ON a tour of the North Coast 500 (NC500) you might hope to see some of Scotland’s most magnificent wildlife. From mighty golden eagles to scampering red squirrels, the tour of the country’s rugged north coast has plenty of opportunities on offer.

And one lesser-known hidden gem of the route offers a chance to glimpse one of the UK’s most iconic birds: the puffin.

Though diminutive in stature, puffins are cultural titans of the animal world – and there are only a few places on the Scottish mainland to spot them. “Puffin Cove”, on the NC500, is certainly one.

All you need to know about the 'puffin cove' on Scotland’s NC500

“Puffin Cove” – the name by which the small islet of Wester Clett and its surroundings have become known – is one of the best places on the UK mainland to get a good view of the Atlantic Puffin.

Located around 20 miles west of Thurso and near the village of Melvich, the cove is only accessible by foot from the A836 (the main NC500 route).

There are two paths from the road – where parking is sparse – but both meet slightly north of Loch Hollistan before heading north to the cliffs and islets.

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Following the water from Loch Hollistan to the coast will bring you to the first of three islets named Wester, Middle, and Easter Clett.

The cletts, loch, and pathheads can be seen on the Highland Historic Environment Record map here.

The best time and place to see puffins

The best time to see the puffins is from May to early August. This is when they nest on the islet and look for a mate, with reports that the colony has spread out onto the mainland as well.

It is only during breeding season that puffins display their iconic orange beaks.

The puffins head offshore over autumn and winter, spending time in the Atlantic and North Sea.

According to a 2019 report from the RSPB, the Puffin Cove area near Melvich is the largest colony of puffins on the Scottish mainland.

The report said there were 3500 breeding pairs, while 622 more were recorded at Melvich itself.

The puffin colonies in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles dwarf this though, with colonies numbering up to 55,000 breeding pairs.