Drive from Inverness to John O'Groats

Here is a complete car journey from Inverness to John O’Groats in Caithness, North Scotland, heading north along the A9 and then the A99.


Inverness is the principal city in the Scottish Highlands with major transport connections nationally across the UK and Scotland, as well as Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.

It's also the starting point for the North Coast 500, a 500-odd mile road trip around the coastline of the Northern Highlands. It begins and ends in Inverness and drivers can choose whether to drive clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Inverness Castle

This video shows the first leg of the North Coast 500 travelling anti-clockwise, around 120 miles, to John O'Groats.

John O'Groats is the most north easterly point of mainland Scotland and one of three harbours on the far north coast of Scotland with a ferry service to the Orkney Isles.

The ferry service from John O'Groats runs to Burwick (with transfer to Kirkwall) and is operated by John O'Groats Ferries. This is a passenger-only ferry, however cars can be taken by ferry to Orkney via alternative services from the nearby harbours at Gills Bay and Scrabster on the Caithness.

Duration
The total drive takes around 2 hours 40 minutes (excluding breaks). This video is accelerated and plays four times the normal speed.

Journey highlights (with time stamps)
00:00 Millburn Road, Inverness
Millburn Road (sometimes shown as the B865 on maps) is a main road running from Inverness city centre and is a dual carriageway for the most part.

It runs away from the city centre, Inverness railway station and the River Ness towards Culloden and in the direction of Inverness Airport, Ardesier, Cawdor, Fort George, Nairn and ultimately Elgin (38 miles away) and Aberdeen, some 100 odd miles away.

On the left side of Millburn Road is a Morrisons grocery superstore and petrol station and the road is peppered with hotels, including Premier Inn and Jurys Inn as well as guest houses, shops, takeaways and mechanics.

00:27 A9, Inverness
Sometimes thought of as the backbone of Scotland, the A9 is a major road which starts in Falkirk, just 30 miles from Scotland's capital city Edinburgh, and ends in the Caithness port of Scrabster. It is the longest road in Scotland.

This section from Inverness is dual carriageway and provides views across the more built up parts of Inverness. There is a concentration of car rental companies in this area of Inverness.

01:00 Kessock Bridge, Inverness
Kessock Bridge takes the A9 dual carriageway across the Beauly Firth, the coastal waters near Inverness. It has North Kessock village and the Black Isle to the north and Inverness to the south.

In 2019, the bridge was given Category B listed status by Historic Environment Scotland. It provides impressive panoramic views of the Beauly Firth leading east to the Moray Firth, and north towards the Black Isle.

It continues by North Kessock which is quite heavily forested; the road is lined by several bed and breakfast accommodation options and other public facilities.

02:32 Tore, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty
At this roundabout, there are turnings towards the Muir of Ord (for Glen Ord Distillery) and Conon Bridge which takes you north west via the A835 to Ullapool, nearly 50 miles away.

In the opposite direction, the A832 continues north east towards Avock, Fortrose, Rosemarkie and Chanonry Point, which is renowned for being one of the best places in the UK for dolphin spotting.

The road continues past Knockbain and Duncanston along tree-lined single carriageway, making a steady descent towards the waters at the Cromarty Firth. Cromarty Bridge comes into view, with the undulating hills and wide open skies across the sea and north towards Ardullie.

04:06 Cromarty Bridge, Ross and Cromarty
Cromarty Bridge carries the A9 over the waters of the Cromarty Firth and gives expansive sea views in all directions.

04:29 Ardullie Roundabout, Dingwall, Ross and Cromarty
At this roundabout, you can take a left turn towards Dingwall, a Highlands town with a population of around 5,500 people.

Continuing along the A9, the single carriageway offers continuous sea views of the Cromarty Firth on the right, as the road gradually proceeds in a north easterly direction. 

05:54 Struie Junction, Ross and Cromarty
Turning off the A9 at the Struie Junction, you can continue along the B9176 towards the Dornoch Firth, Ardgay and Bonar Bridge. 

06:23 Alness River
Along the A9, you cross the Alness River, known for its salmon and trout fishing. The nearby town of Alness has two whisky distilleries: Dalmore distillery and Teaninich distillery, as well as a golf course and a railway station which connects with the Far North Railway Line from Inverness to Wick. 

The roadside opens out into farmland and green working countryside which in the autumn displays lovely reds, russets and harvest colours. 

09:03 Nigg Roundabout, Ross and Cromarty
You follow the single carriageway through forested roadside, past Tain, Scotland oldest royal burgh, and past the Glenmorangie whisky distillery. The waters of the Dornoch Firth return to view on the right.

10:49 Meikle Ferry Roundabout, Ross and Cromarty
At the roundabout, the A836 follows the Dornoch Firth north west past Ardmore and on to Ardgay, Bonar Bridge, Invershin and Lairg. By contrast, the A9 takes you north east, towards the Dornoch Firth Bridge and across the waters. 

10:56 Dornoch Firth
The Dornoch Firth Bridge connects Tain, on the south of the Dornoch Firth, with Dornoch, a coastal town, to the north. Driving over the bridge, you have sweeping views of the water in all directions.

11:17 Sutherland
Sutherland is a historical county in the Northern Highlands of Scotland, which extends from Dornoch in the south east, right across to Durness and Cape Wrath in the far north west, and encapsulates Caithness, the most north easterly historical county of mainland Scotland.

11:25 River Evelix, Sutherland
The single carriageway becomes more undulating and winding, passing near the coastal town of Dornoch, then Embo and Skelbo before crossing the River Fleet. The A839 which turns to the left, goes on to Rogart, Muie, Lairg and Loch Shin.

14:52 Golspie, Sutherland
Golspie is a picturesque village in Sutherland, famous for nearby Dunrobin Castle to the north. It has a railway station which connects with the Far North Railway Line from Inverness to Wick, as well as a small Co-op supermarket, various cafes, car parking and public amenities. 

15:52 Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland
A large historic home on the shores of the Dornoch Firth. The castle is privately owned by the Duchess of Sutherland and open to the public in the summer months, with daily falconry displays. Dunrobin Castle railway station is immediately opposite the castle driveway. More about Dunrobin Castle

The road sweeps by the Dornoch Firth on the right, and Carn Liath, an Iron Age cairn near Golspie before meeting Brora.

17:02 Brora, Sutherland 
Brora is a village in east Sutherland. It has a railway station, petrol station and a small number of public facilities.

The single carriageway starts to take height, meandering along the hillside around the coast of the Dornoch Firth, with views of the sea on the right.

20:11 Portgower, Sutherland
Portgower is a small, former fishing village. The single carriageway begins to descend towards the sandy shoreline on the approach to Helmsdale. 

20:50 Helmsdale, Sutherland
The A9 crosses the River Helmsdale and through the village of Helmsdale, home to the Timespan heritage and arts centre, a golf club, railway station and various accommodation and eating options. 

Proceeding north west, you can follow the A897 to Kinbrace and continue to Forsinard, an RSPB nature reserve in the heart of the Flow Country. The Flow Country in north east Scotland is the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe and plays an increasingly vital role in protecting the earth against climate change.

The A9 ascends through the cliffs to Navidale. A sparser, redder terrain characteristic of Caithness starts to emerge as the bends and sea views along the cliffside become more dramatic. 

22:08 Caithness
Caithness is the most north easterly historical county of mainland Scotland. The road meanders past Ousdale, known for its Iron Age broch, and Badbea, a settlement where displaced families lived following the tragic Highland Clearances of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

23:42 Berriedale Braes, Caithness
The single carriageway makes a couple of sharp hair pin bends at Berriedale and a steep ascent up the coastline with generous views of the sea below.

25:35 Dunbeath, Caithness
The village of Dunbeath has a privately owned castle, a heritage museum, as well as a small handful of cafes and restaurants. Nearby Braemore has a single track road which you can follow towards the mountain, Morven, the highest point in Caithness. See the drive from Dunbeath to Braemore

26:38 Latheronwheel, Caithness
Latheronwheel is a small coastal village with a local butchers shop.

26:56 A99, Latheron, Caithness
At Latheron, the A9 turns inlands towards the town of Thurso and the north coast harbour, Scrabster. The A99 continues along the north east coast.

28:04 Lybster, Caithness
Lybster is a village known for its harbour with crab fishing boats and a heritage museum that describes the history and geology of the surrounding area. Its cafe is known for its fresh crab roll sandwiches. More on Lybster

28:58 Mid Clyth, Caithness
Just off the A99, you find the Hill O' Many Stanes, a mysterious formation of around 200 small stones, created around 5,000 ago.

29:26 East Clyth, Caithness
The colours and light along the coastline change considerably depending on the time of day and the season. The single carriageway meanders peacefully along the coast.

30:03 Ulbster, Caithness
At 30:12, you see the turning for the Cairn O' Get, a 5,000 year-old Neolithic ruin, similar to the round cairn at Camster. On the opposite side of the road, is the turning to Whaligoe Steps, a cliffside descent of around 300 odd steps to the sea at Whaligoe Harbour, once used by fisherwomen to carry baskets of fish up the steps and to the nearby town of Wick. More on Whaligoe Steps

31:10 Thrumster, Caithness
The road proceeds a little further inland on the approach to Wick and the waters of Loch Hempriggs start to emerge on the left. A number of lochs in Caithness are known for trout fishing.

32:09 Wick, Caithness
Wick is a key town on the far north east coast of Scotland and experienced a historic boom in the herring fishing industry in the nineteenth century. Some features of the town retain the design and features of that period, especially around the harbour.

On the outskirts of the town, there is a small out of town shopping centre with a Lidl supermarket and Argos store, a couple of local bakeries and a petrol store. At the roundabout, you have turnings for the railway station and Mackays Hotel, situated on the shortest street in the world.

There are a number of shops, restaurants and accommodation options in Wick. The airport situated near the exit to the town, behind the industrial estate and Tesco Superstore, operating flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. More on Wick

34:08 Reiss, Caithness
Driving away from Wick, you pass Reiss Sands, one of a number of small beaches on the Caithness as well as Ackergill Tower, now a privately owned castle, as well as a turning for Lyth Arts Centre, the most northern arts centre on the Scottish mainland.

35:49 Keiss, Caithness
The village of Keiss also has a small beach by the ruin of Keiss Castle and a harbour, which has been used like Lybster, for filming on location for the Netflix series, The Crown.

36:34 Auckengill, Caithness
On the left, at 36:35, you see the flags for the Caithness Broch Centre, a small broch museum. 

37:07 Freswick, Caithness
Nearby is privately-owned Freswick Castle and the coastal ruins of Bucholie Castle.

Gradually the sea at the Pentland Firth comes into view to the north, along with the nearby islands of Stroma and the Orkney Isles, which on a clear day provide a beautiful vista.

38:42 John O'Groats, Caithness
John O'Groats is the most north easterly village in the UK and home to some magnificent sea stacks at Duncansby Head and a harbour with ferries to the Orkney Isles. The Castle of Mey is just a few miles away.

Drives
Whaligoe Steps Parking
Understand where you turn and park to see the impressive cliffside steps at Whaligoe.

John O'Groats to Duncansby Head
Here is the drive to the most north easterly point of the UK mainland at Duncansby Head. The sea stacks are a short walk of 15 minutes or so, south of the free parking at Duncansby Head Lighthouse.

Approach to Camster Cairns
Between Lybster and Watten near the town of Wick, lie two Neolithic cairns or chambered tombs in the small settlement of Camster. Here is a mid afternoon drive to the cairns. More on Camster Cairns

John O'Groats to Scrabster
Continue your journey west past the Castle of Mey and the harbour at Gills Bay, towards the town of Thurso and its harbour, Scrabster which, like Gills Bay and John O'Groats, has a ferry service to the Orkney Isles. More on Scrabster

Further resources
See our complete guide to John O’Groats and the drive from John O'Groats to the Castle of Mey.