Scotland has some of the most beautiful scenery and mountains in the world, and the NC500 drives around it all. I fell in love with Scotland and the people on a walking trip when I was 17 years old. I loved it so much I came back time and again and even held my stag-do in the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe!
The North Coast 500 route (NC500) has therefore been on my bucket list for years. Driving a campervan around idyllic lochs and mountains, and wild camping by the beach sounds wonderful to me.
The drive to Scotland
In late July we drove the Adventure van north heading for Inverness, the start of the NC500. It’s a long drive from north London, so we broke the journey up with a stop-over in the boarders, at the Roman Wall Campsite. It’s a nice little site with a friendly owner and a great pub within 5 mins walk.
Day 2 saw us drive past Inverness and on to John O’ Groats, where we camped by the lighthouse. Camping here feels isolated and vulnerable to the weather, but exhilarating for an overnight stop.
The North Coast
The drive up the east coast along the A9 is nice with views of the sea, but the beauty doesn’t start until after Dunnet Head lighthouse. This is the most northerly point of mainland UK, and somehow it feels like it! From then on the views get better and better with beaches, coves and big mountains rising from sea level. We parked the campervan at Sandside Bay for lunch as it has parking, toilets, a beach, and a lovely view. We then drove along the A836 to Kyle of Tongue, Ben Loyal and Ben Hope. Just wow! There is parking on the roadway over the water, but you would be brave to overnight there.
The final part of day 3 took us around Loch Eriboll, again wow. My advice is, don’t rush this part of the drive as every other turn in the road left us smiling. The handwritten note on my map just says “stunning drive”. We stopped in Durness, but you can’t pass the Smoo caves without stopping, another natural wonder. We parked the campervan on the side of Balnakeil Bay. It was wet and windy with a mile of beautiful sandy beach. Perfect to kick back in the Adventure van and watch it all happen.
The West Coast
On day 4 we turned off the main single track road on to the smaller B801, alongside Loch Inchard. Then an even smaller road out to Sheigra and found the most amazing beach campsite. I plan to stay here next time. By this stage in the trip, we were starting to get what we called “wow fatigue”! Just how many natural wonders and beautiful view does Scotland need? Then we turned on to the B869 to Old Man of Stoer, and it all went up a level. I could spend a week walking and climbing in just that peninsula and not get bored. If you do fancy driving to the Old Man of Stoer lighthouse, its exposed, but there is some great camping. My note on the map reads, “amazing views all way round”. What more can I say?
As we got back on to the main roads, the A837, on our way back to Inverness we were numb. The notes on the map start petering out, “nice scenery” was all I could manage. We drove down the side of Loch Ness, hoping for food and drink, but we were back in tourist central. We ended the day with fish and chips in a car park with no view. The honeymoon was over.
The drive home was pleasant enough with talk of what we had seen. However, I wouldn’t recommend driving down the side of Loch Ness or Loch Lomond. It’s a small road full of wood lorries and caravans, and impatient motorbikes, not a good mix. On our final night, we stayed on a site near Bolton-le-Sands. It’s a very well run site with fantastic facilities, but didn’t have the views we had become accustomed to.
How to get there
If you are planning to drive around the NC500, it’s a long drive from the south of England. Our trip covered over 1,600 miles, 35 hours of driving, and a lot of diesel. Your satnav will tell you the best route to Inverness for the traffic on the day. We traveled up the M1, M6, and then followed the M74 to Glasgow. Then the M73 and M80 took us to Stirling followed by the A9 to Inverness, and that’s where the fun starts!