-like fortress that showcases a rich tapestry of Pictish and Scottish heritage.

The Dornoch Castle Hotel

The Dornoch Castle Hotel was our last sleepover along the Scotland's Route 500. The rooms are individually decorated, showcasing the hotel's rich heritage while providing modern comforts, and the restaurant offers traditional Scottish dishes prepared with care.

The story of Dornoch Castlel begins in the medieval era when the original castle was built by the Bishop of Caithness in the late 1400s. Over the years, it served as a grand residence, a courthouse, and even a jail. The castle's imposing structure, complete with thick stone walls and defensive towers, served as a symbol of power and security during turbulent times in Scottish history.

The architecture reflects a seamless fusion of different styles, showcasing the evolution of design over the centuries. The castle's exterior features a mix of medieval fortifications and Georgian touches, with pointed arches, narrow windows, and battlements that harken back to its medieval origins. The grand entrance, adorned with ornate stonework and a carved coat of arms, welcomes guests into a world of timeless grandeur.

Beyond its architectural magnificence, Dornoch Castle played a prominent role in the witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries, which were a dark chapter in Scottish history. Today, a plaque on the castle's exterior serves as a reminder of this grim past.

Route 500 in Scotland is a road trip of unparalleled beauty, offering a glimpse into the untamed wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. From the rugged mountains of Wester Ross to the charming villages and historic castles along the way, this journey is visually exciting. This four or five day circuit is certainly one of the most varied road trips I have ever made. We dropped our car off at the airport and flew back to London feeling this is definitely a journey we’d love to make again.