North Coast 500
August 25th 2018 - August 29th
The coastal route around Scotland, known as the North Coast 500, is gorgeous beyond words or pictures. It has to be seen to be truly appreciated. You could take a thousand photos a day and still not capture it all. There are hundreds of places to wild camp and there are an abundance of toilet blocks, it is a Campervan heaven.
Traffic is minimal, we went at the end of August and encountered very little and there seems to be passing points almost every few hundred yards. The condition of the roads is good, not duty old tracks as we had expected. Some of the roads could even be described as exceptional, very smooth and quick even for a Campervan.
We particularly enjoyed the hairy but comfortable road across to Applecross. Again lots of passing points and very manageable if sensible, so do not be deterred. Night one we spent beside a rolling river near a bridge just outside Applecross and used the toilets provided in the car park of Applecross itself.
For the daring take advantage of the waterfalls, flowing rivers and of course the North Sea to wash in as we did! A bit chilly, but refreshing, needed and perhaps a rarity to do out in the wilds.
Keep an eye out for the wildlife as you will see Highland cattle, Stags, Deer, Sheep, Shetland Ponies, Otters, Seals and maybe even Whales (on the East Coast) all living wild and often briefly inquisitive.
Our route was sponsored by a Ferrero Rocher and we included each day our "Ferrero Rocher Moment" saved for the our favourite moment of each day. Of course very subjective, but those were the rules (and I don't make the rules).
Night 2, still on the West Coast we headed for Lochinver but actually drove past and up into the hills and stayed around Badnaban where our location was in the middle of nowhere with not a single sound outside.
I have requested one of the many small islands off of the West coast as a Christmas present from my wife this year. It may be a big ask and may not happen, but I can always get a new wife next year if required.
The West Coast is simply stunning and if you are doing the 500 route in a clockwise direction it is well worth while taking your time as it really is the side with the most breath taking views.
Moving up towards the North West and North Coastlines, it seems the Scottish have been keeping a secret from the rest of the world.... the beaches are amazing, take the one at Durness as an example, it would not be out of place in the Caribbean.
Night 3 and venturing along the North Coast looking for a decent place to call it a day early we headed to Tongue as it looked as if it were a a reasonable size. Unfortunately upon arrival it had a Public Toilet (always good) and a small independent shop for provisions. Needing a bottle for our evening meal a standard wine was £9.50+ and 4 cans of lager were £7 (£1.75 each). Having hastily arranged a second mortgage we purchased and moved on.
After a while we found a sign for Strathy Beach, a sign post on the right hand side of the road - but beware - the turning is NOT left into a builders yard as we took, but slightly behind you down the side of a Church..... but what a find and well worth checking out for a night!! In terms of facilities, there is a wooden cabin that is locally provided and voluntarily maintained. It has a lavatory, wash sink and message board for travellers to add their comments to.
The beach down below where you park up is stunning and only accessible on foot. Wild tent campers can be seen from the parking spot above. It is a stunning hill top view of the beach below. There is a cemetery by the side of the parking area, but we stayed a whole night and were not disturbed. A real gem of a find, with a wooden hand built toilet cabin on site.
On our 4th day we continued along the North Coast to John O'Groats which was surprisingly not very busy nor expensive with plenty of places to shop for reasonably priced items from biscuits to fleece blankets to kilts and other clothes - all good.
The whole adventure was amazing. As mentioned the West Coast was a particular highlight - but - purely by luck, on Night 4, having been recommended Helmsdale Harbour (and deciding it didn't look too hot) we pushed on and stumbled across a road side sign for "Crake Beachside Camping". Yes it was our first paid for stop, but for £15 it was the most memorable night we have had so far in the Van of ANY trip. On the beach, log fire, naturally kept (with basic hot shower and toilets). Go find this place an enjoy a memorable night. Totally recommended for peace, tranquility and sea views (otters, seals and whales can be seen at times and if really lucky even the Northern lights)
All in all the 500 was a true adventure. Wild camping, wild showering, plenty of really friendly people, loads of public toilets, well stocked shops and a real mixture of mountain range views, beaches and general sightseeing. 100% loved it and will return.
Please, please, please, if you are wild camping take nothing but memories and leave nothing but footprints. Having spoken to a few Scots, there are plans gathering momentum to look at clamping down on the Wild Camping as locals are beginning to get frustrated at the mess being left behind too often by Tourists. Do yourself and others a favour by doing the decent thing.
Day 1: Saturday 25th August pictures - Wrong turn to Ullapool & Garve
Starts with a 40 mile drive in the wrong direction (80 mile detour) even before hitting the West Coast!!
Day 1: Saturday 25th August West Coast pictures - Kishorn & Applecross
Back on track.
Day 2: Sunday 26th August pictures - Sutherland & Ross-shire
Pic 1: Our 'Wild Shower'
Pic 5: Buying some award winning Smoked Salmon & Cheese for lunch on the way
Day 3: Monday 27th August pictures - Caithness & Southerland
Sleepover at the Beach at Strathy
Day 4: Tuesday 28th August pictures - Wick, Thurso, John O'Groats, Crakaig
North East corner then down the East Coast - stopping at the stunning Crakaig
Day 5: Wednesday 29th August pictures - East Coast via Distillery then onto Inverness for the finish.