Entering Assynt, you’ll realise that the drive from Scourie to Lochinver has quickly become the drive you’ve been dreaming of. After visiting Handa Island and hopefully enjoying some top-class seafood at Shorehouse, it’s time to hit the road again. You won’t have covered much ground in the last few days (there’s so much to see!) Now, the main highlight is taking in the glorious views of Scotland on one of the best, most scenic drives around. And the best way to do that drive is on our North Coast 500 Alternative Route. But you already know that by now.
- Things to Do: Scourie – Lochinver
- One of the Most Scenic Drives in Scotland
- The Road Trip Viewpoints
- Weeping Widow Waterfall (Loch na Gainmhich)
- Clashnessie Falls
- Old Man of Stoer
- Allt a Chamais Beach
- Clachtoll Beach
- Achmelvich Bay
- Ardvreck Castle
- Shops Scourie – Lochinver Drive
- Bars, Cafes, Pit Stops and Restaurants
- Wild Camping
- Official Accommodation
- Scourie – Lochinver Budget Breakdown
Things to Do Scourie – Lochinver
Assynt is the area between Ullapool and Scourie. This is a barren and often bleak stretch of Scotland, but its beauty is impossible to deny. If, like us, you’re Norman MacCaig fans (and if you’re not, you should be), you’ll have read plenty about the area in countless poems. It seems that he too was spellbound by Assynt. After you’re drive, you might have found your new favourite place on the trip so far.
One of the Most Scenic Drives in Scotland
You’ve actually got two options for your drive through Assynt to Lochinver. First of all, you’ll need to head south toward the iconic Kyleskyu Bridge. You’ll pass a couple of spectacular viewpoints on the way, but it still gets better.
From Kylesku/Unapool, you can either head west and hug the coast, or aim south and directly to Lochinver. We chose to take the coastal route, and what a route it is. Either way, you’ve now entered Assynt, widely regarded as one of Scotland’s most impressive areas.
From Kylesku/Unapool, you’re around 30 minutes from Lochinver with the direct route. This is worth knowing in case you’re in a rush for any reason. Otherwise, Google Maps will tell you that the scenic drive takes just over one hour. We’re putting this in bold just to make it clear: the drive will take you more than two hours. You’ll be stopping literally every 5-10 minutes to take pictures, spot seals, enjoy waterfalls and figure out which hill is in front of you now. It’s a stunning drive and a highlight on any North Coast 500 trip.
The Road Trip Viewpoints
1st Viewpoint the warm-up
Your first viewpoint is a good warm-up. You’ll get a nice view of water, green hills and all the nothing-ness in behind them. There’s a short bridge below and you’re aiming for it. It’s nice, but it gets a lot better pretty fast.
- Google co-ordinates:
2nd Viewpoint Assynt Viewpoint
Assynt Viewpoint is a step-up. There are some spectacular looking hills on your left, and the brute that is Quinag on your right. This is going to dominate most of your views today. We weren’t the only ones impressed with the view – a crew were filming a flash-looking Hyundai advert while we were parked up.
- Google location:
3rd Viewpoint Kylesku Bridge
Kylesku Bridge has a distinctive and curved shape, creating the passage across Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin. Previously a long and painful detour was required. Upon completion in 1984, the bridge provided a much shorter journey. Believe it or not, the Kylesku Bridge has been listed among the ‘most scenic bridges in the world.’ I mean, we like a good bridge but, uhm, we’ll leave things like that to ‘experts’.
- Google co-ordinates:
WEE TIP: there are also public toilets in Kylesku, right next to the Kylesku Hotel. If you’re not jumping in for a drink and some gorgeous views, then there are facilities just next door. It’s also not a bad place to stop in.
4th Viewpoint the Drumbeg sea view
Parking up in Drumbeg you’ll find your third-last viewpoint of the day, and there are picnic benches to take it in during lunch. As soon as you start heading west from Kylesku/Unapool, you’ll get great views of Loch a’Chairn Bhain to begin with. Take your time and follow the coastal route and you’ll eventually arrive in tiny Drumbeg. Quinag will be looming over you the whole time.
- Google location:
WEE TIP: apart from holiday homes, there may not be much in Drumbeg. There is however a cracking shop which has a surprisingly good stock.
5th Viewpoint the Clashnessie Cottage
Your second-last viewpoint of the day isn’t an official one, but it’s a beauty nonetheless. After you turn the corner you can (quickly) pull in at one of the larger Passing Places and walk over the grassy verge. There’s a lovely cottage, dazzling blue water and a typical Highland bay to the left. Oh, and nobody there.
- Google co-ordinates:
A perfect wee coastal cottage at Clashnessie
6th Viewpoint the spectacular one
This viewpoint is the stand-out. Now you’ll truly begin to understand the Assynt landscape and all of its mystery. Suilven, Cul Mor and even Canisp all seem to appear out of nowhere, they’re formed out of nothing. This impossible-looking landscape has been written about by poets and novelists, and painted by countless artists. It’s an astounding sight which has captivated plenty of visitors over time.
- Google co-ordinates:
Weeping Widow Waterfall (Loch na Gainmhich)
Another benefit of heading directly to Lochinver is that you’ll pass the Weeping Widow Waterfall (Loch na Gainmhich). Without exaggeration, this is one of the best waterfalls we’ve seen in all of Scotland.
The first time, we got our co-ordinates all wrong and by the time we realised where it was, we were too far south. Luckily, we returned a couple of months later determined to see it and we’re so, so glad that we did.
Try and park in the small car park near Loch na Gainmhich (Google co-ordinates 58.216387, -4.997710). There are no signs for the waterfall. Instead, follow the faint path and head towards the northern shore of the loch. Eventually you’ll find some footprints, then a small wooden passage. Take care – this could get pretty dangerous in poor visibility.
Then you’ll have found the falls streaming from the loch’s northern shore! We crossed the top of the waterfall and walked over to the other side. From there, we got a shot of the hills, loch and waterfall in all their glory (below). If you have a drone, you’ll get some pretty special shots here.
Head a little further down the road and you’ll find another half-done car park at the bottom of the hill. From here, it’s a 15 minute walk to the bottom of the Weeping Widow Waterfall for a slightly different perspective. All in, an absolute beauty, and well worth the time exploring!
It’s a little bit awkward to park, but there should be space on the road near Clashnessie Falls. It’s a lovely waterfall with an absolutely thunderous stream of water pouring over the edge.
Take care with the walk – it’s muddy, boggy and very slippery. In poor conditions, there’s every chance the stream could flood and actually become very dangerous in fast water. Take care. And don’t wear flip flips like Daniel did – hiking boots required.
Old Man of Stoer
If you haven’t had enough of sea-cliff peninsulas and Scottish seabirds, then there’s another Headland walk here for you. The Old Man of Stoer Walk, as well as promising an impressive sea stack, is a great place to spot whales and dolphins too. Believe the hype – we saw dolphins as soon as we got out the car!
Once again, the weather (and a little bit of laziness) got the better of us. We’ll see the sea stack one day, but in our two visits it wasn’t meant to be. The lighthouse is still a really cool spot, and you can even book the lighthouse to stay in it! Find out more by checking out their booking page.
Allt a Chamais Beach
What we did manage to do was explore the peninsula next to the Old Man of Stoer! Allt a Chamais was a total fluke after Neil spotted something that looked like a good beach on Google Maps. First of all, the drive there will give you some impressive views of the hills of Assynt. You’ll probably see some seals too.
Turn down towards the sea and you’ll find another lovely, unspoilt beach. Even in the pretty dreary conditions we really liked Allt a Chamais. If you see it on a prettier day, send us a picture and let us know what it looks like!
You’ll know Clachtoll Beach when you pass it. It’s a busy caravan park and campsite. In fact, when we dropped in it was officially full.
At Clachtoll you’ll find another rocky cove with beautiful white sand, stand-alone country cottages on the green land above it and impossibly blue water waving in. It’s a little more popular than other beaches on the NC500, but it’s still a cracker.
One thing to note is that there were quite a few jellyfish both on the sand and in the water. Lots of children on holiday were throwing them around, but double-check how harmful some of those jellyfish and their tentacles are. Double-check how harmful the kids were to those poor jellyfish too.
WEE TIP: if you’re thinking about wild-camping on Clachtoll, good luck. You’re right next to a packed campsite and there are signs warning of overnight parking. There are also signs reading ‘no camping’ and ‘no wild fires’ on the gates as you walk to the gate. Yes, Right to Roam, but this time, you’re probably best to just find another spot.
Achmelvich Bay is a bit of a superstar in the Highlands and has quite the reputation. Honestly, we didn’t get it. It wasn’t even in the top 10 beaches we saw on our NC500 trip. There’s a busy caravan park and campsite which, to be fair, looks like a great facility. But the beach was just…standard. It was packed with holiday-makers and barbeques and wasn’t quite the dazzling bay that we were expecting. Instead, keep walking and check out Alltna’bradhan Bay around the corner.
There were a couple of other tents, but Alltna’bradhan, Achmelvich’s little sister, is a gorgeous beach. The water’s warm (relatively speaking), the views are amazing and it’s also a great place to camp the night.
WEE TIP: you’ll be parking just in front of the Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel. There are pretty clear ‘no overnight parking’ signs, so we didn’t park overnight. It’s not much better, but we parked in the Achmelvich Caravan Park with no problems. Escaping the ferocious thunderstorm the next morning, we hid in the shelter for a few minutes. Cars had definitely been parked overnight – we’ll leave it up to you.
If you’re just visiting and not interested in camping, you can do a lovely walk which takes in the best of the coast in the area.
You might also want to visit ‘Europe’s smallest castle’ in quirky Achmelvich (Hermit’s Castle). It can fit two people for a night’s sleep as well. Follow these directions.
The remains of Ardvreck Castle lie on the banks of beautiful Loch Assynt. The castle is quite literally falling apart, but the short stroll to it rewards with panoramic views of Loch Assynt and surroundings. We stopped there 3 different times and it was raining each time. It’s moody, atmospheric and incredibly pretty.
There are quite a view different viewpoints. We recommend checking them all out to see which you like best! Obviously you can walk all the way up to the castle and explore it a little, but you’ll get some great pictures from the shores as well. Well worth seeing, and a very Romantic spot.
Perhaps the biggest regret of our whole trip was not reaching the peak of one of Scotland’s most distinguished hills: Suilven. Suilven, the darling of Assynt, is a Graham at just 731m high. But it’s a day-hike and the classic route covers 12.5 miles. You can hike or even kayak to the foot of the hill.
Our plan was to combine this with a visit to Suileag Bothy the night before, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It’s a mesmerising place – we came back a couple months later and still couldn’t climb it! So we’ll update this section when we do!
Shops on the Assynt Drive
- Lochinver Spar & Post Office (08:00 – 18:30)
- Inverpark Stores (09:00 – 19:00)
Bars, Cafes, Restaurants & Pit Stops
On the Drive
On your drive from Scourie, you’ll first pass the Kylesku Hotel, with a great beer garden and views of the bridge. Next up is nearby Rock Stop Café and Exhibition Centre, with a virtual exhibition about the local area and very reasonable prices. Assynt Aromas Candle Shop & the Secret Tea Garden is another good excuse to stop.
There are plenty of options in Lochinver, and it feels actually feels like a place where people live – in comparison with many other Highland towns. First of all, we were really excited to try some of Scotland’s best pies in the Lochinver Larder. But it was closed – for some reason, it shuts at 6pm. We don’t know why either.
There’s a 24-hour petrol station, gift shops, bakers, butchers, and more in Lochinver. We had a few drinks in the Wayfarers’ Pub (part of the Culag Hotel), which also offers a carry-out service. That’s because the Spar closes at 18:30, frustratingly.
An Cala Café let us dry-off over breakfast since we’d just been soaked. Peet’s Restaurant is also an option. There is also, importantly, a Royal Bank Bank of Scotland with an ATM in Lochinver.
Wild Camping Around Assynt
- Alltan’abradhan – 2nd beach at Achmelvich Bay
- We don’t recommend trying to wild camp on Clachtoll Beach.
- There seemed to be a good choice of holiday homes rentals and cottages in Nedd
- There is a smattering of BnBs in Clashnessie
- Clachtoll Beach Caravan and Campsite
- (there are public toilets at Clachtoll Campsite)
- Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel
- North Coast 500 Pods (Achmelvich)
- Youth Hostels Association Scotland (a longer walk from Achmelvich beach)
- Shore Caravan Site (Achmelvich)
- Hillhead Self-Catering Caravans (Achmelvich)
- Hotels and BnBs in Lochinver
And that should be everything you need to know on your drive through Assynt. If you’re following our recommended North Coast 500 Alternative Route, then you’ll be heading even further south next. Check out Part 5 of our North Coast 500 Alternative Route to find out about more beaches, hill walks and secret spots.
Have we missed anything out? Did you find any other treats around Assynt? Let us know by leaving a Comment below. Otherwise, you can get in touch through our Contact page.
Scourie – Lochinver Budget Breakdown
- (included in Overview costs)
- Alltna’Bradhan Beach Wild Camp
- Shorehouse Handa £20
- Drumbeg shop snacks £5
- Lochinver pub carry-out £12
Total for 1D/1N: £37
The above budget is for x2 people. Food and alcohol prices are likely to vary. We drank our fair share, and had plenty of pub food.
This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.