A few weeks back we completed the North Coast 500 which is a 500 mile road trip around the north of Scotland. The guide book we bought estimated that this would take us around a week, but we took a slight detour over to the Isle of Skye, so it actually took us about nine days to complete.
If you’re considering the NC 500 or you’re looking for inspiration for your next road trip, we couldn’t recommend it enough! We picked an amazing time of year to come as we had beautiful weather, it was mostly sunny, it wasn’t too cold, but we also got to enjoy the odd snowy day too – it is Scotland after all!
I’ll apologies in advance for the size of this post and for the length of those that follow, but we saw some pretty amazing things on our journey. I’ve been toying with the best way to break this all down or whether to just write one very long post instead. But if there’s one thing I’m not good at it’s making decisions (it’s because I’m a Libra), hence why it’s taken me so long to even get the first instalment of our trip up on the blog!
So thank you to those who stick with me until the end, here is the first part of our five hundred and something mile drive around the north coast of Scotland, I hope we can inspire you to make the journey too!
Day 1 – Inverness – The beginning
The tour officially begins in Inverness, with Inverness castle being the first point of interest. We initially arrived at the city quite late in the evening, so we spent our first night on the harbour there. The next day we got the chance to explore the city a bit more, we drove up to the castle, walked into the centre and took a beautiful walk alongside the River Ness. We didn’t really know what to expect from Inverness, but it is a lovely city and definitely worth a visit!
Inverness castle itself was nice to look at and there were a few plaques around outlining its history, but the fact it was used as a courthouse and there were some questionable characters hanging around outside, somewhat took away from the magic of it a bit. But we were there and ready to get started on the NC 500!
Day 1 – Beauly – 12 miles in
At this point we had assumed that every place you go would be worth a day or two of your time as Inverness had been, so we were a bit unsure as to why it only took people a week or so to complete the NC 500. But when we arrived at the small albeit very lovely village of Beauty it became clear to us. These were interesting places to stop and take a look around, but not every place was going to need an overnight stop.
So we parked the van in Beauly and took a walk around. It was interesting to see the old priory church from the 1200s, complete with cemetery and sufficiently creepy statues of monks hidden in crumbling tombs. And while the village itself was small, it had a lovely little high street full of beautiful flowers beds.
Day 1 – Rogie Falls – 27 miles in
After lunch we left Beauly and made our way to Rogie Falls, this was another suggested point in our guide book, but was also a potential stopover for the night. There was a walking trail up to the water fall and an ‘I’m a Celeb’ style bridge for us to walk over (and of course do a photoshoot on), until we eventually made it back to the van.
Day 2 and 3 – Isle of Skye – Detour
The next place we wanted to visit was Lochcarron, but on route we somehow got re-directed and ended up heading towards to Isle of Skye instead, so we thought why not! We crossed the bridge which connects Skye to Scotland and immediately found a car park on the bay full of other mohos (yep, I now refer to all vans and motorhomes as mohos… and I’m not even sorry!).
We ended up spending two nights on this car park in Kyleakin after a lovely old couple gave us their tickets for a boat tour because they couldn’t make it anymore. It was a glass bottom boat and we were really hoping for some dolphins! Sadly we didn’t see any, but we did get to see some seals sunning themselves on the rocks.
The next day we drove to the capital of Skye, Portree, which is also the biggest town on the Island with a whopping population of 4,500 people! Which tells you how small everywhere else on the island must be. The town was very sweet with a few souvenir and tick-tack shops to look around. We knew it must have been an important town in Skye because it even had a Co-op.
Then we drove further up to visit Kilt Rock, where we had planned to stay for the night. This is a waterfall that runs over the clifftop and straight into the sea. It made for some beautiful photos, especially as it was so sunny. But as there wasn’t else much around, we decided to cross back over the bridge to Scotland later that day and carry on the NC 500 route.
Day 3 – Lochcarron – 64 miles in
Once we were back on route we stopped at the little town of Lochcarron, which funny enough was on the water front of Loch Carron (I know, how do they think up these names!). This was also a handy chance to pop into the local post office to send home a hilarious book we’d found in Port Augustus called ‘Hamish the Hairy Haggis’ – I hope the nieces and nephews enjoy it as much as we did!
Locharron was small and beautiful with a few cafes along the waterfront. We did the usual look around the town but as it was so small it didn’t take us long. Soon we were back on the road and heading for the next point of interest.
Day 3 – Kishorn – 67 miles in
Next stop on the list was something I’d seen on a documentary and wasn’t actually in the guide book. In the town of Kishorn they have turned an old phone box into a selfie booth and we just couldn’t resist the opportunity! It’s very gimmicky but if you’re doing the NC 500 route it’s definitely worth a stop for a photo. Just drive into Kishorn town and you can’t miss it!
Day 3 – Applecross – 81 miles in
The drive from Kishorn to Applecross was truly amazing, only comparable to when we were driving up the mountains in Switzerland. We climbed slowly up the winding roads and hairpin bends, up the mountain side and towards the sunset. It’s almost too hard to describe. We tried to take pictures and videos, but it really is something you need to see for yourself, they just weren’t doing it any justice.
Finally over the mountain we reached Applecross and stopped for a drink on the seafront, totally blown away by the drive. If you decide to do the NC 500 make sure to take the scenic route to the town and not the main roads, otherwise you’ll miss the incredible drive.
We drove slightly up the hill from the town and found a huge lay-by on the cliff top where there was already another camper van parked up. We were surprised by how relaxed most places had been about free camping and how many places there were to stop for the night in Scotland.
Day 4 – Victoria falls – 90 miles in
By this point it was now day four of our journey and we set off nice and early in the morning which meant we were up in time to see all the deer out on the mountainside. We were heading to the next big recommended stop of Gairloch, this was a longer drive than any we’d made so far on the NC 500. On route we stumbled across a waterfall that wasn’t in the book, Victoria Falls. There wasn’t a huge walk to do up to the falls like usual, but we stopped for some photos and as we were the only ones there it was very peaceful.
Day 4 – Gairloch – 142 miles in
Gairloch again was a small town, with just a shop and a cafe, but we had seen in the book that it had a sandy beach – our first sandy beach of the trip! So we parked the van and followed the walking trail, though you can drive if you don’t want to walk because it was up some pretty serious hills!
It was so lovely and sunny and we were just so happy to finally be on the beach. We’ve always known that we’re a coastal couple, but this trip has definitely confirmed it. Sadly there was nowhere for us to stay in the town so after a while we went back to the van to plan our next location.
…And I think i’ll leave it there for now as I’ve already covered 142 miles and written over 1,500 words (plus my super noodles are ready!). But stay tuned for the next instalment of our NC 500 journey – I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.