If you read the social media forums, you are pretty much guaranteed to come across this question at least every couple of months. Marketed as a circular route to drive or cycle or walk round, is it hardly surprising?
Being a circular route, when it was first marketed the tendency was to go with the clockwise option. Perhaps this was because, in several psychological studies of why people move in a particular way, there is a natural instinct to go clockwise or to ‘turn left’. Especially in the UK where we drive on the left!
However several other topics also now get mentioned in most discussions which take place.
Driver confidence – If you are a slightly less confident driver or have hired an unfamiliar vehicle, then you may prefer NOT to tackle the Bealach na Ba pass to Applecross on the first day! (Clockwise option.) A steep incline on a single track road combined with several hairpin bends – in who knows what sort of weather – is not for the faint-hearted!
The weather – If you have chosen not to book your accommodation in advance or are wild camping, then you may have the benefit of being able to check the weather and decide on impulse which direction looks most favourable. However admittedly for many this will not be the case.
Passenger views – It is often said that as the passenger (in a right-hand drive vehicle) will be sitting on the left, it is better to travel clockwise so that they can see the coastal views. In reality, there are so many views from so many sides, this argument is often quickly dispelled.
And to our thoughts? From many years of driving the North Coast 500, we would recommend going anti-clockwise (& on the forums this tends to be the preferred choice too). Why? Well, in simple terms the journey and your experience on the road itself builds to a crescendo as you head from east to west. This is NOT however to the detriment of the east!
To fully experience and appreciate the North Coast 500 you must realise it is not all the same. The east coast is full of history, heritage, castles (both functioning and in ruins!) and distilleries – together with a curvature of coastline which affords numerous fishing villages and harbours all with their own unique charm and story. But much of this is off the main road and must be ‘discovered’, often by stepping outside of your vehicle.
Then yes, as you head along the north coast and down the west, the views do ‘get bigger’, with sandy beaches in abundance and looming mountains to take your breath away. The west is indeed stunningly beautiful and has numerous amazing vistas – if the weather is with you.
So – our answer to the frequently asked question? Anti-clockwise is best for that single trip. And for the full North Coast 500 experience, remember, every section has its merits.
However, one final thought – don’t be satisfied with one trip (you won’t see it all however hard you try!), come back and this time tackle it the other way round! You won’t be the first and they’ll always be something new to enjoy – even if it’s the weather or a new time of year!