The A836 in the Scottish Highlands. Made up of steep gradients and sharp turns, that wind through a bleakly stunning and starkly remote landscape. One of Scotland’s most stunning drives, the A836 is a distinctly Highland route. An awe inspiring journey, this “must do” Scotland road trip culminates and ends within the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands. It is the northernmost A-class road on mainland Great Britain. Truly off the beaten path!
A formidable drive, the A836 consists of 122 miles of variable types of roadway. The mainly coastal route runs 58 East West miles along the North Coast from John O’Groats to Tongue, making up part of the NC500. The other 64 miles run North to South-ish from Tongue to Tain. You cannot get much further off the beaten path, than driving the Tongue to Tain section of the A836, unless going off road. This isolated length of stimulating road, cuts through some of the most secluded and foreboding bits of the Scottish Highlands, offering one Hell of a ride.
If the A836 is so remote, why drive it?
If you read my blog or know anything about me, I am driven. Seriously driven by my passions. One of my favourite things to do (obviously) is to travel. Right close to travel is my love for driving (or riding, but that’s another post). If something is going on over a thousand miles away. I’m just as happy to hop into my car and drive to it than to fly (although I quite enjoy flying too).
A Scotland road trip, is a challenge for the driver. Regardless of which side of the road to which you are accustomed. The excitement of driving 60 MPH, on an unfamiliar (for me) side of the road, on a curvy, hilly, crazy narrow, one track sounds spectacular to me. Add up all of that wonder, put it in Scotland and I’m in. I am so very very in! Are you?
Drive the Scottish Highlands
“Life is a journey”
What an utter load of crap. Why people find this saying so meaningful when on literal terms, it means nothing at all, is beyond me. Life is a journey! Duh! Thats a definition, not some deep and meaningful metaphor.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson never said or wrote that. It was some preacher in the 1920s. Of course Emerson didn’t, it’s insipid. The only end destination we all share is death. If your journey is focused on getting to your destination, then… I don’t know. Maybe you’re reading this blog for a greater reason than you realized. Perhaps it’s time to experience “the journey” with more intensity, so you can stop worrying so much about the destination. Why don’t you start by taking your first Scotland road trip?
“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”
That’s what Emerson did write. It’s neither the journey nor the destination. It’s the drive… it’s reveling in the damned drive. Enjoying the shit around you, or if you are not, finding the things that bring you joy and doing them.
How to get to the A836
From the NC500
If already driving the NC500, you can hit the A836 from various locations. A838 heads East at Durness and turns into A836 at Tongue, heading east to John O’ Groats. If on this route, once you cross that awesome bridge that takes you over the Kyle of Tongue, follow the signs to head South on A836 at Tongue.
The route in total on the A836 from tongue to Tain is about 1 hour 35 minutes, without stops. Follow the route all the way over the Bonar Bridge. A836 will end at just about Tain. From there you can either return on the A836 , or take A9 North to hit the East West part of A836. A9 turns a bit at Latheron and meets with the A836 road at Thurso. Here you can either head west back towards Tongue or East towards John O’Groats. You can also take the A9 to A99 which will land you at John O’Groats.
The drive along A9 from Inverness to A836 is also a commendable Scotland road trip. If you are tentative about driving in Scotland, it is a good route on which to get your ‘feet wet’. It isn’t as winding as some but it still can be fast and a busy route. The roadway itself is wider, well marked and I’m pretty sure none of it is single track. It even has dual carriageway sections. Take A82 to A9. Cross the Moray Firth, then the Cromarty Firth then follow the signs for for the A836 that appear just around Tain. This route, without stops takes about 2 and 1/2 hours.
From Ullapool or Skye
Follow the NC500 Instructions
Take the A9 to Inverness. It’s a Hell of a drive. Far more challenging than the A836. I shall write about it soon. See the Inverness route for further instructions
I will write about the NC500 portion of the A836 soon. It is also a lovely drive, remote but not as remote as the tongue to Tain portion. Challenging, yet again, not quite as challenging as the other. It is far my picturesque.