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Travel: A walk on the wild side with added luxury in the NC500 and Assynt

View of the Inver Lodge Hotel, Assynt.
View of the Inver Lodge Hotel, Assynt.

With the North Coast 500 ticked off our bucket list, it was time to start revisiting some of our favourite areas on the route.

We decided to pick one place and spend a few days getting to know it a bit better. But with so many stunning spots on the route, we were spoilt for choice.

After much deliberation we settled on Assynt. It sits a few miles north of Ullapool. We had fallen in love with the place on our last visit. As a bit of a geology buff, I wanted to find out more about the landscape, a good quarter of which is designated and protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, recognised by the Unesco-certified North-West Highlands Geopark.

We were keen to experience the outdoors and get close to nature, but thankfully neither of us were quite willing to go as far as camping. Instead, we settled on a compromise – glamping.

NC500 Pods really did put the glamour into the not-quite-camping experience, with a Love Island-style communal gas-fire pit area (where, incidentally, you actually can get texts and even 4G). Checking into the hut was a breeze, with the key ready to access in a safe box, making arrival at any time of day or night possible. Inside, our hut was wonderfully equipped, with a gloriously comfy bed, kitchenette, and surprisingly powerful shower.

Achmelvich Beach in Assynt.

The small clutch of huts is only a few yards from Achmelvich beach, one of the most magical beaches in Scotland, with clear turquoise water and white sand. It is perfect for swimming and kayaking, with smaller secret beaches to explore on foot or by water.

After spending a day on the beach and the water, we climbed up into the hills to find the famous Hermit’s Castle – often dubbed the smallest in Europe. The tiny concrete building was created by English architect David Scott in 1950, who reportedly spent six months building the structure but then left after only a couple of nights there. It’s a fascinating construction that blends into the environment perfectly, and well worth exploring.

© SYSTEM
NC500 pods at Achmelvich

Luckily, we didn’t have far to roam for dinner. The Shore Fish and Chip shop opens twice per week in the summer at Achmelvich, frying up fresh fish from Ullapool as well as other locally-sourced options. We ordered the full works, with tartare sauce and mushy peas, and ate them outside on a picnic table where you can watch the sunset over the glorious beach.

For our second night, we indulged in some traditional Highland luxury. The Inver Lodge Hotel is a hidden gem, nestled into the hills overlooking Lochinver and the Suilven mountain, with 21 guest bedrooms, all with magnificent views across Loch Inver.

We were greeted with a warm welcome, and settled into our room, which was warmly decorated and spacious, with a sofa area and plenty of storage. The bathroom was well stocked with toiletries, including a small bag of scented bath salts – a lovely touch and perfect for restoring tired bodies after an active day out in the wilderness.

© Dave Coia
Inver Lodge Hotel

As an amateur angler I was keen to try the world-famous fishing. We booked an introductory session with local fly fishing guide Stewart Yates, who taught us some techniques before letting us fish on a well-stocked loch.

Stewart’s patience and expertise paid off, and before long I was wrestling to reel in a bite. It put up a fierce fight, but I managed to land it and grab a quick photo for evidence before releasing it back into the loch. It was a thrilling experience and a great way to spend an afternoon. The win was made even sweeter by Stewart sharing his homemade cookies made fresh that morning!

To celebrate the catch, we slashed out on an elegant dinner. The hotel’s dining room has incredible views over the lodge, and an excellent menu and wine list. The steaks, salmon and game come from the owner’s private estates. I opted for the rib eye steak, while my wife enjoyed fabulous langoustines, caught in Lochinver harbour. The food and service were excellent, complemented by amuse bouches and, of course, the views.

We finished off the night with board games and whisky in front of the roaring fire – a welcome cosy addition even in the summer, and the perfect end to a wonderful Highland adventure.


P.S.

At 731 metres the mountain of Suilven dominates the horizon in Assynt. The name is said to come from the Norse for ‘Pillar Mountain’. It is often referred to as Scotland’s Sugarloaf Mountain.

Factfile: 

Visit NC500pods.co.uk and inverlodge.com.